Starting school, moving to secondary school, or even just changing school is a very challenging but often rewarding experience for children and their families. At times it is natural for the process to seem daunting, but with the information below we hope you and your family can find the enjoyment and pride that comes with seeing you child head off to school for the first time.


Is your child going to turn five or eleven-years-old in the next year? Is your child currently out of school and you want them to attend? Have you struggled with providing home education, or have been given a school attendance order?

The information and support below sets out everything you need to know about applying for school places at primary and secondary school

What sub-section are available on this page?

      • What the Law Says
      • How Long Do Children Have to Stay in School?
      • Applying for a School Place
      • Making Secondary School Applications
      • School Places for Children with SEND
      • School Uniform
      • Free School Meals (FSM)
      • School Transportation
      • Moving School In-Year
      • Communicating Needs and Other Information

What the Law Says

The law says that all children between the ages of five to sixteen must be receive an education in the UK. This is best achieved through a local school. Education is incredibly important for all children so they can grow up with children their own age and be able to learn lots of important things to ensure their future is full of success This is why the law insists children go to school and be educated.

How Long Do Children Have to Stay in School?

Nursery School (Pre-School)

There is no requirement for any child to attend a nursery school or a pre-school. However, many parents find nursery school gives them more time in their lives. It also allows parents to practice being away from their children before children go into reception class, and most importantly attending nursery school helps your child become more sociable with other children, and may help them settle in more easily when they begin primary school.

Primary School (4-11 years)

All children in the UK must be in education on their 5th birthday. Children usually start school in the September they are aged 4. This means that the child starts the year with the rest of class and ensure they will be in school in plenty of time before the child’s 5th birthday.

Secondary School (11-16 years)

All children in the UK must stay in education until the June where they will be 16. At the end of secondary school all children will be offered to take exams to demonstrate how much they have learned in school. For the most part this is done in the form of GCSEs but this can be done using other qualification, or even a mixture of GCSE and other qualifications.

Alternative School – Special Provision – PRU

It is not always possible for children to keep up with the demands of mainstream school, so occasionally it may be necessary for your child to spend some time at a school that can best meet their needs and ability. For more information, please visit Learn More: Exclusions, or Learn More: Special Education.

When your child is aged between 5-16 years, they must still be in education and this includes alternative schools.

College – Sixth Form (16-18 years)

After the age of 16 rules about children in education change depending on where you live in the UK.

In England, children between the ages of 16-18 years must either: stay in full-time education (attend college), start an apprenticeship or traineeship, or spend 20 hours per week or more volunteering while in part-time education or training.

In Wales, children may leave education on the last day of June providing they have turned 16 by this day.

In Scotland, if a child turns 16 between 1st March and 30th September that child may leave education after 31st May the same year.

In Northern Ireland, children who turn 16 during the school year 1st September to 31 July may leave education after 30th June the same year.

For more information about the changes to school leaving age in the UK, please visit the Gov website.

University (18 years+)

There is no legal requirement for any person over the age of 18 to remain in education.

However, people wishing to enter certain professions must attend university. For example, if your child wishes to be a doctor, a nurse, a teacher, as well as many other professions, they must first attend university to be able to access these careers.

Applying for a School Place

To get your child a place in a school you must apply for a place at a school near to where you live. It is recommended that you apply for three local schools to ensure your child gets a place. It is important to remember that the decision of which school your child attends will be made by your local council and local schools. For more information about appealing a school placement decision, visit the Find Help section.

This page aims to set out everything you need to know, and how to apply for a school place for your child.

  • Every child between the age of 5 and 16 in the UK must be in school (this means your child should be in school before their 5th birthday so that they are in education come their 5th birthday)
    School places are not allocated automatically – every place in every school must be applied for
  • Almost all applications are handled by your local council
  • School places are allocated to children differently by each council
  • Councils will consider a few things when allocating a school place, including
    • how near you live to the school
    • whether your child has a sister or brother at the school
    • any religious beliefs held by the school or familyYou can also click here to start applying for a school place
  • You should always check your local council website for guidance on how to apply for both primary and secondary school places
  • You can also click here to start applying for a school place

Making Secondary School Applications

You can apply for a place at a state secondary school online or by using your council’s application form.

You apply through your local council even if you’re applying for schools in another council area. You can use the Gov website to find schools.

The deadline for applying is 31 October.

