School admission deadline 15 January 2023 – busting the myths

Lenka Wall, Senior associate in the Russell-Cooke Solicitors, family and children team.
Lenka Wall
5 min Read

Is your child due to start primary school next September?

Are you still unsure what schools to list or in what order to put them on your application to maximise the chances of getting the school you want? Or have you made your application but now you are unsure about your selection?

Below we explain how school admissions work, and dispel some common myths.

The primary school application deadline for September 2023 is 15 January 2023. You can make or change your application at any time up to this date. Application results will be released on the National Offer Day, which is 17 April 2023 for primary school admissions for September 2023.

As a parent or a carer you have a right to express a preference for your chosen schools. All schools have a planned admission number (PAN), which is the number of places they will offer in the relevant year group. In most cases, schools receive far more applications every year than the number of spaces they have. All applications are ranked by schools in accordance with their published oversubscription criteria, which set out the order in which places are allocated. Typically, these start with children with Education, Health and Care Plans, children who are or have been in local authority care, siblings, children of staff, and children within the catchment area, if there is one. Generally, the last category is distance, which means that all applications not falling into the higher categories are ordered by distance of your home from the school.

If the priority allocated to your application falls within the PAN, then your child will be offered a place. If all available places are allocated to children ranking higher than your child, then admission will be refused, and you will be provided with a right of appeal. Practically, this means that you do not have a right to a place at your chosen schools; you only have a right to express a preference.

Let’s now have a look at some of the most common misconceptions around the admission process, and explain how things really work.

Myth 1: My child has a better chance of getting into the schools I put highest on my application.

Incorrect. Schools are unable to see their position on your preference list. In any event, that position is irrelevant when a school ranks applications. Applications must always be ranked in accordance with the school’s oversubscription criteria only and not apply any additional criteria. The School Admissions Code specifically prohibits a school’s oversubscription criteria from giving “extra priority to children whose parents rank preferred schools in a particular order, including ‘first preference first’ arrangements”.

Myth 2: My child is guaranteed a place based on sibling priority, social or medical priority, or because we are within its catchment area.

Incorrect. Being in a certain oversubscription category simply gives a child a higher priority over children in lower oversubscription categories, such as distance. If there are more children “higher up the list” than there are spaces at the school, then your child will not be offered a place. Always check whether your chosen schools in fact operate the relevant priority your wish to rely on; for example, not all schools give priority to siblings, and only a minority of schools have catchment areas.  

Myth 3: If I put only one school on my application, my child must be offered a place there.

Incorrect. The number of applications made by a parent or carer has no bearing on the child’s priority for a particular school. If all available spaces are allocated to children ranking higher on the oversubscription criteria, then your child will not be offered a place, irrespective of whether this means that this will leave them without a school place. For this reason, it is always advisable to put at the very least one “safe” school on your school application, i.e. a school that your child has very good chances of getting into, even if this may not be your most preferred school.

Myth 4: My child has an automatic right to attend our nearest school.

Incorrect. Depending on how far you live from the school and what the school’s PAN is, it may well be that all available places will be allocated to children in higher oversubscription categories. In this case, admission for your child will be refused. Admission statistics from the last few years show the distance from school of the last admitted child. These can be useful in having a rough idea of what you can expect if your application falls under the distance category (i.e. if your child does not fall under any of the higher priorities).

Myth 5: You can rent a property close to your preferred school to increase your child’s chance of gaining an offer.

Incorrect. Local authorities carry out thorough address verification checks, using council tax records, education settings, fraud departments and other agencies as and when required, ensuring you and your child are habitually resident at the application address. If an address cannot be verified or you have moved within the last 12 months or are linked to multiple properties, further evidence will be requested. School offers can be revoked if an application address is found to be an address of convenience.

What we say above applies to mainstream maintained schools and academies, i.e. “state” schools. Some things work slightly differently in grammar schools. Special schools and independent schools have different admission arrangements altogether. And, if your child has an Education, Health and Care Plan, the standard school admission rules do not apply to them at all.

This article applies to the law in England as at December 2022.

If your child is refused admission to your preferred school, or if you encounter other issues with your child’s education, our specialist education lawyers at Russell-Cooke can advise you on your options.

Briefings Individuals & families Primary school admission primary school application deadline planned admission number the School Admissions Code refused admission to your preferred school.