How school catchment areas work

Whether you’re moving into a new area or your family is starting to grow, you’ll need to think about school catchment areas.

Some parents specifically choose an area to purchase a property that is in the catchment area of an excellent local school.  When you need to know how to find a school catchment area, sometimes it isn’t as easy a process as it should be. So, how to find a school catchment area?

How to find a school’s catchment area

Catchment distances vary from school to school and year to year. Your best bet is to contact the school you wish your child to attend, they will be able to give you a radius to work from.

To find a local school in England, click here.

Enter your postcode, then fill in the drop-down menu. 

You will then find all the local schools nearest to your postcode. Under each school listed, it will show you approximately how many miles you are away from the school.  Make a note of that information. 

Contact the school that you wish your child to attend; the school will advise you of their catchment area which you can compare with the distance away from the school that you live. 

How catchment areas work

Catchment areas are based on your child’s permanent address. They’re also subject to change, so the best thing to do is look up the schools in your area and contact them directly.

Both primary and secondary schools should be able to provide information on where their catchment areas are, so you can find out if you’re close enough to be considered for a place.

Your distance from the school is also only one factor in your application – you may be miles away from your first choice, but discover that your child would be accepted anyway.

Factors that are considered can include: 

  • Distance from the school (catchment area)
  • Siblings at the same school
  • Whether or not your child attended a nearby ‘feeder school’
  • Religion (if it’s a faith school)
  • Academic ability (if it’s a grammar or private school)
  • Special medical and social needs

Some schools even include a lottery or fair banding admissions system. In a lottery admissions system, a certain number of places are allocated randomly between all the families who applied. In a fair banding system, pupils complete an ability test – with set numbers of high, average and low performing pupils admitted.

How to apply

When you’ve found a few schools that you’re interested in, the next step is to apply to the relevant local authority. To find your local council’s website, use the local council finder tool.

When you apply, you can list the schools you wish to apply to in order of preference.

According to the school’s admission page on the government’s website, applications usually open during the beginning of the academic year, one year before your child is due to start.

This can be any time between September and November, so make sure you confirm the dates on your local council website.

If you’ve just moved to an area and you’re outside of the application dates, contact your local authority and explain the situation – they should be able to help.

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