Understanding Catchment Areas And School Admissions


Family life is changing rapidly, but one thing remains the same: All parents want to ensure that their children get into the best possible school. A lot of parents feel overwhelmed by the maze of admissions rules and the mysteries of the postcode lottery. We can help clarify school admissions for you!

First, some good news: Recent data (from 2020) shows that the number of students applying for secondary school who got offers from their first-choice schools is on the rise. The percentage of students receiving first-choice offers rose to 82.2%, up by over a percentage point.

The numbers were slightly less encouraging for primary school students, where the first-choice percentage dropped slightly. It fell only 0.4%, though, remaining at a very respectable 90.2%.

Our mission is to give parents the support and advice they need to match their children with the schools best suited to their needs. If you’ve done your research and decided that your child needs to go to a school outside your catchment area, here are our best tips for doing so.

Master The Terminology Of Catchment Areas

Your quest to place your child in the ideal school must begin with a thorough understanding of the specialized language involved, starting with the full definition of a school catchment area.

Every school has a catchment area map that influences which students it offers places to. The boundaries of the catchment area are initially set by the distance to the last pupil to whom the school offered a place. Pupils living that far or closer to the school receive placement offers in the following year.

The first complication in the process is that catchment areas can change from year to year. If a school is looking to enroll more students, it may expand its catchment area to do so. Conversely, if the school’s local community is putting a strain on its capacity, it may shrink its area for one or more years. If you want to guarantee that your child is in a catchment area and increase the chances of admission you may want to sell your house fast and make a move.

While it is important, the distance between your home and your preferred school is not the only factor considered by admission authorities. Additional variables include:

* Any special medical or social needs the student has

* Family attendance — having siblings already at the school matters

* Religious affiliation

* Prior attendance at a ‘feeder school’ associated with the new school

* Pupil Premium Funding

* Results on academic entrance exams (typically used by grammar schools)

Hopefully, it’s becoming clear that you have options to explore even if the catchment map for your preferred school isn’t ideal.

Study Your Specific Catchment Situation

At really good schools, it’s not uncommon for authorities to receive a dozen or more applications for every place they have available. Competition is fierce and the road to success can be long and complicated. Everything you can learn about your school’s catchment area can help you secure one of those places for your child.

Our catchment area heat maps are based on data received straight from the Department for Education. They’re your most reliable tools for gauging admission likelihood for your first-choice schools based on geographic factors.

Just enter your postcode into our tracker and our maps will show you which areas received “many,” “some,” or “few” placement offers from the school in which you’re interested. Our heat maps are always kept up to date with the latest available data.

Your next research destination should be the admissions website of your Local Authority or Academy Trust. Here you’ll find accurate data on the previous year’s admissions. You should be able to gauge how heavily subscribed your target school was in the last year.

After familiarizing yourself with the data, it’s a good idea to make direct contact with your preferred school. You get the clearest possible picture of the school’s expectations (e.g. whether or not they anticipate a “sibling bulge”) for the next year by talking to administrators with first-hand experience.

Once you’ve gathered a clear picture of the way geographical criteria may influence the likelihood of your child’s admission, you can move on to addressing the other admission factors that the school considers. Just bear in mind that different schools can prioritize their factors very differently!

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