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Waiting Lists for School

By: Jack Claridge - Updated: 15 Apr 2019 | comments*Discuss
Nursery Primary Secondary Grammar

There are some schools in the United Kingdom who have longer waiting lists than others and here we list some reasons why there are waiting lists and what you can do to minimise your waiting times.


If you live in a rural area where the catchment area is quite small there may only be one secondary school. In this instance, if there are several primary schools, then the waiting list for a place for the secondary school is likely to be quite long.

This again is indicative of whether or not parents within a particular catchment area are in a position to be able to send their child or children to a school beyond the boundaries of their particular catchment area. Sometimes this is possible, but given that many families now live beneath what the government consider is an acceptable standard of living, transport can become an issue.

Also certain schools within a catchment area regardless of its location can be more popular than others given their resources and/or profile.


As touched upon previously, distance is something that can cause long waiting lists to form, especially if you live in a rural or highly suburbanised area. Many parents are unable to commute with their children on a daily basis given constraints relating to finances and/or the location of their place of employment. Where this is the case then distance is an important factor and one that many local education authorities are powerless to do anything about.

If you wish your child to attend a school outside your designated catchment area, many local education authorities will tell you that if you are successful in getting your child a place then the responsibility for getting them to and from that school is yours as a parent or guardian.


Although we might not wish to accept it, some schools are better financed and better equipped than others, which can put a strain on waiting lists as most parents want their children to attend a school where their education is more likely to flourish, given that the school in question has a larger budget, more teachers or indeed more up to date equipment.

Of course this in itself is something that the government and local education authorities are looking at constantly but is something that, unfortunately, cannot be avoided.

Special Needs Education

Some children require special needs education, beit because of a physical disability or simply because they have difficulty interacting with other children or adults. In this instance some special needs schools – the numbers of which are diminishing yearly – have long waiting lists and are unable to cope with the large intakes that are required of them annually.

As more and more mainstream schools are now attempting to deal with certain special needs issues the numbers are dropping but not at a rate which would impact greatly on waiting lists.

How to Deal with Waiting Lists?

There really is no definitive answer to this question, although there are certain things you can do to try and minimise the time your child has to wait for a placement. Firstly it is important to have more than one school listed when approaching your local education authority initially. This means that you are more likely to secure a place for your child at a school of similar standard than if you were to just identify one school as a preference.

Your local education authority will advise you on which other schools in your catchment area – if there are any – that you should consider as an alternative and it is a good idea to take these suggestions seriously.

Another way to minimise waiting times is to start the process early. It may sound contrived but the earlier you start the more chance you have of securing that place for your child. Also, if you already have a child attending the school that you want your child placed, this may help as often the so-called Sibling Factor can be taken into account.

That said however it must be stressed that although this is something that can have a bearing on the end result, it is not to be taken for granted that having a child already in attendance will guarantee a place.

In conclusion, the best advice anyone can offer you is not to be too selective if you can possibly help it. There are many schools out there that can offer a high standard of education regardless of how popular they are.

Also start early in the selection process. Approach those schools you are interested in and ask about waiting lists and at what stage in your child’s nursery or primary education you should start applying for a place and bear in mind that there an infinite number of parents out there who want a place for their child and a finite number of places.

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Hello My name is Laura, I work at ITV News - we are hoping to interview a London-based family for Lunchtime News (16/04/19) tomorrow whilst they await the decision about their child's place. I'm wondering if you know of any families who would be interested and if they could get in touch with me via email please? Many Thanks Laura Allen
Laura at ITV News - 15-Apr-19 @ 2:45 PM
On 1 March my daughter was in position 13 on the waiting list for our preferred Secondary School.On 12 March she was moved to position 22 and then on the evening of 15 March was moved down to position 23. The deadline for accepting/declining school places was 15 March.I know positions on the waiting list are not static but I thought hers would have remained the same until at least after the deadline.Is it usual for positions to change during this early period?
Waitingmum - 18-Mar-19 @ 7:48 AM
Help!? On the 1st March I found out that my 11 year old son didn’t get any of his 5 choices for secondary school. He instead has been allocated a school that is in special measures and the teachers spend the majority of the time safeguarding instead of teaching students. There is no way he is going there! He is on a waiting list for several other schools but it’s just so horrible being in limbo not knowing if a place will ever come up or not. ????
Heidihi - 8-Mar-19 @ 3:02 PM
So sorry to hear that Emma. I too am in the same position. My daughter is also 10 and found out yesterday she didn't get herchoice of high school. They offered her one that was a dive. We are going to appeal and I have put him on the waiting list. But how long will that take. We are planning to home school until a place becomes available. Very very sad
D - 2-Mar-19 @ 7:48 AM
My son is 10 and found out yesterday he didn't get his choice of high school. They offered him one that was a dive. We are going to appeal and I have put him on the waiting list. But how long will that take. We are planning to home school until a place becomes available.
Emma - 2-Mar-19 @ 7:36 AM
I have had my son on a waiting list for almost a year now. He has been right up in 2nd place to be pushed down then moved up again he has been pushed down to 5th now. If he keeps getti g pushed down how is he ever going to get into the school i want him to go to? Surely theres a limit to getting pushed down all the time.
Hayles - 19-Sep-18 @ 2:53 PM
My son has special needs along with the fact he's severely disabled means our choice of school, realistically is one. The school of our choice initially told us that once an EHCP was in place the wait for a start would be no more than 4 weeks. The long drawn out process of the EHCP has meant that in that time things have changed. Once his plan is in place in September the wait will be 4-6 months. As we don't feel a mainstream school is anywhere near suitable we are now worried the progress he's made so far at his special needs group / portage (which stop at 3yrs old) will be lost. What can we do?
Dan - 29-Jun-18 @ 9:36 AM
PETAL - You should start him at school and stilll ask for him to be placed on the waiting list. The only danger is that he will like the first school/friends etc and not want to move
justmeiam - 29-Aug-17 @ 8:53 PM
Hi I applied for my son school and got the preference I wanted how ere in May I have been offered a house which I have taken but is now out the area. So I applied for a differences school and hey have rejected me I appealed and they still have upheld there decision. What do I do now as the other school in area is not at all to standards . ?? Any help greatly appreciated as first time I have done this I don't know what else to do . My son turns 5 near xmas shall I withhold him out of school till then as he legally doesn't have to start till he is 5and hope he gets a place in time off the waiting list??
Petal - 14-Jul-17 @ 4:50 PM
How long can a waiting list take if you dont want to send your child to another particular school they are offering?? Also up to how much years approx is a waiting list waited
Xsmilex - 19-Jan-17 @ 3:03 AM
My child was offered a place far from which we applied for. I applied against which was turned down now his on the waiting list for few schools but no replies. He has no school to go to in September. What should i do?
Shiz - 29-Aug-16 @ 8:04 PM
Sophiel - Your Question:
My little girl is 17 th on primary school waiting list how likely is it she will get offered a place

Our Response:
I'm afraid we cannot predict this, it depends upon the the school's allocation.
GetTheRightSchool - 25-May-16 @ 2:05 PM
My little girl is 17 th on primary school waiting list how likely is it she will get offered a place
Sophiel - 25-May-16 @ 12:45 AM
Could you help! My child is on a high school waiting list but being a first time sending my child to high school I didn't stick the correct evidence in my application so ended up in the last category. I now rectified this and they now have evidence I would be in a higher category, would this move me up on the waiting list? Would I now be before all the other lower categories or is it too late and should have been in my application??
Rach - 19-Mar-16 @ 3:02 PM
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