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Apply for a primary school place - 2015-16

Why important

Enrolling your child in primary school is a major step, especially for first-time parents who will be looking for as much information as possible about their options. There will also be anxiety around the timing and process for applications, so crystal clarity about these aspects is important. Schools pages should also cover issues like access to free school meals, to ensure those that need them can apply.

Date of assessment

October/November 2015


Scottish unitary councils


Scottish primary schools hold a registration week that parents must attend with the necessary documents to 'register' their child with the school directly. Local authority cover primary school applications as part of their information about schools, but there is no local authority managed online application process as there is in England & Wales.

Find your council report

Check ‘coverage’ to see if your council has been surveyed. Go to councils page and select your council. Look for link to task report under 2017-18 results

Headline results


Provide a good or very good online service based on this survey

Better connected rankings


*Discrepancies in the figures are due to rounding off

  • 4 stars (Very Good)
  • 3 stars (Good)
  • 2 stars (Unsatisfactory)
  • 1 star (Poor)


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Task report

In Scotland, primary school admissions are dealt with by the school rather than by the local authority (the situation in England & Wales).   

There is variation in the timing of primary school enrolment, with many schools hosting enrolment days in November and others in January. It is possible that the timing of our survey, in late October and early November, may have caught some sites before they were ready.

Very few councils provided information about the full process. For example, they did not state how parents would be notified about whether or not their child would be offered a place. Presumably this would happen once the parent visited the school on the enrolment day, but this is the sort of information that first timers into the system might want to know, and which if not provided, might lead to avoidable contacts.

The vast majority of primary school place applications can be expected to be via the straightforward ‘enrolment’ process i.e. when a child reaches the official starting age, an application will be made to their local catchment area school for entry at the usual start time in August.

Variations that need to explained on the schools pages occur when parents want their child to:

  • Attend a school that is not in the applicant’s designated catchment area (or ‘zone’)
  • Start school either before or after the usual August start date
  • Leave their current school and start at a new school because of moving house
  • Leave their current schools and start at a new school for other reasons (unhappy with current school, issues with transport, etc.)

Another complication arises where some parents will be applying to an infant school and will then have to apply again a couple of years later to a junior school.

These different circumstances – and the different processes for each – were rarely well explained.

The most commonly described scenario was not the ordinary application to start at the local catchment school at the normal start of the academic year, but something called ‘placement requests’.

This is when a parent wants their child to attend a school that is not in their catchment area. Most websites seem to assume that everyone knows what a ‘placement request’ is, providing this term as a heading and as a link to further information. Parents and carers new to the system and not familiar with this description will not know what it means unless they click the link or read further.

In addition to a lack of clarity about the different primary school application scenarios, many council sites did not separate the school application information for primary and secondary schools. This makes it difficult for the uninitiated to figure out which information was relevant to the task. It would be more helpful if there were separate pages for parents looking for secondary school admissions and those looking for primary school admissions.

On most sites it was hard to find out how a decision would be made if a school was oversubscribed. This information was nearly always located deep within the ‘placement request’ information (for out-of-catchment schools) or deep within a PDF. Some sites didn’t provide this information at all.

Key terms vary from site to site. For example Clackmannanshire uses the term ‘enrolment’ but Argyle and Bute, the term ‘register’. This can present problems when using search engines to find relevant pages. Our reviewer was primarily using the term ‘apply’, which it appears is used by few sites within the context of primary school admissions.

Many council sites were still promoting last year’s dates for school application open days. This was particularly confusing, especially for those sites that had very imminent admissions dates (i.e. November rather than January).

Some sites seemed to suggest that parents should look out for schools admissions information in their local papers around the time of enrolment, but failed to provide up to date information on their own website. This seems particularly odd. Surely the council website should always be the best source of accurate and up to date information?

Many councils did not mention school inspection reports or provide links to them. It is hard to imagine why this might be. Is it oversight or a deliberate policy?

Some sites did not provide a comprehensive list of local schools with all the necessary information about them (or links to it). Parents will find it useful if information about schools is held in one place and the local authority website seems like a good place to do this, even if the authority is not running the applications process.

A database of all schools should be available online that provides the schools name, contact details, location map with additional links to the inspection reports for that school and the school’s own website, it’s handbook and links on to the application information for that school (i.e. link to applying for primary (infant or junior) and secondary).

There are several sites that present this task very well however, earning four stars and a reviewer recommendation.

Good practice

Finding the task

  • Make sure the task can be found by entering in a search engine ‘council name’ and a range of terms like 'apply', 'register' and 'enrol' for primary school places
  • Provide a prominent link from the home page and schools landing page to a brief description that include the all-important deadline dates and age ranges.
  • Take visitors to the same page from any site search result or A to Z entry.
  • Clearly signpost parents to information for different school enrolment scenarios, e.g. Starting primary school; Applying for delayed or early entry to primary/infant school; Changing schools when moving house; Changing schools for other reasons etc. 
  • Use words that clearly describe the task scenario rather than terms such as 'placement request' 

Completing the task

  • Information for this task is likely to be dotted around the website on webpages, in PDF documents, school databases, mapping systems and some being provided on external websites, so join up the dots by presenting a single webpage that signposts people to these useful pieces of information in a logical sequence.
  • Use prominent links within the body of the webpage to signpost people to the next step in the task journey - this is better than hoping people will spot the right link in a lengthy navigation menu.
  • Provide a range of options to identify a visitor's catchment school and other schools including easy-to-use maps where a simple postcode search provides you with all the relevant information.
  • Give information about each school, including clear contact details, with links back to the application information
  • Provide links to related information such as eligibility for free school meals and other important details that parents need to know when their child starts school.
  • Provide links to the latest inspection reports from Education Scotland

Poor practice

  • There is no clear indication of enrolment/registration deadlines.
  • There is no way of discovering your catchment school without contacting the council
  • There is no link to related information such as inspection reports, which parents may not realise even exist.
  • Meaningful search results when using common terms like ‘Apply for a school place’ are cluttered with other results relating to ‘applying’ for other services
  • Necessary information obscured within lenghty pdf documents
  • Overly formal or legalistic language used to describe the starting age for school
  • Out of date information
  • Forcing parents/carers to register before the site will reveal the relevant catchment area

Sites that we recommend

East Lothian

A good logical sequence of pages has been put together that provides clear, useful information for this task. I was able to download a map showing exactly where the school catchment areas are. There was clear differentiation between the standard process of enrolling at your local catchment primary school, and the different process for applying for a place at a non-catchment school. The only bit of info I was unable to find was information about school inspection reports. Overall this was a good experience.

North Ayrshire

The page about school registration provides useful concise information in a logical sequence with useful signposting to other webpages that will help with this task. This makes the process quick and easy. There is useful joining up of council services here, for example, I'm told that I must bring a birth certificate to the school to register my child and am also given a link to get a copy of the birth certificate.

Perth & Kinross

Good promotion of this task. The information about primary school enrolment is quite clear about birthdates for entry to year 1 and that the registration will take place in January. The journey for this task is pretty smooth, with the exception of the mapping system school link, which links directly to the school website rather than to the PKC webpage for the school - which I thought was better as it included links to the inspection reports and school meals information. Overall very good. One criticism though - when I searched Google for "Perth Council Primary School Places", no useful results were returned on the first page of results - only a PDF about school enrolment. It was only when I used the full council name that I got the correct results returned. This may be cause for concern. Clear information provided here that's specific to primary school applications.

Commended features


Each school has it's own webpage that includes contact details, location map and a link to the latest inspection report on Education Scotland's website. I can also download the school's handbook, school bus timetable and a copy of the school catchment map.



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