This page describes the different types of schools in the UK and how they are funded and managed. It explains the difference between maintained schools, academies, free schools and independent schools.
All children in England between the ages of 5 and 16 are entitled to a free place at a state school
What is compulsory school age?
Compulsory education in England and Wales is provided for children between the ages of 5 and 16.
- Primary education is for children from the ages of 5 to 11.
- Secondary education is for children from the ages of 11 to 16.
There are a few areas of the country which have primary schools for ages 5 to 9, middle schools for ages 9 to 13 and high schools for ages 13 to 16. Some secondary schools also have sixth forms to educate pupils from 16 to 18. Other post-16 options are sixth form colleges and colleges of further education.
What is a Maintained School?
- These are wholly owned and maintained by Local Authorities
- They are likely to have a strong link with the local community and often provide services such as childcare, use of their facilities and adult learning classes
- These schools must follow the national curriculum
- There are four main types of maintained schools: community schools, Foundation and trust schools, voluntary aided schools and voluntary controlled schools
- A maintained school can be named in a statement of Special Educational Needs (issued before 1st September 2014) or in an Education, Health and Care Plan (issued after 1st September 2014), after prior consultation with the Local Authority
- Maintained schools must act in accordance with the government guidelines on admissions, exclusions and SEN provision
The four main types of maintained schools all receive funding from the Local Authority
What is a Community School?
- Controlled and run by the Local Authority
- The Local Authority owns the land and buildings
- The Local Authority determines the admission arrangements
What is a Foundation School?
- Foundation schools are funded by the Local Authority, but are run by the school governing body
- The governing body is the admission authority for these schools
- The governing body employs the school staff and has primary responsibility for admissions
- The school land and buildings are owned by the governing body or a charitable foundation
What is a Trust School?
- A type of Foundation school which forms a charitable trust with an outside partner; usually a business or a charity
- The decision to become a Trust school is taken by the Governing body with parents also having a say
- Similar to a Voluntary Aided school however the land is owned by a trust which may include commercial organisations
- Trust schools are run by their governing body
What is a Voluntary Aided School?
- These are usually religious or ‘faith’ schools, although anyone can apply for a place for their child
- Both the Local Authority and the supporting body (e.g. the Roman Catholic church) will contribute to the funding of the school
- The governing body employs staff and decides admission arrangements
- The land and buildings are normally owned by a charitable foundation
- The governing body contributes to building and maintenance costs
What is a Voluntary controlled school?
- Voluntary controlled schools are similar to voluntary aided schools, although these schools are funded solely by the Local Authority
- The Local Authority is the admission authority but will consult with the supporting body in drawing up the admission policy
- The land and buildings are usually owned by a charitable foundation
- The Local Education Authority employs the school staff and has responsibility for admissions
What is an Academy?
- Academies are schools that are state funded and free to students but they have much more independence than most other schools including the power to direct their own curriculum. (This can include the introduction of faith-based topics, or a change to the school hours for example)
- Academies are defined in section 1A of Academies Act 2010
- Academies are established by sponsors from business, faith or voluntary groups in partnership with the Department for Education working with the community. Together these fund the land and buildings with the Government covering the running costs
- Academies can be flexible with their curriculum, term dates, and staffing to meet local needs
- The provision governing academies is the individual contract (Education Funding Agreement) between the Department of Education (The Education Skills Funding Agency) and the school
- Most Academies have to follow the same rules regarding admissions, exclusions and special educational needs as maintained schools, but it is advisable to check the Academy’s individual Education Funding Agreement. You can find the Academy’s Education Funding Agreement on their individual school website page.
- The Academy Trust is the admission authority
- An Academy can be named in a statement of Special Educational Needs (issued before 1st September 2014) or in an Education, Health and Care Plan (issued after 1st September 2014), after prior consultation with the Local Authority
- City academies are academies set up in inner cities and are designed to improve the performance of schools in deprived areas
What is a Free School?
- A free school is a type of Academy
- Free schools are funded by the government, but are not controlled by the Local Authority
- Teachers, parents, existing schools, educational charities, universities, or community groups can set up free schools
- The group must form a company and choose members and directors to run it
- These schools have a funding agreement with the Department of Education (The Education Skills Funding Agency). You can find the Academy’s Education Funding Agreement on their individual school website page.
- Academies can be flexible with their curriculum, term dates and staffing to meet local needs
Schools specialising in a particular subject
- Though Specialist Schools follow the national curriculum, they can focus on a particular subject area
- Any state secondary school in England (maintained or Academy) can become a specialist school in areas such as technology, language, sports or arts
- The schools must meet full national curriculum requirements but have a special focus on the chosen specialist area
What is a Faith School?
