Using data from the National School Census, we have shaded two circles around each school. The inner circle shows the average distance that the last intake of pupils live from the school, the outer circle shows where 95% of the last intake of pupils live. In both cases, we have uniquely excluded siblings, children with Special Educational Needs (SEN) and those in or previously in local authority care; as these groups typically get priority over distance. This leaves a small number of children living outside the shaded area; as these are often special cases that cannot be identified in the data, we have decided to remove these outliers to provide more meaningful information.
State school admissions are about so much more than simply where you live. There just isn’t a magic catchment area and any catchment indicator or heat map must not be relied upon too heavily. If you are seriously considering a school, you really need to visit it and speak to the person responsible for admissions. Following are some important points regarding school admissions and the plotting of catchment areas:
If a school is not oversubscribed, it must accept pupils from anywhere, e.g. it doesn’t matter if you live inside or outside of the school’s borough or in fact halfway across the country. Problems only arise when schools are oversubscribed, which for the best schools is likely to be the case. For these schools "catchment areas" are often confused with priority areas; if and only if a school is oversubscribed then, in some cases, priority is given to children who live within a certain area. But, even living within this priority area does not guarantee an offer of a place at that school.
Not all oversubscribed schools have priority areas, e.g. academies, foundations and free schools have extra freedoms as they are able to seek the right to opt out of some elements of the School Admissions Code in their funding agreements. The number of academies is growing rapidly and high on the government agenda, so expect many more schools like this. Another example would be a school on the edge of several local authorities – the local authority that the school is in often does not give priority to its residents; it is done on distance, regardless of the authority you live in. So, in a huge number of cases there is no safe "catchment area", it just depends who else happens to apply that year.
Although distance plays a key role, it is by no means the be all and end all when it comes to school places being offered. To understand this, let’s look at how a the primary school admissions process works. Schools receive every year, just before April, the list of all the children who applied for their school and the distance they live from that school (the applicant can live anywhere). Remember for under-subscribed schools everyone gets in, for oversubscribed schools, the school’s admission code is then applied to that list. For a non-religious state primary school, the code would typically accept pupils in the following priority:
Admissions criteria for other types of schools can be a minefield as the Governing Bodies or Diocese are their own admissions authority and they have some quite unique admissions criteria in some cases. Religious schools usually have church attendance before distance and parents have to get a supporting letter from the priest at their local church in order to increase their chances of getting in. Distance is therefore often at the bottom of the list!
What happened in the past is just that, in the past. Much can change on a year by year basis. Consider the following:
You might be thinking, "oh these are very rare things", but really they are not. Bulge classes are becoming increasingly common as schools struggle to cope with increasing demand. Of course, for those moving to quiet villages or areas where the population has not changed much, the places from which local schools admit children may not change dramatically each year, but there are still no guarantees.
Secondary school admissions can be even more of a minefield, especially if they work on selective entry. Let’s consider the most famous selective schools - grammars.
The pressure for grammar school places is often exceptionally high, super bright is no longer good enough, you now have to be super, super bright. So what happens - well parents get tutors and/or send their children to private prep schools. So a "catchment area" will be a reflection of affluence and ambition, rather than a reflection of the distance that people live from the school. One cannot look at an area and assume just because I live there I am going to get into this grammar school – actually the reality is probably more likely to be, I live here because I can afford to and therefore I can afford a tutor and/or independent preparatory school to get my child into a grammar school.
Other state secondary schools can have their own variations of admissions criteria, particularly with the growing number of academies and free schools – which are, as mentioned previously, very high on the Government agenda.
For example, some academies use a “postcode lottery” – imagine a large lottery style machine that they enter postcodes into and then this machine spits out the names out of the lucky few. Who gets to go in to the postcode lottery? The children who are applying all sit a banding test and representative samples from all bands go into the postcode machine, e.g. if 50% of children end up in the top band they offer 50% of places to those top band children – what this means is that it is impossible to predict a "catchment area" as you don’t know who will apply, let alone how clever they are and which band they will get in to.
There are other state schools who offer some kind of scholarship programme – this is not like an independent school scholarship, where fees are reduced - but rather a way to prioritise children for admissions with particular talents, e.g. there might be maths, sports and music scholarships. This means they can set aside a proportion of their places for those children regardless of distance or siblings or any other run of the mill admissions criteria – again "catchment areas" have no way to predict who will apply for these and how many of these will be offered out.
Free schools, well they can just do whatever they like, literally, but they have to publish what they do.
Warning! If you are seriously considering a school, you really need to visit it and speak to the person responsible for admissions.
Our catchment area indicators are provided for informational purposes only and we do not accept any liability for decisions based on this data. Past admissions are no guarantee of future admissions, we advise you to always check with the school. Catchment indicators are only available for schools in England, where data is available.
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