It seems like only yesterday they were tiny babies in our arms and now somehow, in what feels like a parallel universe where everything runs at super speed, we’re expected to apply for them to start school. SCHOOL…..Holy Moly where did that time go?! I’m totally with you on this one, my little girl is three and I’m joining in the school admissions process this year for a September 2020 start. In expectation of this huge event for so many families I thought I would write a blog with key information and ideas about how to make the most of the process. I live in Exeter so I have included the information about school admissions in Devon alongside the general info. If you live outside Devon please look to your local County Council website for help. Or contact us if you are stuck, we can help to find the info.


Key info:

  • If you child was born between 1st September 2015 and 31st August 2016 you will need to apply for a school place for them to start in September 2020.
  • In Devon you can start applying from 15th November and the last date for applications is 15th January.
  • The law is that children must be in school full time from the term after they turn 5 years old. Reception classes take children in the September after their 4th birthday.
  • Schools offer different starting options (more on this below)
  • Apply for three schools – it’s not a great idea to put all of your eggs in one basket even if you only want one specific school. If you only apply for one and don’t get a space you could end up being allocated somewhere the other side of town because you haven’t given any other preferences!

There is lots to think about and it can feel overwhelming so I’m just going to give you a top 5 things which you can do in order. There’s a whole year ahead to prepare and lots can change so just take each step one at a time.


1. Find out which schools you are in catchment for and which ones you are interested in applying for. Schools work on having catchment zones which show which school children are designated to attend depending on where you live. Your catchment area will determine which schools you are more likely to get a place in. Some schools take children from out of catchment area so don’t panic if you want a school and you live a little too far away, just be aware that you won’t be top of the list to get in. Have a look on the County County Council website which shows the designated areas. You might find you have more than one school which you are in catchment for.

Make a list of the nearest schools to you and any others that might work, for example near where you work or close to a family member.


The map shows the catchment areas if you click on a school name. It’s a bit glitchy and not the clearest but it does the job! I’ve found the best way to see your local schools is to use the ‘address search’ tab at the top left hand corner. Pop your postcode in and it will show you the school or schools which you fall into catchment for.

You can apply for schools out of your catchment area but admissions will take children from the catchment first so you won’t be first in line. You may have other reasons for applying such as siblings already at the school and you can list this on your application.

2. Do some research. Spend a little bit of time looking at the school’s website, you should be able to gather lots of information here and get a feel for the school. Try looking at things like the newsletter if they have one – this will show you the sort of events, trips and experiences that happen for the children. Also look for lunch menu’s (food is always top of my agenda!) after school clubs, expecially if you need wrap around care such as breakfast club. There will be some information about how many children go to the school and how the classes are organised. Many schools have mixed age classes where children in year 3 and 4 are together for example.

Talking to friends or neighbours who have children in local schools can be helpful. Be warned though, please do this with an open mind. Everyone’s opinions are different and we all like and value different things. You might find Vera next door hated the local school 13 years ago for her little cherub but things are likely to have changed significantly since then!


3. Visit some schools! This one is so important. It’s easy to listen to the gossip and make your mind up about a place without even seeing it. Your child is going to be in this setting for the next seven years so it’s a really good idea to get in there yourself and take a look. Lots of schools put on Open events during October and November where you can go and have a little tour, ask questions and get a feel for the setting. Some will offer 1:1 visits or other ways to see the school. Have a look at the websites and give the school a call to find out how you can visit.

Visit more than one school. As I said in the key info, you really need to apply for more than one school so it makes sense to visit more than one. Even if you have your heart set on one place, it’s great to get a comparison and to find out what else if on offer. I aliken it to buying a house, it would be rare (although I know it does happen) to but the first house you see and not even look at anything else. You won’t lose anything by visiting more than one school and if nothing else, it’s a fab opportunity to be nosey!

We will post more info about school visits including Exeter dates and what to look for etc nearer the time. Also, we are hoping to do some school visit videos in the Autumn, look out on instagram for more!

4. Fill in your application. You can do this in Devon online from 15th November, click the link below. Remember to apply for more than one school! The allocations will be released on 16th April 2020. You will receive an email with your allocated school.

5. Enjoy the time before school starts! There is lots of information about ‘school readiness’ out there and of course there are loads of things you can do to help your child, and yourself, to get ready for the big day. Essentially though school is the start of a very very long formal education journey for your child and your family so once you have made this big decision and completed the form just try to enjoy the rest of the year. Whether you work full time and your child is in pre-school or you are a stay at home parent savour the time you have with your child before they start school in whichever way makes you happy!

What if…. notes for if some of the above doesn’t fit!

  • What if my child has additional needs? If your child has additional needs make sure you speak to the schools that you are interested in and talk over what they can offer. You might be able to do this during an organised tour or book an appointment to go in and see the class teachers or possibly the SENDco (Special Educational Needs and Disability co-ordinator) The 0-25 team can also be really useful (google; Devon 0-25 team)
  • What if my child is summer born? This may make no difference at all as lots of just 4 years olds are really ready for school and cope brilliantly well despite being almost a year younger than some of their classmates. If it is something that worries you though speak to the schools you are interested in. Some will offer part time or staggared starts, some will be happy to take a deferred entry where they start the following year. Be warned that some schools will want your child to start in year 1 rather than Reception if you defer so this is really important to check. Deferred entries need to be applied for through the County Council and agreed with the school.
  • What if I just don’t feel my child is ready? If, for whatever reason, you are worried about how your child will cope with starting school talk to the staff at the schools you are interested in. Even if your child is not a summer born schools may offer part time starts or be happy to delay them starting until the term after they are five, so possibly a January or April start. Again you would need to apply for a deferred entry to start at another time than September. There are pro’s and con’s to all of the options so look into it from all angles.
  • What if we are moving house? If you are planning to move before your child starts school, look for schools near to your new home. Call admissions when you apply as you may need the address of your new home to be included on the form and some proof of the move.
  • What if I want to home educate my child? If you are thinking about educating your child at home you will need to contact your County Council. Devon uses Babcock LDP’s Elective Home Education Service which has information about how to go about Home Educating and will assign you an Elective Home Education Advisor if you choose this route.

Hopefully this is a useful overview of how to start the process of applying for a school place. As always contact us if you have any questions.


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