Finding a school to suit your child
Before you choose which schools to apply to, find out as much as you can so that you can make an informed decision. Ask yourself what you - and your child - need from a school and start gathering information early.
Getting information about schools
Start by asking your local education and library board (ELB) for a list of schools in your area.
- Belfast Education and Library Board (contacts section)
- South Eastern Education and Library Board (contacts section)
- Southern Education and Library Board (contacts section)
- North Eastern Education and Library Board (contacts section)
- Western Education and Library Board (contacts section)
Once you know which schools are near you, get as much information as you can about them. This will give you a better idea of which schools might suit your child most.
For example, you might like to:
- visit the schools
- read the schools' brochures
- read the schools' most recent inspection reports in the Education and Training Inspectorate website
Guide for Parents
ELBs produce a booklet spelling out what is required to be admitted to a school. For admissions to a post-primary school this booklet is referred to as the 'Transfer Booklet'. In addition, the Department of Education produces an 'Advice for Parents' leaflet setting out the main steps in the post-primary transfer process. Parents of children in Year 7 will receive a hard copy of the Transfer Booklet and the Advice for Parents leaflet from their child's primary school in December/January.
The Transfer Booklet provides details on:
- the application process and deadlines
- the number of pupils at each school
- how places will be allocated if too many children apply - the admissions criteria
The Advice for Parents leaflet explains:
- what you can do to help your child transfer to post-primary school
- what things you can think about in choosing a school for your child
- how to complete your child's application (the Transfer Form) to post-primary school
Parents can obtain further advice on admissions from the transfer officer of the local board or the head of their child's primary school.
What type of school best fits?
Once you have found some local schools that might suit your child, draw up a shortlist. Before you apply, think about your child's personality and their needs.
Also consider your family's needs. Would you prefer a school which can offer access to after-school childcare?
Which school does your child prefer?
Find out what matters to them. You might not agree but it's important to talk about where they would like to go. This may be more relevant when your child is older and you are choosing a post-primary school.
Where are their friends going? Starting a new school can be daunting and having one or two close friends there can help.
Does your child need special attention?
If your child is very bright, shows particular patterns of behaviour or has special needs, it's important to find a school that will be able to give them the right support.
Does your child have specific interests?
If they are keen on sport or a subject such as maths, languages, art or music, you may want to consider how the school can help to develop their interests.
While all schools follow the Northern Ireland Curriculum, some specialise in particular subjects. Read more about specialist schools at:
An increasing number of schools are offering services outside normal school hours, such as breakfast clubs or after-school activities.
Check school brochures for information about extended services and what they might cost.
Visit the school
If you think a school may suit your child, go and see it for yourself. Most schools have open days or evenings, providing a good opportunity to see around, meet staff and have a look at children's work. Details of dates and times may be found in local newspapers, Transfer Booklets or directly from schools.
While you are there ask yourself:
- how welcoming the school feels and whether you are impressed by the children's work on display
- is the school well equipped? - find out where pupils do sport and what IT facilities are available
- how your child will get to school? – think about safe routes, transport and the length of the journey
- whether the school has a Parent Teacher Association - this may be able to give you more information
You can find out more at:
Every post-primary school is required to produce a prospectus. This is a booklet that:
- Provides details about the school and the education opportunities it can provide for your child; and
- Contains information about the subject choices available at the school, public examination results, the numbers of applications received and the number of places granted in past years.
Prospectuses are available from schools free on request. You should obtain prospectuses from all the schools you are considering by contacting those schools directly.
School Inspection Reports
You might also like to read the latest individual school inspection reports.
The expense and practicality of transporting your child to school may be a major factor in choosing schools. You should ensure you understand the rules governing eligibility for transport assistance.
Your child will only be eligible for transport assistance in circumstances where he/she:
- enrols at a school which is further than three miles from their home; and
- has been unsuccessful in gaining a place at all schools of the same category within that three mile limit
For the purposes of qualifying for transport assistance there are six categories of school:
- controlled secondary school
- maintained (i.e. Catholic) secondary schools
- integrated schools (including controlled integrated schools)
- Irish-medium schools
- denominational (i.e. Catholic) grammar schools
- non-denominational grammar schools
When choosing a post-primary school, you should study very carefully the detailed information about transport arrangements set out in the ELB Transfer Booklet. It may be helpful for you to discuss with your ELB how the possible outcomes of your application to post-primary schools may determine your eligibility for transport assistance.
The rules governing eligibility for transport assistance may alter during your child's time at any particular school and this should be taken into consideration when choosing schools to list as preferences on the Transfer Form.
Other factors to consider:
- the range of public examinations taken at schools (e.g. GCSEs) and success levels
- schools’ policies on homework, uniform, discipline etc
- school fees (if relevant)