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How to find a state school in London

Whether you are moving from abroad to London, or you are already in London and your children are to start school soon, finding places in London state schools can be a daunting prospect.

The problems with finding a state school in London

The main challenge with finding state schools in London is the lack of places: most state schools are unable to offer places to all the children who apply.

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This results in a complex process for parents and schools alike, with schools trying to remain transparent and fair in how they allocate the few places they have, and managing waiting lists which are as secret as the Google algorithm!

A German family was telling us the other day “In Germany it is so easy, you apply to the school which is nearest to your home, and they give you a place – they have to. Period.” We wish it could be that simple in London! And if you are reading this, you probably do too!

The second challenge when looking for a state school is that the schools will not tell you if they have places, or if they don’t.

That means applying for state schools in London is like a shot in the dark, hoping that it will work.

The one thing that is for sure is that any child in London who is of school-age will be granted a place in a school – the question is just which school, and there is no obligation to provide a place in a school near their home if that school has no places available.

NB: In this guide, we use both expressions “state schools” and “public schools”. In the UK, the name of a school run by the local authority and free for pupils is “state school”. “Public school” actually means “private school” or “independent school” in the UK! However, so many other countries use the words “public school” that we also use it in this guide.

To give you a head start, you will find below the methodology that we use when helping clients find a state school in London.

Step 1 – Check when you can apply for London state schools

Here are the main rules about when a family is able to apply for a state school:

  • You cannot apply in advance (except for the Reception level)
  • You cannot apply if you do not have a UK address
  • You can apply once you are a resident in London

If you are moving from outside of London, this is what it means:

  • You have to find and secure your London home before submitting your state school applications
  • A proof of address will be required for any state school application

For families moving to London from somewhere else, finding a state school means committing to a London neighbourhood without knowing which local school will have places for their children.

Step 2 – Research the best state schools in London

Before you start your research, don’t forget to define what a good school is for your child:

  • Academic level
  • Type of curriculum
  • Other pupils
  • Class sizes
  • Extra-curricular activities
  • Anything else that is really important to you and your child

Here are some resources to get you started with your research:

We recommend that you focus on 3 to 6 schools.

If you are overwhelmed with the number of state schools, you might need to narrow down you location options in London first (if you don’t live in London yet).
You can find a list of great neighbourhoods for state schools here: The best London neighbourhoods for state schools

Step 3 – Check how to apply for London schools

Applications for state schools in London are usually made with the local London Borough:

  • Check with the Borough first if they do take applications for the school(s) you are targetting (or check the schools’ website)
  • Some exceptions might apply, for schools with a religious character for example. These schools might take applications directly. Check with them first.
  • You will be able to apply for several schools within the Borough.
  • You can even indicate an order of preference for your different school choices

Step 4 – Proceed with your school applications

Here is how it works for public schools in London:

  1. Once you have got your London home, visit your Borough’s website to find out about the school application forms. Most of them are available online.
  2. The application documents will let you to indicate up to 6 state schools that you wish to apply for, in order of preference.
  3. Fill out the forms, include the required documents (proof of address)
  4. Do not omit any required document, as your application with not be processed and you risk getting lost/delayed in the “incomplete” pile
  5. If you struggle, you can call their admissions teams, but they sometimes are hard to reach on the phone. However they are usually friendly and helpful.

Step 5 – Confirm your school places

Whatever type of school you have chosen (non-religious or religious), you will receive a response from the school(s) and/or London Borough, and a place or several places offered.

  • There is no set time frame for the response, but this can take between a few days and a few weeks.
  • A response will be sent once the application is processed, and a place is available in one of the schools you applied for.
  • If no places are available in your preferred schools, the Borough will have to find a place somewhere else -this can take more time, so patience will be important.
  • Once you have been offered a place, you will always need to confirm acceptance with the London Borough, and sign a form confirming the school place(s).

Have you received state school places for your children? Congratulations!

Once that is done, don’t forget to read all the information sent out to you by the school, including where to buy the famous school uniform (not all schools expect it, but many do).

If you have secured a place in one of your preferred state schools, congratulations!

If you want to become a Londoner in no time (well, we hope so :-)), check out our 10 tips on how to settle in successfully in London.

In any case, don’t forget that London offers plenty of green space – this guide to the best family parks will occupy your family weekends hopefully!

Good luck with finding the best London state school for your children!

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