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What are admission criteria and how they work?
If a school is oversubscribed (i.e. if more people apply than the number of available places), a decision must be made about which applicants are to be successful. Different criteria are used depending on the type of school, and the local authority.
All state funded schools are required to give priority to children in social care and children with certain special needs. Beyond this, the criteria are chosen by the relevant admission authority, which will be the local authority for community and voluntary controlled schools, and the school's governing body for academies and other faith schools.
A wide variety of different criteria are used and there is very little consistency between different schools and different areas. It is important to fully understand the criteria which will be used for any schools you choose to apply to. These criteria must be published in advance. They can usually be found either on the local authority website (in the annual admissions brochures or in a separate document of 'Determined Admission Arrangements'), and/or by the school.
The following list provides a number of examples of criteria that are commonly used to prioritise between applicants:
- Siblings: Whether the applicant has a brother or sister already at the school
- Proximity: Distance from your home to the school, with children living closer to the school receiving priority. This can be measured in a straight line (as the crow flies) or along a walking / driving route.
- Faith: Various criteria are used to assess whether the child and family are members of a particular church or faith group. These range from very strict requirements of attendance for several years prior to the application, through to a mere preference to have your child attend a school with a particular faith character.
- Predefined catchment areas: Whether your home falls within a specific predefined geographic area.
- Feeder schools: whether the child currently attends a linked 'feeder' school (only relevant for transfer to junior and secondary).
- Academic ability (only relevant at secondary level): this is applicable in two types of school. Grammar schools are academically selective with pupils sitting tests and only the top scoring pupils being admitted. In addition, tests are also used to ensure comprehensive intake under 'banding' arrangements in which pupils are admitted according to an even distribution across the test results.
When reading a school's admission criteria, it is important to pay careful attention to the precise order in which the criteria are listed, and the tie breaks used in case the school is oversubscribed under one of the criteria. For example, it is very common to find that siblings are given priority over non-siblings. This rule may be used in conjunction with catchment areas to with the resulting priority order:
- Children living inside the catchment area with siblings attending the school;
- Other children inside the catchment area (i.e. those without siblings);
- Children living outside the catchment area with siblings attending the school;
- Any other children.
To complete this description we need to explain what happens in the event of oversubscription in any of the four categories. The most common scenario is that home to school distance is used to prioritise applicants.
The criteria above may be written as follows, and will have exactly the same effect:
- Children living inside the catchment area;
- Any other children;
In the event that the school is oversubscribed in any of these categories, priority will first be given to children with siblings already attending the school, and then to children living closest to the school.
What are successful admission areas?
These are the approximate areas that you would have needed to live in to have been successful in your application to the school in previous years (and assuming you do not qualify for a place because your child has special needs, or you already have a child attending the school). These areas are calculated using data obtained from local authorities and individual schools regarding the furthest home to school distance of a successful applicant in previous years, and details of predefined catchment areas where applicable.
These cut-off distances can, and do, change significantly from year to year with shifts in local demographics and the popularity of a school. Therefore, living inside the SAA does not guarantee that you will get a place at the school in future years.
These areas represent an approximation only. We do not always use exactly the same school and home location data, route data, or methods for calculating route distances as Local Authorities. In all but a handful of exceptional cases the level of accuracy will be greater than the variation that should be expected in the cut-off distance from year to year.
What are catchment areas?
We define a catchment area to be any predefined area that is used to give priority to residents for admission to a particular school. They are only relevant if the school is oversubscribed and therefore has to prioritise between applicants to choose which ones will get a place. In these circumstances, then living inside the inside the catchment area will mean you have a better chance of getting into the school than someone living outside this area.
A wide variety of different names are used to describe catchment areas. For example, priority areas, priority admission areas, priority zones, designated areas or zones (and in the case of one local authority, the school's 'normal area'). These all describe the same thing: an area used to define a group of residents who receive priority treatment should they apply to the relevant school when it is oversubscribed.
Many faith schools also have catchment areas in that they give priority to children living within a church parish.
The degree to which children living inside the catchment receive priority depends on the precise admission criteria used by the school. For example, in some local authorities children with siblings receive priority regardless of where they live. Elsewhere, however, the catchment area splits this sibling priority, with all children living inside the catchment having priority over those outside the catchment even if they have a sibling already at the school. Regardless of the specific details, living inside a school's catchment area does not guarantee you a place at the school.
Am I guaranteed a place at the school if I live inside its (predefined) catchment area?
No. Living inside the catchment area means that you will generally receive priority over children living outside this area. However, this is not always the case. There are three common reasons why not:
- Sibling policies. In about three quarters of cases, the priority afforded to siblings is split by the catchment area. That is, priority is given in the following order:
Put another way - children living inside the catchment always get priority over those living outside.In the remaining 25% of schools which have a catchment area, the sibling priority takes precedence. That is, children with a sibling attending the school always get priority regardless of where they live.
- Children with siblings attending the school and living inside the predefined catchment area;
- All other children living in the predefined catchment area;
- Children with siblings attending the school but living outside the predefined catchment area;
- All other children living outside the predefined catchment area.
