Types of schools in the United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom there are four categories of schools. Both State schools and Grammar Schools are financed by the Government of the four countries. In order to be able to study in a Grammar School it is necessary to pass an admission test. On the other hand, there are Private Schools that are financed through tuition fees paid by parents, as well as Public or Selective Schools, which are also financed through the parents’ fees but where students have to sit admission tests to be admitted.


State Schools


They are public schools, free for children between the ages of 5 and 16 and financed by the Central Government or Local Authorities. These schools belong to the “comprehensive system”, which can be accessed by any student regardless of her/his capacities and abilities, except in the case of Grammar Schools.


In case of State Boarding Schools, parents are responsible for housing and living expenses, but education is free.


Most State Schools follow the corresponding national curriculum in the primary and secondary stages.


Within the State-funded Schools, 4 types of schools can be highlighted:


– Grammar schools. They are public secondary schools financed by the local authority, foundation or trust but which can only accessed after passing the  “11-plus” test that must be sat by 11 years-old students (“selective system”). These schools follow the National Curriculum.


Among the more than 3,000 secondary State schools in England, only 163 are Grammar Schools. In Northern Ireland there are 69 Grammar Schools. There are none in Wales and Scotland, although some still retain that name despite being non-selective schools.


– Academies. Academies are managed by a government body, independent of the local authority. They receive funds directly from the government of each country, not from the local authority. They are managed by a trust that is also responsible for hiring the staff.


They are independent schools financed with public funds. They do not have to follow the corresponding curriculum, and can set their own school calendars. However, as other public schools, they do have to follow the same admission criteria, rules on special education needs and on exemptions.


Some academies have sponsors that are usually companies, universities, other schools, religious groups or volunteers.


– Free Schools. These types of schools are financed by the government of each State, but not by the local authority. They have more freedom to decide how to work.

These schools belong to the comprehensive system, open to all types of students, so unlike Grammar Schools, they cannot use academic selection processes. Free schools are free to:

^ establish the salaries and working conditions of the staff

^ change the length of school terms and school day

^ they do not have to follow the national curricula


Free schools are not for profit and can be created by groups such as:

^ charities

^ universities

^ independent schools

^ communities and religious groups

^ professors

^ parents

^ companies


– Faith schools.  Faith schools have to follow the corresponding national curriculum, but can choose the syllabus they teach in the subject of religion. They may be funded by a local authority or operate outside its control (in the case of faith academies and faith free schools).


The vast majority of religious schools in the United Kingdom have a Christian denomination, but there are also a small number of schools with other religious denominations, including Muslim and Jewish.


Faith schools can have admission criteria and human resources management policies different from other State schools, although all students can apply.


There are also faith academies but these do not have to apply the corresponding national curriculum and have their own admissions processes.


Independent Schools or Private Schools


They are private schools of both primary and secondary stages in which parents pay for the education of their children. They belong to the education system known as comprehensive and they do not have to follow the corresponding curriculum.


Private schools in the United Kingdom are characterized by having a small number of students per classroom, a very low student / teacher ratio and constant preparation of staff. In short, a personalized dedication to the student.


Within private schools and according to the age of the students, the following schools can be found:


– Prep-prep Schools (prep-preps). They offer the Early Years Foundation Stage (from the birth until children reach the age of 5, stage known as “Nursery & Reception”) and the Key Stage 1 (5-7 years, Years 1 and 2)


– Preparatory Schools (Prep Schools). They offer Key Stage 2 (7-11 years – Years 3, 4, 5 and 6). Some prep schools go up to Year 8 (13 years), covering the first two years of Key Stage 3. They are intended to prepare students to enter mainly private secondary schools of all types.


Prep schools are more family schools where the little ones receive a special attention and education, making their adaptation much easier. In those pre-schools that have a boarding house, accommodation for children is offered up to Year 8 (the equivalent of 1º of ESO in Spain). They can be co-ed, male or female.


– Senior Schools. In these schools compulsory education Key Stage 3 (11 to 14 years – Years 7, 8 and 9) and Key Stage 4 (14 to 16 years – Years 10 and 11) are taken. The non-compulsory education stage known as “Sixth Form” (Years 12 and 13) is also taught at senior schools.


At the end of Year 11, students must take the official General Certificate of Secondary Education exam (GCSE exam), while at the end of Year 12 and 13 they take the official “AS and A-Levels” respectively. Passing these exams allows validation with the Spanish system. There are some schools that apart from offering the AS and A-Levels also offer the option of choosing the International Baccalaureate Diploma in the last two years of non-compulsory training.


Many of the senior schools have worldwide recognition and receive students from all over the world.


Public Schools


Historically, they were the most exclusive and expensive male private secondary schools, generally with boarding schools (Eton, Harrow and Winchester), in England and Wales. They can be assimilated to Spanish charter schools, that is, subsidized by the central Government but with a certain degree of independence in the voluntary fees and internal organization.


Currently public schools are private secondary schools, very prestigious for students from 13 to 18 years-old. They are not managed by the Government or local authorities and many are already co-ed schools.


They usually do access tests (Common Entrance exams) which boys take at the age of 13 and girls at the age of 11. Hence, they are called “Selective Schools.”