UK Education System: State Schools

A primary, if not the main, concern for any family moving to the UK is the education of their children. The opportunity for a child to live and attend school in a foreign country can be a challenging but rewarding experience; living overseas and meeting people from different cultures is in itself an educational experience.

In the UK there are 3 systems of schooling and over the course of the next few blog posts we will be bringing you an overview of the options available to you:

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1. State maintained schools (no fees)

All children in England between the ages of 5 and 16 are entitled to a free place at a state school. Most state schools have to follow the national curriculum. The most common ones are:

  • Community schools, controlled by the local council and not influenced by business or religious groups
  • Foundation schools, with more freedom to change the way they do things than community schools
  • Academies, publicly funded independent schools run by a governing body, but independent from the local council. They can follow a different curriculum and can set their own term times. They still have to follow the same rules on admissions as other state schools. They receive their money directly from the government, not the local council. Some academies have sponsors such as businesses, universities, other schools, faith groups or voluntary groups
  • Grammar schools, run by the council, a foundation body or a trust – they select all of their pupils based on academic ability and there is often an exam to get in
  • Faith schools, associated with a particular religion. They are mostly run like other state schools. They have to follow the national curriculum except for religious studies, where they are free to only teach about their own religion. The admissions process and staffing policies may be different too, although anyone can apply for a place. Preference is, however, likely to be given to those who regularly practice the religion
  • Free schools, funded by the government but are not run by the local council so they have more control over how things are. They are ‘all ability’ schools so cannot be selective like grammar schools. Free schools set their own pay and conditions for staff, can change the length of schools terms and the school day itself and do not have to follow the national curriculum. Free schools are run on a not for profit basis and can be set up by groups such as charities, universities, faith groups, parents, businesses.

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The London Schools Atlas is an innovative interactive online map providing a uniquely detailed and comprehensive picture of London state maintained schools, current patterns of attendance and potential future demand for school places.

TTA would recommend you visit the schools to find out more (most will have open days). You can also consult formal government reports on the schools, view their exam results and where they sit in the league tables, and read other parents’ experiences:



The Good Schools Guide

You can also get advice about choosing schools from your local council. All councils have teams to help parents get their children into schools.

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Children are likely to attend the school nearest to their home and so application to these schools is often dependent on confirmation of a local address before being considered. By contacting your local council they will be able to confirm the schools in your area and the admission criteria for these schools. You will be asked to have several options as many schools are oversubscribed and so you may not get your first choice, especially in London.

All schools have admission criteria to decide which children get places. The school or local council usually set these. Admission criteria are different for each school. For example, schools may give priority to children:

  • who have a sibling at the school already
  • who live close to the school (are in the catchment area)
  • who are from a particular religion (for faith schools)
  • who do well in an entrance exam (for selective & grammar schools)
  • who went to a particular primary school (a ‘feeder’ school)

Whether you have just moved to England or are applying from abroad the application process is the same. You must complete the online application form, available for both primary and secondary. However, if you are applying for a school place after the start of the school year then you will need to contact the council directly.

Applications open on different days in each local council area – usually at the start of the autumn term of the year before your child is due to start school. You must apply for a primary school place by 15 January. You must apply for a secondary school place by 31 October.

When you fill in the form you will be asked to list the schools you are applying for in order of preference. You must apply for at least 3 schools.

Councils will send confirmations for primary schools on 16 April and secondary schools on 1 March. If either date falls on a weekend, confirmations are sent the next working day.

School applications are notoriously difficult, so please do not hesitate to contact us should you require further support. Stay tuned in the coming weeks for more information on other schooling options available to you: private and international.

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Give us a call on +44(0)1344 627247 or fill in the form below to make an enquiry

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