- Home to school distance. A school may be oversubscribed from applicants living within the catchment area. In these cases, places will be usually be allocated according to home to school distance - with those living closer to the school more likely to get a place. As such, you might live within the catchment area, but still live too far from the school to stand a good chance of getting in (assuming you do not qualify under a sibling rule).
- Faith based criteria. Many faith schools prioritise applications from children living within the boundaries of a particular church parish, or other predefined area. However, a higher priority is often given to regular attendance at the relevant church, or baptism in the case of Catholic schools. These factors are more likely to affect your chances of a successful application than living inside the parish. Equally, church parishes tend to cover quite large areas, and therefore lots of applicants will meet the criteria. Under these circumstances home to school distance is likely to become a more important factor than merely living within the parish.
- Sibling policies. In about three quarters of cases, the priority afforded to siblings is split by the catchment area. That is, priority is given in the following order:
Do all schools have a catchment area?
No. Not all local authorities or schools use predefined catchment areas. Around half of the schools in England have predefined catchments, and virtually all schools in Wales and Scotland have catchment areas.
Do catchment areas change?
Predefined catchment areas do not tend to change very much. They may be adjusted to accommodate a new housing development, or perhaps a new school, but will generally remain the same from year to year. However, successful applicant areas (SAAs), which are defined by the furthest home to school distance of the last successful applicant, can and do change significantly from one year to the next.
What is the difference between catchment areas and cut-off distances?
When a school is oversubscribed the most common way to prioritise applicants is by home to school distance - those living closest to the school get priority over those living further away. The furthest distance of a successful applicant from the previous year's applications is often referred to as the cut-off distance. This cut-off distance implies an area around the school which you would have needed to live in to get a place at the school: if your home is closer to the school than the cut off distance then you would have got into the school.
Understandably, many people refer to this as a catchment area. However, it should not be confused with predefined catchment areas (also known as priority admissions areas) which may form part of the admissions criteria.
Generally speaking, schools with predefined catchment areas will also use home to school distance to prioritise places. Therefore a school may have a cut off distance area and a catchment area.
What is a faith school?
Faith schools in the UK are simply schools which have an association with a particular religion. State funded faith schools will generally teach the national curriculum, but offer education with particular religious character.
Most faith schools in England set admission criteria which restrict entry to pupils of the specific faith of the school. Note that these criteria only apply when the school is oversubscribed, but many faith schools are oversubscribed.
Some faith schools reserve a proportion of places for non-faith based admissions. These are often called 'open' places or 'community' places. Similarly, the faith based places are often referred to as 'foundation' places. However, some care is needed in understanding the effect of these open places. In many cases, siblings are allocated from open/community places - even where the applicant could have been admitted under the faith criteria. The result is that this sibling rule will use up a disproportionate number of the open places, leaving very few - if any - for children without a sibling already attending the school.
Why don't you show the SAA for faith schools?
Some voluntary aided and foundation schools also use home to school distance as a criteria. We have chosen not to present this information since the faith based admission criteria used by these schools do not rely on proximity. As such, the SAA that would be produced by the relevant cut off distances would not provide a useful indication of the likelihood of a successful application next year. In general, it is much more important that an applicant meets the faith criteria when applying to a faith school.
Nearest school criteria
A number of local authorities allocate places at oversubscribed schools by giving priority to children who apply to their nearest school. These include Bath and North East Somerset, Leeds, Surrey and Westminster.
This rule defines a set of non-overlapping areas around each school, the residents of which receive priority if they apply to their local school. That is, the nearest school criterion creates predefined catchment areas. As with catchment areas, living inside this 'nearest school area' (i.e. applying to your nearest school) does not guarantee you a place at the school. See [Am I guaranteed a place at the school if I live inside its (predefined) catchment area] for further details.
What does 'oversubscribed' mean?
If a school is oversubscribed it means that it could not accommodate all of the children who applied for a place. The consequence is that a decision has to be made about which of the applicants should get places at the school, and which will lose out. To ensure that this decision is as fair as possible, the relevant admission authority (which may be the school's governing body or the local authority) must specify the criteria that they will use to prioritise between applicants.
A school is usually oversubscribed if it would have to exceed its published admission number (PAN) to accept all applicants to the school. However, in some circumstances the school may be able to accept additional pupils in order to accommodate applicants. This flexibility tends to exist at smaller rural schools and secondary schools. There is much less flexibility for entry to reception at primary schools due to the legal limit of 30 pupils for infant school classes.
What does 'not oversubscribed' mean?
If a school is not oversubscribed, then with the exception of academically selective (grammar) schools they are legally obliged to accept any applicant. The school's admission criteria do not come into play unless the school is oversubscribed. That is, it doesn't matter where you live, whether you attend church on a regular basis, etc, the school must accept your child.
Academically selective grammar schools operate in a different way and only admit pupils who get a sufficiently high score in the entrance exam.
What is the published admission number (PAN)?
