School types in the UK – can you keep track?

Once you start reading up on the English school system for your kids, you won’t be able to escape the insane nomenclature. The school pie can be cut up in so many ways, and each has a different designation…. If you wanted to delve into this morass, you can find an excellent summary of types of state schools here. But I don’t think you need to know all these terms to pick out a school for your child – most areas will only offer a sub-set of these anyway.

Here are terms that I would have liked to know when we arrived here:


–       Community school: a bog-standard state school, not affiliated with any particular faith and under management of the local authority.

–       Voluntary-aided or voluntary-controlled school: most likely a faith school, almost all of which are Church of England or Roman Catholic affiliated. They are free (state-funded), and often very good – but to get in (at least for some of them), you may need to provide proof that you are a practising Christian. And obviously, your child’s education will include a substantial dose of religious education.

–       Academy or Free School: a fairly new type of state-funded school (unless it’s a private school with the word ‘Academy’ in its name). Free and mainly non-selective (no entry exam needed). They have lots more freedom in how they manage themselves than regular state schools, e.g. they do not have to follow the National Curriculum and can change term and school day lengths. While exciting in principle, it’s early days for many Free Schools – so yet to be determined if this is a positive development, or just muddies the waters further.

–       Grammar school: generally, a state-funded secondary school for students with high academic ability (selective) – i.e., kids compete to get in, having to sit an entry exam. However, some schools with the word ‘Grammar’ in their name are independent, fee-paying schools. And of course, not all selective state-schools are called Grammar schools (we live near one of them – the Tiffin Girls’ School).


–       Pre-prep school, prep school and public school: the private school route. The age ranges for each are not clearly defined and differ between boys’ and girls’ school systems. Roughly, pre-prep and prep schools are to age 11 for girls, and age 13 for boys. At this point, pupils take the Common Entrance Exam (or equivalent) to gain a spot at a secondary independent school. The (somewhat inappropriately named) Public schools are a subset of these – a group of older, more expensive and exclusive establishments, alma mater to a large number of the UK’s political leaders (and royals). Think Eton and Harrow.

–       International school: fee-paying schools that follow a curriculum of a country other than the UK, including the international baccalaureate (IB) or US curriculum. They are often more expensive than a UK private school.

Got it? Easy, right?

One way to find your way through the UK school type maze

One way to find your way through the UK school type maze

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