How To Win At Primary School Admissions

June 5, 2017


This time last year we were all in a panic about picking (?) primary schools. Perhaps living in London added to the fiasco, I don’t know. But whilst we are surrounded by loads of primary schools, competition is fierce for places. Any places that is. I don’t think that will ever change.


It was heart breaking to see so many parents devastated last year, not getting their 1st, 2nd or even 3rd choice schools in our area. After wildly desperate appeals and endless waiting lists, for most, there was nothing that could be done.






I didn’t want that to be us. So, I decided that we needed a plan, to play the game well, because we wanted to win! It was game on, and this is how we went about it.



Primary School Admissions Game Plan


How To Win At Primary School Admissions



1. Start looking early with an open mind

Schools change. Fact. Even the crappiest school can turn itself around with the right help. We have seen it. The main idea about looking early is that you have time to gather information about the schools in your area, without the pressure of having to make an imminent decision on which ones you are going to include in your application. Most schools will accommodate tours before the main rush leading up to the application deadline. So take advantage of this. It will help to keep the stress levels down, trust me. Don’t forget, if you are looking a year plus in advance, schools can change, as do their reputations, so don’t rule anything out yet.


2. Think about what will suit your own child

When you go visiting, think about your own child’s personality and what type of environments they will thrive in. It’s easy to get pulled along by other parent’s views on what the ‘best school’ is, but finding the right fit is so much more than just looking at the stats. Basically, don’t be a sheep, and don’t be afraid to stick two fingers up at everyone’s perfect school, if it’s not your little ones fit.


3. Be Ruthless with your shortlist

Nearer application deadline time, once you have an idea of the primary schools around you and have done your homework on them, see if you can weed out the ones that don’t tick the boxes. We ended up with just 3 that we were happy with, which were a reasonable distance away from us, and then 3 which were way too far away.




Don’t keep any schools that you wouldn’t be happy with in your shortlist. We hated our 2nd closest school to our home, so we kept it completely off the list.


4. It’s all about the distance

If you know you are going to be competing for limited school places, then distance is everything. There are lots of tools online to help you work out if you are likely to be within the last year’s catchment areas for particular schools. But did you know that many councils will welcome a quick email or telephone call if you want to know the exact distance between a particular school and your home. This will particularly come in handy when you are about to list your preferred schools in order on your application form. See if you can get confirmation of distance for each of your shortlisted schools.


5. Think Smart and be realistic

Look at your shortlist and this time put your schools in distance order from 1 to 6, with 1 being the closest school to you, and so on. If you live in an area where schools have very small catchment areas, then this order may be the safest bet for your application form. If you have larger or overlapping catchment areas, then you can afford to sift through your list and jiggle those schools around to suit.  The main thing is to be realistic. If your 1st choice school is too far away and not a match, you won’t be offered it. The system will just keep skipping down your list to the 1st school it finds that you qualify for.


I suppose what I am trying to say is that in an ideal world, we would all put our number 1 school in well… 1st place. But if your 1st choice hasn’t been carefully considered against your actually eligibility, then you may find yourself bitterly disappointed. It’s not worth it. It’s a tricky game of going with a mix of your head, heart and crossing everything for a bit of luck.


And as for us? We did win.




We got our 1st choice primary school this year. Woohoo! There was a good chunk of luck involved, but by making very carefully measured and rational decisions, it put us in a really good position to grab our happy ending.






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58 responses to “How To Win At Primary School Admissions”

  1. Samsam says:

    aww congratulations on getting your 1st choice. I can only imagine how stressful it can be picking the right primary school and admissions #dreamteam

  2. Heather Keet says:

    Excellent game plan! I didn’t realize the schools systems were so different from the US. Here you go to the school in your zone and it’s hard to get a waiver to move to a neighboring one. #DreamTeam

  3. Mainy says:

    Well done:) it’s all a different world when trying to get schools. I got my boys in then moved them a few years ago. Happy now with a through school so no more moving:)

  4. Great advice! We were unlucky and weren’t allocated any of our 4 ‘choices’ and instead were given one 5 miles away! I would advise parents to go on the waiting list. Places do move around and appeals aren’t usually successful (statistically only 2% of Reception class appeals are successful). We have now resolved the issue and Lily was re-allocated our second choice after the first round of waiting! #DreamTeam

  5. Life Loving says:

    Really pleased that you got your first choice school. I can’t imagine how stressful that is for a parent!

