Guidance

School admissions: applications for overseas children

How local authorities and admission authorities should process applications from foreign nationals, or from another country, for a state-funded school place in England.

Applies to England

Parents should follow the guidance on applying for a school place.

In most cases, foreign national children in the UK have the right to attend schools in England. School admission authorities must not refuse to admit a child on the basis of their nationality or immigration status nor remove them from roll on this basis. It is the responsibility of parents to check that their children have a right, under their visa entry conditions, to study at a school.

To help parents, we recommend that local authorities advise foreign nationals, who wish to apply for a state-funded school place, to check that they have a right of abode or that the conditions of their immigration status otherwise permit them to access a state-funded school. Local authorities can do this by adding a reminder to their admissions webpage and within their composite admissions prospectus.

Until 31 December 2020, all European Economic Area (‘EEA’), and Swiss national children, had the right under freedom of movement and UK immigration law, to enter the country to access a school. Any EEA or Swiss national who arrived in the UK by 31 December 2020 is eligible to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme, and continue to be able to study in schools in England as they do now if their application is successful.

Freedom of movement into the UK for EEA and Swiss citizens ended at the end of 2020. EEA (Irish citizens aside) and Swiss national children entering the UK after the end of 2020 are now treated the same as other foreign nationals. This means they will no longer have the right to enter the country to access a state-funded school unless they fall within the following immigration categories.

Children aged under 18 can enter the UK, as a dependant of a foreign national who has settled status in the UK, as a dependant of their parent(s) who are in the UK on a work visa or Student visa, or who are part of a family entering or residing in the UK under the immigration route for British National (Overseas) citizens and their dependants.

These dependant children are entitled to enter the country and can study at a state-funded or independent school once in the UK. Dependant children of a person on the BN(O) route must make an application, under the BN(O) immigration route, at the same time as their parent(s). Dependant children who do not arrive in the UK at the same time as their parents, would need to apply for a visa separately as a dependant child.

Unaccompanied children may also enter the UK to access a school. To comply with their visa terms, unaccompanied foreign national children, and young people (including such EEA and Swiss nationals entering the UK after 31 December 2020) who are entering on a Child Student visa or Student visa must, when accessing education in England, study at the independent school, sixth form college or further education college which is a licensed student sponsor that has offered them an unconditional place on a course.

Foreign nationals cannot use the 6-month Standard Visitor visa, or 11-month Short-term Study (English language) visa, to enter the UK to enrol as a pupil at a state-funded school, although some exchange programmes may be possible on the Visit route. Find out what these visas can be used for on the Standard Visitor visa page.

Find out more about visas and immigration and the EU Settlement Scheme for EEA and Swiss citizens.

Irish citizens’ right to live in the UK will not change. Irish citizens do not need to apply for the EU Settlement Scheme, but their family members, who are not Irish or UK citizens, will need to apply.

If a school is concerned that a child may not have a right to enter the country to access a state-funded school, it must not deny them a place or remove them from the school roll. Schools should advise parents to check their rights or email the Home Office’s school referrals team so they can investigate further.

Home Office referrals

If a school or local authority has concerns about a particular child’s immigration status, contact Home Office via: schoolreferrals@homeoffice.gov.uk.

The local authority, or school admission authority, does not have to inform the child’s parents or carers that it has contacted the Home Office, however it is good practice for it to do so. The Home Office will aim to respond to the school within 48 hours.

If the Home Office finds that the child’s visa does not entitle him or her to enter the country to attend a state-funded school, it will be up to the Home Office to take any further action it considers appropriate. A local authority, admission authority or school must not deny a child a place, or remove him or her from the school roll, on the basis of the Home Office’s findings.

Processing applications from parents moving to England

This advice sets out how school admission authorities and local authorities should process applications for places for children who are living in another country at the point the application is made.

Parents who are not UK or Irish nationals should check they, and their children, have a right to reside in the UK before applying for a school place in England. It is not the responsibility of the admission authority or co-ordinated local authority to check.