- These are schools with a religious character
- Any new faith schools must have the agreement of parents and the local community, and be approved by the Local Authority
- Faith schools are usually voluntary controlled
- Voluntary aided faith schools are responsible for setting their own admission policies and teach religious education according to its religious precepts
- Faith schools admit pupils on religious affiliation grounds but many admit those who are not of the school faith and voluntary aided faith schools have to comply with the school admissions code of practice
What is a Grammar School?
- Grammar schools are similar to foundation schools but are permitted to select pupils by ability
- They are funded by the Local Authority, but run by the governing body, which acts as admission authority
- Parents apply for school places for their child through the Local Authority-coordinated admissions scheme, but a place will not be offered unless the pupil achieves a set standard in the 11+ examination administered by the local grammar school consortium
- The result of this test will determine whether they can gain entry to the local grammar school
Schools for children with Special Educational Needs
Some children are unable to attend mainstream schools because they have Special Educational Needs or learning difficulties. Local Authorities fund some special schools to meet their needs. The national curriculum will be followed as far as possible to ensure that the pupils receive the fullest possible education regardless of disability, but they can differentiate the curriculum if applicable.
Note: Many special schools are independent schools and are not funded by Local Authorities.
Section 316 of the Education Act 1996 states that a child with special educational needs should be educated in a mainstream school, unless a parent indicates that they do not want their child educated in a mainstream school, or it is incompatible with the efficient education of the other children
Almost all children at Special Schools either have a Statement of Special Educational Needs (issued before 1st September 2014) or an Education Health and Care Plan (issued after 1st September 2014). Parents can express a preference for the school at the time the statement or plan is finalised. If the school is named in a statement or a plan then the school must admit the pupil
For more information please see our information page on Special Educational Needs
City Technology Colleges
- City technology colleges are funded partly by the government and partly by independent organisations
- They offer a wide range of vocational qualifications alongside GCSEs and A-levels for pupils aged 11-18
- The governing body will act as the admission authority and create its own admission policy
- Funded directly by the Government and offer a wide range of vocational qualifications alongside A-Levels or equivalents
- They teach the national curriculum but focus on vocational subjects such as science, mathematics and technology
- A College can be named in a statement of Special Educational Needs (issued before 1st September 2014) or in an Education, Health and Care Plan (issued after 1st September 2014), after prior consultation with the Local Authority
- Independent schools may be described as private or public schools and are funded by the fees paid by the parents of pupils, contributions from supporting bodies and investments. They are not funded or run by central government or a Local Authority
- Independent schools set their own curriculum but all must be registered with the Department for Education and are regularly inspected by the Independent Schools Inspectorate to ensure that standards are maintained
- Independent schools may provide education for all pupils regardless of ability. Some independent schools select students by ability requiring them to pass an entrance examination or test. Some provide education only for pupils with special educational needs or disabilities
- Parents may apply for admission directly to the school. These schools are not subject to the government Code on Admissions. A Local Authority can direct an Independent School to admit a child who has a statement of Special Educational Needs (issued before 1st September 2014) or an Education, Health and Care Plan (issued after 1st September 2014). Funding for the child’s place may need to come from the Local Authority via a statement or plan. Independent schools have their own exclusion policies and procedures and are not subject to government guidance on exclusion
- Independent schools are not allowed to discriminate against pupils on the ground of their disability. If parents believe there has been discrimination in admission or exclusion arrangements, or any other aspect of the provision of education, they may make a complaint of discrimination to the First Tier Tribunal (SEN and Disability). See our information page on Disability Discrimination for more information
- Any other type of dispute with an independent school may be a breach of contract between the school and the parent. Some breaches may be actionable in court
- Independent primary schools fall into two main categories
- Pre-preparatory—Aged 2-7
- Preparatory—Up to 11 or 12.
These primary schools are devoted to preparation for the Common Entrance Examination which is required by many independent secondary schools.
Stages of Education
- Between the ages of 2 & 5 children attend pre-school
- The government provides 15 hours of early years entitlement (free) per week for 38 weeks if the child is over 3 years old
- The School Admissions Code requires school admission authorities to provide for all children to be admitted to school in the September following their 4th birthday. However, a child is not of compulsory school age until the term following their 5th birthday
- Key stage one—Infants (5-7)
- Key stage two—Juniors (7-11)
Secondary education is compulsory until the last Friday in June of the year the child turns 16.
Raised participation age
- Young people who were born after September 1997 must now stay in some form of education or training until they are 18 years of age
- There are the following options:
- Full time education at school or college
- An apprenticeship or traineeship
- Part time education or training, as well as being employed, self-employed or volunteering for more than 20 hours a week