Your child is less likely to be offered a place at their chosen schools if you miss the deadline for applications.

School Places for Children with SEND

It is normal for parents who have a child with SEND to be selective and concerned about a school’s ability to meet their child’s needs. This is especially true when parents are applying for school places as they will be sending their child to a new place with new people to take care of them, a process which is scary for most children and parents without SEND.

Children with SEND fall into 2 categories when applying to school.

  • Children with special educational needs who will need to join the SEN register at school; and
  • Children with an EHCP (Education Health Care Plan) – to learn more about EHCPs, please click here.

Parents of children without an EHCP should apply through the usual admissions process with each school. There will be a section of the application which asks for information about any special educational needs. It is very important for this section to be filled out correctly so the school is aware of any SEND, so they can provide the correct support for your child.

Parents of children with an existing EHCP (or statement of special needs) applying to schools should have had the opportunity to ‘name’ an appropriate school during the EHCP process. If this has not been done, or you would like to reconsider the ‘named’ school, or your child is moving to a different level of education, you must request an ‘Annual Review’. It is usually only via an Annual Review that a ‘named’ school may be changed.

This typically means there is no need for parents of children with an EHCP to apply for school as the school will already have been consulted and will have agreed to offer a place ahead of time. It is recommended that you confirm this in advance with schools and still take the opportunity to visit the school For more information please visit Annual Reviews.

Children who have a disability must not be prevented from going to school and it is unlawful for a school to refuse a place for this reason. To find out more please visit our Learn More: Special Education page.

School Uniform

Buying school uniform can be expensive, especially when a family has more than one child. If you are struggling to pay for school uniform for your children there may be support out there to help you cover some or all of the costs, especially with school branded uniforms.

Remember, there is no shame in not being able to afford brand new school uniform for your child or young person. School uniform is designed to ensure that all children are treated equally and not judged based on their clothes. It is essential for school age children to wear uniform and it is all the same whether it is brand new or second-hand. There is also a growing number of families who choose second-hand school uniform as it is cost-effective and good for the environment.

NEWS: School Uniform Costs to be Capped by the Government

New rules to drive down cost of school uniform for families

Families will save money on school uniforms from next year, following new legally binding guidance published today (Friday 19th November) requiring schools to make uniform affordable for all.

The Department for Education (DfE) cost of school uniform guidance means schools in England must ensure that school uniform costs are reasonable, and parents get the best value for money.

Research from the DfE in 2015 showed that parents can save almost £50 on average if they can buy all school uniform items from any store compared to uniform which all needs to be bought from a designated shop or school. From Autumn 2022 schools will be required to help keep costs down by taking steps to remove unnecessary branded items and allowing more high-street options, like supermarket own-brand uniforms.

To support families schools will have to make sure second-hand uniforms are available. In the UK, an estimated 350,000 tonnes of clothes end up in landfill every year and encouraging families to use second-hand uniform can reduce waste and bring down emissions from manufacturing new garments while making it cost-effective for families.

Advice on how to access support for school uniform costs:

  • Contact your local authority or council
  • Do you live in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland?
  • Contact your child’s school directly
  • Ask friends, family and community members for second-hand uniform
  • Contact local charities

Contact your local authority or council

Use the Gov UK website to see what information your local authority has on providing help with school uniform costs. The link below will take you to the Gov UK website and will allow you to enter your postcode to take you to your local authority or council website.

Click Here

Please note: not all local authorities or councils provide grants to help with school uniform costs. In this case look at the next step below.

Do you live in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland?

You may be able to get a school uniform grant if you live in:

To access school uniform grants in these  areas, please use the links above.

Contact your child’s school directly

Some schools may have specific funds to support low-income families in providing school uniform for their children. This isn’t guaranteed and many schools do not offer this financial support. Schools may also allow families to pay for school uniform costs in instalments to spread the upfront cost over several months. Schools should not charge interest and uniforms paid for instalments will not be any more expensive than paying up front.

If neither of these options are available at your child’ school, some schools will permit children to borrow second-hand uniform for a period, possibly until a family can afford to purchase new school uniform.

Ask friends, family and community members for second-hand uniform

Some schools or communities organise for used school uniform to be donated so that families on low-income can provide usable school uniform to their children. Even if you are not a low-income family, it is often a great idea to provide your child with good quality second-hand school uniform as it is a sustainable and cost-effective option.

