School system in London


The English education system has an excellent reputation with students from the UK and around the world attending school here. The system is overseen by the Department of Education and the Department of Business - Innovation and Skills. Local authorities (LAs) are responsible for implementing policy for public education and state schools at a regional level.

The 2 systems are the States schools and the independent schools (or Public schools). The State schools get State funds and are regulated by a Local Education Authority. Most of the State schools are either Comprehensive, Foundation or Grammar schools and Free Schools (set-up by local parents and run by organisations, like Foundation schools).

  • A Comprehensive school is a secondary school that does not select children on the basis of academic attainment or aptitude.
  • Grammar schools : selective school through the 11 plus exam (about 10% of "gifted" children pass the exam). The system is often blamed for elitism.
  • Independent schools or Public schools : private schools, charge fees.
  • A the end of the compulsory period at 16, all students pass the GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education) exam. If it's successful it's then possible to attend a 2 year preparation in a College or a Sixth Form Centre (in State schools or Public schools) to pass the A-Levels. Pupils choose usually 3 subjects to pass for their exam and get a notation with the highest grade being A.

    About 90% of the English pupils are in State schools. But be careful: they can be very good or a disaster! You better double check the quality of the schools you are about to choose. Performance of the school to the GCSE and A-levels exams for example may be helpful.

    The education system is divided into:

    1. Nursery (ages 0-3) and Pre-school Nursery (ages 3–4)
    2. Primary education (ages 4-11)
    3. Secondary education (ages 11-18)
    4. Tertiary education (ages 18+)

    Early Education

    From 0 to 3 years old, Children can attend nursery schools. They are private schools and can be very expensive in London, in average (depending on location) from £50/day to £120/day (in 2021). Once you have booked specific days per week (from 1 to 5) it is not possible to change them (you may be able to swap days on specific occasion with a fee) and it is expected that you will pay the nursery 12 months a year (even when your child is on holiday or sick). You can usually stop the nursery with a 1 to 3 months notice. Time for nursery may vary, usually 8am to 6.30pm (some of them only open from 9am to 3:15pm).

    All nursery schools are regulated and inspected. Reports are available on the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) website.

    Note that 3 and 4-year-olds in England are entitled to 570 hours of free early education or childcare a year. This is often taken as 15 hours each week for 38 weeks of the year. Some 2-year-olds are also eligible.

    All children in England between the ages of 5 and 16 are entitled to a free place at a state school, but their admission is usually subject to availability, which can be very small for popular schools with best results to Ofsted inspection. All maintained schools in England are required to follow the National Curriculum, which is made up of twelve subjects. The core subjects of English, Mathematics and Science are compulsory for all students aged 5 to 18.

    Primary schools

    Education is compulsory in England from ages 5 to 18, either at school or professional centers (training). After 16, students may then continue their secondary studies for two years (sixth form), with most students taking A-level qualifications. Other qualifications and courses include Business and Technology Education Council (BTEC) qualifications, the International Baccalaureate (IB) and the Cambridge Pre-U.

    The 2 school systems are the State schools and the independent schools. The State schools (often called "Academy" nowadays, and run by private organisations) get state funds and are regulated by a Local Education Authority. Most of the State schools are either Comprehensive, Foundation or Grammar schools and Free Schools (set-up by local parents and run by organizations, like Foundation schools).

    Under the National Curriculum at the end of Year 6, all pupils undergo National Curriculum Tests (also known as SATs for standard attainment tests) towards the ends of Key Stage 2 in the core subjects of Literacy, Numeracy and Science.

    Secondary schools

    Pupils progress from primary to secondary levels from age 11. A few areas have three-tier education systems with an intermediate middle level from age 9 to 13.

    • A Comprehensive school is a secondary school that does not select children on the basis of academic attainment or aptitude.
    • Grammar schools: selective school through the 11 plus exam (about 10% of "gifted" children pass the exam). The system is often blamed for elitism.
    • Independent schools: private schools, charge fees.

