It may be challenging finding and securing a place at the right school for your child(ren), particularly if your preferred school is oversubscribed. The RAF Families Federation works closely with the MOD’s Armed Forces Families and Safeguarding (AFFS), Defence Children Services (DCS) and other stakeholders to try and improve the admissions experience of Armed Forces families and ensure they are treated fairly.

School admissions timelines and processes vary in different areas of the UK. Education is a devolved matter, meaning overall policy and regulations are set by the Devolved Administrations. Some processes are centrally administered and others local to the area within which you live.

The UK Government website has information and guidance on school admissions with links to support those who have applied for school places in each of the four countries. Local authority websites also provide information on schools admissions in the local area. Some local authorities may offer additional guidance to support for Armed Forces families which you may find helpful.

School admissions for Service children

The following clip provides information about school admissions for Service children in England.

Video: Produced by Hampshire County Council on behalf of Forces Connect South East.

When to apply?

Applications for admissions in England

Applications for admissions into Reception year and year 7 are governed by a national statutory timetable.

Main admissions roundsApplication deadlineOffer dates
Applying for a primary school place15th January16th April*
Applying for secondary school place31st October1 March*

* If either date falls on a weekend or a bank holiday, offers are sent the next working day.

Parents who are posted after the statutory deadlines may have to make a ‘late application’. Admission authorities cannot refuse applications because they are late and cannot give priority based on the date applications were received. However, in practice many school places will already be allocated, offered and accepted by other families. Local authorities are not permitted to reserve blocks of school places for service pupils even where there are likely to be significant numbers.

If there are no places available at their chosen school, pupils may be put onto waiting lists for places as well as being offered a place at another school. Waiting lists are determined by the over-subscription criteria for each school. By law, looked after children must be the first priority for all over-subscription criteria as these are deemed to be the children most in need. Under section 1.41 of the School Admissions Code (England) children eligible for the service premium may be given priority in over-subscription criteria. In practice, many over-subscription criteria do not mention service pupils or these may come low down the list behind criteria such as distance from school or siblings in the school.

In-year admissions

RAF families may relocate every 2-3 years and need to apply for school places outside the normal school admissions timetable. These applications are sometimes referred to as ‘in-year admissions’ and the application process can vary in different areas.

Visit the local authority website for information on the in-year admissions arrangements in your area. If you have questions or need support relating to school admissions, contact the Education Advisory Team (EAT) via email at: [email protected] for guidance and advice.

Receiving a place

Depending upon local arrangements, you should receive a letter or e-mail from your local council, telling you which school your child has been offered a place at. If they haven’t been given a place at one of the schools you had requested they will have been allocated to the nearest school to you which has places.

In Scotland there is an assumption that children will be offered a place at their catchment school. If a parent wishes to apply elsewhere, the parent will need to submit a Placing Request to their Local Authority.

Once your child has been offered a place you will need to accept the offer by the deadline given, otherwise your offer may be withdrawn and the school place reallocated. Even if you aren’t happy with the school place offered, we suggest you consider accepting it to avoid your child ending up without a school place. Accepting a place doesn’t stop you appealing the decision or placing your child on the waiting list of your preferred school(s).

What to do if you are not happy with the school your child is given

It can be really disappointing not to get offered your preferred school for your child. This usually happens because a school is oversubscribed, and other applicants are assessed as higher priority for a place when the admissions criteria is applied. If this happens to you there are several things that you can consider doing:

  1. Check out the school that your child has been allocated a place at. Try and be open minded. Schools can change quite quickly and reputations can improve. Sometimes a school that isn’t suitable for another person’s child may be suitable for yours- schools are as unique as individual children!
    If there are still schools you prefer above the one your child has been offered, you may wish to ensure that your child is on the waiting list for your preferred school(s). A particular school may be your preferred school, but it might not be for another family or there could be families who move elsewhere between now and the date your child requires a place. For months after school places have been offered, there are new applicants and also families who withdraw from offers. This is a dynamic time for school admissions teams!
    Positions on a waiting list are prioritised according to the school’s published oversubscription criteria. This means a position on a waiting list can move up and down. The position is never reliant on the time spent on a waiting list. Requesting to go on a waiting list for your preferred school does not guarantee that your child will be offered a place at the school so we suggest that you consider alternative options also.
  2. If you remain unhappy with the school place offered to your child, you can appeal the decision. Appeals are only successful in limited circumstances. Admissions authorities are likely to consider all of their schools to be able to provide a suitable and accessible education for your child. Appeals are more likely to be successful if there is evidence that your preferred school is the only one that can meet your child’s needs, or due to the potential impact on your child if they don’t attend a particular school. An appeal based on your preferred school being the best school in the area won’t be sufficient. If you think you have a case for making an appeal, your local authority website will have details of the appeals process and information on how to apply. Please note relevant key dates and timescales.