  6. Congratulations on getting your first choice. I haven’t started viewing schools yet but I have a couple in mind and my first choice so far doesn’t work on ‘catchment area’ criteria so I need to look more into what will help us secure a place. #DreamTeam

  7. Oh this is so fab and I love the gifs! It’s such a stressful time so this post will be such a help to many I am sure #DreamTeam

  8. Jax says:

    Congratulations on getting your first choice Found this very helpful, am not at that stage just yet but so determined to get the school we already have our eyes set on xxx love the pics too haha xx

  9. Congratulations on getting your first choice – and huge thanks for all the tips! Leo is only 10 months so this all feels a world away, but I know it will son come round and it fills me with dread! I’ve got this post bookmarked so will have to refer to it again in a couple of years! Thanks for sharing #DreamTeam

  10. mums army says:

    This is great advice for me as we will be starting all this next year so I need to research on what I need to do and this really helps!! So glad you got your first choice xx #DreamTeam

  11. Kimberly says:

    Ooh well done! We had the same plan – and I’m so glad we went with the closest, not the wildcard which was a drive. Walking to school is pretty awesome! #DreamTeam

  12. Liz Deacle says:

    Love the gifs! Congrats on the first choice school. We had to play that game too when we lived in Bath. Then we moved to Nz and it was “that’s the local school and you go to it” then we started homeschooling and i made them go to the front door, knock on it and ask” any room for us here?” It made me feel special!! Great post! X

  13. Jeannette says:

    Congrats on getting the school you want. Yes, a bit of early preparations makes all the difference. #dreamteam

  14. Great tips to know for when it will be my turn to do this. 🙂


  15. Petite Words says:

    Bloomy hell, when did it all get so stressful! Anyone would think we’re apply for University! #DreamTeam

  16. Mummy Setra says:

    Glad you got your place! Great tips! #dreamteam

  17. We are ready to start looking in September ready for next year. I can’t believe my babies are growing up this quick. Some great tip here though that I will keep I mind ad it been 8 years since we looked into a primary school #DreamTeam

  18. This is great. Especially the part about which school suits your child. This is probably the most important point of all. Just because the school has great results doesn’t mean the environment will suit your child. How much outdoor space do they have? How do they approach teaching, is it exploratory or just sat at a desk constantly? I know my son can’t cope with the later for too long. #DreamTeam

  19. Tubbs says:

    This is excellent. The comments about being realistic and familiarizing yourself with the criteria they use are key. Schools allocate places in order – local authority looked after children, siblings, special criteria (like church attendance etc) and catchment. Choice is a bit of a myth as, if you don’t meet the criteria or there are loads of siblings / looked after children in that year, you won’t get in. However much you want your child to go there.

    Glad you got the school you wanted.

  20. Lucy At Home says:

    We had an absolute nightmare with this last year because we moved areas after the closing date for applications so the places had already been allocated and our closest school was full and we just had to have whatever was left at the end. We decided to give it a go at the school we were given but the travel was just too much and so after a term, we appealed and were given a school closer to home. I felt so bad for my daughter because she had to start school for the first time, and then start a brand new school again just 12 weeks later. But she took it all in her stride. Kids are amazing! #dreamteam

  21. Love the Honey BooBoo gif!


  22. So very true about things changing so quickly with schools. Our closest school had a terrible reputation and has been “failing” for years, but all of a sudden turned around and had a great Ofsted inspection last year. I had vowed that I wouldn’t want my two going there, but then visited a few months ago and actually loved the feel of the school over the “Outstanding” one that we had been planning for until that point. I think it’s like a new house or a wedding dress, you just know! Congratulations on getting your first choice lovely. xx #DreamTeam

  23. Cathryn says:

    Yay for getting where you wanted. I’m dreading all of this. Although my husband is a teacher so hopefully we will get our daughter in where he is.


  24. We had all this drama again this year. Fortunately we live in a tiny village 100 metres from the school front door! Phew… xx #dreamteam

  25. Catherine says:

    It’s crazy how stressful it is for parents these days. When we were kids it was so easier. So glad that you got your first choice, just a relief! #dreamteam

  26. MMT says:

    oh this took me right back to last year (where did that time go!). I really agree with all your tips – we ended up putting three down in the order of hardest to get into, and left it to fate to decide. We ended up with our third choice on paper, but as we’d loved all three we came away knowing we would never have got the other two anyway…complicated and over-analytical..but it worked for us!

  27. Chloe Wood says:

    Fab post! It’s such a nerve wracking time isn’t it! #DreamTeam

  28. Great tips! My daughter is only 2 so I think we still have somewhere between 18 – 24 months before we have to do the forms (far enough away for me to have not confirmed date in a premature panic yet!) but I will ingrain this advice in my mind for when I do! Also, great you got the school you wanted 🙂 #DreamTeam

  29. Aleena says:

    Brilliant game plan! This is actually one of the biggest factors in use deciding to move out of London next month; I just can’t bear the thought of the school admissions game being as fierce as it is here, and we’re due to sign Amelia up this winter for next September. #DreamTeam

  30. Jaki says:

    I can remember being SO nervous the morning that email pinged into my inbox – I don’t think I”ve ever refreshed my phone so much. It was SUCH a relief when we got the news we’d been hoping for! Congrats to you – now the countdown is on! Little Man is so ready, I just wish I could say the same for me! Eek! #DreamTeam

  31. Kiki says:

    Congratulations! Its so hard to get a place (I used to work in a school where parents would lie about their address in order to get a place offered). I’m definitely going to be investing in tours of schools beforehand. #DreamTeam

  32. Ky says:

    These are great tips, and ones I will definitely take on board when we start looking for Clem. Well done on getting your first choice. #dreamteam

  33. Kate says:

    Great tips! My girls are already at school. Its really tough if people don’t get their first choice. #DreamTeam

  34. This will be us soon! I’m going to keep this to hand!

  35. Caitlin says:

    Whew that sounds stressful! For us we just moved to the neighborhood where we knew we wanted our kids to go to school and that’s where they go. Now that I think about it, I’m not sure if our way was easier or harder! I’m glad you got the one you wanted though!

