Step 1: Search online for schools in the new area you are moving to.
There are several private companies with websites hosting school directories. In England, there is also the government’s website which enables you to find schools by postcode area, and compare data for schools (like Ofsted reports, for example). You can also search based on the council area your new house is in here.
Step 2: Google the schools you got from Step 1.
Look at their websites. Which ones seem to fit with your child’s needs and personality? Schools can vary in ethos, approach and teaching methods even if they have to cover the same curriculum. Draw up a short list of schools that seem to match your child’s needs and that your new home is in the geographical area for (often called a school catchment).
Step 3: Look for the Admissions Policy for the schools on their websites.
Criteria for admissions are not necessarily the same for every school but every school has an Admissions Policy. Most of them are on their websites. Do you think you meet (or will meet when you move) their admission criteria? Adjust your shortlist accordingly. The Admissions Policy will tell you how to apply for a place, which in England is through the local council school admissions department. There are normal year admissions (e.g. starting in Reception) and in-year submissions (often the case if you move house). The admissions process for schools in England is outlined here.
Step 4: ‘Phone the schools directly and ask to speak to someone about admissions.
Did I hear you say ‘Really? Ring them?!’
If you are going to be applying to a school that is oversubscribed (many are), the person responsible for admissions is like your new best friend! Ask if there is likely to be space in the school year you need (or years, if you have more than one child) when you need it (i.e. when you move home).
Speaking to the admissions administrator will give you a good idea about if there is a waiting list and, if so, how many children are on it. They will also be able to tell you what the pupil turnover is like at the school and whether the space(s) you need is likely to become available.
By having a polite chat on the phone directly with the school, often you can find out more information than from perusing the website or by emailing. You can find out relevant information more quickly so you don’t waste time applying for a school that you have very little chance of getting a place in! Have you noticed that people often tell you more in person then they might by email…?
Step 5: Contact the local authority school admissions department to find out more about the admissions process for the schools you prefer in your new location.
There is an annual application deadline for new school starters for both primary and secondary school which is the same across England. In-year admission policies for children who change school mid-way through the year, because of circumstances like moving house, can vary slightly between councils. Some councils will not let you apply more without having proof of address in the new location. Some councils will not let you apply for a school place more than two weeks before you need it. It is important to find out the rules your new council has from their school admissions webpages.
Step 6: Visit the schools on your short list.
In pre-Covid times this was pretty straightforward. Nowadays, some schools are allowing visits at specific times, some are offering video tours, some are not offering in-person or virtual visits. Ring the school and find out what they offer.
It can be really helpful to get a feel for a school by visiting, meeting staff and pupils. It is up to you whether you do the visit (in person or online) with your child or on your own. There are pros and cons to both ways of doing it so think about what would suit your family best.
If a visit is not possible, you can do some online research about the school using Google and social media. Local community Facebook Groups can be helpful for finding out about schools and people’s experiences of them. I wouldn’t be ruled by what other people say about a school online though – keep an open mind. All schools don’t suit all kids (or parents!). You can also visit the area around the school at pick-up time to get an idea of the chatter that goes on, although be mindful you don't want to worry anyone by ‘hanging around’ the school gates!
Step 7: Follow the local council schools’ admissions procedure.
Fill in the form, email it off and hey presto! After a short while you will find out which school your child(ren) has been allocated! You can ring or email to ask how long the allocation process will take as this can vary. When you receive all the information from the council and the allocated school, the joys of shopping for new school uniform can begin!
I hope you’ve found these steps helpful for navigating the in-year schools admission process. Come and share your experiences or ask questions in my free Facebook Group.
I’ll be blogging about what to do if you don’t get a place in the school you and your child prefer and other schooling issues soon.