School catchment areas: Can you apply for schools outside of your catchment area?


  1. How big is a school catchment area?
  2. How do school catchment areas work?
  3. When should I start applying for schools in the UK?
  4. How do I transfer my child to a school outside of our catchment area?
  5. Can a school refuse to admit a child in their catchment area?

A school catchment area is the geographical location where the majority of a school's intake of students live. The schools closest to your home are the schools that are within your catchment area. Where you live is usually the biggest influencing factor about which school your child will attend. This is all well and good if you like the schools in your current catchment area, but if you’d prefer to enroll your child in a school further afield, then read on for our advice.

How big is a school catchment area?

In most places in the UK, the school catchment areas will be around a 1-2 mile radius from your address. The annoying thing about school catchment areas is that there is no place that you live which will absolutely guarantee you a place in a particular school. This is because schools consider a few things when admitting pupils, including siblings of existing pupils being admitted first, then the rest based on where you live. This isn’t taking into account grammar schools or faith schools with selective entry who can make more specific entry requirements.

How do school catchment areas work?

Catchment areas are not set in stone, and their boundaries can change over time. Often schools measure how far an address is in a straight line from the school, only sometimes is it measured by walking distance. 

Schools might prioritise children who live in a particular neighborhood to be admitted but there is no hard and fast rule. Schools often mix location, siblings and any other circumstances to create their own method by which to accept pupils into their school.

When should I start applying for schools in the UK?

Primary school places must be applied for one year before your child starts school (when your child is 3, or only just turned 4 years old). You can apply from September until the 15th of January. The exact date of when applications open varies from area to area, so you’ll need to check with your local council.

Secondary school places must be applied for when your child is in Year 6, so when your child is 11 or turning 11 years old. You must submit the forms about your secondary school preference in the October before your child is due to attend secondary school.

How do I transfer my child to a school outside of our catchment area?

As we’ve touched on previously, school catchment areas are not rigid and an out of catchment school application is not uncommon. You do have the right for your child to apply to a school outside of their catchment area for both primary or secondary school. However, if there are a lot of strong applicants for that school from their local catchment area then your child’s chances of being accepted are dramatically reduced.

You can also transfer your child after they are enrolled in a school within your catchment area, but you must make a placing request online to transfer your child. Your child will not be guaranteed a place at your preferred school and you should not remove your child from their current school without receiving another offer.

Can a school refuse to admit a child in their catchment area?

There are some circumstances which mean that a school refuses to admit a child, and they may be unrelated to school catchment areas. Let’s take a look at some reasons why a school might refuse to admit a child:

  • If the number of applications are greater than the number of places available.
  • If your child does not have siblings at the school, then they will be less of a priority than another applicant with a sibling at the school.
  • If the place must be given to someone with medical or social reasons for choosing that particular school.
  • If the child does not share the faith of a faith school.

Your child cannot be refused admission for the following reasons:

  • Race, disability, gender, sexuality and any other protected characteristic.
  • Taking into account the jobs or criminal record of the child's parents.
  • The behavior of the child or the child's siblings.

If your child is refused admission, the school must explain their reasoning. If you have doubts surrounding the validity of the schools reasoning then you may appeal to an independent panel who will consider if the school had acted fairly in their decision making and in accordance with their own admissions policy.


If you would like to check your local catchment area, there are several tools online which can help to determine which schools are in your catchment area and that your child might be eligible to study at. Try searching ‘School catchment areas’ into a search engine to generate a school catchment area finder. 

You may be planning for your child to apply to a selective school, where even more important than school catchment areas are the results of admissions tests. We suggest you book a free trial lesson with GoStudent and our tutors can help to prepare your child to perform at their best specifically for their schools entrance exams.