  36. It’s such a stressful time and like you, I don’t know if that’s just a London thing, or if this happens all over. I remember shaking when I went online to check for my eldest daughter and the relief, when I saw that she’d got in. We’re so lucky that we have a very good state primary on our doorstep so distance wise we should have been alright, but it’s a CofE school so several people I know didn’t get in, even though they were close in distance. And thank goodness for the sibling policy. Phew. We’re just about to embark on the same game for senior schools, and I’m not looking forward to it. Great news you got the school you wanted. #DreamTeam

  37. msmamabean says:

    Bookmarking this! I have to start looking next year, so this is great for future referencing! Congratulations on getting your 1st place! #DreamTeam

  38. We got our choices and are happy. Our catchment infant school is outstanding so no issues here but the juniors has problems but distance-wise it’s the best choice #dreamteam

  39. Meg says:

    Eeek – this will be us soon, eldest starts primary next September. Have bookmarked this post for future use! #dreamteam

  40. Chloe says:

    Great advice that many will no doubt find helpful. Well done on getting your first choice #dreamteam

  41. David says:

    Some solid advice here. Really liked your post. We went through it last year, but as I work with schools I probably didn’t have the angst a lot of parents feel. Not because I could cheat the system, but because like you, I knew to start early.

  42. fridgesays says:

    #dreamteam little dude starts in September, we are also winning with 1st choice school – i only put one down 😉
    Even bigger winning was new clarkes shoes purchased in a closing down sale from £42 to £2.50 haha, now I’m just bragging right?

  43. melissa abel says:

    My daughter started reception last year too. We got our second choice and so far have been delighted. The only reason her school was second choice was because its an infant school! So we have to start thinking about junior school in another 2 years!
    Then its onto high school were it really gets tricky! eek!

  44. Congratulations on getting your first choice. We’re really lucky and live in a fairly small community with three primary schools all within walking distance so although we had a preference all three were pretty good. We got our first choice too and now that M is there it s almost guaranteed that L will get in too when the time comes. Another top tip is to use the linked nursery if they have one and they seem to give priority to children already within their system.

  45. Some great advice! #DreamTeam

  46. Yay, well done!! This is so scary having to actually think about it – I know it’s a while off for me, but I bet it’ll come flying round! #dreamteam

  47. Well done on getting the primary school you wanted. We went through all this last year and yes I agree you have to be realistic with your choices. It really helped me going to see the actual schools and getting a feel for what suited my child best. And yes, schools do change, best to keep an open mind x

  48. Well done! Thankfully I won’t be going through this myself because I will be homeschooling! #dreamteam

  49. Great game plan, and well done you! We live on the same road as the school so thankfully there was no concern over whether the children would get into the school, and fortunately it’s the best in our village. I till can’t believe they are going to school though! #dreamteam

  50. Congratulations. You really did do it in a cool, calm and logical way. We can all get a little too emotional when it comes to schools. A realistic game plan makes perfect sense.

  51. I’m so fascinated by the system in the UK. It’s much simpler here in Ireland, with less competition. Must be such a stressful time for parents. So glad it worked out for you. #Dreamteam

  52. Oh I’m secretly dreading the primary schools admissions…we live a stone’s throw away from the one we want but something tells me it might be a bit of a fight as it’s the top school in our area. I love your use of gifs here and the game plan sounds brilliant…huge yaaaay that you got your 1st choice too! Thank you for hosting #dreamteam with me lovely xxx

  53. Congrats on getting your first choice. How exciting #dreamteam

  54. These are some fab tips, its crazy that people have to go to such lengths to put them in a local school! To be fair all of ours are shocking, more confirmed by the fact that mine and Hubby’s schools are now demolished! #dreamteam

  55. Helena says:

    Thank you for sharing your advice with us and well done for getting your first choice. #DreamTeam

  56. Oh God Annette we may not be able to go on holiday or have a lifestyle because of school fees but I swear I’m so relieved my family and I don’t live in the UK anymore going through this! I think we’ll just stay in Malta and carry on killing ourselves with the school fees! Sound advice for those not in my position though. #dreamteam

  57. Sophie says:

    Parental choice? I don’t think so! All the government has done is make education competitive which it shouldn’t be but that’s another post! Great post Annette. I would also add when looking, don’t just look for your 4 year old. Try to imagine what would b good for them at aged 9 or 10 too. Most kids go to the one school here but I know competition in cities is crazy. #dreamteam

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