top of page

State-funded UK schools

When faced with the choice of a free state school or an expensive private school, the decision may seem obvious yet it's important to understand the nuanced differences between the different types.

Firstly, it's important to note that terms differ. In the UK a 'public' school is actually a private school! And state funded schools are known as state schools.

Around ninety-four percent of children in the UK attend state, government-funded school which is free to parents.

All children in England with British passports or eligible visas* between the ages of 5 and 16 are entitled to a free place at a state funded school.

State schools are further categorized into the following funding types:

  • Community Schools

  • Faith Schools

  • Academies

  • Grammar Schools

  • Special Schools

Grammar schools are selective state secondary schools, they select pupils based on academic ability. Entry to grammar schools is through an 11+ testing process taken in the final year of primary education. Some schools named ‘So and So Grammar School’ are, in fact, independent schools charging fees.

Faith schools are mostly run in the same way as other state schools with a particular faith reflected in the name, the religious education curriculum, admissions criteria and staffing policies.

Academies are independently managed by a trust , usually sponsors from business, faith or voluntary groups. Academies have more control over how they do things. For example they do not have to follow the national curriculum and can set their own term times.

Some schools choose to become academies. If a school funded by the local authority is judged as ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted then it must become an academy.

City Technology Colleges are independently managed, non-fee-paying schools in urban areas for pupils of all abilities aged 11 to 18. They are geared towards science, technology and the world of work, offering a range of vocational qualifications as well as GCSEs and A levels.

Community and foundation special schools cater for children with specific special educational needs. These may include physical disabilities or learning difficulties.

Maintained (State) boarding schools are boarding schools that offer free tuition, but charge fees for board and lodging. Admission to state boarding schools in the UK is restricted to British children or those dependent on a BN(O) passport. From January 2021, nationals of other European Economic Area (EEA) countries will no longer be able to join a state boarding school in the UK.

Most state boarding schools are for pupils aged 11-18 and are co-ed, but some are single-sex schools. About 34 state boarding schools exist in the UK.


Primary schools

The primary stage covers three age ranges:

  • Nursery (under 5),

  • Infant (5 to 7 or 8) (Key Stage 1) and

  • Junior (up to 11 or 12) (Key Stage 2) b

Primary Schools may accommodate both Key stages 1 and 2 children or separate infant (KS1) and junior schools (KS2). In general children will progress to secondary school at the age of 11, but in a few areas the transition age is 12.

Primary schools are typically broken down into the following year groups:

  • Year R (Reception)

  • Key Stage 1 = Year 1, Year 2

  • Key Stage 2 = Year 3, Year 4, Year 5, Year 6

Secondary School

In England, public provision of secondary education in any area may consist of a combination of different types of school, the pattern reflecting historical circumstance and the policy adopted by the local authority. Comprehensive schools largely admit pupils without reference to ability or aptitude and cater for all the children in a neighbourhood. However, in some areas, they co-exist with other types of schools, such as grammar schools. Academies, operating in England, are publicly funded independent schools. Academies benefit from greater freedoms to help innovate and raise standards. These include freedom from local authority control, the ability to set their own pay and conditions for staff, freedom around the delivery of the curriculum and the ability to change the lengths of terms and school days.

Secondary schools are typically broken down into the following year groups:

  • Key Stage 3 = Year 7, Year 8, Year 9

  • Key Stage 4 = Year 10, Year 11 (GCSE years)

All state schools follow the National Curriculum and are fairly standardised with regular

inspections by the Office for Standards in Education, commonly known as ‘Ofsted’. Schools are rated as Outstanding, Good, Requires Improvement or Inadequate.

All reports for all schools are published and freely available here:

In England, children begin state school the September after their 4th birthday. Increasingly, they are starting one year earlier, in Reception.

Class sizes will typically be larger than those in private schools, but this varies significantly between schools.

Students from both private and state schools study the GCSE academic curriculum, and many will continue onto A-Levels before entering university or college.

If relocating to the UK during a child's education, it can be challenging to obtain a place in the local "best" state schools. Careful planning is key as well as in-depth knowledge of how the local authorities operate.

School Admissions

School admissions are governed by the legal framework that forms The School Admissions Code (‘the Code’) has been issued under Section 84 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998. However, local authorities may impose additional criteria to be met.

School Admissions for Foreign Nationals

In most cases, foreign national children in the UK have the right to attend state-funded schools in England. School admission authorities must not refuse to admit a child on the basis of their nationality or immigration status nor remove them from roll on this basis. It is the responsibility of parents to check that their children have a right, under their visa entry conditions, to study at a school. This will entitle eligible nationals to access a state-funded school.

However, you cannot apply for a place at a state school unless you already reside in the UK or have appropriate evidence of a residence. You can, however, start preparations for finding a place with or without the help of an expert to expedite the process. The most important and often challenging issue is to decide which area you will live in. Many families relocating to the UK look at private schools as an option to start with. Once successfully relocated you can apply to one of the local state schools.

Where the UK should you live?

First of all, you should know where you will work to make sure your commute is realistic. It will also depend on your budget. Once you know these constraints, it is beneficial to choose a borough or county with high quality state and private schools. Documents are available prepared by the UK Government that can show the ranking and performance of schools in tables that can be of great assistance in selecting a suitable area in which to reside.

How can we make it easier for you?

If you are not physically in the UK, and you do not fully understand how the local authorities operate and vary, it can be very challenging to manage and the outcome is often disappointing.

We can ease the way to generate the very best outcome for your child(ren) and secure space(s) in the best fit school(s). We will:

  • Assist you to identify a suitable geographic area to relocate to, with schools in mind.

  • Make initial enquiries with the relevant local authority and identify where places are available and where they may become available

  • Contact schools and provide information on specific schools which include sourcing admissions policies, admission figures, school results, prospectus, and inspection reports to help you to build a shortlist.

  • Make applications on your behalf to schools.

  • Follow up once applications are submitted until offers are made.

Special educational needs? If your child has special educational needs or learning disabilities our experts can help you to secure adequate provision to support those needs.

How can we help?

If you are a family considering a move to the UK, or an expat family living overseas considering a move back to the UK, we can help you to secure the best education options available, for your child(ren). Our knowledge and experience of the UK education system enables us to easily, guide parents through the selection and admissions processes. We can advise on private schools, state funded schools and boarding placements.

Click on the form below to request a call back :


Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page