The British school system

The education system in England 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

All children in the UK must 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 Britain

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.

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

Finding the right school for your child

In the UK, schools are legally required to make information about their admission criteria, curriculum and behaviour policy available on their website.

For English schools, the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) regularly publishes reports on how students are performing academically at schools. Ofsted is a government body that makes sure that schools are safe and regulated as required by the government. They usually inspect and rate schools every five years.

  • Read the school’s most recent Ofsted report online at
  • For comprehensive reviews of state schools, go to Good Schools Guide
  • Or more help finding schools in your area, go to schoolfinder.

How to apply to a British school

Find out from your local council when applications open for primary or secondary schools (usually at the start of the Autumn term, before your child is due to attend school). Follow the instructions to apply for state schools within your catchment area, either online via their website, or by using your council’s application form.

When you fill in the form (online or on paper) you’ll be asked to list the schools you’re applying for in order of preference. You must apply to at least three schools.

Please note: Private schools have their own admissions criteria. You will need to contact them directly to apply.

  • To get a hard copy of the application form, contact your local council.
  • To apply online, go to eAdmissions

The academic year in the UK

  • The English and Welsh school year starts in September and ends in the third week of July.
  • The Scottish school year begins in August and ends in mid to late June.
  • The Northern Irish school year begins on 1 September and ends on 1 July.

Need help moving to the UK?

As an international team, we know what it’s like to move to a new country – we’ve done it ourselves, several times over. Our unrivalled experience has helped us create relocation packages catered towards families with children of school-going age who are planning to migrate to the UK. We’re here to make every aspect of your move more convenient.