Finding the right schools in London for your children is important for their happy adjustment to their new lives. You want them to thrive both academically and socially as quickly as possible after your relocation. There are few questions you need to answer before you start the school search. What kind of school is best suited for your children? Is it easy for them to make friends? How long do you plan to stay in the UK? Do you have the funds for private education?
All children in England between 5 and 16 years of age are required to be in full-time education and are entitled to a free place at a state school. Children over 16 must still stay in some form of education or training until their 18th birthday. In the 2012 PISA rankings United Kingdom was within OECD average in reading and mathematics and above average in science. However, it is noteworthy that there are significant differences between schools. The best schools are oversubscribed and you might find it hard to get your child accepted, especially if you don’t live in the school’s catchment area or your child has not achieved well academically.
Schools can be single-sex or mixed gender schools, and are either state schools or private schools (also called confusingly public schools). State schools are free and private schools are not. The average annual private school fee in London is £13,359 (2012). Many top schools in London are private but there are equally excellent schools in the state sector. Do research the school performances in your area before you decide whether private education is worth the money or not.
In the state sector primary schools are for 5 to 11 year olds and secondary schools for 11 to 16 year olds. In private sector children go to a pre-preparatory school from 4-7 years of age, to preparatory / junior school from 8 to 11 (usually girls) or 13 (usually boys) years of age and finally to senior school. After 16 years of age children can continue their studies in secondary schools, where they can take A Level or IB examinations, attend further education colleges for vocational qualifications or seek work-based training.
If you are likely to leave the UK while your child is still of school age you might want to consider an International Baccalaureate program as an option to the British curriculum. You can find an IB school almost anywhere in the world, and hence avoid a change of curriculum in the future. Additionally almost all universities accept IB diploma, and many consider it academically more rigorous that the English one.
Several English state and private schools offer IB Diploma Courses for 16 to 18 year olds as an alternative to the local A-levels. Another option is to look for International schools in your area, many of which offer IB curriculum to all ages.
There are several international schools in London, which have IB, British and USA curriculums. They understand the special support that relocating children need both academically and socially, and can give language tuition to non-English speaking children. It might also be easier to make friends at an international school since the students are used to new arrivals and different cultures. However holding to these friendships could be harder since being mostly expats themselves your child’s new friends are more likely to leave London at some point.
Foreign National Systems
London has also schools, which follow different national curriculums. Contact your embassy to find out if there is a school in London that follows your country’s education model and teaches in your child’s mother tongue.
There are also faith schools in London, both in state and private sector. Contact your place of worship to find out if there is a school in London that follows your religious belief.
The UK is well know of its boarding schools and many English believe strongly that they develop children’s independence and social skills. Boarding could also be a good option if you and your partner both work long hours or need to constantly travel for work.
There are both state and independent boarding schools that can provide education in the British, international or IB curriculum. In the state boarding schools education is free but you still need to pay for the boarding.
Find an Independent Boarding School (Boarding Schools’ Association)
When you have decided on the school type and maybe area to live in London start the search process. All state schools are monitored by Ofsted (=Office for Standards in Education) and it is advisable to read its inspection reports. Private schools don’t have to be monitored but many have chosen to be inspected by Ofsted or by other bodies. Additionally you can find out how the schools are ranking in the performance tables published by the Department for Education. You can apply to any school you wish. There is no need to live in the same borough where the school is located.
After you have made a shortlist of your preferred schools go and visit them. Most schools run open days for prospective pupils and parents. If you are unable to attend one make an appointment with the school’s principal. Pay attention on the environment and feel of the school. Ask for their staff turnover. High turnover might mean that the teachers are leaving the school because of unruly children or poor management. If possible, talk to parents whose children go there. Mostly trust your own instinct. Do remember at the same time that having exactly the same type of school and curriculum as back home is not likely.
Inspection Reports (Ofsted)
Performance Tables (The Department of Education)
The application process depends on your local council or, in case of private schools, the school itself. All schools have their own admission criteria. State schools tend to favour children, who live close to the school (= in their catchment area) or attended a particular primary school (= feeder school). Some state secondary schools and many private schools rank the children based on how well they have done in a national 11+ exam. International schools are more flexible with their application and admission criteria since they are used to children coming from different educational systems. Nevertheless of the type of school, do contact your choices promptly. Good schools fill up quickly and might hence not be able to accept your child, regardless of their academic achievements. In London 81.8% of primary school and 70.2% of secondary school applicants do get in to their first choice of school. However, there are area and school specific differences.