Primary School Admissions Process Part 1: Your Questions Answered

I can’t believe how fast 3 1/2 years have gone.  My little boy is due to start primary school next year!  I have to say I feel a bit sad thinking about this.  I am sure when the time comes for him to start school, it will be good for him.

But it will be the end of his first precious years at home with me 😦

But, aside from my personal feelings about this, from next month my husband and I have the all too real and practical task of applying for our preferred choice of primary school for him.  Although we know what our first choice of school will be, I have obviously never been through the primary school admission process before.  It is a little daunting.

I know friends of mine with children the same age feel the same and several have unanswered questions about the process.Therefore, I thought it would be helpful for mums and dads of children due to start primary school in the next few years to have some solid and reliable information about the primary school admission process.

A while back, I contacted Bristol City Council.  I asked if I could put forward some questions about the process to them which they agreed.  I then asked readers of Bishopston Mum on my Facebook page to put their questions and queries forward.  Mike Wheeler, from Bristol City Council, very kindly answered these questions.  I hope you find his answers helpful…

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When and how do I apply for primary school admission for my child?

If your child’s date of birth is between 01/09/2008 and 31/08/2009 then your child starts Reception class in September 2013. You will need to apply for a Reception place between 12thSeptember 2012 & midnight January 15th 2013.

You can apply online at complete a paper based application form available from School Admissions and schools. We recommend applying online as the system is secure, checks for errors and you can change your preferences anytime up until the closing date for submissions (midnight 15thJanuary 2013) You will also receive a email on offer day (19thApril 2013) with your allocated school. A letter will be posted 1stclass on the same day.

If your child is registered with a GP Surgery, and you have not submitted an application by late December you will receive a letter from School Admissions reminding you to apply for a school place by the closing date of 15thJanuary 2013.

Are there any helpful strategies to use when applying for primary school admission for my child?

We recommend that parents use all 3 of their preferences when applying for school places. Do go and visit the schools that you are interested in. A lot of Bristol primary schools are oversubscribed, and home to school distance is often a key factor in allocating school places, so we recommend putting down the closest schools to your home address, whilst recognising that there are some schools with different admissions criteria (such as Catholic schools).

In the event that we are unable to offer any of your preference schools, we will offer an alternative school that as close as possible to your home address with a place available in the appropriate year group.


I have a question about deferred entry. My child is the right age to start reception September 2013. I am considering keeping her at the Steiner School which she currently attends until she’s 6 and then ideally I would like her to transfer to Sefton Park School. Can I apply as normal for next year and then if she gets a place, can I defer entry or do we have to wait and apply in 1 years time?

The law states the children have to be in full time education the term before their 5th birthday. If you wish to educate your child at a fee paying school, that is fine. If at anytime in the future you wish your child to go to a non fee paying school, such as the one you mention you will need to complete an In-Year application for a school place. This can be completed online at recommend completing the application at least 4 weeks in advance of requiring the school place.

Some schools will not have spaces in the requested year group, and if that happens and we cannot offer you any of your preference schools, you have the right of going on the waiting list or exercising your right of appeal for your preferred school (s)

If all of the schools requested are full, then an offer of an alternative school will be made where a place is available.

Will the new Ashley Down school at Brunel Field will eventually have all year groups? Or will children start there and then go to the Downend site?

Children that start school at the Brunel Field site will continue their primary education at the site until they transfer to secondary school. Children starting at Ashley Down Infant School will continue to transfer to the Downend Road site.

What is the radius around each school? I have heard worrying things from parents, for example, one child who was within the radius but didn’t get a place due to the high numbers of children living in this area.

There is no such thing as ‘radius’ or catchments for the majority of Bristol primary schools. There is only one primary school in Bristol that operates an ‘area of first priority’ but this school is not within the immediate local vicinity of Bishopston. The allocation of spaces, in the majority of cases is as follows (in order of priority)

  • Children with a full statement of SEN,
  • Children in Care, or those previously in the case of the local authority,
  • Children who have a sibling at the preferred school, who will still be on roll in the year of entry
  • Home to school distance as measured in a straight line using the local authorities distance mapping system.

