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 Which School?
If you are moving to the UK with your children, a question of paramount importance is which school they are going to attend.
This is probably the first question you need to answer in order to take decisions on many other aspects of living in the UK. For example, it would make sense to most people to select the school your children are going to attend and then move onto finding a property in the vicinity.

While choosing a school you should take into account your personal circumstances. Expatriates that are in the UK on a work assignment (which normally lasts for a limited number of years) often enrol their children in international schools that run the international baccalaureate (IB) system. This is normally because their children will find it easier to follow the curriculum when they relocate to a different country. Moreover several international schools also run a mother tongue programme whereby children can continue studying also their own language.

Expatriates that move to the UK on a more permanent basis, instead, often consider the option of enrolling their children into the British education system.

There is obviously no single answer. However, in both cases, applying promptly to the school(s) you wish your children to attend is going to be essential in order to secure a place. In your home country, enrolling children in a school might be a seamless process. In the UK it works differently. There is a high level of competition to access the best schools and some parents are known to enter their children on the waiting lists for certain education institutions as soon as they are born.

Most schools will provide information on their internet websites. This will make your selection process far easier. However it is always a good idea, once you have shortlisted the potential schools, to go and see these and meet the staff. Another important tool available to you is the Ofsted Inspection Report . Ofsted  is a government organisation overseeing the quality in schools. They regularly publish, on their website, reports for schools in the UK, rating their performances.

Below you will find generic information about the main systems which are normally available in the UK. However this is not, by any means, meant to be a complete analysis of the vast subject of education. This is, in fact, a complex area where regulation is often being updated and where specific knowledge is key to understanding each individual child’s specific needs. In view of this, you may want to seek the help of a professional adviser in the field of education to guide you through your choices.
International Baccalaureate (IB) System
This is the system that most international schools offer. These are normally independent (private) schools funded by fees paid by parents. If you decide that the IB is the right system for your child, the first thing you should do is to register him or her, as soon as possible, with the school(s) of your choice. Demand is normally high in schools following the IB and delaying your application can easily result in not securing a place for your child.

The IB system is divided into:



Primary Years Programme (PYP)

3 to 11 years old

Middle Years Programme (MYP)

12 to 15 years old

Diploma (DP)

16 to 18 years old


The following are just a few names of international schools In London that cover all three programmes mentioned in the above table (in alphabetical order):

·        ACS International School, Egham Campus  (see also note below)

·        International School of London

·        North London International School 

·        Southbank International School

Note: ACS International School also has a campus in Hillingdon  (offering MYP and DP) and Cobham  (offering DP only).
There are also several other schools, both inside and outside London, that cover one or more of the programmes mentioned in the above table. Please visit the IB website  to find out more details about the IB system and the schools that teach it. You can also review our website schools directory.
The British system
Education is compulsory for children in the UK from the term after they reach the age of five.
Nursery education is not compulsory but is encouraged by the government who provides nursery vouchers for three or four year olds. State nurseries take children from the age of three. Many state primary schools have nursery classes for three and four year-olds. There are independent fee-paying nurseries that take children on a part time basis from the age of around two and a half. Many full time, independent fee-paying day nurseries take babies from soon after birth up to school age.

From the age of five children are either educated in state non fee-paying schools or independent (private) fee-paying schools. Classes can be summarised as follows:


State School

Independent School 

3 - 4



4 - 5


Primary School

Pre-Preparatory school

5 - 6

Year 1

6 - 7

Year 2

7 - 8

Year 3

Preparatory School

(age 7-11 or 7-13)

8 - 9

Year 4

9 - 10

Year 5

10 - 11

Year 6

11 - 12

Year 7

Secondary School

12 - 13

Year 8

13 - 14

Year 9

Senior School

(age 11-16 or 13-16)

