How Big Schools Allocate Places

The Form Journey

Many people don’t really understand the ins and outs of the school allocation process so I’m going to try and explain this in simple terms.

By way of an example, Matthew got 93 in his AQE and the choices he made were:

  • First Choice – New York Grammar School
  • Second Choice – Amsterdam Grammar School
  • Third Choice – Wales Grammar School
  • Forth Choice – France High School

Round 1: All forms go to first choice schools.

At this stage, the school begins to compile a list of names on their ‘place-list’.

If they have more applications than spaces, they will work with their admission criteria to reduce the numbers.

Open and honest admission criteria is published on the Admission Criteria Blog so make sure you are familiar with it for every school you are considering (grammar and high schools).


Matthew’s First Choice was New York Grammar School and after reviewing all their applications, they filled all their places with people who had AQE scores from 94 so at this point he is not offered a place.

Round 2: First choice school not available.

So, if the form isn’t successful in Round 1, it will move on to the second choice.


The second choice school, Amsterdam Grammar School considers Matthew’s application. They have started their own ‘place-list’ from Round 1 and they have people on their list with AQE scores from 82, so they are happy to put Matthew on their list (for now) as his score is greater than their current lowest. 

So, after Round 2, Amsterdam Grammar have people on their place-list with lowest score of 89 and a number of other people will now be floating out of Amsterdam (because they had less that 89) and so their own form journey continues.

It’s important to note that this will also be happening in Matthew’s original First Choice school (New York Grammar School) and although their lowest score was originally 94, it will probably be higher now with Round 2 completed.

Round 3: First & Second Choice Not Available and Floaters

If applications have still not found a home, the third place choice on the form will be explored.  In addition, the second choices will also be explored for those people who are now floating as their place was taken by a higher score.


Unfortunately for Matthew a lot of people had Amsterdam Grammar School down as their third choice, or their application was floating and they had a higher score, so his place was reallocated. 

Now Amsterdam Grammar’s minimum score is 94 and Matthew’s application is now floating again. So his application form will be passed to Wales Grammar School (his third choice) for consideration, but as it turns out, with the different rounds that have happened already, Wales Grammar School’s lowest score is now 96 so they cannot accept him.

Round 4, 5, 6 etc… And So It Continues..

Moving down the list of schools in the post-primary transfer form, the application is presented at each school to see if the pupil has a greater score or meets more admission criteria, than those on the current place-list.

It’s not dissimilar to a game of Top Trumps (trying to explain this as best I can) and eventually all the applications settle in their final destination with the kids allocated their school place.


Matthew forth option was France High School and having reviewed their criteria he was very confident that he would be offered a place because he had a brother at the school and this was the top criteria for acceptance. France High School consider Matthew’s application and accept that he meets the criteria more than a number of other applications currently on the place-list and so Matthew is offered a place and this will inevitably result in another applicants now floating onto their next choice.

This is an iterative process and will continue for as long as necessary until everyone has found a place in big school.

What If My Child Is ‘Unplaced’?

Being ‘unplaced’ basically means the child has not been offered a school place from the list of choices on the post-primary transfer form.

It’s a real thing and in 2019, 226 children were unplaced in Northern Ireland.

If your child is unplaced, they basically receive a letter from the Education Authority, on the same day as all the other children are receiving their school letters, and they’re advised that their application has not been successful in securing a place. The letter is accompanied by a list of schools that currently still has places and you’re asked to choose one from the remaining list.

From this point, the allocation of remaining places happens on a first-come first-served basis so parents must act quick in order to get a secured place for September.

From working with parents in previous years, this is one of the most heartbreaking scenarios so my advice is to do everything you can to avoid this happening to your child – by making sure your post-primary transfer form is extensive and covers many schools.

Even if you know that you don’t want to send your child to the high school across the road, but you’re pretty much guaranteed a place, put it last on your form and if the child is allocated this option, then you can look at the appeals process and the waiting lists to change.

You will not be disadvantaged in any way because you already have a place but at least the child won’t have to go through the trauma of no place.

Also, don’t be thinking that the Education Authority (or someone) will have to work some magic because applicants have to be admitted in accordance with the admission criteria and the EA make sure there are enough places for everyone in Northern Ireland.

The Transfer Tutor Online Quizzes Is The Perfect Revision Tool For The New SEAG Test!

The Transfer Tutor App is an online site dedicated to providing fun and interactive quizzes aligned directly to the new SEAG specification.  All quizzes are broken down into manageable topics and can be done on any mobile or tablet device, so it’s an great way for kids to learn and prepare for the test.

There are many, great features including (but not limited to):

  • Quizzes broken down into specific English and Maths topics, to allow for focused learning and the ability to hone in on areas of weakness.
  • Mobile friendly and works on any internet device.
  • Hint’ option supports the child’s learning. For example, in question about calculating area of an irregular shape, the hint will say, “Break it into two” – enough to keep the child going but teaching them for future, similar questions.
  • The Leaderboard at the end makes the child feel like they’re playing a game and having friendly competition.
  • Good use of colour and graphics which makes it exciting.
  • Parents receives a progress email at the end to let them know how their child did.

How To Buy

All normal licences are a simple, one-off payment (except the monthly subscription of course) and they can be purchased in confidence through a normal PayPal account or using a normal bank card and the Guest option.

Licences are purchased depending on the length of time required and as additional years are only charged at £15 per year, it’s worth considering a longer licence if you have a younger sibling.

Simply choose the licence you need depending on the length of time you need access, click on the blue box, pay and then you’ll be off within minutes.

For any further questions, please contact me or check out the Frequently Asked Questions page.

One-off, Great Prices

Google Reviews:

Check out the Google Reviews to read what other customers felt about The Transfer Tutor.

Spoiler alert – all the kids (the most important people) and parents love it!

Follow or like The Transfer Tutor on your social media channel of choice and ensure you never miss a beat with the whole transfer process, handy tips, advice, special offers and competitions.

Click below for your preferred channel or search for @TransferTutorHQ wherever you are.

Free Facebook Group

You may have read in the reviews about people referring to the Facebook Support Group and this is certainly a great place to keep informedask questionsget support and keep up-to-date with anything happening in the transfer space.

It’s free to join but please ensure you have a genuine Facebook profile picture (ghost pictures are not approved as not deemed authentic) and then simply click here and answer the simple questions -> Join Facebook Group.