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School waiting lists explained

School waiting lists explained
Missed out on a place at the school of your choice? Joining the waiting list could keep the door open for your child.
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Finding out that your child has missed out on a place at your first choice of school can be a bitter blow, but all is not necessarily lost if you don’t get the offer you were hoping for. Every year, many children who were initially disappointed by their school allocation are subsequently offered a place at their preferred school through the waiting list system. This is called the continuing interest or continued interest list in some areas.

Joining a school waiting list

Parents find out which school their child has got a place at on National Offer Day (in March for secondary school applications, and in April for primary schools). If you’re not offered your first choice of school at this point, you can join the waiting list for any school that you ranked above the one you’ve been given.

So, for example, if you applied for schools A, B, C and D, in that order, and were allocated a place at school C, you can go on the waiting list for schools A and B.

It’s strongly advised that you accept the school place you’ve been offered, even if you’re going to join the waiting list for other schools. This won’t affect the chances of you being offered a place at a preferable school, but will ensure your child has somewhere to go in September if no places are available elsewhere.

In some areas, your child will be automatically added to the waiting lists of any schools that you ranked higher than the one you’ve been offered a place at. In others, you have to ask to be put on the waiting list, usually by informing your local authority. The school admissions section of their website will explain how it works in your area.

Even if you live in an area where children are automatically placed on waiting lists, it’s advisable to check with the schools to make sure your child has been included.

If you're happy with the school you've been offered and don’t want to go on the list for any other schools, you’ll probably need to contact the local authority to opt out.

Finding out where you are on the school waiting list

You can find out where your child is on a school’s waiting list by logging into the local authority’s school admissions system. Some authorities send out regular emails informing you of your place on the list.

Your child’s position on the list is determined by the same criteria that were used to offer places in the first round – so, for example, if distance is one of the criteria and you live 1500 metres from the school, your child will be below a child who lives 1000 metres away, but above someone who’s 2000 metres away.

Your child will move up the list if someone above them comes off it – for instance, if another child is offered a place, moves away or decides not to remain on the list. But they might also move down it, for example if a new family moves into the area.

Being offered a school place through a waiting list

If a space becomes available at one of your preferred schools and your child’s name is at the top of the waiting list, that place will be automatically allocated to you. In some areas, this is a rolling process, so you may be given a place at any time. In others, there are set ‘runs’ that happen on particular dates, and all of the children who’ve reached the top of a waiting list will be told that they’ve got a place at the same time.

If you’re offered a place, your existing offer will be automatically withdrawn. You’ll need to accept the new place through the online admissions system.

Applying for different schools

If you’re unhappy with the school you’ve been offered, you might want to maximise the chances of getting a place elsewhere by applying for schools that you didn’t originally apply for during the waiting list period.

Different areas have different policies regarding applying for other schools. Some will let you make new applications at any time. Others will only let you join the waiting lists of the schools you originally applied for until the first ‘run’ of waiting list allocations has happened; you can then make new applications to other schools.

Your new application will override your previous one, so if you’re changing your application, it’s important to include any schools from your existing application that you’d still like to be considered for.

In some areas, there’s a limit to how many schools’ waiting lists you can go on.

Closing the waiting lists

In most areas, school waiting lists stay open until 31 August. If your child hasn’t got a place at one of your preferred schools by this point, they’ll no longer be in the running for any spaces that become available. If you’d still like them to be considered for any places that might come up, you’ll need to make an in-year application. Your local authority’s website will have information on how to do this.