In England, at both primary and secondary levels, there could be several different types of schools and colleges in your area, from state-funded free schools and academies to technical colleges and private schools.
They will all have different advantages so to help you decide where’s best for your child, we’ve put together some guidance on what you might expect from each one. Nothing can replace seeing a school in person though, so before you submit your school application make an appointment to meet the headteacher and look around.
Most state schools are ‘maintained schools’ which means they are ‘maintained’ by the Local Authority (LA) and must follow the national curriculum. They can be primary or secondary schools.
Academies are publicly-funded independent schools at either primary or secondary level. They are still funded by the government but the money goes directly to them, rather than via the LA. This means they have more control over how they do certain things, for example, they don’t have to follow the national curriculum and can set their own term times. They do however have to follow the same rules on admissions, special educational needs and exclusions as other state schools and children sit the same exams. They are also inspected by Ofsted.
Academies are run by Academy Trusts or Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs) if they are responsible for more than one school. They are not-for-profit companies that employ the staff and have trustees who are responsible for performance.
MATs may run any number of schools, primary and secondary, in any location.
Free schools are a type of academy and operate in a very similar way. They receive their funding directly from the government, have control over the curriculum, teachers’ pay and conditions and term times, must follow the same School Admissions Code and are regulated and are inspected by Ofsted.
The difference between a free school and an academy is who runs them. Free schools can be set up and run by individual groups of parents, teachers, businesses, universities, independent schools, charities or voluntary groups. Like the Trusts or Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs) that run academies, the groups running free schools are not allowed to make a financial profit.
There are two types of free school:
● University technical colleges specialise in subjects such as engineering and lead to technical qualifications for pupils. The curriculum is designed by the university and employers, who also provide work experience for students
● Studio schools deliver mainstream qualifications through project-based learning. This means working in realistic situations as well as learning academic subjects
Grammar schools were set up to enable the brightest pupils in the state system to receive the highest standard of education so that students from less wealthy backgrounds could have the same opportunities as those at private schools — but without the cost.
They are state-funded, non-fee-paying selective secondary schools. This means that admission is based on academic ability at the age of ten, which is assessed by an exam called the 11-plus. Only those who get the highest marks can attend.
Since 1998 there has been a ban on new grammar schools and the focus has instead been on improving standards in all state schools. Only a relatively small number of grammar schools still exist.
City technology colleges
City technology colleges and ‘the city college for the technology of the arts’ are independent schools in urban areas. They’re funded by central government but companies can also contribute.
City technology colleges emphasise teaching science and technology. The city college for the technology of the arts teaches technology relating to performing and creative arts, for example interactive digital design.
State boarding schools
State boarding schools provide free education but charge fees for boarding. Most state boarding schools are academies, some are free schools and some are run by local authorities.
They give priority to children who have a particular need to board, and will assess children’s suitability for boarding.
Contact the State Boarding Forum for more information about state boarding schools, eligibility and how to apply. Although most are in England, there is one state boarding school in Northern Ireland.
Special schools are those that provide an education for children with a special educational need or disability.
The type of special school available varies from area to area but there are four broad types, listed according to their specialism:
● Communication and interaction
● Cognition and learning
● Social, emotional and mental health
● Sensory and physical needs
Maintained special schools still have to follow the National Curriculum, but they have the freedom to teach in line with pupils’ specific needs, making adjustments where necessary.
Non-maintained special schools such as academies, free schools and independent schools, can devise their own curriculum.
Faith schools can set different admissions criteria (although anyone can apply for a place). They follow the national curriculum but can choose what they teach in religious studies.
Faith academies do not have to teach the national curriculum and have their own admissions processes.
Private, or independent, schools charge fees to attend instead of being funded by the government. Pupils do not have to follow the national curriculum. All private schools must be registered with the government and are inspected regularly.
There are also private schools which specialise in teaching children with special educational needs.