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Schools and childcare in the UK for children

If you have children between the ages of 5 and 18 and you reside in the UK then you are legally obliged to place them in education while they are living in the UK. For international students studying in the UK, navigating the UK school system can seem a complicated and daunting process. However if you arm yourself with the necessary information then you can make the transition much easier for yourself and your child(ren).


Here are some frequently asked questions about the UK education system and how to find a school for your child.

What kind of schools are available for my child?

In the UK the two main types of school are independent schools (referred to as public or independent schools in the UK, private schools outside of the UK) and state schools. The primary difference between the two is that independent schools are fee-paying institutions that charge an average of £11,500 per child a year, whereas state school education is free for all in the UK. Parents who can afford to do so often place their children into independent schools because of the high quality of education, but the overwhelming majority of children in the UK (around 93%) are state school educated.

Schools and Childcare - international students

Within the ‘state school’ bracket there are four different types of school which you should be aware of when considering where to place your child.

Local Education Authority controlled schools:

LEA controlled schools are schools which follow the national curriculum as set by the national government, and are maintained and controlled by local government. Although the majority of state schools are currently still LEA controlled schools, they are projected to be overtaken by academies in the near future.

Faith Schools

Faith Schools are schools that are usually owned by a religious organisation or church. While most follow the national curriculum and are still mostly run by the LEA (although there are some faith academies), they have exceptions when it comes to religious education in that they are allowed to customise it to suit the religion of the school. If a faith school is oversubscribed, they are allowed to take into consideration the faith of the family in question during admissions.

Academies or Free Schools

Academies are schools funded by the national government and are therefore not in the control of the LEA. They do not need to follow the national curriculum and have much more flexibility when it comes to their teaching. Free Schools are schools set up since 2010 by parents or other individuals as academies, usually due to dissatisfaction with schools in the area.

Grammar Schools

Grammar Schools (schools that choose their pupils based on academic performance) have been phased out over the past few years and are now uncommon in the UK outside of Northern Ireland. However a few remain, and if you are in a catchment area for a grammar school then your child can take an entrance exam (usually the 11-plus) to attempt to gain entrance.

How do I apply to place my child in a school?

Schools and Childcare School applications are usually handled by your local education authority, so look up the LEA in the area you will be living and give them a call. Universities are very used to international students with dependents and are also usually able to give advice on how to apply for places.

How can I tell what school is best for my child?

There are several ways to judge what school is best for your child:

#1 Visit: give a school a call to arrange a visit or attend a scheduled open day for that school. Talking to fellow parents and teachers often gives you a good impression of what a school is like.

#2 Ofsted reports: to maintain standards the government mandates that schools be inspected and reports published on them by OFSTED (Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills). Ofsted reports are a great way of seeing how well a school performs and what quality education is available at the school in question.

#3 League Tables: league tables judged by a variety of different criteria are published each year by the Department of Education. These are available online, although some information is not available if a school is an independent institution.

What should I do if my school of choice is oversubscribed?

Good schools are often popular choices, so you may not be guaranteed a place for your child at the nearest or best school. If you feel the school left available to you is inconvenient or you feel you have been unfairly discriminated against, contact the local LEA.

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