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Top tips for secondary school applications

The secondary school application process can be a fraught one for many parents. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. If you’re a parent thinking about your child’s secondary school, here’s what you can do to make the application process smoother.

Start early

If you’re aiming for one of the top-tier independent schools, you should ideally start thinking about applications once your child reaches Year 4 in their primary school. Even if you are not aiming for a top-tier school, starting early is nothing but beneficial.

The application shouldn’t be rushed, review each school’s application criteria carefully, it’s not uncommon for families to overlook an element of required documentation, which can delay your application. Most importantly, your child will need time to prepare for any entrance exams and interviews.

How to research secondary schools

League tables, especially if they rank solely on exam results, can be misleading. Make sure you take into account extracurriculars, class sizes, ethos and whether your child’s abilities and personality will suit a particular school. This doesn’t just help you pick the best school for your child; it’ll also help your child’s application if you can show you’ve really put thought into why the school is right for them.

You can find all secondary schools in your area by using this school search tool.

Ofsted reports, exam results, performance data, catchment map information and independent reviews can help you get a better feel for a particular school. But nothing beats actually visiting a school, so look out for the dates of open days or virtual tours. Open days are the only way you can determine the atmosphere of the school and whether or not you think your child will like it, short of physically attending the school as a student.

Consider the right living situation for your child. Boarding, flexi-boarding, weekly boarding and day-only are all common options. Pick the environment that is right for your child to flourish. If they are strongly independent, boarding may be the way forward, more shy students may prefer a day school.

Work with a tuition agency

Working with a tuition agency that specialises in school admissions can have huge advantages for secondary school applications. Not only will you benefit from their expertise and insider knowledge of a particular school’s admissions processes but they can also provide a range of educational support for your child.

At JK Educate, we offer the following services for families preparing for secondary school applications:

  • Academic assessments – to test your child’s ability against the rest of their cohort nationally and establish their academic potential. This gives great insights into which secondary schools to apply for.
  • Mock exam practice and interview preparation – We also offer mock individual interviews each year, alongside mock group interviews. This preparation improves grades and bolsters student confidence.
  • Personalised one-to-one 11+ tutoring based on your child’s individual needs.
  • Specialised school admissions support – 97% of this year’s JK Educate 11+ entrance exam students were offered places at their chosen selective schools.

Admissions criteria

Thoroughly and carefully check the admissions criteria on the school website. If your child doesn’t fit the admissions criteria and the school is oversubscribed year on year, then look elsewhere.

If you’re applying for a school where demand far outstrips supply, it is well worth studying the statistics that come in the application booklet. They will show how many children in the previous year’s cohort were offered places based on a number of criteria.

Pick more than one school. Most local authorities ask for a list of three or four schools in order of preference. London requests six. Parents should not leave any blanks on the form and include at least one school where there is a strong chance of getting a place – even if it isn’t your ideal school.

Otherwise, there is the risk of being offered a place only at an undesirable school some distance away. It is for this reason that having other options is so important. Not only just having other options, but having options that you would not mind being accepted to.

The secondary school application timetable

These dates are a rough guide, so don’t forget to check with each school that you are applying for.

  • Open days: September/October
  • Applications deadline: October/November (some local authorities actively encourage you to get applications in earlier than the deadline)
  • Assessments/entrance exams: October/ November
  • Offers for places made: February/March
  • Offers from waiting lists: March-August
  • Appeals heard: May/June

Tips for successful applications

Once you’ve done your research and decided which schools to apply for, these tips can help your secondary school application go smoothly:

1.) You will need to show proof of address. In most cases, this will be your council tax account number. But you may have to also send recent utility bills. Make sure they are originals, not photocopies.

2.) Make sure your child is eligible for the schools you’re applying for. You don’t want to waste one of your choices. This, however, does not mean you should not be ambitious. It just means you should be fully informed before you make any decisions and carefully consider all the schools you are applying for, not just your preferred choice.