Contact local charities

Try contacting local charities in your area, as they may have discretionary funds to support you in accessing school uniform for your children.

Free School Meals (FSM)

All children should have access to nutritious meals during the school day. However, families on a low-income may require support to be able to meet the child’s need for meals at school.

The Government requires all schools to provide free school meals to pupils of all ages that meet any of the below criteria. Free school meals are available to pupils in receipt of, or whose parents are in receipt of, one or more of the following benefits:

  • Universal Credit (with an annual net earned income of no more than £7,400)
  • Income Support
  • Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • Support under Part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999
  • The guaranteed element of Pension Credit
  • Child Tax Credit (provided you’re not also entitled to Working Tax Credit and have an annual gross income of no more than £16,190)
  • Working Tax Credit run-on

Check if your child can get free school meals in England and find out how to apply on your local authority’s website.

If you are experiencing difficulties applying for Free School Meals, or need assistance, please speak with the school who will be able to support you with this application and ensure your child receives their Free School Meals.


School Transportation

There are many reasons why a family may need support with school transportation costs. Location and distance may be an issue,  or a child or young person may have special educational or physical needs, meaning they need support accessing the school site.  If your child or young person has been a victim of bullying at a school, you may have chosen to send them to a different school which is located further away. Any of these reasons and many others, are grounds for making an application for assistance with school transportation costs.

If you are struggling with school transport costs and wish to make an application, please review the information below to check your eligibility and then use the link to access the form. If you need help filling in the form, please contact the local authority for support, or contact the Traveller Movement’s Education Advocacy Unit.

Children who are legally obliged to attend school may qualify for free school transport if they go to their nearest suitable school and any of the following apply:

  • the school is more than 2 miles away and the child is under 8
  • the school is more than 3 miles away and the child is 8 or over
  • there’s no safe walking route between their home and school
  • they cannot walk there because of their special educational needs or disabilities or a mobility problem

Child will also get free school transport if they’re:

  • aged 8 to 11, go to their nearest school and it’s at least 2 miles away
  • aged 11 to 16 and go to a school 2 to 6 miles away – if it’s one of their 3 nearest suitable schools
  • aged 11 to 16 and go to a school 2 to 15 miles away – if it’s one you chose because of your religion or belief

If your child does not qualify for free school transport for these reasons, they may still qualify if you have a low family income. If your child is 16 or over and still in education, ask your local council if they can offer any help with transport.

We encourage families to seek advice if they are not sure about how to make an application or if they are eligible. Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children also face unique challenges accessing education and therefore may be entitled to support on a case-by-case basis. For more advice about this, please Contact Us.


Moving School In-Year

If you have moved to a new area in the middle of the school year either because you are moving to a different address, or because you are travelling, you must make sure that your child attends a new school near your new home or your location. This process is called an in-year-transfer.

It is important that you make applications to the school via the local council as places are not automatically allocated.

Visit your local council’s website for more information or Contact Us for support.

Communicating Needs and Other Information

Most school have procedures in place to ask about any specific needs your child may have, these needs may include:

  • Special Educational Needs or Disabilities (SEND)
  • Allergies or intolerances to food, medication or any product or substance
  • General health or prescribed medication (especially if this needs to be taken during the school day)
  • Family circumstances (such as people who are authorised to collect or remove the child from school)

As a GRT charity we are aware of the discrimination Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities face when accessing education. However, we do encourage all members of the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities to declare their ethnic status to schools. There are several reasons for this.

Firstly, if discrimination occurs schools could claim that they were unaware of your Gypsy, Roma and Traveller ethnicity and therefore could not have been discriminatory. If this is made clear to them at registration, they have a legal duty to take it into account in their behaviour and policies.

It also allows for staff to monitor any potential bullying which may occur and to deal with it promptly. We know that bullying happens in schools and that Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children are disproportionately bullied compared to other children. However, we also know that teachers are better equipped to support Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children when they know the facts.

Finally, when a family registers themselves and their child as Gypsy, Roma and Traveller at a school it makes local and national data more accurate and reflective of what is happening in schools. This may not sound like a big deal. However, the more we know about Gypsy, Roma and Traveller information, the more we can influence the Government to put effective support in place.

If you experience discrimination from a school because of your or your child’s ethnicity we strongly encourage you to Contact Us so we can offer support and take any necessary actions against the school or local authority.

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