Full-time education is currently compulsory for all children aged between 5 and 17, however most students continue until 18. (In 2015, the age of mandatory education will be officially raised to 18). There is quite a bit of flexibility in the way parents can organise their children’s schooling, but that means that the system is rather complex so it is very important that you do as much research as possible. The following official website details all you need to know: https://www.gov.uk/browse/education/school-life
Below is a summary of the main points:
For children under age 5, publicly-funded nurseries and pre-schools are available for a limited number of hours each week.
Key Stages, Levels and Ages
The system is split into “key stages”
- Key Stage 1 – 5 to 7 years old
- Key Stage 2 – 7 to 11 years old
- Key Stage 3 – 11 to 14 years old
- Key Stage 4 – 14 to 16 years old
Stages 1 and 2 are called Primary School and Stage 3 and 4 are called Secondary School.
All state schools are required to follow a National Curriculum which is a set programme for all until the age of 16. Ofsted, the national inspection entity, makes sure that education is delivered in conformity with the National Curriculum. National Curriculum core subjects are: English (Welsh is also a core subject in Welsh-speaking schools), mathematics, science, design and technology, information and communication technology, history, geography, modern foreign languages, music, art and design, physical education, and citizenship. In addition to these core subjects, there are a number of other elective courses, such as religious education.
The Inspection System
Ofsted visits are every 3 to 4 years and are announced to the school only 3 weeks in advance. If the school doesn’t pass, it is placed under special measures and re-inspected the following year.
Schools in the UK do not generally rank pupils within their year. Instead they have exams throughout the Key Stages. Currently, the exams are the
- SATs taken at 6 years old and then again at 10 years old
- GCSE taken at 16 years
- AS at 17
- A-Level at 18
Keep in mind that each school has a catchment area and only children in that area are allowed to attend that particular school. It is very difficult to find a property in the “good schools” catchment areas.
In this age of modern technology the application process can be carried out in several ways. Of course there is the normal pen and paper method but most local education authorities and schools have extensive websites. These sites will not only provide you with useful information regarding catchment areas and the school itself, but enables you to download relevant application forms or, indeed, fill them in online.
Some schools require supplementary forms to be completed and these can either be located on their website or will be sent to you via post upon contacting the school.
It is also important to note that when applying for primary school places you should start the process in the autumn before their fourth birthday and likewise if they are attending secondary school this process should commence in Year 6 or earlier. Time is of the essence so it is important to plan ahead and apply in plenty of time to increase your child’s chances of getting into your first choice. Remember that there is a dead line which is normally the first week in March.
We would advise you to read carefully the government guidelines on how to apply for a school place: https://www.gov.uk/schools-admissions/applying.
If you prefer to enrol your child in an International School (schools that offer the International Baccalaureate programme and attach importance to the maintenance of the mother tongue literacy skills or in an American School or a Foreign National System) you will need to put together a file which will constitute the case for application. It is advisable to do this even before moving to the UK as it takes time for the cases to be reviewed. Bear in mind that these schools do have a roll-in, roll-out policy and you can apply at any time.
Here is a good link to find more details: http://www.gsgi.co.uk/countries/uk/london/london-educational-overview.