8+ Tips for Getting Your First Choice Secondary School

In GCSE, General by Think Student EditorLeave a Comment

The transition from primary school to secondary school can be very stressful for both the parents and the students. You get to choose 6 schools. Most people have at least 1 that they prefer or are particularly drawn to. This first choice for some may be well within their bounds to the point where the other 5 schools are just filler. However, there are many students out there who are not so lucky and need some tips on how they can increase their chances of scoring that first choice. 

It is important to note that not securing a place at your first choice is not the end of the world. As much as the disappointment might lead you to believe so, going to one of your other schools is not going to ruin your future as long as you choose them wisely. With that said, the biggest tip I can give is to do as much research as possible around the topic to inform yourself on any avenues you might have missed. This may include the appeals process, exam dates, and other deadlines which you can find more details on later in the article. 

Now, with all that aside, let’s get into some tips that will help you secure your place at your first-choice secondary school.

1. Make Sure You Meet the Criteria

Before we get into criteria, you can find a full list on the government website with details on what secondary schools may be considering when you apply. However, I have gone into more detail about the most important criteria that you may want to consider if you want the highest chance of getting into the school. 

Depending on which secondary school you plan on going to, there are certain requirements you will need to meet in order to get in. To give you an example, most selective schools have an examination process in which the student’s academic abilities are put to the test. The exams typically include mathematics and English. 

Do Exams Affect Which Secondary School You Can Get Into?

After completing the exam, whether you get in or not depends on how the school makes their selection. Some selective schools conduct the exam and then choose a certain percentage of the highest achievers. In this case, it may be more stressful as the criteria is determined by how well the other students do. Even if you do extremely well, you may not fit in the percentage and get rejected. 

Other selective schools, which perhaps are not as competitive, simply have grade boundaries that must be met into to be guaranteed a place. You can find out which grade criteria by checking out the school’s website. They will likely have a page dedicated to the application process with statistic on how many applications they get on average. This will give you a good idea on how competitive it is and help you determine the likelihood of you getting accepted. 

Can Being Part of a Religion Affect Whether You Get into a Secondary School

Another significant criteria schools might set is being part of a particular religion. Of course, this only applies to faith schools, but it is important to note that you may be asked to provide proof and you may have to be practising that religion. Some faith schools stipulate that the student and their family must regularly attend specific places of worship to be considered for a place. 

2. Supply the Right Documents

Applications for secondary school typically take place online either directly to the school or through your local council.  During this process, you will need to supply various documentation such as your name and address in order to be considered for enrolment.  

If you do not give the correct information in time, the chances of you getting your first choice will decrease. 

What Documents Do Secondary Schools Ask For?

All schools will ask for the basic information such as your full name, parent or guardians’ names etc. However, some schools require specific documents. For example, a Catholic faith school may require proof of your baptism with a baptism certificate. Unless you supply this, you may not be accepted. Be aware that some schools require the original document, not just a photocopy. 

This varies from school to school, but some require a parent to obtain a Supplementary Information Form (SIF). As the name suggests, it provides the school with extra, or supplementary, details that are specific to the application process. This is normally the case with faith schools and some academies as it is the point at which you will send in your baptism certificate, for example. You get a SIF directly from the school and ensure you send it back well before the deadline they tell you just to be safe. 

Another document you might need to provide is proof of address. There are several different things you can send here, including a recent utility bill, signed and dated tenancy bill or a copy of your most recent council tax bill.  

Though not specific to school applications, check out this article to find out what qualifies as proof of address. A copy is normally acceptable in this case, but it is worth double checking with the school.

3. Keep Track of Your Deadlines and Dates

During the application, there are several deadlines you will need to be aware of that, if missed, decrease your chances of enrolment dramatically. The deadline for secondary school applications in the UK is the 31st October 

Missing this date will put you at a great disadvantage, especially if your first choice is competitive. All late applications are processed the following year, no earlier than March across the board. 

Another date you need to keep track of is the appeals deadline. You are given at least 20 business days to appeal from the day they send the rejection letter. After this, you will be offered a hearing with a 10-day notice on when it will occur. At this hearing, the parent will be able to make a case for why the student (their child) should be admitted. If the reasons stated outweigh the reasons for rejection, the appeal will be upheld. A decision is typically reached after 5 business days. 

Can You Appeal If Your Secondary School Application is Rejected?

An appeal might be your last push to get you into that first-choice school so it is important to keep track of the dates so you do not accidentally miss out. If you feel you were wrongly rejected, take the opportunity to appeal as you may still get a place 

Coram Children’s Legal Centre is a good place to start to get you used to the process of appeals and hearings. They specialise in many areas of education law, including school admissions appeals so it is the perfect place to get advice on that. They are also recommended by the UK government for help during appeals. 

When Are Aptitude Tests for Secondary Schools?

If you are planning on taking aptitude tests, for music for example, you will need to contact the school directly for specific dates on when your test will occur. You can typically find this on their website. 

In terms of selective schools, you will need to verify on the school’s website which date your application test will take place. However, they typically occur during the September before official entry (a year 6 student would take the exam in September 2021 to get into the school the following year). This is vital so you know how much time you have to prepare for the exam and can make a revising time table if needed.  

Check out this article on our website for tips on how to make a good revision timetable. The results of the exams are normally posted around one month later in October.

