When Are Primary School Places Allocated In Northern Ireland

Background Information

In Northern Ireland, primary school places are allocated at the start of each school year. This means that parents/guardians must submit their child’s application for a primary school place before the end of the preceding academic year. Generally, this means that applications must be made before the middle of May. All primary school places in Northern Ireland are allocated by the Education Authority, according to the Local Education Authority Area in which the child resides and the postcode of the child’s home address.

Allocation Criteria

The criteria used to allocate primary school places in Northern Ireland includes the ability of the school to cater for the specific needs of the individual student, such as special educational needs. Other factors that are taken into account when determining the allocation of primary school places in Northern Ireland include catchment area, sibling links, faith, linguistic and cultural backgrounds, and distance to schools.
Catchment area determines whether a school has enough places to offer to all children within the area of their residence. Schools can choose to take into account sibling links, which refer to when a school gives priority to families who have an existing child already attending the same school. Faith, linguistic and cultural backgrounds also come into play as priority is also given to families who share the same faith or cultural and language backgrounds as the school. Lastly, distance to schools will determine which schools are most easily accessed and are therefore given priority in the allocations.

Applications Process

To apply for a primary school place in Northern Ireland, parents are encouraged to make their application online through the Education Authority’s admissions website. This is the preferred method as all applications must be submitted before the end of the preceding academic year, which is usually in mid-May. As part of the application process, parents must provide the details of their preferred schools, along with supporting evidence of their child’s needs, as well as any additional information that may be needed.
Once parents have completed their application, they will be notified by the Education Authority of their child’s allocated primary school place. However, parents can also opt to appeal their child’s primary school placement if they feel it does not meet the criteria or does not match the student’s needs.


The Education Authority’s primary school admission statistics show that in 2019 there were 111,580 pupils admitted to primary schools, with 99.8% receiving one of their choices of school. Furthermore, it is reported that 11,342 primary school places were offered in the same academic year, which is an increase of 2.2% from the year before.

Perspectives from Experts

Dr. Katherine Elliott, Deputy Chief Executive of the Education Authority, said: “It is important that we provide a school place to every child that applies for one – and that the placement is appropriate to their individual needs. We work hard to ensure that we meet the needs of parents and children when determining primary school placements.”
Meanwhile, Professor David Turner, Professor of Education at Stirling University, commented on the iimportance of parents having a say in their children’s primary school placements. He said: “Research shows that it is important for parents to have an influence in their children’s educational placement. This allows parents to make decisions in the best interests of their children and to ensure that they are receiving the best education for their needs.”


The process of allocating primary school places in Northern Ireland is a complex and highly competitive one. With the increasing demand for school places, the Education Authority must ensure that all children receive their chosen school place and that this placement meets their individual needs. The addition of additional criteria such as catchment areas, sibling links, faith, linguistic and cultural backgrounds, and distance to schools were introduced in an effort to ensure the successful placement of children in schools that will accommodate their needs.

Impact on Families

The process of allocating primary school places in Northern Ireland can have a significant effect on families. With the increasing competition for school places, parents can experience stress and anxiety as they wait for the Education Authority to make the decision in regard to their child’s placement. Furthermore, if parents are not happy with their child’s placement, they may have to appeal the decision, which can be a difficult and lengthy process. For families who are lucky enough to secure their chosen school place for their child, this can also be a stressful experience as they must ensure that they provide all the necessary documentation and information in order to secure their placement.

Economic Factors

Allocation of primary school places in Northern Ireland is an economically sensitive issue, where school places are determined based on factors such as catchment area, faith, and language background. These factors can vary from one local area to another, affecting the availability of school places, as well as the cost of living. Families that can afford to live in a catchment area that is popular and has high competition for school places, often have greater choice of schools than those that cannot.

Lack of Information

The Education Authority’s admissions website does offer some information on the allocation process, however many parents can still find the process to be daunting and difficult to understand. This lack of information can lead to feelings of uncertainty for many families, as they attempt to make the right decision for their children.

Impact of Covid-19

The coronavirus pandemic has also had an impact on the allocation of primary school places in Northern Ireland, with more families than ever before applying for school places. This is particularly worrying for families of SEN children, as the pandemic has put additional strain on the Education Authority’s resources. As schools become more oversubscribed, parents may find that their children are not getting the support they need in their school placements.

Challenges Faced by Education Authority

The Education Authority is faced with a number of challenges when allocating primary school places. With the increasing demand for school places, they must ensure that all children receive a school place that meets their needs while ensuring that the placement is fair and equitable. Furthermore, they must also ensure that they are following the relevant rules and regulations in terms of data protection and the rights of parents when it comes to making decisions about their children’s education.

Future of Education Authority

In the future, the Education Authority will need to continue to refine the primary school placement process in order to meet the needs of all students. This will involve creating clearer guidelines and providing more information and support to families in order to help them make the right decision for their children. The Education Authority will also need to ensure that the process is fair and equitable for all those involved, while taking into account the economic and social factors that can affect access to school places.

John Wilder

John F. Wilder is a writer based in Dublin, Ireland. He specializes in articles about Irish culture, history, and politics. He has been writing for various publications for over a decade and has an extensive knowledge of Irish culture. He has traveled extensively throughout Ireland, and has a deep love of its culture and history. He is passionate about promoting a positive image of Ireland, both at home and abroad.

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