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What is a School Catchment Area?

Many people will study which city to settle in before immigrating. In addition to the place of work, one of the factors considered by many families is the school rating and the catchment area of that school.

A Catchment Area in the UK refers to the admission distance of the school. This means that residents in this area can apply to that school. The catchment area of a school is the straight-line distance from the school’s to an applicant’s residence. Because the number of applicants is different every year, the straight-line distance of the school’s admission varies from year to year. A lot of people move near the school to ensure their child can get an offer from their school of choice.

According to the previous two articles on applying for admission and allocation (linked below), you will know that the admission rules of British schools are that the closer to the school you live, the more likely it will be to be accepted and because the population density is relatively low in UK, there are usually not many primary schools near a residential area, so there may not be many primary schools you can choose from. Even if there are many good primary schools or secondary schools in your area, you can only choose the 3-4 schools closest to your home.

How to Apply for State School (Primary School & Secondary School)

How to Apply State School (In-Year Application for Primary School & Secondary School)

If the school is farther away, will you always be rejected?

It depends on how many children enrol in each school. If the school is popular, the council will make offers to children who live closer to the school. If you live far away, it will be harder to get an offer.

Take Wilmington in the city of Kent, as an example. Although there are many primary schools in Wilmington, the schools are scattered.

The picture below shows the Catchment Area of ​​Wilmington Primary School. You must live in a green circle before you can apply to this school. There are only 4 primary schools near this green circle, so if you live to the west of Wilmington Primary School, you can also choose three other primary schools a little bit west (as well as Wilmington Primary School).

If you live in the east of Wilmington Primary School, there are only two primary schools to choose from. Therefore, whether there are many good schools in a county or a city with many good schools, the most important factor is whether they are in your catchment area. As long as the nearest school is good, the number of schools isn’t necessarily important.

How about Secondary school?

The admission distance in secondary schools will be a bit larger but the number of schools will be fewer.

Similarly for Wilmington, when you go from primary school to secondary school, the school you can choose is probably the school in the green circle in the picture. However, four of them are Grammar Schools, one is a sixth form high school, so there are only two state schools that can be selected.

Are Grammar Schools good?

Most Grammar Schools had a higher exams result, but students need to take the 11+ ( 11+ is the exam for year 6 students) at the beginning of Year 6 and have a high enough score to enter Grammar School. The rest of the students are based on the admission standards of the school, which is also based on the straight-line distance from your home to school.

If the children are already Secondary school students when they arrive in the UK, it can be difficult to make an in-year application due to long waiting lists.

Moreover, not every city has a Grammar School. For those cities that don’t have a Grammar School, you will be able to choose from state schools or private schools.

All in all, because state and some grammar schools use distance as a condition for enrolment, applicants can only choose schools near where they live.

The above school admissions straight-line distance method is for children who apply for admission according to the normal procedures. If children need to make in-year applications, the requirement is that the school of choice must have places available, otherwise, there is no way to accommodate additional students even if they live next door.

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How to Apply State School (In-Year Application for Primary School & Secondary School)

After your visa is successfully approved, besides settling in the family and buying new home supplies, the next biggest concern is how to apply for school.

If the child is not yet of primary school age, please refer to the previous article [How to apply for a UK primary or secondary school]

If children are over 5 years old when they arrive in the UK, they need to make an in-year application to primary or secondary school (depending on age).

What is the in-year application procedure?

The procedures for transfer to Primary schools and Secondary schools are roughly the same. You will need to Provide:
1) Proof of address
2) Child’s passport
3) Admission application form

The admission application form can be downloaded from the Council webpage of each district. If you don’t know which council you belong to, you can follow the government webpage and enter the address Post Code.

What do I need in order to fill in the application form?

Let’s take the Westminster Council’s In-Year Admission application form as an example (this is just an example so please download the application form of the council you belong to)

The first part:
Child profile
Note that the application form needs your Council Tax Number as proof of address. This will be found on your council tax letters.

The second part:
Parent Information


Parts 3, 4, 5:

Children’s background. Since the children are immigrating to the UK, the education background in Part 5 can be filled in from the original school.

Part 6

Please select a school, fill in the Local Authority, whether there are any siblings studying, and fill in the reason for choosing this school.

Usually, you can choose 4-6 schools, depending on different Councils, and the Council will start from your first choice to see if the school is available according to the school chosen by the parents.

What if there are no vacancies in the 4 selected schools?

Then the Council can arrange the place from a school which has a place for the child.

Part 7:
If the child is immigrating to the UK or returning to the UK,  you should fill in the arrival date.

Parts 8, 9

Additional information section

Part 10 Signature, date, and confirmation of application

There may be slight differences in each council’s application form, please make sure you refer to your own council requirements.

After you email the application form to the Council, you will receive an offer form the council in about 2 weeks. You will then follow the instruction from the council, and contact the school for admission.

After finishing all the processes above,  your child will be able to participate in their new school!

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How to Apply for State School (Primary School & Secondary School)

Families who have immigrated to the UK will want to help their children to find a school as the first priority. To help a child enroll in school, we must know if the child can apply for admission together with other local children, or whether to make an in-year application.


First of all, let us talk about the age of entry to British schools.

Elementary schools in the UK start school in early September after the age of 4. This grade is called Reception Class (or Primary 1 in Scotland). Children start in Reception Class, and will be promoted to Year 1 (Primary 2 in Scotland) after one year, and continue to Year 6 (Primary 7 in Scotland).

After Year 6, it will be the first year of Secondary school, Year 7.
(Some primary schools in the UK are divided into Infant (reception Class – Year 2) & Junior (Year 3 – Year 6), mainly because some areas are scattered, so some small Infant schools have been opened for younger students to go to school, and then to Year Upgrade to Junior School at 3 o’clock)

If your child will be 4 years old before September next year (before August 31), then you should apply for school by mid-January next year. For the exact registration date, please refer to the Council of each district. If you don’t know which Council you belong to, you can refer to the following government web page, and you can find out which Council you belong to by using the postal code of your address. On the  Council website, look for the “Apply for School” section.



Each Council’s admission application form will have some differences but the registration and allocation time are roughly the same.

Process of Applying for Reception Class

If your child should start school in the 2021-2022 Reception Class, (which means your child will be 4 from 1st Sept 2020 to 31st Aug 2021) the admission timeline will be as below (please refer to the date announced by your own council)

  • January 15, 2021, Submit application form (each child can choose 4 schools)
  • Mid-April 2021 Receive an offer from Council
  • September 2021 Child to start their school life in Primary School

If the child should be enrolled in the Reception Class in September 2021 but did not submit the form before January 15, the Council will allocate the place according to the date of submission of the form, please check the Late Apply on the Council website Assignment date. Therefore, please arrange to apply for elementary school as soon as possible.

When children reach Year 6, they need to apply for secondary school. The process is similar but the timeline will be earlier:

If your child will enter year 7 in 2021-2022, the application timeline is as below (please refer to the date of your council)

  • October 31, 2020, Submit application form (each child can choose 4 schools)
  • mid-March 2021, Receive notification of allocation results from Council
  • Early July 2021, the transition day in New School (Introduction for New Student)
  • September 2021, Child starts Secondary School



  • In Scotland, there are 6 years of Secondary school with 4 years University

In the next article, we’ll show you how to apply for transfers for children, so stay tuned!