Applying for state schools, also called public schools in other countries (but not in the UK!), represents a headache for families moving to London from abroad.
Very often families spend months planning their move to London, with activities ranging from choosing their neighbourhood, securing a school place for the children, finding a place to rent, moving their belongings, etc.
This means that children would start school in London (or the UK) a few months after the state school applications have been submitted. The question which then arises is whether it is possible to apply for state schools in advance.
Can you apply for state schools in advance?
1. The principles of free education in the UK
There are 2 main principles behind state schools in the UK:
- Education is free for children in school age – this is great news!
- Education has to be provided to any resident child in school age – this is also great news!
But… there is a caveat. This means that ONLY children who are actually and currently resident in the UK are eligible for a place in the state schools system. Equally, this means that resident children HAVE to go to school.
We will see in a few lines why this is so important.
2. Applying a few months before the September start
Let’s take an example: in February 2023, you are planning to move in the summer of 2023, for your children to start school in September 2023. You want them to receive free education, and are planning to apply for state schools.
In an ideal world, you would want to apply in February 2023 for September, and secure your place in advance. This would definitely remove a lot of uncertainty from the family move. And you would be looking for a home near the school which has confirmed there is a place for your child.
Well unfortunately, this is not possible. Applications for state schools will only be taken with a proof of permanent address for the family.
3. Can I apply as soon as my tenancy starts?
You might say: well I can afford to rent a small place, or an Air BnB, starting in February 2023, can I apply in February, for September, with that address?
The answer would be that you cannot (unless your want your children to start school in the UK in February), since the principle is that resident children in school age HAVE to be schooled.
This means that:
- if your child is resident, he or she has to go to school immediately
- if your child is not resident, your application will be refused.
As a consequence of the above, you cannot indicate when you would like your child to start school (when it is weeks or months after the application). School applications are for school places now.
4. What would happen if I did?
So let’s assume you were still to apply in February, with proofs of address, but the family has not come over to the UK – the following things would happen:
- Your child is offered a place, and you have to accept it within 2 weeks (usually) of it being offered. You do not accept the place: it will be withdrawn and you will face harsh questions from the Borough as to why your child is not going to school.
- Your child is offered a place, you accept it, but your child doesn’t start school: the place will be withdrawn too, after a few weeks and a lot of questions from the schools admissions team.
- The Borough informs you that they request to see the flight ticket to London for your child, which you cannot provide. Your application cannot be completed.
5. Playing by the rules
Generally speaking it is not advisable to try and go round the system.
Boroughs have tackled school application fraud extensively in the last few years, and gone to the extent of knocking on people’s doors to check that they do indeed live where they say they do!
Preparation will be key. You will need to do things in the following order:
- Choose your neighbourhood and secure your permanent rental place
- Submit your state schools applications once you (meaning the children and the parents) have physically moved in
This information only refers to state schools. Private schools have a completely different process. For more information, check out this article.
Please note this information is not provided as legal guidance.