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Understanding the educational system's structure in the U.K.: a guide for international hires

by Edufax, on Sep 21, 2020 1:21:54 PM

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When relocating to the U.K. for an assignment, one of the first things international hires with children do is figure out the educational system's structure in the U.K. After all, the field of global education is very diverse, and the U.K. has a specific set of rules and customs they need to familiarize themselves with.

If English isn't the child's first language, parents will want to know whether language support is available at the local school. Children who come from other English-speaking countries will still have to switch to a different curriculum, which raises other concerns. For example, in the U.K, literacy instruction starts at the age of 5, whereas in the U.S., it starts at 6 or 7. This means adequate learning support is necessary to avoid backward grade-placement.

Children in secondary school face other issues, which usually relate to GCSEs and A-levels (exam programs). Subject selection, for instance, often depends on a student's previous academic performance in specific subjects as well as a teacher's advice.

And then there are practical matters unique to the educational system's structure in the U.K. When it comes to so-called maintained schools and academies (or, top-performing public schools), those living closest usually receive admissions priority — and these schools tend to be located in expensive residential areas. If this poses a problem, families may need to opt for an independent (or, private) school. Admission wise, there will be competition, meaning it's not easy to secure a spot — no matter how close the family lives to the school.

Educational system's structure in the U.K. in a nutshell

With the above concerns in mind, let's have a closer look at the educational system's structure in the U.K. First up are the basics: the school year runs from September to July, the language of instruction is English, and full-time education is compulsory between the ages of 5 and 16. However, a reception year, in which four-year-olds receive full-time education, is common practice.

Education across the U.K. is divided into six stages, as illustrated in the diagram below.

Screenshot 2020-09-15 at 16.06.33

In primary education, national assessments take place at four different moments in a student's trajectory:

  • As of September 2020, all children will complete a 'reception baseline assessment' upon entering primary school (in reception class).
  • In Year One (ages 5 to 6), there is a phonics screening check to measure progress in early reading.
  • In May of Year Two (ages 6 to 7), national curriculum tests are taken. These consist of two compulsory reading tests, one compulsory arithmetic and reasoning test, and one optional spelling, punctuation, and grammar test.
  • In May of Year 6 (ages 10 to 11), a national curriculum test is taken. It consists of two grammar, punctuation, and spelling tests, one reading test, one arithmetic test, and one reasoning test. The results don't affect admission to a secondary school — only in exceptional circumstances, students are placed out of their age-related year group.

In secondary education, assessments take place through external qualifications at the end of Year Eleven (age 16) and Year Thirteen (age 18). The most commonly taken qualifications are the GCSEs and the AS/A levels.

Finding suitable education in the U.K.: 4 things to keep in mind

1. Use reliable, government recognized school search tools

When navigating the educational system's structure in the U.K., families should use a government recognized tool to find and compare public schools, which allows them to determine a school's quality based on its Ofsted rating. The latter rates schools as 'Outstanding,' 'Good,' 'Satisfactory,' or 'Requires Improvement.' Usually, it's best to target schools that are either Outstanding (performing above expectations) or Good (high performing). The outcomes of this type of research can also help parents decide where to live.

2. Consider availability at top-performing (public) schools

All children who reside in London have the right to access public education. But if the school associated with the family's home address (or, local council/authority) is at maximum capacity, an oversubscription criterion is applied. The latter is used to determine which students will be granted a spot under these circumstances. Priority is given to:

  • Children with siblings who already attend the school
  • Children living closest to the school
  • Children of the school's staff members
  • Disadvantaged children

3. Apply to a school in time

Once a family is familiar with the educational system's structure in the U.K. and has selected a suitable school for their child, they should apply as soon as possible. This is important, because availability can be an issue at high-performing public schools.

School enrollment occurs through a family's local council/authority. In the City of London, school applications for primary school admissions should be submitted before January 15th. For secondary school admissions, applications must be made before October 31st.

Primary school placement offers are made on April 16th, while secondary school placement offers are made on March 1st.

4. Provide the required documentation for school enrollment

To enroll a child in a public school in the City of London, you need to provide the following documentation:

  • Proof of child's residency in London
  • Proof of child's identity and age (birth certificate or passport)
  • Proof of parents' residency in London, which includes four of the following:
    - Utility bills issued in the past three months
    - A letter from the GP written in the past three months
    - A central or local government document issued in the past twelve months
    - A financial statement issued in the past twelve months

Need help navigating the educational system's structure in the U.K.?

Finding suitable educational solutions in the U.K. is not easy for international hires. As a global mobility manager, you try to help them navigate the educational system's structure in the U.K. But you've got a lot of other tasks on your plate. An education consultancy company provides a solution. Using years of experience and expertise, Edufax provides A-to-Z guidance on the educational part of the global mobility process. Want to go the distance together? Contact us to find out how we will go the extra mile for your international hires.

Topics:Educational SolutionsGlobal Mobility


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