For Secondary State schools the first step is to find your Local Education Authority (LEA). It is your own LEA which is responsible for providing a school place. If you want to apply for a place at a school which is in a neighbouring LEA, because you live near the border, then you still apply through your own LEA. The neighbouring LEA can’t guarantee to provide you that place so it is advisable (possibly mandatory) to select at least one within your own LEA.
It is also advisable to find out which is your nearest school, as if all your choices are rejected (for whatever reason) then there is a more than fair chance that your child will be allocated a place there. Each LEA could have different criteria for what ‘nearest’ means.
If you are moving area, or want to move because of schools, then you could widen your net further to take in more schools, but obviously you still need to find out the LEAs in question.
If you want to include Independent schools in the search area then you will need to search by postcode rather than LEA, as they have their own admissions process.
It’s always easier to visualise the schools on a map so let’s look at a few websites to aid our search. At this stage include all schools, i.e. don’t narrow down by any other criteria; you can do this later on.
SchoolsWebDirectory has maps of each LEA area and selecting the area will list the schools in that area.
Search Area of one LEA
If you know you are in the middle of an LEA and are just looking at mainstream State schools, then Watchsted has a good map search (using LEA name). You can also view the Ofsted ratings, but I’ll post on those later.
Using York as an example, Select ‘By Local Authority’ (Inspections dropdown), then ‘Secondary Schools’ (type), then the ‘York’ Local Authority.
Hover on each of the school pins to see the name of each school. This forms your long list. Zooming out on the map does not bring in additional schools.
Search Area of multiple LEAs
You may want to look in neighbouring LEAs as well, particularly if you live near a border, e.g. for York it would be North Yorkshire and East Riding (of Yorkshire). Obviously, you can see from the map if a school is going to be too far away, so you could rule it out at this stage, if it is on the far side of a neighbouring LEA.
Search Area by postcode
You may prefer to search a certain distance from your house initially (and then work out the LEA afterwards). Or you may want to include Independent schools or Special schools.
Watchsted does have a postcode search but it is set at 10 miles radius, and the site only includes state schools. However, this may be suitable for your requirements.
The Government publishes the official English schools performance data, which is searchable by postcode. You could also use it to search by LEA if you prefer. You will need to use this search if you want to include Special schools or Independent schools.
The picture below is the result of a postcode search for YO1 7HH with a 15 miles radius, then filtered by Secondary schools. The map functionality isn’t brilliant but we will be using this site to get Performance data later.
Locrating has a very good map search (by town/postcode).
Enter the postcode or town in the map location, and search. Click on Menu (top right) and select ‘Secondary’ for School Type (then click back on the map). You will need to repeat the search for a type of ‘Combined primary & secondary’ to ensure you return all schools. There is also an option to include/exclude Independent schools in this menu depending on your requirements. You can show a list of schools on the left by clicking on the black icon in the bottom left (ignore the rankings for now).
Zooming out on the map will include more schools which meet the filter criteria.
Note that the ‘Secondary’ school type will include Sixth Form colleges and 16+ only establishments. You can rule these out at this stage if required, but maybe double-check on their website to prove they are 16+ only.
At this point, you should have a long list of possible schools, purely defined by location. The next step is to start narrowing down the list.
Please see the Resources page for links to websites which should help the search.
Update (09 March 2016):
After following my own instructions I discovered a number of schools in the area that I hadn’t come across before.