4. Attend Secondary School Open Days

One date that is often overlooked is the open days. Open days are really the only way you can determine the atmosphere of the school and whether or not you think you will like it, short of physically attending the school as a student there.  

Open days are invaluable when it comes to experiencing the school and you should definitely attend one if possible. Not only will you get to find out what the school is like, but you may even meet some potential future classmates and start a friendship before enrolment. 

For those of you who plan on entering boarding or private schools, you will need to know when your interview takes place. This differs from school to school so you will need to verify with your specific school to figure out your deadline. 

Do not leave it until last minute to decide where you want to apply to and hand in forms close to the end dates because you may end up having to rush around finding extra information. Some parents find out late that they need a document of some sort and end up missing deadlines. This will put you at a huge disadvantage if the school has to chase you up for other documents. 

5. Check If You Meet Any Special Requirements

Outside of meeting the required criteria such as grades (for selective schools), there are a few special requirements you may want to make yourself familiar with when choosing your first choice. If you hit these criteria, you might just increase your chances of getting into your school. 

Can Having Siblings at a Secondary School Improve Your Chances of Admission?

If you have any older siblings who attend your first-choice school, the school may prioritise you over other students. This rule does not apply to every single secondary school 

Particularly selective ones where enrolment is determined by an exam. Furthermore, the sibling must be residing the same household as you from at least Monday to Friday. You may need to check on your school’s website to see what they consider as siblings (e.g., half, adopted). 

Relating to family, though not as common, another feature schools consider is if the child has a parent who is an employee. This applies to teachers with children, so they are not required to send their children further away than necessary when they reach school age.  

How Does Geographic Location Effect Secondary School Entry?

Another thing that might put you at the front of the line is your geographical location. This relies on the concept of priority areas. Formally known as the Admissions Priority Area (APA), this is the defined area within which potential students get priority for school places over potential students outside of the area 

Some schools use APAs to determine who they should give priority to and you can typically find this outlined on their websites. It therefore wouldn’t be wise to make your first choice a school that is halfway across the country with no intention to move there. 

APAs are also known as catchment areas. There are different types of catchment distances schools may decide to employ which you can find out more about here 

Can Your Primary School Affect Which Secondary School You Get into?

Another requirement that might give you a boost is being from what is called a feeder school. These are primary schools from which a secondary school selects many of their students.  

secondary school might have several feeder schools whose students’ progress straight to the school after leaving. Faith schools often make their selection on the principal of feeder schools with the feeder school being of religious origin.   

How Will a Child with a Disability Effect Secondary School Admission?

Schools also tend to prioritise students with disabilities or are in care. In fact according the government websiteall state-funded schools are obliged to give top priority to children who are either in care presently or have been in care in the past. In short, looked after children have been or are cared for by the local authority. This includes children living with foster parents or in children’s homes. Adopted children are not considered to be looked after. 

Can Having a Specialist Skill Help You Get into a Secondary School?

On some occasions, school accept students based on specific aptitudes or abilities for certain skills. The most common ones including music and sport. If you are exceptionally talented in theses areas, you may be offered special consideration.  

However, keep in mind that not all schools offer this and, even with high scores in the aptitude test, you may still get rejected. 

Though not a special requirement, some schools have waiting lists that you can request to be put on. This is somewhat a last-ditch effort but, sometimes, current students leave during the year. Being on this preferred waiting list might give you a chance to be offered a place on the condition that another student leaves for one reason or another.

6. Do Your Research and Prepare

This seems obvious at first but can leave parents and their children disappointed if not done correctly and thoroughly. Along with all the tips given so far, it is important that you research well into the applications process of each school you apply to. The worst thing that can happen is you missing out on a space in your first choice because you accidentally missed a document or misread a bullet point.  

Preparing for Selective, boarding and Private Schools

Not only do you need to research the process, if you are looking to get into a selective school, you need to prepare for the exam. This might include looking at past papers, many of which you can find here.  

For the future boarding and private school students, you may want to consider preparing for your interviews using practice questions or role playing with a friend on how the interview itself might be conducted. This may be a stressful time but the only thing you can do is prepare, prepare, and prepare even more. Click here for some good example questions you may potentially be asked and, for the parents reading, here’s some information that may be useful for you and your child.

7. Make Sure You Apply Early

Have a good idea about what schools you want to apply to. The earlier you know what secondary school you want a place in, the earlier you can get to grips with the admission dates, admissions process, and evaluate the best school for you. This way, you can stay ahead of the deadlines and get the best possible chance of acceptance.

8. Make Sure the Secondary School You Apply for is a Realistic Choice

Researching into the schools you apply to helps you determine the plausibility of you getting a place and helps you to avoid disappointment if it goes unsuccessfully.  

If you make a school, you will realistically get into your first choice, you are more likely to be greeted with an acceptance letter. This, however, does not mean you should not be ambitious. It just means you should be fully informed before you make any decisions to try and get into a school halfway across the country, only to find out they gave all the places to students nearby. 

You should research into the popularity of your potential schools. Making your first choice a secondary school that is famously over-subscribed may not be the best idea if you are heavily intent on going. The chances of you getting accepted are lower the more popular the school is, but this does not mean you should not try.  

It is for this reason that having other options is so important. Not only just having other options, but having options that you would not mind being accepted to. Although it is understandable to get excited about the potential of getting into a new school, it will save a lot of disappointment if you have a back-up plan in case things do not go as expected.

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