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Types of schools - a quick guide

All children in England between the ages of 5 and 16 can have a free place at a state school. Depending on your location and the needs of your child, there may be a number of different schools which will be suitable. This guide gives a brief introduction to the main types of schools and educational options which may be available.

Select the school stage or type that you are interested in from the list below to learn more and help you make an informed choice for your child.

Types of state school

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

  • Community schools, which are sometimes called 'local authority maintained schools'. They are not influenced by business or religious groups, and have to follow the National Curriculum
  • Foundation schools and voluntary schools, which 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 and free schools, which are run by not-for-profit academy trusts and are independent from the local authority. They have more freedom to change how they run things and can follow a different curriculum.
  • Grammar schools, which 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.

Primary schools and academies

These schools are for children aged 5 to 11 years old (Reception and school years 1 to 6), learning at Key Stages 1 and 2 of the National Curriculum. The UK Government has national policy and guidance on how to measure primary school pupil progress

Secondary schools and academies

These schools are for children aged 11 to 16 (school years 7 to 11). They cover learning at National Curriculum Key Stages 3 and 4, up to GCSE level or equivalent. Some schools also have sixth form provision, for children aged 16 to 18 (school years 12 and 13). The UK Government provides a wide range of policy and guidance on how to measure secondary school pupil progress and school performance

Free schools

Free schools are funded by the government, but are not run by the local authority. They have more control over how they do things. For example, they can decide how to manage the following things:

  • setting the pay and conditions for staff
  • changing the length of school terms and the school day
  • setting the school curriculum (what the pupils will study).

Free schools are run on a not-for-profit basis and can be set up by groups like charities, businesses, faith or community groups, parents, teachers or independent schools or universities. They’re ‘all-ability’ schools, so they cannot use academic selection processes like a grammar school.

Studio schools are a type of free school which teaches mainstream qualifications through project-based learning for pupils from Year 10. This means working in realistic situations as well as learning academic subjects. This type of school may be more suitable for students who find the classroom environment in mainstream secondary schools challenging. 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.

Special schools

Special schools are for children who may not be able to attend a mainstream school, due to special educational needs or a disability. They cover a wide variety of school types, including local-authority-maintained schools, academies and private (or independent) schools. Some are only for children of primary or secondary age, while others may take pupils from the age of 3 or 4 until 18, or even up to the age of 25.

Special schools with pupils aged 11 and older can specialise in one of the following four 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).

Private schools

Private schools (also known as ‘independent schools’) charge fees to attend, instead of being funded by the government. Pupils do not have to follow the National Curriculum, but all private schools must be registered with the government, and have regular inspections. Unlike state-maintained schools, there are several different bodies which may be responsible for these inspections, as follows:

Educating your child at home

The GOV.UK website has more information about your rights and responsibilities, if you decide to educate your child outside of formal schooling (also known as elective home education or homeschooling).