Skip to content Skip to navigation

Applying for secondary schools – before you put pen to paper


With the deadline for applying for secondary schools fast approaching, expert 11+ tutor Michellejoy Hughes has some key points to bear in mind when making your selections.

Choosing secondary schools

  • Look at the Ofsted report or Independent Schools Inspectorate report 
    You can find these at for state schools or for independent schools to help you research the best schools for your child.
  • Check if a school is oversubscribed or not on your Local Authority website
    Local Authorities will list all oversubscribed schools and how far away the last accepted child lived from the school. Find your Local Authority website at:
  • Read the admissions criteria for each school that you're considering
    Assess how well it applies to your child, e.g. does the school give preference to applicants with siblings already at the school? This can often help if you’re struggling to decide between two schools that are equal in all other respects.
  • Decide whether a larger or smaller school would best suit your child
    Then check the number on roll (NOR) for each school.
  • Check if the school has specialisms that suit your child
    Some emphasise languages, technology, sports or performing arts.
  • Visit as many open days as you can
    Some children may not get into their first-choice secondary school, so having some back-up choices is a good idea. When choosing a back-up school, remember that a school’s reputation can be out of step with its current league table performance, so don’t automatically discount a ‘bad’ school in favour of a ‘good’ school until you have looked at its latest Ofsted report and league table position.
  • Think carefully before about applying outside of your LA
    You can choose a school that is outside of your LA, but if it is an oversubscribed school, there is a smaller chance that you will be allocated a place, even if your child is in a feeder primary school.
  • If you’re considering sending your child to an independent school, remember that these do not need to be listed on your Common Appliction Form (CAF), which are for state schools only.
  • Be realistic.
    If you are applying to an oversubscribed Catholic school and your child is neither Catholic nor in a feeder school, realistically consider the likelihood of being allocated a place and the success rate of an appeal before you choose the school.

The 11+ and the Common Application Form (CAF)

Although most LAs will let you know whether your child has passed the 11+ or not before you need to fill in your Common Application Form, it’s still useful to know how your child’s 11+ rest results can affect your secondary school choices:

  • If your child hasn’t passed the 11+
    – you can now select your school preferences from your local, non-selective secondary schools.
  • If your child has passed the 11+
    – this still doesn’t necessarily guarantee them a place at your first-choice grammar school. If your first-choice grammar school is oversubscribed, additional criteria will be used to allocate places, including the distance between the school and your child’s home address.
  • If you don’t know your child’s results before making your selection
    – most 11+ tests are set in September or very early in October, allowing time for results to be returned ahead of completing Common Application Forms. However, where the results are not known when you are making your selection things are more tricky. In this situation, your school choices need to cover both eventualities: if your child passes the 11+, and if they don’t.

    In this scenario, you may need to think a little more about what else is important to you and your child. If, for example, your second choice school is non-selective and has been oversubscribed in recent years, it is certainly worth including third and fourth choice schools that are not oversubscribed and that you would be happy for your child to attend. You may need to think a little laterally, seeking other advantages that a school could provide for your child, but this approach will ensure a more positive outlook if your child does not gain a place in their first or second choice schools.

Hopefully, this will help make filling in your Common Application Form a little bit more straightforward!

Michellejoy Hughes