    About 90% of the English pupils are in State schools. But be careful: they can be very good or a disaster! You better double check the quality of the schools you are about to choose. Performance of the school to the GCSE and A-levels exams for example may be helpful.

    Pupils normally take GCSE exams in the last two years of Key Stage 4, but may also choose to work towards the attainment of alternative qualifications, such as the GNVQ.

    At the age of 16, all students pass the GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education) exam. If passed, it allows you to attend a 2-year preparation in a College or a Sixth Form Centre (in State schools or Independent schools) to pass the A-Levels. Pupils usually choose 3 subjects to pass on their exam and get a notation with the highest-grade being A.

    The Sixth Form (sometimes referred to as Key Stage 5) describes the years 12 and 13 of the schooling system. This the final (optional) two years of secondary education, where students, usually sixteen to eighteen years of age, prepare for their A-level (or equivalent) examinations.

    Private Schools

    Private Schools can offer an elevated environment of learning for some students. Other schools offer a specialty focus that may be worth paying extra for. It is important to visit a school to determine the best fit for you and your child. Most private schools have open days for prospective parents, but it is wise to ask to make an appointment to visit on a normal working day.

    Some of the questions you may want to ask are:

    • Special needs: Does the school have facilities and suitably qualified and experienced staff to look after any special needs your child may have? Is there a program for gifted and talented children or special provision for those with physical disabilities? Is there a language requirement that could aid your child?
    • Curriculum: Is it broad and balanced? Will your child have an adequate range of options? Are there specialist teachers?
    • The staff: How well qualified are they? Is there reasonable staff stability? Do the teachers stay long in post?
    • Extra activities: Does the school offer an exciting extra-curricular activities program that will stimulate your child's interest? If you are considering boarding school, you will want to know what activities the school provides for children in the evening and at weekends.
    • Exam results: High in the "league tables" indicates success with standardized tests.

    Some of the most well know private schools in London are:

    Private school fees

    Fees range from school to school so make sure to compare. There are occasional grants and scholarships for worthy students, but they are competitive. Ask at the school for opportunities.

    Example of prices per term in 2021-2022 school year:

    • Pre-Prep (age 2/3-7): £3,000 to £7,000
    • Junior/Prep (age 7-11/13) Day Classes: £5,000 to £8,000
    • Junior/Prep (age 7-11/13) Boarding : £7,000 to £12,000
    • Senior (age 11/13-18) Day Classes: : £7,000 to £10,000
    • Senior (age 11/13-18) Boarding : £11,000 to £16,000

    Extra activities like instrumental instruction, school uniforms or school trips may require additional fees. Many private schools have their own second-hand shops selling uniforms and other supplies.

    Boarding Schools

    The world models boarding schools on the classic British boarding school. There is usually a dormitory, the refectory, and the study hall. Boarding schools may be all-boarding, flexible boarding or offer weekly boarding. This allows students the opportunity to return home on weekends or only stay at the school occasionally. Boarding schools were declining during the 1990's but have received a small revival which may be due to the "Harry Potter" effect.

    International Baccalaureate (IB)

    The International Baccalaureate, commonly known as the IB, is offered by a number of private schools in London. It is comprised of four age-targeted programs and its international curriculum takes a holistic approach to education, nurturing intellectual, personal, emotional, and social skills.

    The IB is divided into four programs covering the following age ranges:

    • Primary Years Program (PYP): Ages 3 to 12 years old
    • Middle Years Program (MYP): Ages 11 to 16 years old
    • Diploma Program (DP): Ages 16 to 19 years old
    • Careers-Related Program: Ages 16 to 19 years old

    Each of the four programs stands on its own merits. A student does not have to have completed the PYP or MYP to study for the IB Diploma. For full details of the schools' curriculum options, visit the International Baccalaureate Organization.

    University studies in England

    Note that students coming from outside the UK may need to ask for a Student Visa after 1st January 2021, following Brexit new regulations regarding non-citizens transit.