As an example; If a school has an admission number of 30, and there are no children with SEN or children in care requesting the school, then all those applying with a sibling still on roll when the youngest child starts school in September would be offered a place

E.g. This would leave 20 spaces to be allocated on a straight line home to school distance.
Once the distances have been calculated and ‘ranked’ according to closest first, we offer down to the admission number. In this case it would be the 20 children living closest to the school in a direct line.

If a parent makes a late application and all places have already been allocated then a place cannot be offered even if the home address is closer than the last child to be offered in the example above.

Whilst I agree with the sibling rule, do you think it’s fair that people clearly outside catchment should still be able to benefit from the sibling rule? I am sure there are many parents that feel the same about people who temporarily move into a catchment area and then move out and benefit from the sibling rule.

The City Council’s Children’s Services Scrutiny Commission considered this point in March 2012. The evidence is that there are actually very few cases of primary school children qualifying under the sibling rule living more than 2 miles away from the school. In the majority of these cases there were also other reasons why the family had not moved the older child to a school closer to their home. The Commission felt that the benefits of the sibling rule were such that the arrangements should not be changed.

I have heard rumours that some schools might do away with the sibling rule. If this was the case then I suppose it would be sensible to put your closest school first in case distances come down for 2nd child.

In line with School Admissions Code, all applications are initially considered equally, regardless of preference order. The LA will then ‘sort’ applications to ensure that the highest possible preference is offered. Giving only 2 preferences rather than 3 does not increase the likelihood of being offered one of them.

If you put 3 choices down and get offered your 3rd can you decline and go on the waiting list for your 1st choice? Or would you just get a random allocation in this case? Would it be wise to just put down 2 options if I was unsure about the 3rd?

We would always advise you to use all 3 of your preferences as there is more chance of being allocated a school that is acceptable to you. You are fully within your rights to opt to go on the waiting list for higher preference school (s) or you can submit new preferences or exercise your right of appeal. Under Infant Class Size legislation it is extremely difficult for an appeals panel to uphold your appeal.

If you are offered your 3rd preference school you will keep this offer even if you decide to go on the waiting list for your 1stand/or 2ndpreference. If we are unable to offer you any of your preferences we will offer you a school place in a school that is a close as possible to your home address that has a space in the appropriate year group.

Would attending the nursery at a school such as Bishop Road affect (i.e. improve) my child’s chances of getting a place there the following year?

No. There are no community controlled schools such as Bishop Road that operate ‘feeder nurseries’ the allocations are completed as per question 5.

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4 responses to “Primary School Admissions Process Part 1: Your Questions Answered

  1. I don't think this point came across clearly in his answers, it was only something that became clear as we got our offers earlier this year – the council treat your 3 preferences as if they were 3 different children applying. You get a place in the “queue” for all 3. They then see who would be offered a place at their first choice, and remove them from the other 2 “queues”. This moves everyone up a bit in the queue, then they do this again and again until all the schools are full. Then they write to all the parents to tell you where you've got.

    So, for example you put down 1) Sefton Park, 2) Brunel Fields 3)Bishop Road. In the councils initial calculations you are 95th for SP, 64th for BF and 145th for BR. Once the council start removing the 'duplicate' applications from children who will be offered a place in their first choice everyone starts moving up the queue. So if you are then 91st for SP, 36th for BF and 100th for BR you would be inside the class size for Brunel Fields and Bishop Road, BUT you will be offered Brunel Fields as you put it 2nd on your preferences (with Bishop Road 3rd).

    So ranking is important as you will be offered the highest choice school you apply for where there is space. If someone else who lives further away from the school applies with it as first choice they WILL NOT be given preference even if you only put it 2nd or 3rd.

  2. Even though my little one is only 1, I found this a really helpful article and have put a link on my blog. The thought of having to get my head around this really freaks me out. A few people have said I should get my name down for the nearest school now…I'm assuming that's a very out-of-date misconception?!

  3. im going through the same dilemma of finding a good scholls for my child.. the school nearest although is a popular school yet the results don't reflect that.. so im considering to move since im living in a rented house, to a place where school is not only outstanding but the results reflect that too..

    im a bit concerned about the sex education policy of some of the school, they are telling kids too much for their age.. i dont find that appropriate.. call me conservative or whatever but i think everything should be age appropriate, a 6 year old is too young to know how babies are made..

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