For most families, a place in a good state school means that you are providing a reliable and quality education for your child. It helps people to feel connected with their community, especially at the primary school level, when almost all of the students will be local. State schools are free of charge, available locally so parents can avoid a busy commute, and there are often programmes to assist students who are not fluent in English.
There are some drawbacks, of course. You won’t find many specialist teachers, at the primary level especially, and the range of subjects available is therefore narrower. The facilities will likely be more limited too, with the same result. State primaries don’t prepare children for 11+ entrance exams, so parents planning to have their children attend a selective secondary school will probably need to hire a tutor by year five. The teaching should be of a good quality though, and if a child attends a good comprehensive school later on, there should be no problem getting into a good university when the time comes.
There is a catch-22 when it comes to using choice of school as a criterion when choosing a place to live. If you have a particular state school in mind, but don’t yet live in that area, you won’t be offered a place. State schools require proof of local residence before they will offer a place, so you will have to take the plunge and move there before knowing for certain that you have a place in the first school of your choice. Knowing if the school has space or is oversubscribed will help, as in the latter case you are unlikely to get a spot, even if you move there.
Normally, you will be able to apply for a nursery place for children who are 3 or older, and reception for children who are 4 or older. Getting a place in the nursery that is affiliated with the reception you want may increase your chances of a reception place the following year, but won’t, in most cases, guarantee it.
Normal application deadlines fall in mid-January for primary schools and the end of October, the year before, for secondary schools. There is some leeway allowed in the case of change of address, usually up to mid-December. If you apply later than that you will still be considered, but only if there is space, and you may be well down the queue of others also waiting for consideration. For selective grammar schools, entrance tests are also a factor. These are set in September, often with a closing date for applications that falls in July.
Here’s a good example of what it’s like later at University: Sheffield Hallam University Accommodation Resource
There are some considerations that will give a higher priority to certain children when it comes to admissions. Those with an EHC plan, for example, looked after children, those with particular medical needs, social needs, and those who already have siblings attending a certain school. Faith schools are allowed to give preference to regular church-goers (thought here is seldom a necessary statement of faith to go along with that). The London Oratory Junior House is the only state school which has a student requirement for general academic ability (and musical aptitude), which it tests for as part of the application process; all others do not. Regular, secular primary state schools then consider students based on distance from the school, to a very precise degree, and this often means students within a very short distance get in, while those a bit farther away (even several blocks away in some urban instances), do not.
Secondary schools vary more widely in their forms of selection, some considering ability, faith, location, or a combination of any or all of these. Secondary comprehensives give most places, or even all places, to those living closest, while selective schools (known as ‘grammar’ schools, even if it is not in the name) may test ability in various areas. Some schools strive for a broad band of ability levels; others want only the top performing students.
In most cases, ‘ties’ are broken using distance from the school. Many schools will even provide information on what the distance was, the previous year that made the difference.