How can I look up school catchment areas?
Whether you’re moving into a new area or your family is starting to grow, you’ll need to think about school catchment areas.
How catchment areas work
Catchment areas are based on your child’s permanent address. They’re also subject to change, so the best thing to do is look up the schools in your area and contact them directly.
Both primary and secondary schools should be able to provide information on where their catchment areas are, so you can find out if you’re close enough to be considered for a place.
Your distance from the school is also only one factor in your application – you may be miles away from your first choice, but discover that your child would be accepted anyway.
Factors that are considered can include:
- Distance from the school (catchment area)
- Siblings at the same school
- Whether or not your child attended a nearby ‘feeder school’
- Religion (if it’s a faith school)
- Academic ability (if it’s a grammar or private school)
- Special medical and social needs
Some schools even include a lottery or fair banding admissions system. In a lottery admissions system, a certain number of places are allocated randomly between all the families who applied. In a fair banding system, pupils complete an ability test - with set numbers of high, average and low performing pupils admitted.
If you're not sure how a school do things, it’s best to contact them directly or attend an open day to find out.
How to apply
When you’ve found a few schools that you’re interested in, the next step is to apply to the relevant local authority. To find your local council's website, use the local council finder tool .
When you apply, you can list the schools you wish to apply to in order of preference.
According to the schools admission page on the government’s website, applications usually open during the beginning of the academic year, one year before your child is due to start.
This can be any time between September and November, so make sure you confirm the dates on your local council website.
The deadlines are 15 January for primary school and 31 October for secondary school.
If you've just moved to an area and you're outside of the application dates, contact your local authority and explain the situation – they should be able to help.
How to discover local schools
These websites let you see exactly how a school is doing based on exam performance, pupil to teacher ratio, and funding. Many plot their information on local maps, so you can see exactly where the schools are.
As catchment areas aren’t always set in stone, they can only give you a rough idea of whether or not your children would be eligible. You can still easily find out which schools are in your area and how they’re performing.
However, because of the rise of small, free schools and academies, some of the sites aren’t completely up to date. The best thing to do is to search several websites to make sure you're getting a complete picture.
Try talking to parents who have children at the school and get their perspective. School fairs and fundraisers are also great for getting a flavour of a school's culture.
Finally, websites like Mumsnet are a resource for finding inside knowledge on schools and the local area.
1. GOV.UK Schools Finder
The GOV.UK website features its own school finder. It's especially handy because it includes a direct link to school Ofsted reports.
However, unlike quite a few other school search websites, it doesn't include a map – so it's always worth double-checking location on other websites.
The Good Schools Guide offers a similar search function, but, as the name suggests, it’s more than just a school-finding service.
Their website has a lot of advice for anyone trying to find a child a school place. They offer guides on choosing the right school, different types of school and admission procedures.
3. Contact your local council
Local councils are there to help. Councils provide dedicated teams to help parents get children into local schools.
Remember that you need to apply to schools through your Local Education Authority, so it’s worth knowing when applications open and how your council usually does things.
The only exception is private schools, who handle their own admissions.
4. Ofsted reports
Once you’ve found a school, you’ll probably want to look into it a bit further. That’s where online Ofsted reports and school league tables come in.
The Ofsted website will let you look up a school’s performance in more detail. Just enter the school’s name into the reports section of the Ofsted website.
5. League tables
There’s an official website for school league tables hosted by the Department for Education. Enter your postcode, select primary or secondary, and you can see the performance of schools in each area.
It’s broken down by pupil achievement, absences, finance, teacher assessment, key stage test results, and loads more.
6. London Schools Atlas
If you live in London, you can also use the London Schools Atlas. You can search by London borough, and then view a list of schools in each.
The London Schools Atlas also lets you search by travel time – via walking, cycle, car and public transport.
Hearing back about your application
Your local authority will contact you to let you know if your application has been successful around March for places starting in September.
If you apply for places at several schools – and all your applications are successful – you will be given your first choice.
However, this isn’t guaranteed; other children may have met the admissions criteria more closely. If that happens, the local authority will offer your child a place at another school.
If you’re unhappy with the place offered, you can lodge a formal appeal. For more information on what to include in your appeal, view the appeals page on Gov.uk
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