No school is allowed to deny someone education or training on the grounds of their race, sexual orientation, religion or belief or because they have a disability.

However, schools are allowed to reject prospective students based on their age: once they are above the national school leaving age, students are expected to go to college or other learning providers.

In some circumstances, in line with admissions policies, schools can select pupils based on certain criteria. Every school should publish their admissions policy and explain the grounds on which they decide which pupils to accept.

  • Primary schools maintained by local authorities or education authorities cannot select pupils on the grounds of academic ability.
  • Many schools have policies which give preference to children whose older brothers and sisters are already attending the school.
  • Faith schools may give preference to children who follow that particular faith.
  • Single sex schools are allowed to select pupils on the grounds of gender.
  • In England and Wales, some secondary schools select wholly or partly on the grounds of academic ability, or ability in a particular subject area, such as music or languages. A school that is partly selective must not keep places empty if it does not have enough pupils of the required standard.
  • In Scotland, there are six centres of excellence in which selection takes place on grounds of ability in music, sport or dance.

Following a consultation in 2006, the government published a new school admissions code that sets out exactly what schools in England and Wales are required to do.

Parental choice in education

Parents have the right to express a preference about which school in their catchment area their child goes to. But local authorities don’t have to agree with that preference, particularly if a school is oversubscribed.

Under the Education Act 2005, schools in England and Wales must publish a school profile to help parents select schools. The profile must provide details of what they teach, what their recent performance in tests and examinations has been, term dates for the coming year, school hours and their policies on issues like discipline, school uniform, homework, special educational needs and additional support needs. They must also produce a policy statement on developing pupils' spiritual, moral, social and cultural values and an equal opportunities policy. Find out more about school profiles.

There are no such obligations on schools in Scotland. Scottish Schools Online provides a searchable directory of all schools in Scotland, including education authority and independent schools. It provides contact details, links to school websites where available, statistics and other information for each school.

Early education

Every three- and four-year-old child is entitled to a free early education place. Each child must be given 12.5 hours of pre-school education per week (less for children starting pre-school later in the year). This usually works out as two-and-a-half hours a day, for five days a week during normal term times. (It will increase to 15 hours per week from September 2010.)

This is not compulsory: parents do not have to make their children attend. Similarly, not all nurseries, schools or playgroups are obliged to provide free places.

Last Updated: 02 Jul 2009