Each year schools must agree and publish the maximum number of pupils they expect to admit (in each relevant admission year). The school must then accept any applicant until it reaches its PAN. If the school has more applicants than the PAN, then it will most likely be oversubscribed and will need to employ its admission criteria to prioritise between the applicants and choose which will be offered a place and which will be refused.
Where does the data come from?
The data has been collected from a variety of sources including Local Authorities, individual schools, various school inspectorate bodies (Oftsed, Estyn, eti, ISI, HMIE), the Department for Education, Education Scotland, the Welsh Government.
How accurate is the data?
We make every effort to ensure that we collect and record data accurately. Inevitably, some mistakes do occur, and there are occasionally errors in the source data.
In addition, there are a number of reasons why our measurements of home to school distance will not always replicate the calculations performed by the relevant admission authority:
- First, we have built our own database of school building locations, and we use these coordinates to calculate home to school distances and SAAs. These coordinates will not necessarily match those used by the relevant admissions authority. For example, we measure from the centre of the main school building, but in some cases the admissions authority will measure from the nearest school gate. We hope to add this information in the future to improve to the accuracy of the service.
- Secondly, we have developed a bespoke tool to calculate SAAs in circumstances where home to school distance is measured by walking or driving routes. Our measurement of the relevant route might not match that used by the admission authority due to the fact that the authority does not allow the use of all roads and footpaths, but maintains a list of approved routes. Again, we hope to add this information in the future to improve the accuracy of the results.
In both cases, it is far more important to note that the cut off distances often change significantly from year to year. Any discrepancy caused by these differences in approach are far outweighed by the annual variation in admissions figures.
Community schools are fully owned, controlled and funded by the local authority. They are what most people will have in mind when they think of a 'state school'. The local authority employs all the staff, owns the school buildings and land, and sets the admission criteria. The school must teach the National Curriculum.
Foundation and trust schools
A foundation school is one in which the school is run by its governing body. It is state funded, and therefore no fees are charged to pupils, but the governing body decides who to employ and also decides the school's admission criteria (subject to certain rules set out by government). Pupils follow the National Curriculum.
A trust school is a type of foundation school with links to an external partner, such as a business or a charity. A charitable trust is formed with this partner, and the trust may own the school buildings and land.
Voluntary aided schools
Voluntary aided schools are what most people think of as 'faith schools'. They are largely state funded, but a foundation or trust (which is usually a religious organisation) will contribute to the building and maintenance costs. The school's governing body has much greater control over the running of the school - employing the staff and setting the admission criteria. Pupils follow the National Curriculum.
Voluntary controlled schools
These are similar to voluntary aided schools (i.e. 'faith' schools) in that school land and buildings are owned by a charity which is often a religious organisation, which can appoint some members of the governing body. However, they are run much more like a community school with the local authority employing the staff and setting the admission criteria. Pupils follow the National Curriculum.
Academy schools and Free Schools
Academies and free schools are independent schools funded directly by central government. Each Academy's governing body sets its admission arrangements in agreement with the Secretary of State and the local authority. Academies do not have to teach the National Curriculum, and have greater flexibility over things like timetables, and pay and conditions for members of staff.
Independent schools, also known as private schools, are not publicly funded. They generally charge fees to attend the school, but many offer bursaries and scholarships. Private schools have full control over their admission arrangements. Many are academically selective at secondary level, requiring pupils to sit entrance exams.
Scottish school performance data
The Curriculum for Excellence is the national curriculum for Scotland - introduced into all Scottish schools from 2013. The curriculum aims to provide the skills, experience and attitudes needed in a 21st century economy and to ensure fairer life outcomes.
The Curriculum changes are also associated with a change in school and student assessments. These are aimed at encouraging stronger engagement with colleges and local employers - resulting in more achievement awards and industry standard qualifications.
To help improve student attainment, support school development and meet key education challenges, information is gathered annually on the attainment and destinations of school leavers across Scotland.
The performance data is gathered from Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF) accredited courses achieved by pupils during their senior phase (S4-S6) of education. Awards gained before the senior phase are not included in this data. Some achievement awards may not be included.
To fully understand each school's performance, it's helpful to also look at information provided by individual schools in their handbooks and websites.
Due to changes in the Curriculum for Excellence and the introduction of new National Qualifications in 2013/14 this performance data is not directly comparable with previous data.
Positive leaver destinations
The positive destination measure shows the percentage of school leavers entering an initial positive destination. Positive destinations include higher or further education, training, voluntary work, employment and activity agreements. The initial destination information is collected approximately 3 months after leaving school.
Attainment in literacy and numeracy
The Scottish Curriculum for Excellence aims to improve the numeracy and literacy skills of young people.
The measures for literacy and numeracy are based on the Scottish Qualifications Authority's (SQA) literacy and numeracy units at National Levels 4 and 5. A set of criteria has been developed, allowing a wide range of different qualifications and learning programmes to be included, which are comparable to the SQA's literacy and numeracy units. In some cases, even if they haven't taken the final exam, a young person may be included in these rankings if they have passed all of the relevant units leading up to it - for example in National 5 Mathematics, English or Gàidhlig.
A young person will only be counted once in this measure regardless of the number of relevant qualifications they hold.