An overview of education in the UK


As a parent relocating to the UK with your family, choosing the right school for your child is probably one of the most important decisions you have to make. When faced with the range of options available, many people find this a daunting and time consuming task.

Here we will outline the available options as well as give an overview of the system.

State (non fee paying) or Private-Independent and International Education

In the United Kingdom, schools are either provided by the local government authority (state schools), or are independently run requiring fees to be paid.

Schools that are provided by the local government are free for all pupils. The quality of education offered is generally good, but some state schools are considerably better than others.

There many excellent state schools, throughout the UK. State (non-fee paying) school places are allocated by the Local Education Authorities – LEA’s, and the school places can only be offered when proof of your permanent home address in the UK is provided, typically by a Tenancy Agreement.

Alternatively there are the Independent Schools, also known as Public Schools and/or International Schools and fees are charged on a term or semester basis.

Is school education the same throughout the United Kingdom?

There are fundamental similarities. For instance, all boys and girls must attend full-time education until the age of 16. Many pupils stay on at school after that age to prepare themselves for University or other careers.

In England and Wales, the government introduced a National Curriculum in 1988. This provides a framework for education between the ages of 5 - 18. All state schools are required to follow it. Independent-Private and International schools are not required to follow the National Curriculum in all its details, but they must show that they provide a good all-round education and they are inspected regularly every few years.

Getting to and from school

For Primary School age children attending state non fee paying schools there is no bus service and parents are expected to take their children to and from school.

At Secondary School age, several schools offer a bus service or the children are old enough to use the public transport


The most common qualifications earned by students in the UK are GCSEs, typically 9-11 subjects taken at 16 years old; and A-levels, typically 3-5 subjects at 18 years old. Both normally require two years of study. GCSEs involve students studying a broad range of mandatory and optional subjects. A-levels offer a deeper dive into a more refined set of subjects selected by the student.

At 18, the International Schools, and a number of the private schools teach the International Baccalaureate (rather than A-levels) which is internationally recognised. This gives children the opportunity to study a broader range of subjects (6/7) and for families moving around the world throughout their child’s academic years usually makes the transition from one country and one school to another far easier and smoother.

More recently, some schools (e.g. Eton) have started to offer Cambridge Pre-U at 18 which promotes independent and self-directed learning in preparation for University. This is also an internationally recognised qualification.

There are other options available, particularly for older students aged between 17 and 18. For example, many vocational qualifications are available to prepare students for particular kinds of employment.

How does National Curriculum work?

Click here for a detailed breakdown.

The National Curriculum is constructed in five Key Stages:

Key Stage 1 – Year R is Reception (4 and 5 year olds) and Years 1 to 2 - for pupils aged between 5 and 7 years old

Key Stage 2 - Years 3 to 6 - for pupils aged between 8 and 11 years old

Key Stage 3 - Years 7 to 9 - for pupils aged between 12 and 14 years old

Key Stage 4 - Years 10 to 11 - for pupils aged between 15 and 16 years old, and

Key Stage 5 - Years 12 to 13 - for pupils aged between 17 and 18 years old.

How we can help you find the best school for your child requirements?

Here at Premier Corporate Relocation we provide a complete educational support service to help families relocating to the UK.

We help find the right school for your child and provide you with all the knowledge you need on the educational and school structure in the UK to take the stress out of relocating to the UK. Once we have found your ideal school, we will help you every step of the stage from availability of places to completing submission to secure school places.

Other useful links:

Ofsted reports

Find my school

Performance Tables


Details for the LEA’s Local Education Authority and Schools are on each county's website.

For further information about how we can assist you in finding, acquiring or renting your new home please contact us by calling 01962 793100 or email [email protected].