If you are in the process of applying for a school place for your adopted child next September, you may already be aware that previously looked after children have priority admissions status in England. But what does this mean in practice? Here, we try to answer some of the more common questions about priority school admissions in England.

Can I apply to any school?

The short answer is yes. In the normal admissions round (reception or year 7), you can express a preference for any state-funded school, including schools outside your local authority area. You can still apply even if you are outside of the school’s stated catchment area, or your child does not attend one of the school’s feeder primary schools.

What are ‘oversubscription criteria’?

A maintained school is usually obliged to offer a place at the school to every child who applies, as long as there are places available (except for designated Grammar schools). If there are more applications than places available, the school is said to be oversubscribed, and each school will have criteria for deciding which children will be given a place.

Does the school have to offer my child a place even if it is oversubscribed?

In the normal admissions round (reception or year 7), most schools’ over-subscription criteria must give highest priority to looked-after and previously looked-after children (including children adopted from care). This means that those children go to the front of the list, before the over-subscription criteria are applied to any other child. There are some variations on this rule, depending on the type of school:

  • In a designated Grammar school, where admissions wholly rely on scores in a selection test, priority admissions for looked-after and previously looked-after children do not apply;

  • In a partially selective school, where there are additional admissions criteria to selection test scores, then in the allocation of remaining places after selection, looked-after and previously looked-after children take priority;

  • Faith-based schools are allowed to use faith-based criteria, but looked-after and previously looked-after children of the faith must be prioritised over other children of the faith. If the school also has oversubscription criteria for children not of the faith, then they must give priority to looked-after and previously looked-after children who are not of the faith above others who are not of the faith. Some faith-based schools choose to prioritise looked-after and previously looked-after children whether of the faith or not.

Do I have to prove my child’s legal status to get priority admissions?

Admission authorities are entitled to ask for proof of a child’s previously looked-after status. They may request a copy of the adoption order, the special guardianship order or the child arrangements order. They may also request a letter from the local authority where the child was last looked after, stating that he or she was looked after immediately prior to the court order being made.

What if my child was not adopted from an English local authority?

Currently, priority admissions only apply to children who were previously looked after by a local authority in England. However, in December 2017, the Minister of State for School Standards wrote to all local authorities and admission authorities in England to announce an intention to change the School Admissions Code at the next opportunity to include priority admissions for adopted children who have previously been in state care outside England.

In the meantime, the Minister has asked all admission authorities to introduce oversubscription criteria which give these children second highest priority after children looked after, or previously looked after by local authorities in England. This means that the current situation is that schools are not legally required to give priority to children adopted internationally, but there is an expectation that they will do so, until this can become part of the statutory guidance.

What if my child is starting a new school but not going into reception or year 7?

Admissions outside of the normal admissions round are more complicated if the school is already full. Schools must determine an admissions number for each age group within the school. This is called the Published Admission Number, or PAN, and would normally indicate the maximum number of children to be admitted. However, schools may admit above their stated PAN, including in-year admissions, without altering their stated PAN, so exceeding the PAN is not necessarily a barrier to offering a place.

Where the 30-child limit applies in infant classes, the Code states that additional children “may be admitted under limited exceptional circumstances”. Previously looked-after children are included as exceptional circumstances, so schools may exceed the limit to admit them, but they are not required to. 

Where a previously looked-after child is placed on a waiting list, they must have the highest priority on the list. Waiting lists must not operate on a ‘first come first served’ basis.

Can I request that my child enters the school in a different class than the rest of their age group?

Parents may request that their child is admitted to school outside of their normal age group. The admissions authority does not have to agree, but they must take account of individual circumstances, the parents’ views, information from medical professionals, and the head teacher’s views. If the request is agreed, and the child will therefore enter reception or year 7, then priority admissions for previously looked-after children will apply.

Can I defer entry if my child is not ready to start reception class?

No child is required to attend school until they reach compulsory school age. Once they have been offered a place, any child may defer entry or attend part-time until compulsory school age is reached, as long as they do not defer past the beginning of the final term of the year.

All summer born children may start school in September following their fifth birthday, and request that they are admitted outside of their normal age group – into reception rather than year 1. If the admission authority agrees that the child can enter reception instead of year 1, then normal admissions procedures, including priority admissions, will apply.

What if my child has an Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP)?

In the normal admissions round, all children whose EHCP names a specific school must be admitted to that school. Schools may also admit children with an EHCP that names the school outside of the normal admissions round, even if it means going above the Published Admissions Number (PAN), or the 30-pupil infant class size limit.

Can the local authority force a school to offer my child a place?

In certain circumstances, the local authority can direct the governing body of a school to admit a child even when a school is full. This can happen when a child has been refused entry to, or has been permanently excluded from, every school within a reasonable distance. The local authority may not force a school to exceed the infant class size limit to accept a child, if doing so would prejudice the provision of efficient education or use of resources in that school. The only exception to this is in the case of looked-after children, where the local authority can direct a school to accept a looked-after child into an already full infant class. This exception does not apply to previously looked-after children.

The local authority cannot direct an academy to admit a child. If an academy refuses to admit a child on the local authority’s request, the local authority can ask the Secretary of State to intervene.

All the information here is taken from the Schools Admissions Code (2014) which is available to view online in full here: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/389388/School_Admissions_Code_2014_-_19_Dec.pdf