How to get to a state school in the UK – application process


State school education in England is free 

how to get to state school in uk

There are over 3000 state (government, free) schools in England. The Department for Education in each borough is responsible for distributing school places. That applies to all state schools except church-affiliated. The main factor that is taken into account during the application process is living in a school catchment area. The more popular a school, the smaller catchment area. 

You will find detailed information about application process to a state school on the boroughs or counties websites as well as key dates and deadlines. You can also find there a full list of state (and private) schools of the area, the main statistics, eligibility criteria, registration forms and some useful advice.

If your status of living in the UK is legal the goverment must provide you with a place in state school. 


If you are coming to live in the UK it is important to first find an apartment or a house to live in and then apply for a state school place. You must prove the address of your residence by providing utility bills (gas, electricity, phone, etc) and/or concil tax.

In order to start an application process for a state school place you need to fill in a registration form. It can be done online or on a hard copy, which you will then need to post to the Department for Education of the borough or county. In the form you will be asked to make a list of schools (usually about 6) that you wish your child to be admitted to. You need to rank the schools on the list starting from the most desirable and then in descending order by finishing with the school you least want your child to go to. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that the child will get to any of them but in case if your chances are good (the closer you live to a school the better) it provides council with a good indication of your priorities. 

National Offer Day

If on National Offer Day you are not happy with the school you are given you can start the application process. It should be done without delay especially if there are a lot of other applicants that wish to get to the same school as you. 

Putting only one school in the list won’t increase your chances of getting a place there. 

It is important to remember that the most important criteria of getting the school number one of your choice is proximity of living to it. Despite that, some of the councils nowadays may hold a draw in order to decide who gets the places. This is most relevant for densely populated areas, especially in London.

All prospective parents receive information about getting places to state school on one particular  day, which is called National Offer Day. The information can be optained by logging in to the Department for Education website as well as by post.

Getting admitted to a grammar school

The most academically advanced British schools, which are also called in England grammar schools, select their students based on their abilities. In order to identify the most able children grammar schools hold entrance exams. The examples of the most sought-after grammar schools in England are

As competition for places in grammar schools in England increase year to year, many schools now make their exam process two-tiered. The first round of exams usually is held in the end of Year 5 or beginning of Year 6 and the second round – a few months later. Those wishing to enter grammar schools need to be ready to pass exams for maths, English (comprehension and creative/persuasive writing or composition), verbal and non-verbal reasoning. Some schools nowadays may have a computerised test to assess all cognitive abilities of a child.  

In the most popular grammar schools the competition for places may reach up to 2000 people for 100 places. The popularity of schools is mostly based on the GCSE and A-level results attained by students, which in turn lead to better chances of securing places in the most sought-after British universities. The higher the results the more competitive entrance process may be.

Admission process to a grammar school is different from a comprehensive (unselective) state school. The application process may start earlier than usual deadline in the end of October. School advisors recommend checking admission information for each individual school on its website separately and well in advance. 

Other criteria for getting to state schools of England

  • abilities in music, art, sports;

  • church-affiliated schools will give definite preferences to children of their religions but proof may be needed. As a proof schools may ask for a letter signed by a priest of the church regularly attended (usually for at least 5 years), a baptise-certificate, etc 

Types of state schools in England

– state school financed and maintained by the government

– state schools financed and maintained by church and government. There are a lot of different concessions in the UK such as catholic, Church of England, juwish, muslim, etc. Catholic schools are particularly popular due to their high academic results. In order to get admitted to one of the church of schools it is necessary to regularly attend from two to five years (depending on the school requirements), which also has to be verified by the priest. In addition to this, some schools may ask for participation on school events and for donations. The priority is usually given to families of the same religion as the school’s. The second line of priority goes to other religions and only then to families living in the school vicinity (usually not more than 10% of all students). 

Some of the best known secondary  church schools in London area are