Back to knowledge base


Learn how and when to apply for a London school

If you’re relocating to London with your children, you’ll need to educate yourself on the school application process before starting a new life in the British capital.

Having decided what type of education path you want them to follow – state, grammar, independent or international – it’s time to secure that all-important place for your nearest and dearest.

How and when to apply for a London school

So, channel your inner academic and prepare to learn how and when to apply, depending on your family’s requirements.

1. State schools (funded by the government) – primary schools (5-11 years) and secondary schools (11-16 years)

  • You must have a UK address before applying for a place at a state school.
  • Applications for state primary school reception classes (age 4-5 years) must be submitted before 15 January, preceding the start of the academic year in September.
  • The application deadline for secondary schools is the end of October of the year before entry.
  • Applications received after these primary and secondary school deadlines will be processed, but after the ‘on-time applications’. Therefore, fewer places may be available, especially at high performing schools.
  • Applications for all other year groups can be made at any point in the school year – typically through the local authority. Known as ‘in-year admissions’, they will be processed within a few weeks taking parental preferences and spaces available at the time into account.
  • If the required year group is already full in all the selected schools, the local authority will allocate a place at the nearest school that has a space available.

2. Grammar schools – selective state schools for children aged 11-16 years

  • Only available in certain parts of the country, grammar schools admit pupils based on their academic performance having taken the 11-Plus entry exam. Students that pass the 11-plus gain entry to their local grammar; while those who fail must attend their local secondary school.
  • Some grammar schools have a defined catchment area; while others are known as ‘super-selective schools’, which means that they accept applications from pupils with the highest 11-plus scores, regardless of location.

3. Independent schools – fee-paying institutions that are also called private schools

    • Independent schools are fee-charging schools outside government control.
    • Admission criteria varies from school to school because they are self-governing, so check individual requirements.
    • Some schools require pupils to take an entrance exam.
    • Some schools might invite the family for an interview.
    • Some schools operate a first-come, first-served system and may have a long waiting list.
    • Some schools require parents to register their child before an application is made – this doesn’t guarantee a place. A non-refundable fee is often requested, to cover administration costs.
    • Independent schools don’t usually require families to live within a catchment area.

4. International schools – fee-paying schools for International Baccalaureate students

    • Most international schools make their admissions decisions based on access to previous school records and teachers’ reports.
    • Some schools require applicants to speak English to a certain level, with extra tuition often available.
    • International schools require prospective pupils to be registered in advance of an application, together with payment of a non-refundable fee that confirms their parents wish them to be considered.
    • The nature of international schools means they are often sympathetic towards the needs of relocating families, who might struggle to meet the normal admission timescales.
    • International schools don’t require families to live within a catchment area.

Want to be fully prepared to find the best school in London? Buy and download our self-help guides!

Browse all the Guides

Guide to State and Private Schools in London

A practical guide to state and private schools in London: where the best schools are in London; school years and curriculum; applications process and timelines; application requirements; Special Education Needs, glossary of school terms.

Only £ 14.99

Guide to State Schools in London

All the information you need to find the right London State School for your child, and apply successfully: top state schools; when and how to apply; catchment areas; admission criteria; waiting lists; appeals; application websites for all London Boroughs.

Only £ 14.99

Guide to Private Schools in London

All the information you need to find the right London Private school for your child, and apply successfully: top private schools, cheapest private schools, boarding schools, international schools, British schools, school fees, bursaries, how and when to apply.

Only £ 14.99
Browse all the Guides
Back to knowledge base