The process of choosing a school for your child can seem daunting, but starting your preparation and planning early can help you make a well informed choice.

Planning and preparing

Remember that all parents need to make an application – even if your child’s current primary or or nursery school is linked to the school you want them to go to next. You won’t be considered for a place unless you apply. Making an early start will mean that you’ll be less likely to miss key deadlines.

Search for schools near you

You can start by looking for schools near you online:

  • Your Local Authority (LA) website will be able to provide you with lists of local schools, provision offered, and their admissions information (although this guidance refers to maintained schools, many LA websites also have information and links to the independent schools in their area).
  • You can find your LA by visiting the Welsh Government website.
  • Visit the ESTYN website to view inspection reports about local schools via their interactive map. Reading through the information will give you an idea of what the school is like and help you identify any areas you want to find out more about.
  • The Direct Gov website offers and excellent school search engine, Schoolsfinder. Type in your postcode and it brings up a list of nearby schools with a key to services offered there.
  • There is also a Wales specific school search facility on the NGfL Cymru website.

You can also contact your LA by phone, letter or by visiting your local ‘one stop shop’.

Find out more – arrange a visit to the school

Once you know which schools are near you, get as much information as you can abou them. This will give you a better idea of which schools might suit your child most.

Once you have a list of possible schools, you should contact them to make an appointment to visit. All secondary schools hold open evenings for parents and carers in the autumn term.

Schools are busy places, but always welcome prospective parents/carers. Ask who you will see from the school and how much time they will be able to spend with you.

Is there any information I can read before visiting a school?

All schools will be able to give you (upon request):

  • A school prospectus or brochure
  • The most recent Governor’s Annual Report to Parent
  • Their SEN policy
  • Other policies, covering such things as behaviour and bullying
  • Their Home-School Agreement
  • The ESTYN Inspectors’ report on the school

Before you visit:

  • Think carefully about whether you want to take your child with you on the first visit (you could discuss this with the school).
  • Decide if you want to take someone along with you such as a friend or relative. They can help in discussing your impressions afterwards.
  • Consider whether you would like to have a guided tour of the school. You will get a better feel for the school if you do this in school hours when the children are there.
  • Think about speaking to other parents about the school. However, it is important to keep an open mind. Schools change and information can be out of date. Also different things are important to different parents. You know your child best, and what is likely to suit him or her.

What should I ask during the visit?

Here are some questions you might want to ask. You will think of other things that are important to you and you family. If you are going to visit more than one school you might want to jot down some notes to help you remember:

  • How many pupils would be in my child’s class?
  • What will the school do to make sure that all the staff know about my child’s individual needs?
  • How does the school arrange extra support for children who need it?
  • How will I be involved in planning for my child’s needs and reviewing his or her progress?
  • How will the other children be helped to understand my child’s needs?
  • How will my child be helped to settle in school and to make friends?
  • How will I be kept up to date about what is happening in school?
  • How does the school help children to learn how to behave?
  • How does the school deal with bullying?
  • How will the school make sure my child has the chance to take part in all areas of the curriculum and extracurricular activities such as lunchtime and after school clubs and outings?

Applying for a school place

Once you have narrowed down your list of preferred schools, its time to apply for a place. If you do not have an application form, contact your LA to request one. They will also be able to discuss local policies, guidance and offer information and support to those recently moved to the area.

Admissions criteria

Before submitting your application, it’s very important to read the school’s admission criteria; different schools have different criteria. If the school you’re interested in is popular, the admissions criteria will give you a realistic idea of your child’s chances of getting a place there. (These criteria should be found in the school’s prospectus or by contacting the LA.)

Apply in the autumn term a year before your child is due to start.

Don’t miss the deadline

There are important dates by which you need to submit your application.

The dates vary between LAs so it’s best to check with your own LA and send off your form or apply online in plenty of time. It’s important to remember that you may jeopardise your application if you miss the deadline.

When will you find out the results of your application?

For secondary schools, admissions authourities send out offer letters on 1 March.

Primary school offer dates vary, so it’s best to check with your LA.