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State School Systems for Expats in the United Kingdom

Submitted: July 2013

State schools are either partially or fully funded by the State. In the UK, there is a legal duty on Local Education Authorities (LEA) to provide educational facilities for children between the ages of 5 and 17 and from 17 to 19 (Form Six) if the student so desires. This duty applies irrespective of the nationality of the child.

The four most common types of state schools are:

  1. community schools – these are funded and controlled in every aspect by the LEA (e.g. staff selection, ownership of building and choice of admission policy).
  2. foundation schools – these are funded entirely by the LEA but are controlled by a governing body.
  3. academies - these are run by a governing body, independent of the LEA, and are part-funded by Central Government and part-funded by interest groups (e.g. charities, business or denominational groups). Notably, students are not required to follow the national curriculum.
  4. faith schools - these are either partly or fully funded by the LEA alongside a group of a particular denomination. The school can provide religious instruction on its own faith.

Further, at the secondary school level, there are two broad distinctions in schools - grammar schools and comprehensives. Grammar schools, which traditionally provide a particularly academic education, select students based on their results in an entrance exam. On the other hand, comprehensives do not select students based on academic aptitude.

If your child attends a state schools, he will be required to follow the national curriculum (except for academies). The national curriculum includes a wide range of traditional academic subjects including Math, English, Geography, History and Science. Instruction in schools in the UK is in English although foreign languages (generally French and German) are taught in secondary schools.

Children in England and Wales with special needs are entitled to receive appropriate education from their LEA. This applies to children/young persons from the age of 2 to 19.

Generally, there is a perception that private schools are better than state schools. It is difficult to find any truth in such a sweeping generalisation as there are variable comparators in assessing the results of a school. Grammar schools figure prominently in the 100 schools based on the results of their students at the GCSE exam (an exam taken by 16 year olds marking the end of formal compulsory education). While the students from comprehensives generally tend not to perform as well at these exams. The disparity between the selection procedure for grammar schools and comprehensives (both state schools) makes it difficult to make an accurate comparison between the state schools and private schools.

However, the Department for Education produces annual Performance Tables which provide information on various criteria including schools ranging from exam performance to average sum spent per pupil. The Performance Tables can be accessed at: https://www.education.gov.uk/schools/performance/

Additionally, in respect of primary school and secondary school selection, the Good Schools Guide is a useful resource:

If you remain undecided on whether to go for private (independent) education for your child or state school education, the below article may be of use: https://www.goodschoolsguide.co.uk/help-and-advice/choosing-a-school/find-the-right-school/76/independent-v-state-school-education

If you have decided on a state school and selected which one, admission is next obstacle to be overcome.  Admission into the school of your choice can be very difficult as popular state schools are generally oversubscribed. A state school may seek to refuse access to your child on the basis that his/her stay in the UK is of a temporary nature (less than 6 months). However, State Schools have no legal basis for this action and you should contact the relevant LEA if a school is refusing you access on this ground. Each school would apply its own admissions policy. As a parent/guardian, you are entitled to select up to three schools of your choice anywhere in the UK and express your reasons for your preference. The schools admissions’ team is required by law to consider your preference. Where a school is oversubscribed, it may give preference to children residing with its ‘catchment area’, apply a lottery system, consider any medical or social reasons for your choice or (in the case of faith schools only) select students based on their religious beliefs.

Bullying has become a more publicised issue in schools in the UK as a whole and was recently found to be the worst amongst schools in Europe. State schools re required to have an anti-bullying policy and you may want to enquire about this policy before selecting a school.



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