Types of schools

From birth through to adulthood, education is vital to the development of children and young people and many continue to learn beyond the compulsory school age requirements.

The education system in the UK is divided into five main parts, the early years (which is non-compulsory and covers the ages from birth to five years old), primary education (five to 11 years old), secondary education (11-16 years old which is the end of compulsory education), further education and higher education. Children in the UK have to attend primary and secondary education; or up to the age of 16.

The education system in the UK is also split into "key stages" which breaks down as follows:

  • 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

All children in England between the ages of five and 16 are entitled to a free place at a state school.

State schools receive funding through their local authority or directly from the government. The most common ones are:

  • Community schools
    These are sometimes called local authority maintained schools - they are not influenced by business or religious groups and follow the national curriculum.
  • Foundation schools and Voluntary schools
    Are funded by the local authority but have more freedom to change the way they do things - sometimes they are supported by representatives from religious groups.
  • Academies
    These settings are run by not-for-profit academy trusts, are independent from the local authority - they have more freedom to change how they run things and can follow a different curriculum.
  • Free Schools
    Funded by the Government, but are not run by the local authority. They have more control over how they do things. They are 'all-ability' schools so can't use the academic selection process like a grammar school. They can set their own pay and conditions for staff as well as change the length of the school day and the school term. They do not follow the national curriculum. 
  • Grammar schools
    These schools can be run by the local authority, a foundation body or an academy trust - they select their pupils based on academic ability and there is a test to get in.

Independent schools (also known as private schools) are educational providers not funded or maintained by the Government. Pupils at independent schools may not follow the national curriculum. You will usually be expected to pay fees for your child to attend an independent school.

If your child has special educational needs or disabilities (SEND), you may have special considerations to take when you choosing school or type of education.

Under Section 41 of the Children and Families Bill 2014 all local authorities are required to publish a list of the independent specialist schools and colleges in England and Wales that are approved by the Department of Education.

This is in order to help families complete an Education Health and Care (EHC) Plan by giving them the widest possible information about provision that could meet their needs.

See the Department for Education's list of approved schools and colleges (Section 41).

Special schools are for children with a special educational need and/or disability (SEND). For pupils aged 11 and older, special schools can specialise in one of the our areas of special educational needs:

  • communication and interaction
  • cognition and learning
  • social, emotional and mental health
  • sensory and physical needs

Schools can further specialise within these categories to reflect the special needs they help with, for example Autistic spectrum disorders, visual impairment, or speech, language and communication needs (SLCN).

See 'Related Links' for more information about Special Schools.

University Technical Colleges (UTCs) and Studio Schools offer pupils more than the traditional GCSE and A-level curriculum.

Specialise in subjects like engineering and construction - and teach these subjects along with business skills and using IT.

Pupils study academic subjects as well as practical subjects leading to technical qualifications. The curriculum is designed by the university and employers, who also provide work experience for students.

UTCs are sponsored by:

  • universities
  • employers
  • further education colleges

Studio schools
Usually small schools (around 300 pupils) teaching mainstream qualifications through project-based learning. This means working in realistic situations as well as learning academic subjects.

Students work with local employers and a personal coach, and follow a curriculum designed to give them the skills and qualifications they need in work, or to take up further education.