Educational System in London

For expatriate families, education for their children is always the top priority. The educational system in England includes a huge number of renowned educational institutions catering to a global student population for all levels - from primary education to tertiary level and post-graduate studies. Moving to London with your children? In England's capital, the London educational system is composed of state-funded nursery, primary and secondary schools as well as independent schools, international schools and world-renowned universities that help shape future global leaders and citizens. Get to know the London education system works to find the best school environment for your children.

Education in England: Primary Schools and Secondary Schools

In London, expat families have a wide range of schools to choose from when it comes to their children's education. Expat children in England between the ages of 5 and 16 who are the dependents of a person legally allowed to live in the United Kingdom can attend state primary schools and secondary schools for free. You can choose to send your child to a state school, an independent school or private school, international schools, or to home-school them yourself, which is legally permitted.

There are two types of schools which you can choose for your child: state schools and independent schools. State schools are the equivalent of public schools such as those in the US and Canada, while independent schools are synonymous with private schools. Schools in London, both public and private, vary widely in terms of the quality of education as well as facilities. All schools may also have different policies regarding admissions, school fees and term times.

Public Schooling System: State-Funded Schools

In England, a state school or state-funded school is the equivalent of a public school in the US, where the government pays for children's education via state funds such as taxes. Grammar schools and comprehensive schools are considered state schools, as are free schools and academies. A majority of state schools have their own admission requirements and enrollment process.

Based on data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS), there are many state-funded schools in the London education system. There are currently 49 for nursery schools, 710 for primary, 190 for secondary, and 61 for Special Education Needs and Disabilities (SEND) located in Inner London. Outer London plays host to 30 nursery schools, 1,107 primary schools, 315 secondary schools and 82 for SEND. The schools in each area are under the supervision of the local authorities for education, which in turn reports to the Department for Education (DfE), and are regularly inspected by the Office for Standards in Education or Ofsted.

If you plan to enroll your child into a state school, please remember that state schools prioritize pupils who reside within the school's catchment area. Be aware that your child can't apply for a place in a state school unless you're already residing in London. Thus, expats should carefully consider the London borough area where they want to live as this has a direct bearing on the school their child can attend.

State schools in London follow the National Curriculum for England, which sets established educational knowledge goals at various ages. The curriculum is divided into four Key Stages that each has a prescribed list of subjects to be taught.

The Foundation Stage (which includes Reception) is for ages two to five, and the equivalent of Nursery school. Key Stage 1 serves as primary education for those aged five to 11, which are the years of primary school. The course of study includes core subjects like English, Mathematics, Science, Art, and Design, Computing, Design and Technology, Geography, History, Music, and Physical Education. For those aged 7 to 11 at Key Stage 2, Languages are added to the list.

At Key Stage 3, which is the equivalent of junior high school for those aged 11 to 14, Citizenship is included in the curriculum. In 2016, around 59 percent of students attending school in London met or exceeded the new expected standard for reading, writing, and mathematics in the age 11 group versus the national average of 53 percent. By Key Stage 4, which is usually around 14 to 16 and similar to secondary school, core subjects such as English, Mathematics, Science, Citizenship, Computing, and Physical Education are studied along with Religious Education, Careers Education, and Work-Related learning. Key Stage 4 is also the period when students take the General Certificate of Secondary Education exams (GCSE) for core subjects such as English, Mathematics, Science, Languages, and Humanities to be eligible for a leaving certificate and enter university.

Students who reach Key Stage 5 at 16 may leave school but are still required to do further study through academic or vocational studies. They can do this by enrolling in a Further Education (FE) college, or the "sixth form," to achieve A-level qualifications to enter university, or qualify for work-based apprenticeships.

Private Education: Independent Schools

Many students in London choose private education over state schools as a matter of choice. Private schools, or independent schools as they're more popularly known, are not funded by the government and requires parents to pay fees for admission. Preparatory schools or prep schools are also available for younger children up to age 13 to help them gain entry to independent schools.

Unlike state schools, parents of expat children may apply for a place in private schools even if they're not yet living in London. However, be prepared to pay high fees to get a place. According to a report from 2015, London posted the highest cost at around GBP 15,500 per year for day students in private schools.

 A good number of private schools in London with a big international student population are willing to admit expat children even in the middle of a school year. Many are equipped with staff who assist families relocating from outside the UK to London. However, planning ahead is still one of the best ways to find school places, especially in some of the more well-known private schools such as Harrow School, the Godolphin and Latymer School, and King's College School.

Many independent schools can be found in London, with 2018 data from the ONS showing 272 private schools in Inner London with a total population of 77, 886, and 272 schools in Outer London with a total enrollment of nearly 71,000 students.

Since independent schools are privately run, many have their own curriculum but a growing number of schools offer the International Baccalaureate (IB) program. Other schools are also religiously affiliated or feature alternative learning philosophies as well as cater to special needs students such as the East London Independent School (ELIS). Independent schools are not required to follow the National Curriculum but must still be registered with the UK government. Such institutions are inspected regularly by the Independent Schools Inspectorate via a framework agreed between the Department for Education and Ofsted if the school is affiliated with the Independent Schools Council (ISC). The ISC represents around 1,300 schools that collectively educate over 80 percent of students in the UK's independent sector.

Based on the 2018 ISC census, most independent schools in the ISC network have a student population of 200 to 350 pupils. Around 24 percent of the student population in ISC member schools achieve the maximum score of 45 points for the IB program, and 91 percent go on to higher education at prestigious universities.

International Schools

International schools are familiar ground for expat families. While they command much higher fees than private schools, many offer learning continuity in terms of their school curriculum which may be the same or similar to the student's school in their home country.

There are also international schools which use other languages other than English for primary instruction – or "mother tongue" - including German, French, and Japanese. ISC schools in 2017 counted 23,192 non-British students with parents living in the UK, with 42 percent coming from the European Economic Area (EEA), and 14 percent originating from the US.

Aside from the admission fees and tests, there may also be added costs for uniforms, school meals, athletics and extra-curricular activities such as immersion trips abroad. Admission requirements will also greatly vary from school to school so it's best to contact your preferred school directly to get information firsthand.

Some of the international schools in London popular with expat families are the Southbank International School, International Community School (ICS), International School of London, La Petite Ecole Bilingue and the Deutsche Schule London.

The Home Office website at allows you to compare schools or colleges in the UK using the name of the school or college, or its reference number (URN). You may also search using the postcode, town or street name. For school terms and holidays, click here.

To view the schools located in Greater London, use the Greater London Authority's (GLA) interactive London Schools Atlas to see the location and basic information. 

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