14 - 15

Year 10

15 - 16

Year 11

16 - 17

Year 12

Sixth Form

Sixth Form

17 - 18

Year 13

You can search the schools near your UK address, or near an area that you are interested in, by using an online facility  provided by the UK government. You can also review our website schools directory.
If you decide that an independent (private) school is the right choice for your child, the first thing you should do is to contact the school, as soon as possible, in order to understand their registration procedure, their particular requirements, their admission procedure and relevant deadlines. Please be aware that demand is normally high and delaying your application can easily result in not securing a place for your child. It will also be beneficial for you to review the information available on the Independent Schools Council  website and their “parent zone section.
If you decide that a state school is the right choice for your child, you will need to apply through the local authority. Faith schools generally require you to submit an additional form, usually called a "supplementary form", directly to the school. Before submitting your application, read the school's admission criteria. Different schools have different criteria. The admission criteria will help you to decide if your child has a chance of being offered a place at the school. You should be aware that securing a place in a state school can prove to be a difficult experience. You cannot reserve a place in a state school and, in general terms, living in the school’s catchment area is a key factor when you make your application.
If you are looking for a place at one of the “main point of entry” (which in most areas are Reception, Years 3 and Years 7) you should also be aware of the date by which you will need to submit your application. This date, unfortunately, varies between local authorities. It is therefore advisable to verify the date with the relevant local authority. There is usually a different date for when Primary and Secondary applications have to be submitted. It is important to remember that you may jeopardise your application if you miss the relevant deadline. You can apply for a place from outside the area or even from abroad. If, however, you are not able to provide a local address by the deadline, your child is very unlikely to be offered a place as these are usually allocated according to distance from the school.

If you are applying for a place in one of the other years, which is called an “in year application”, local authorities should accept your application roughly half a term before you want your child to begin school. If the school has a place for your child it may be reserved for your child for a limited period. This gives you time to find a house in the area. Unfortunately not all local authorities work in this way. Local authorities in the most popular areas will only process an "in year application" when you have an address in the area, and some require you to have moved in first.

If you want your child to go to a state grammar school at either a main point of entry or into one of the other years, your child will have to pass a test to prove that he or she has the right academic ability to succeed at a grammar school.



The UK has some of the most prestigious universities in the world. Similarly to primary and secondary education, there is very high competition for places in popular universities. In view of this, preparing well in advance and planning your application is of paramount importance to secure a place.

The internet can assist you in efficiently carrying out your search. Most universities have a website where you can find out information about courses offered, the relevant prospectus and admission criteria.

One very important entry point for gathering information is offered by the Universities and Colleges Admission Service (UCAS) . The UCAS website will allow you to browse through the “entry profile” of the various courses. You will be able to see the qualifications and grades you need in order to qualify for admission. You may also be able to find detailed information on the subject and course structure.

University prospectuses and open days are another useful source of information.

To apply for your university degree, you should go online at the UCAS website  where you will need to register. Within this website you will find a lot of information that will help you to complete your application.

You will be required to provide a reference, focusing on your academic profile, to support your application. If you have recently completed school, you should ask a former teacher or principle to write this for you.

If you come from an EU country, the deadline for the application is mid January (mid October of the previous year for popular universities such as Oxford, Cambridge and other science and medicine courses). Applying in time is important to secure a place. In view of this make absolutely sure that you are aware of the deadline set by your particular university.

Students from outside the EU normally need to apply within the same framework of EU students, but many universities will consider applications made up to the end of June. However, you are strongly recommended to verify deadlines with your particular university and apply as soon as possible.

Please note this “application flowchart published by UCAS for 2011 entry.

You will be able to apply to a maximum of 5 courses through UCAS.

UCAS will forward your application to each university you applied for and keep you informed of the relevant actions that you may need to take. Each university or college has its own application procedure. Some may ask you to come for an interview and you may also be asked to take a test. Others may offer you a place based on the information on your application. Universities will process your application and inform UCAS whether they are prepared to offer you a place or not. At this stage UCAS will inform you and set the deadline for your acceptance of the offer received.

If you submit your UCAS application by the relevant deadline, you will usually receive offers from your universities by the end of March - although for popular courses, you may not hear until May. Offers will either be conditional (dependent on getting certain grades on your current course) or unconditional.

If you don’t get an offer from the universities or colleges on your list, or you turn down or cancel your choices, the UCAS Extra service could give you a second chance to secure a place. If you don’t get an offer through Extra, you can go through the Clearing system, where universities and colleges advertise - and fill - late course vacancies.

Once you have accepted the place offered to you (and fulfilled the conditions, if any), the university will contact you and send you all the information needed in order to enrol as a student.


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All the information on Expats Plaza is free to view. If after having reviewed the information on Expats Plaza you believe this has been useful to you, please visit the Support Us page.
This page was last updated on 02.10.2010
Expats Plaza is the website for the Expatriates living in the UK