    Many elite universities are in England. British universities are known for their illustrious history and research output. Students normally enter university at age 18 and a bachelor's degree is usually awarded after 3 or 4 years of study.

    "A" Level : it is a group of certificates according to the choice of the student. Getting 3 certificates allows to continue at University level.
    Short Cycle
    Long Cycle
    Higher National Diploma: 2 years

    First degree: only honours will allow the student to go to Higher Degrees.

    Ordinary Degree :

  • B.Eng (Bachelor of Engineering): 1 additional year in Scotland and called Ordinary Degree with honours)
  • B.Art (Bachelor of Art)
  • B.Sc (Bachelor of Science)
  • Diploma or Certificate: 1 year
    Post Graduate:

    Master's Degree by research: 1 to 2 years with dossier presentation

    Master Degree

  • M.Eng (Master of Engineering)
  • M.Art (Master of Art)
  • M.Sc (Master of Science)
  • Master's Degree by instruction: 1 year with an exam at the end

    Doctor's Degree

  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD): 3 years of research
  • Doctor of Letters and Doctor of Science: grant a group of works and articles published
  • Admission

    The state does not control university syllabi, but it influences admission procedures through the Office for Fair Access (OfFA). The universities in the United Kingdom share an undergraduate admission system. Applications must be made by October 15th for admissions to Oxford and Cambridge and by January 15th for admissions to other UK universities.

    List of some popular universities

    • University of Oxford - Located in Oxford, this is the second-oldest surviving university in the world and the oldest in the English-speaking world. Most undergraduate teaching at Oxford is organized around weekly tutorials at self-governing colleges and halls, supported by classes, lectures and laboratory work organized by University faculties and departments. Oxford regularly contends with Cambridge for first place in the league tables and is consistently ranked in the world's top 10 universities.
    • University of Cambridge - The seventh-oldest university globally, the university grew out of an association of scholars in the city of Cambridge. Cambridge ranks as one of the most prestigious universities in the world with graduates of the University winning a total of 65 Nobel Prizes.
    • University College London - This is a public research university located in London. It is the oldest and largest constituent college of the federal University of London. UCL's main campus is located in the Bloomsbury area of Central London.
    • Imperial College London - Officially known as the Imperial College of Science, this is a public research university located in South Kensington in London.
    • London School of Economics - The London School of Economics and Political Science is a public research university. Based in Westminster, it is among the world's most selective universities.

    Tuition fees

    As a result of Brexit, the UK government has formally established that students from the European Union (EU), European Economic Area (EEA) and Swiss students will no longer be eligible for "home fee status" from the autumn term of 2021 and for student loans.

    Student fees (also called tuition fees) varies according to the different nations which make up the UK. In England, bachelor programs could reach £9250 per academic year while in Wales it was capped at £9000 per year. In Scotland, undergraduate fees were free to all Scottish and EU/EEA students. However, Brexit has changed all of that.
    From 1 August 2021, these benefits will only be available to national (local) students. For the rest of the students, tuition fees will be (much) higher. In some cases, they can be 2, 3 or even 4 times higher (£30,000 – £40,000 per student year depending on the university and degree type in 2021). Additionally, tuition can be significantly more expensive at private universities.

    Therefore, this means that most EU students will pay the same fees as international students for courses starting from August 2021.

    New fee structure means a big increase for EU students.

    • Fees are no longer capped for EU/EEA students.
    • Expected increases at the public UK universities can be three to fourfold.
    • An undergraduate year may cost between £30-40K depending on the type of degree (notably medical studies).
    • Private universities may become even more expensive.
    • According to the website MastersPortals, previously a masters degree in Egyptology would cost €12968. Now, in a post-Brexit era, the same degree will cost you €29047.
    • Students from the EU/EEA and Switzerland are no longer eligible for financial help from 2021 onwards. However, students who obtained this financial help in 2018, 2019 and 2020 will still be eligible for help until their degree program is complete.

    A direct consequence of the new rules is that the Scottish government will end free university tuition for European Union students from 2021 (i.e. all non-UK students will be treated identically).