Admissions appeals

An appeal hearing is a formal procedure. The admissions authority will offer you a date for a hearing. An independent panel of people will be drawn together to hear from both the school and the family.

The evidence the school has in support of refusing a place for your child will be considered. It is likely that issues such as the impact of larger class sizes, teacher workload, physical space, health and safety issues etc. will be presented by the school.

You will need to present why your child should be offered a place at your preferred school and why the needs of your child outweigh the potential impact upon the school of accepting an additional child.

The appeal panel will consider both sets of evidence and decide whether the school should be directed to take an additional child into a year group or not.

You are the expert on your child and their circumstances and therefore are best placed to consider why your preferred school is the most suitable for your child. EAT(UK) recommend that you prepare a written case about why your child should attend your preferred school. You should try and show how your preferred school is the only one that can sensibly meet your child’s needs. You should not criticise schools that you do not wish your child to attend but be positive about the school you prefer.

The Armed Forces Covenant and school admissions

The Armed Forces Covenant is intended to prevent disadvantage by service life. Therefore, it will not automatically ensure parents get the school of their choice but should help to make sure they are treated fairly.

The Covenant Duty came into force on 22 November 2022 and the new Duty is supported by Statutory Guidance to help specific bodies, including in Education, understand what is required of them under the new Covenant Duty. The Armed Forces Community will benefit from this statutory guidance as it will raise awareness of education-related disadvantages that can arise for Service children as well as help schools and academies dealing with school admissions criteria.

Admissions in England

All school admissions in England are governed by the Schools Admissions Code 2021.

Section 2.21 of the Schools Admissions Code

Under the above code, all admissions authorities in England must accept an application and allocate a place (if one is available) for children of Armed Forces personnel with a confirming posting in advance of moving to the area, provided the application is accompanied by an official letter that declares a relocation date.

Parents do not need to have an allocated address and applications can be processed on the basis of the unit address or general quartering address, as long as parents/carers provide evidence of their intended address. Places may not be allocated a long time in advance of the move, as this may result in a school having to hold a place open for an unreasonable amount of time.

Infant class size limits

By law, classes for children in Key Stage 1 in England cannot exceed 30 pupils per teacher other than in specific exceptional circumstances. Under the Schools Admissions Code in England, children of Service personnel who move outside of the normal round of admissions may be admitted as excepted pupils. It is important to note that this only applies to ‘in year’ admissions and will not assist Service parents who are applying for a Reception or Year 7 place under the normal admissions process. It is also important to know many local authorities are reluctant to exercise this power as standard practice. In these circumstances, we would advise parents to seek specialist advice from the Education Advisory Team as appeals against infant class size limits are notoriously difficult to win.

Admissions in the Devolved Administrations

Admissions in Scotland

The Scottish Government has produced some really useful resources for service personnel and their families moving to Scotland.

Further information about schools and admissions can be requested from the Education Advisory Team via email at: [email protected].

Forces Children Education also provides useful information and resources on education on Scotland as does the Forces Children Scotland.

Admissions in Wales

Admissions to schools in Wales are governed by the Welsh Schools Admissions and Appeals Code. Further information is available on the Welsh government websiteSupporting Service Children in Education Wales or from the Education Advisory Team via email: [email protected].

Admissions in Northern Ireland

Information regarding children’s education within Northern Ireland can be found on the Department of Education and Education Authority websites.

For those personnel being posted to Northern Ireland, it is recommended that local advice is obtained through the Children’s Education Support Officer located within 38 (Irish) Brigade who can be contacted via email: [email protected]

Education Advisory Team

The Education Advisory Team (EAT) provides expert and impartial advice about the education of service children. EAT can be contacted via email at: [email protected] for information and guidance on school admissions and appeals.

How we can help

What can I do if my child is not offered a place at our preferred school?

The RAF Families Federation can provide information and guidance to support the RAF community with enquiries about school admissions and appeals. If you are struggling to get a school place, please contact us so we can offer support and signposting.

Read our National Offer Day guidance >

Read our School place allocations case study>

“Thank you very much for all your help with regards to our school appeal, it was very much appreciated… I am very grateful for all your support and advice during this very stressful time.”

Service family testimonial

I wanted to let you know that we won our appeal. What a stressful process, we are so happy and relieved! Thank you for your help and support throughout the process.”

Service family testimonial

Need Help?

We can offer information and guidance to support with school admissions and appeals. Or, if you are struggling to get a school place we can offer support and signposting.