Often an over-subscribed school is a successful school. However, this may not be the whole story. An under-subscribed school is not necessarily an unsuccessful school; and an over-subscribed school could be living on an out of date reputation. LEA admissions packs will often tell you whether a school is over or under-subscribed. Sometimes this is one of the few pieces of information they give you about the school. This is because if a school is oversubscribed, the LEA may explain how places are allocated according to their admission priorities. Because this is one of the few pieces of information issued, over or under-subscription is frequently given undue significance by parents choosing schools. Over or under-subscription needs to be understood in context. An over-subscribed school can sometimes be living on an out of date reputation. Over-subscription sometimes becomes the focus for parents so that very little consideration is given to the current state of the school.

  • An under-subscribed school could be making great improvements, but parents often fail to notice this because they are put off by the under-subscription. Under-subscribed schools often have greater obstacles to overcome to bring about improvement. Not least, that most school funding is generated by pupil numbers. If they manage to surmount these difficulties, then they are arguably more effective schools than oversubscribed schools because they achieve against greater odds. Over-subscribed schools have the advantage of only having students and parents who have chosen to go to their institution. Under-subscribed schools will normally have to take many students whose first choice of school was elsewhere.
  • When over-subscribed schools have vacancies, they usually have a waiting list. Officially, the schools have to apply their over-subscription criteria to the waiting list. However, unofficially, over-subscribed schools often manage to fill the school first with the students they most want.
  • Under-subscribed school always have vacancies. They cannot choose which students they take.
  • If a student comes into the area and is not at the beginning of their secondary education, then they will be accepted at schools that have vacancies. Therefore undersubscribed schools often have greater instability with new students joining at an advanced stage in their secondary education.
  • An under-subscribed school can sometimes turn into an institution for the students that an over-subscribed school would choose not to have.

Further Information


The LEA admissions booklet will tell you which schools are over or under-subscribed.


Visit both an undersubscribed school and an oversubscribed school. If the application of the students in the classroom seems the same, then the undersubscribed school might be doing a better job. If levels of disruption seem greater in the undersubscribed school, then it is probably not the right place for your child.

Case Study


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