    Libraries in London

    The city has a distinguished literary tradition and many fine libraries.

    Public libraries are open to everyone. You do not have to be a member if you just want to read something in the library, ask a question or consult a reference work (for example, a telephone directory or a dictionary or an encyclopaedia). You will, however, need to join the library if you want to borrow books or other items or, in most cases, if you want to use the internet.

    There are differences in the services particular libraries provide, depending on the size and location of the branch and on the policies of the library service.

    The London Library - The London Library is the UK's leading literary institution and the world's largest independent lending library. It offers more than one million books with a collection spanning works from the 16th century to the latest publications. Membership is open to everyone on payment of an annual subscription.

    Other libraries can be found on the City of London's Libraries. The site includes locations, a mobile app, and free audiobook downloads.

    Update 14/10/2021


    Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Pinterest WhatsApp Addthis

    Recommended Partners

    Learn a language

    Babbel is an international success with millions of active subscribers and ranked as the world's #1 innovative company in education.

    Why Babbel?

    Learn and review on your own schedule: Mobile, tablet or desktop compatible, with lessons about 10-15 min.

    Expert-made courses: Learn the basics or focus on topics like travel, culture, or business.

    Start speaking right away: Learn to speak a new language naturally and conversationally.

    Every learner is different: Each course is based on your native language and personal interests.

    Remember everything: Babbel employs proven cognitive techniques that move new vocab to your long-term memory.

    Refine your pronunciation: Practise speaking and improve your pronunciation with speech recognition technology.

    Try Babbel for free today

    Registration with Babbel is completely free of charge and the first lesson in every course is FREE to try (Depending on the language you choose, that's 30-80 free lessons!).

    If you want full access to Babbel's courses, simply choose a subscription that works best for you. Buy with confidence: 20-day money back guarantee!




    The Country Life Future Schools Fair
    I work in Education and know how confusing both UK and international parents can find the system. Country Life Future Schools Fair is an event in London on July 16th which is bringing together 50 top schools as well as hosting a packed seminar table on topics that matter to your children's education. Tickets are free and can be found here:



    London School System Explained
    Looking for a school in London for your children?
    Go to, you'll find all you need to understand the school system in London and make the best choice for your children.

    London School Maze will explain the differences in state and private schools, how private schools select children and you'll also find useful area guides to help you decide where to move.

     Eleonore AVE


    Vous y trouverez:

    L'actualité sur les écoles, les enseignements, les sujets d'éducation.
    Une expertise et des recherches dans le domaine de l'orientation et des métiers d'avenir,
    Une plateforme d'informations pratiques et d'échanges.



    Performing Arts Schools in London: have a go!
    For more cultural and educational enrichment there is the Brit School, THE - free - school for the arty ones - drama, musical drama, music, dance, media, art and design teaching as well as the academic subjects with: an English school as they should all be in London! The pupils wear their own clothes, you can hear them rehearsing at break times in the hall,- its got the best of the 80's series Fame but for real!! - alright, maybe I am abit over the top here.
    I am starting teaching french there this academic year and I have already met some francophone students there during the end of year festival. I wish French students become more aware of performing arts schools as a great opportunity to take the best out of the English educational system.
    See! Thats what we call a cool English school!! Check out for the pupils' performances dates on the school website...
    For more info about the Brit School:

    Do you have comments or personal information to communicate about this article? Add your comment.

    Find more definitions and general answers on expatriation issues in the Expat FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions).

    Go to the Forum to talk more about school system in London, education.

    Download the full digital PDF expat guide in London

    Download the guide: London, United Kingdom
  • See in one single booklet all the articles for a city guide for expatriates.
  • Enjoy full colour photos to illustrate each section.
  • Additionnal maps: Region, City view, Neighborhood, Street view.

  • - My Life Abroad -
    A selection of expat stories

    "A fun compulsive read!"
    J. Matcham, Amazon

    "I strongly advise people ready to live abroad to read this book!"
    Patrice, Amazon