3.) Place your schools in order of preference on the form, no more than that. Use the first choice for a school where you stand a good chance of getting in. If an incredibly popular school is your first choice then be sure to include at least one school in your application that is less over-subscribed. This is because if your child doesn’t fulfil the criteria for your first choice, and the other schools on your list have similar criteria, there’s a chance that you could be offered a place in a school that is not on your list.

4.) If you’re applying to a faith or church school, you’ll need to fill in a supplementary information form (SIF) if you’re applying for a ‘foundation’ or church-sponsored place. These usually go directly to the school, not the local authority. Include as much detail as possible, as the school will use the information to help allocate places.

5.) If you are applying to schools outside your local authority, it must be done using the common application form from your own local authority, which will pass the details on to the relevant authority.

6.) Keep track of deadlines and dates, including a copy of your application form. For most schools, the application deadline is October 31st, but it does vary.

7.) Be sure to know when entrance exams and interviews will take place as your child will need plenty of time to prepare. They typically occur during the September before official entry, so a year 6 student would take the exam in September 2023 to get into the school the following year.

This is vital so you know how much time you have to prepare for the exam and can enlist the support of a tutoring agency like JK Educate.

8.) If you are planning on taking aptitude tests, for music, for example, you will need to contact the school directly for specific dates on when your test will occur. You can usually find this on their website.

9) Keep proof that you sent your application. If posting an application be sure to use registered mail and if it is an online application take a screenshot of the application confirmation page. You can also call a week later to confirm the application has been received.

10) Prepare your child for any interviews and exams. The secondary school application process isn’t just a form-filling exercise. Arguably, the most critical part of the process is the entrance exams and interviews. For a 10 or 11-year-old child, this can be a daunting prospect. This is where taking advantage of JK Educates 11+, interview preparation and school admission services can be invaluable.

What if you don’t get your first choice of secondary school?

First of all, don’t panic! Ask for your child to go on the waiting list for your preferred school, but don’t turn down the offer you have. You can also find out where on the list your child is.

It is not unusual for places to become available over the autumn term so make sure you stay on the shortlist if you’re determined to find your child a different school. After all, quite a lot can happen between spring and September. There will also be an opportunity to appeal, although appeals are not commonly successful.

The benefits of working with JK Educate for secondary school applications

Mock exams and interview practice not only prepare your child for the environment and type of questions they will face but also develop their exam and interview skills and bolster confidence, which has huge benefits when exam day rolls around. 97% of this year’s JK Educate 11+ entrance exam students were offered places at their chosen selective schools, which shows you the value of our services.

If you are able to work with a tuition agency before secondary school applications begin, all the better. School admissions services, such as that offered by JK Educate, can help to inform you of your child’s abilities and potential. JK Educate will work with you to identify the best schools that match your child’s abilities and goals while striving to boost your child’s knowledge through personalised tuition.

With the support of JK Educate in your child’s educational development, they will have the best chance of success.

What our clients say

Here’s what some of our families say about our school admissions support:

“JK Educate has supported my daughter through every stage of her successful Oxbridge application, finding the right person at the right time for her at each point. She received guidance and feedback on her Personal Statement, and an invaluable mock interview which helped her to approach the real one with confidence and enthusiasm.

She is very able but post-Covid appeared to be heading for a car crash. With the reassuring support of her tutor, she got back on track. I am enormously grateful to JK Educate not only for the expertise of their tutors but also for Katie’s astute judgement in understanding what was needed and selecting the right people to help.”

August 2023

“We used the services of JK Educate for English Tuition and Interview Prep for the 11+ secondary school exams. Tania was an extremely kind, patient and deeply knowledgeable teacher. Our son was prepared extremely well through the process and enjoyed his lessons. We would highly recommend JK Educate to anyone looking to apply to the top schools in the UK.”

January 2023

“Katie and her team have helped both my children get into top selective schools, most recently a competitive mid-cycle chance vacancy. The tutors were excellent, as we have come to expect from JK. Arguably of even more value was Katie’s session on interview techniques, where she encouraged my teenage son to present himself in the best possible light without putting words into his mouth. Couldn’t recommend more highly.”

April 2021

To explore how we can help your child reach their goals, get in touch with us today, by phone, email or online enquiry. We look forward to working with you.


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