Can schools select what pupils they accept?

New law in force

The Equality Act came into force on 1 October 2010. Some of the information on this page may be out of date. We are currently writing new guidance to reflect the changes to the law.

In some circumstances, yes. All schools (including independent schools) should publish their admissions policy and explain how they decide which pupils to accept. For example, many schools have admissions policies that give preference to children whose older brothers and sisters have already attended the school.

  • Faith schools may give preference to children who follow that faith.
  • Primary schools maintained by local authorities (or education authorities in Scotland) cannot select children on the grounds of academic ability.
  • Independent primary schools are allowed to select children in line with their published admission policy.

Some secondary schools in England select wholly or partly on the grounds of academic ability, or ability in a particular subject area, such as music. In Scotland, there are six centres of excellence, which select according to ability in music, sport or dance. A school that is partly selective must not keep places empty if it does not have enough pupils of the required standard.

This does not apply to independent schools.No school is allowed to discriminate in their admission policies on the grounds of race. Co-educational schools are not allowed to discriminate on the grounds of sex. However, single sex schools are allowed to discriminate by admitting either boys or girls only.

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