We receive a lot of queries from families who are relocating to the UK from overseas and there is often a lot of uncertainty surrounding when and how parents can apply to schools for their children. This post explores how the system is supposed to work and how it actually works; the two are not the same!

"Local Authorities appear to be breaking the government guidance (and possibly the law) by refusing to consider applications from children who are currently residing abroad."

How is it supposed to work

You can find out how the application process is supposed to work via the official government guidance, which can be found here: School applications for foreign national children and children resident outside England.

Below is a summary of this guidance:

Who can study in England

You can check if you need a visa to study in the UK here: https://www.gov.uk/check-uk-visa.

Can I apply from overseas

Yes, a school admission authority cannot refuse to admit a child until the school to which the parents have applied is full – for example, it has reached its published admission number. Parents who are moving or returning to England or the UK and who apply for a place in England must therefore have their applications for state-funded schools considered. Admission authorities cannot, for example:

  • require the applicant has a permanent home address either in the UK or overseas before processing an application
  • require the submission of immigration documentation proving the applicant’s right to reside in the UK before processing an application
In-year applications

Where a local authority co-ordinates in-year applications on behalf of a school, it should not require applicants to currently live in the area before passing the application on to the admission authority for it to consider.

Where a local authority does not co-ordinate in-year applications, and applications are made directly to the admission authorities for schools, those schools can only refuse the application based on ‘prejudice’ as defined in legislation (for example, the school is full). The relevant admission authority must not require applicants to currently live in the area before considering their applications.

Establishing ‘home’ address

It is common for admission arrangements to give some degree of priority based on where an applicant lives – for example, where a school has a catchment area or uses distance from home to school as a means of allocating the final available places. In these cases, admission authorities will need an address in order to fully apply their admission arrangements and rank applicants for their oversubscription criteria. However, not every family returning to England from another country will be able to provide this at the point they apply for a school and the application should be processed whether or not the family is able to provide a permanent address.

School admission authorities and local authorities can decide what evidence they require from parents to show that they intend returning or moving to the area, but this might include: a mortgage or rental agreement for a property in the area, a letter from an employer showing a transfer date to the area, deeds for a property in the area or registration with a local GP

Admission authorities must consider all in-year applications and should not refuse an application simply because a parent or child currently lives in another country.

The problem with overseas applications

If a parent is unable to provide evidence of a return to the area, admission authorities could apply a catchment area policy or distance tie-break, if they have such admission criteria, using the parents’ place of residence at the point the application is made. If this is in another country, it might give the child a lower priority for admission if the admission authority operates a catchment area or if the child is tied for the final place available with other applicants.

How it actually works

We have found that in reality the above just doesn't happen. Having carried out a huge number of education consultations we know that, in reality, you simply cannot apply for a school place in England until you have an address in the UK.

In our experience, the Local Authorities will simply refuse to deal with you until you can prove your residency.

We have seen numerous instances where parents have been bluntly told "We are unable to process your in year primary application, as you have indicated on your application that your child is residing abroad".

We have contacted a number of Local Authorities to ask how they can justify this response, based on the published guidance, to which we received ... no response.

So, what can you do?

If you do want to apply from abroad and the Local Authority is refusing to engage with you then we suggest you make them aware of the government guidance: School applications for foreign national children and children resident outside England

However, it would seem that until someone holds the Local Authorities to account, they will continue to refuse applications from families abroad and the only practical solution is to delay your application until you are residing in the UK.

Author: Lewis Tandy