London school guide by Carfax Education
Introduction to the British Education system
The British education system is divided between Independent Schools, privately run, most of which charge fees, and State Schools, which are funded by the State. Britain’s independent schools are amongst the best in the world and the strongest schools in the country are largely in the independent sector. Places at independent schools can be applied for by pupils from all over the world, and applications can be made from overseas. Parents can express a preference for a state school but places are generally determined by where parents live and cannot be applied for from overseas. In the independent sector the main entry points tend to be Nursery (age 3), Pre-preparatory (age 4+), Preparatory (age 7/8), Senior (age 11-18 or 13-18). During their schooling, children take national exams at age 16 (GCSE/IGCSE) and age 18 (A level, IB, Pre-U).
On school selection
A good starting point is to know where you will be living whilst you are in London. London is a big city and the traffic is not good. You do not, therefore, want to be spending too long on a school run taking your children to and from school if they are young. If you feel the school is the most important part of the move then you may well need a substantial budget for a central London property. It should be noted, however, that many families are willing to accept a long commute to access a leading school (for example, pupils at St. Paul’s often commute over an hour each way to and from school).
There are a number of criteria that are crucial – type of school you are looking for (single sex or co-educational), system (State or Independent), sort of school (international or more British), feel of school (pressured or more relaxed) and the age/s of your child/children.
I would recommend talking to an educational expert about the system and they will put a list of recommended schools together for you to visit. Depending on the age of your children and the time of year, places may well be hard to find.
There are a range of strong schools in London, but particularly for younger pupils, they are often over-subscribed, and can have a shortage of places. To secure a place in some Pre-preps, parents register children at birth. The very academic schools tend to begin selection several years in advance, as such it is crucial that parents plan as far ahead as possible.
Preparation will very much depend upon the age of the children. Older children will be assessed by schools, either in Maths and English with an interview or in more detail if they are coming in at 14+. Younger children will be assessed by some pre-prep and prep schools, others will go on interview and an academic report. Not all schools provide EAL (English as an Additional Language) support and senior schools from age 13 may want to see evidence that a child has taken the UKiset test, an online test for those who have English as a second language.
Children (and parents) should be prepared to be interviewed by schools.