How to Choose a School: The Different Types of School

June 16, 2021
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Whether you’re an NQT looking for a school that best suits your teaching abilities, or a parent searching for the ideal school for your child, it’s vital you’re aware of the different types of school.

There are many things to consider when choosing a school. In this article, we’ll introduce the main types of school in the UK and overview the factors to consider when finding the right establishment for you. We’ll also summarise the advantages of both state and private schools, leaving you equipped to make an informed decision.

What are the Different Types of School?

With so many different types of primary and secondary schools, the UK education system can seem complicated, so let’s look at the most common types of school.  

There are two main types of school, those paid for by the government and those which are independently funded.

What are State Schools?

State schools receive their funding directly from the government or from their local authority. All children between the ages of 5 and 16 can attend a state school free of charge. The main types of state school include:

Grammar Schoolsdrop down menu

Grammar schools are run by the state, so are free to attend, although pupils are selected on their academic ability. Run by an academy trust, foundation body, or a local authority, grammar schools assess a child’s verbal and non-verbal reasoning, as well as their comprehension and mathematical ability during the selection process. Children wishing to attend a grammar school will usually take an exam in their last year of primary school.

Community Schoolsdrop down menu

Otherwise known as local authority maintained schools, community schools follow the national curriculum and are not guided by business or religious influences. They aim to be inclusive hubs within the school’s local community.

Foundation and Voluntary Schoolsdrop down menu

These schools are funded by the local authority and are often led by an elected governing body or a charitable trust, who will have a key role in the daily operations of the school.

Special Schoolsdrop down menu

Special schools support learners with a special educational need or disability. Focusing on communication and interaction, sensory and physical needs, cognition and learning, or social, emotional, and mental health, special schools differentiate their curriculum to provide the best possible environment for their learners to flourish.

Middle Schoolsdrop down menu

Only available in 15 local authorities, the middle school system adds an additional learning pathway to the two-tiered structure. Available to students in years five to eight, the middle school system forms a bridge between primary and secondary settings.

Faith Schoolsdrop down menu

Faith schools often have a faith focus or are defined by their religious character. They follow the national curriculum, but leadership teams can create their own approach to religious studies. Staff may have to meet specific recruitment criteria, according to their faith, yet anyone can apply for a place.

Free Schoolsdrop down menu

Free schools do not have to follow the national curriculum and can dictate their own school terms, as they are funded by the government, and not the local authority. They have the freedom to carve out their own paths, and free schools open places to all, regardless of ability. Free schools can be set up by charities, universities, parents, teachers, or businesses.

Academiesdrop down menu

Run by a trust, academies receive funding from the government and do not charge fees. Academies can vary the national curriculum according to the needs of their learners. Schools may apply to join an academy, and must do so if they receive an inadequate rating from Ofsted. Academies can be supported by universities, businesses, faith groups, or voluntary groups. These sponsors work with the academy of schools to improve performance.

Pupil Referral Units (PRUs)drop down menu

There are many reasons why a child may not be able to access mainstream education, including school refusal, mental health, severe bullying, prolonged sickness, and exclusion. In these circumstances, students may then be able to attend a pupil referral unit.

What are Private Schools?

Private schools (or independent schools) are not funded by the government, and instead charge fees for attendance. In many independent schools, pupils are not required to follow the national curriculum, yet all will undergo inspections by an independent or government-approved inspectorate.

Private schools can be selective or non-selective. If selective, pupils will have to take a timed admission examination, yet students wishing to enrol in a non-selective private school do not have to meet any pre-set criteria.

How to Identify the Main Types of State and Independent Schools

In summary, state schools are funded by the government or local authority, whereas independent schools charge admission fees. Most state schools are required to cover the national curriculum, but may be free to design certain aspects of it themselves. Pupils attending a state school will not have to complete an admissions examination or interview, with the exception of state grammar schools. 

However, most independent schools will require prospective students to complete a strict admissions process, often including an exam and interview. By law, independent schools do not have to follow the national curriculum, although many choose to do so. Independent schools may also offer boarding to students on a termly, weekly, or flexible basis.

Advantages of State and Private Schools

The advantages of working in or attending a state school are:

  • State schools far outnumber private schools, so journeys to and from school are often shorter and easier.
  • By mixing with a diverse range of people, state school attendees often gain a greater cultural understanding.
  • Parents and carers will not have to pay.

The advantages of working in or attending an independent school are:

  • With smaller class sizes, students often receive better academic care.
  • Pupils have access to a wider range of extracurricular activities.
  • Pupils who attend often have a ‘pipeline’ into top jobs.

Things to Consider When Choosing a School

Whether you’re a teacher or parent, it’s crucial that you ask the right questions in order to decide if it’s your school of choice.

Factors to Consider When Choosing a School For Your Child

When you’re reading a school’s website, meeting the headteacher, or attending a tour, here are some key questions to consider:

  • Is the school affiliated with a particular religious group?
  • What is the school’s admissions process?  
  • Will your child’s friends be attending?
  • How will your child get to and from school?
  • What are the school’s core values and how does it uphold them?
  • What is the school’s curriculum vision?
  • If the school has a sixth form college, what percentage of pupils continue their education into KS5?
  • Does the school provide any extracurricular activities or trips?

Things to Consider When Choosing a School to Work in

If you’re an NQT looking for your first teaching job, or an experienced teacher ready to find your next challenge, then it may be useful to consider the following factors:

  • Is the school located within a commutable distance?
  • What size is the school and what do pupil numbers tell you?
  • How much freedom will you have when designing the curriculum?
  • Does the school provide a range of professional development opportunities?
  • How does the school support staff and student wellbeing?
  • Is there a clear progression pathway for staff?
  • What is the staffroom ethos and what does this tell you?
  • What is the induction process for new staff?   

When choosing a school, spend time reading through their online literature. Published inspection reports should also be readily available with a quick online search. It can also be useful to consider any verified local reviews or opinions from current attendees on community message boards.

Choosing a school can be challenging, for both parents and teachers. So before you make a decision, ensure you’re aware of the different options available to you, and their advantages and disadvantages.

Finally, have faith in your instincts. If it feels right, then it’s more than likely the school for you. 

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