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. Where a place is refused, admission authorities must offer an appeal to an independent appeals panel.

As is the case with admission authorities more generally, nothing in legislation prevents a local authority from co-ordinating an application from a family living in another country or posted overseas but moving or returning to England or the UK so that the child will be living in the area when he or she starts school.

If a local authority refuses to co-ordinate an application for a school place from parents currently living in another country but moving or returning to England, an admission authority for the school would have significant difficulty in being able to lawfully apply its admission arrangements.

We recommend that determined co-ordinated schemes follow the process set out in this advice. It is also recommended that local authority schemes and composite admissions prospectuses include details of the type of evidence parents will need to provide to establish that they either already live in the area or intend to return to it in time to take up a school place.

Applications in the normal admissions round and late applications

If an application is made from another country, local authorities should consider the application as adequate proof of an intention to move or return to the area and include it within the local authority co-ordinated process.

A local authority should not refuse an application made from overseas (or from Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man or the Channel Islands), on the grounds that the applicant does not currently live in its area. A local authority can reasonably request the evidence set out below, so the admission authority holds sufficient information to determine the 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 (or the country) 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. In these cases, admission authorities will need an address in order to apply their admission arrangements and rank applicants for their oversubscription criteria.

Admission authorities could ask prospective movers or returners where they will be living (see paragraph 2.5 of the School Admissions Code). This might include whether parents:

  • own or rent a property in the area to which they intend to return or move
  • are UK crown servants or are in the UK military and are returning or moving to the area
  • have provided other compelling evidence that they are returning or moving to the area

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
  • deeds for a property in the area
  • a letter from an employer showing a transfer date to the area
  • 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.

If a parent is unable to provide evidence of a return to the area (before the new school year for applications in the normal admissions round or for late applications, or by the start of the next term for in-year applications), 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 would give the child a lower priority for admission to most schools.

Applications from UK crown servants or military families

As set out in the School Admissions Code, admission authorities and local authorities must process applications from UK crown servants or UK military families with evidence from their employers or commanding officers that they are returning or moving to the area ahead of any move. They must accept any posting or quartering address as a ‘home’ address in the absence of any actual home address.

Withdrawing offers of places

When an application is made from an address in another country, the local authority and/or school may ask for evidence before the school year or term begins to confirm that the child now lives in the area. If the child does not attend school on the first day of term, the admission authority could remove the offer and allocate the place to a child on the waiting list.

Before taking this action, the local authority and admission authority should contact the parent(s) to give them an opportunity to explain why there has been a delay in taking up the place and find out when the child might begin attending.

Paragraph 2.12 of the School Admissions Code states that: ‘An admission authority must not withdraw an offer unless it has been offered in error, a parent has not responded within a reasonable period of time, or it is established that the offer was obtained through a fraudulent or intentionally misleading application. Where the parent has not responded to the offer, the admission authority must give the parent a further opportunity to respond and explain that the offer may be withdrawn if they do not.’

If the local authority/school does not receive a response even then, the Pupil Registration Regulations 2006 (as amended) allow it to remove the child from the roll after 20 school days. The local authority or admission authority can then allocate the vacant place to a child on the waiting list.

Safeguarding

If admission authorities or schools are concerned about the safety of children from overseas who are in private fostering arrangements, they should read the keeping children safe in education statutory guidance and act accordingly.

Schools in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland

Whilst the same immigration policy applies across all nations within the UK, each country has its own education system, guidance and laws.

For more information contact the relevant council in:

Published 25 March 2014
Last updated 20 November 2020 + show all updates
  1. Updated with information about dependant children's rights. Updated links to Home Office content on the new immigration system.

  2. Updated information on processing applications from parents moving to England.

  3. Clarifying information about the eligibility of overseas children for state-funded school places.

  4. Updated contact details for the Home Office school referrals team.

  5. First published.