Choosing a Secondary school


boy with bagWhen your child is in Year 5, it is a good time time to start thinking about their next school. Every area in the country is different so you do need to talk to your Head teacher and the child’s class teachers to get advice. In some areas the transfer from junior education to secondary is completely straightforward. All the children automatically proceed to the secondary school in their area.

All-ability schools
This terminology is used in some areas for schools which are non-selective and will admit children according to their own specific criteria. All-ability schools are run by the Local Authority who pay the staff. As with other schools, some of these schools may specialise in areas such as Performing Arts, Technology or Arts. These schools used to be known as High schools, Secondary modern Schools or comprehensive schools.

Grammar schools
These are selective schools which will admit children by ability after the children have undertaken a ‘Test’. Some of these schools are single sex but more are becoming co-educational especially in the Sixth Form. For more details see our page on 11+ Selection to grammar schools.

Voluntary aided/Church Schools
A foundation or trust provides education at these schools. Most voluntary schools have a religious character and are known as faith schools. Voluntary aided schools are responsible for their own admissions criteria. These schools are comprehensive which means that they cater for a range of abilities and admit without assessment.

Three tier system of Education
There are middle schools in some areas. This means that the children stay at their middle school until 13 and then may enter a grammar school at 13 if they pass the entrance requirements and in other areas the children transfer to non-selective schools at 13 without testing.

Voluntary controlled schools
You will see the term voluntary controlled in the description of some schools. The Local Authority is the admission authority for community and other voluntary controlled schools, organising the secondary transfer process and other admissions procedures.

Foundation schools
Schools with this terminology used to be called grant maintained schools. They control their own admissions but co-ordinate the transfer from Junior schools with the local Authority.

Academies are directly funded by the Department for Education) and independent of direct control by local government in England. An Academy may receive additional support from personal or corporate sponsors, either financially or in kind, but must meet the same National Curriculum core subject requirements as other state schools and they are subject to inspection by Ofsted. Academies are self-governing and generally constituted as registered charities or operated by other educational charities. Most are secondary schools but an increasing number of primary schools are becoming academies. 


All of the schools in your area will have prospectuses and information for parents. They will also advertise Open Mornings and evenings both during this term…..the summer term …..and again at the start of the new school year in September/October. Parents with children in Year 5 need to see as many of the secondary schools in your area as soon as possible. It is advisable to visit as many different types of school as possible (and both selective and non-selective if available) so that you can make a judgement on facts, not on hearsay.

Making a decision

After seeing the schools parents should make a short list of the schools that they like and the reasons for this. Whatever schools you are choosing please read their prospectus and check with your Local Authority and Head teacher. If available, read the Booklet available to every parent with a child in Year Six and check your local County Council web site for available information.

Local Authority Booklet

This book has a full set of instructions:

  • What to do and when
  • An application form
  • Descriptions of all the schools in the area
  • Important information for parents with children who have special needs
  • All about testing...when, which tests
  • Details for out-of-area candidates
  • Time tables
  • Decisions
  • Appeals
  • and much more

This book is usually ready during the summer holidays…make sure that you get one. It will be available online or you can request a printed copy from your Local Authority.

This gives you definitive information about the schools such as:

  • how many places they offered previously
  • the number of applications they received
  • The criteria for entry for each school (listed in order of priority)
  • An application form will be in this book, on which you will list your choice of schools, and instructions on completing the form
  • A timetable of:
    1. when you receive information
    2. Open Days
    3. return date for your form(s), both to the LA and to individual schools if required
    4. result date (if child has undertaken testing) and allocation of schools for everyone
    5. appeal date
girl on rope
It is difficult for some parents with children living in selective areas to make a choice. In some areas all children are entered automatically for the 11+ and parents can choose to opt their child out; in others, they have to opt in. Your child’s school will tell you if they think that your child will succeed and be happy at a Grammar school.

Children who are applying for a place at some schools need to fill out the school’s own entry form as well as the LA form. This will apply to the church schools so always check with the school and ask your Local authority if you are unsure. Please check that ‘the school of your choice’ has admitted children in previous years from your area ….sometimes different parts of a county have differing rules!

All schools have certain criteria for entry (the order of priority can vary). The main ones are:

  • Children in local authority care
  • Special Educational Needs and Disabilities
  • Nearness to School
  • Siblings attending school
  • Health and special Access reasons
  • Sometimes selecting the school as first choice
  • Practising members of a church (in the case of Church schools

Travelling costs

If you are concerned about travelling and the costs incurred by this you should ask your Local Authority for advice. Please do this before you make your choice. Each Local Authority will have different rules for this. In general however if you choose a school which is not designated the nearest appropriate school your child will NOT qualify for free transport. If, however, the authority considers it necessary for your child to attend a particular school then they may provide free transport. The distance away from home to school is usually considered to be more than three miles for free transport.

Even if you select a school where testing is not a requirement you have to be aware of the entry criteria. If a school is over-subscribed and you live too far away, or they have enough children who live nearer to school than you, your child may not be given a place.Some schools state in their entrance criteria that they only accept ‘First choice’ candidates. This is because they know from previous years that they will be over-subscribed. Parents are aware of each school’s examination results, ethos, behaviour of the pupils and the standard of teaching and care that every child receives. This is very important and it is correct that it should play an important part in each and every parents’ decision.

in class

Reallocation forms In some counties, reallocation forms will be sent to every parent where their child has not given their first choice school. This is a separate process to the process of ‘Appealing’ so you may do both together.

Every parent has the right to appeal against a Local Authority’s decision and discover if there are any solutions to your objections. If your child has not been allocated your first choice school you will receive by post the name of their allocated school and a form to complete if you want to appeal against the decision. Your child may in some cases already be on the county’s reallocation list BUT this does not prevent you from following both procedures. If your child is reallocated before the appeal, you can withdraw the appeal. In some areas this process of entering secondary school is a very straightforward and a natural progression. The problem comes, as in everything in life, where there is more than one choice so it can be more difficult to make a decision.

Detailed guidance on appealing can be found through the following link: School Admission Appeals

Please ensure that you have the latest information for the current year. Check:

  • Date for submission of application forms
  • Entry criteria for individual schools
  • Does the school have its own application form?
  • Do you live in the right place for your preferred school?
  • Your child’s achievements against entry levels required
  • Your head teacher’s recommendation
  • Dates of Open Days
  • Ethos of the secondary school
  • Do the specialisations and strengths of the school suit your child’s abilities?

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