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Getting to know the UK school system

The UK school system can be tricky to navigate as a newcomer. A levels, GNVQs, BTECs and other academic acronyms can be bewildering to a parent new to the UK. Below is a brief summary of the schooling system in the UK and how it works.

The basic structure of the UK school system

The UK school system is divided into three phases:

  • Primary: Children aged 5 to 11
  • Secondary: Children aged 11 to 16
  • Further: Children aged 16+ taking A levels, GNVQs, BTECs and other qualifications

It is compulsory for all children in the UK to attend school in the primary and secondary phases. Further education is optional. Students who wish to attend a college or university after school will need to complete their further education.

Types of schools in the UK

Schools in the UK are divided into state-funded and fee-paying. State-funded schools are free of charge and are usually called primary and secondary schools.

Grammar schools are state-funded secondary schools with specific admission criteria - they usually require all applicants to take a common entrance examination. Fee-paying private schools are generally called preparatory or senior schools.

Do you have specific needs?

If your child has special needs, you will most likely have very specific criteria and might need to consider looking for a school outside of your area. The same applies if your child has a specific talent or interest - you may want to look for a school with a specialised curriculum and facilities. You can still apply to schools outside of your local council area through your local council.  

Below is a comprehensive breakdown of the most common types of schools in the UK:

Community schools
  • Run by the local council
  • Not affiliated with business or religious groups
Voluntary schools
  • Run by the local council
  • Free to be administered as the school sees fit
Grammar schools
  • Run by the local council, a foundation body or a trust
  • Students selected on academic ability
  • Applicants usually required to write an entrance exam
Faith schools
  • Run by a religious group
  • The national curriculum is supplemented with religious studies
  • Admission and staffing policies are determined independently
Free schools
  • Often set up by charities and community groups
  • Non-profit institutions
  • Not required to follow the national curriculum
State boarding schools
  • Academies and free schools
  • Free education
  • Fees charged for boarding
  • Run by a governing body, independent from the local council
  • Not required to follow the national curriculum
  • Funded by government not the local council
Private schools
  • Privately run
  • Fees to attend
  • Not required to follow the national curriculum
Special needs schools
  • Privately run
  • Set up for children with special educational needs
  • Follow a specialised curriculum.

For more information on the UK school system, enquire about our 1st Contact UK Family Relocation Packages.


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