UK Life

Understanding the UK Education System


A guide to finding a school for your child

We appreciate that if you are relocating to the UK with a child, arranging where they will be going to school will be highly important for you. That’s why we’ve written an overview of the UK education system, and how you can apply for schools in your area. We’ll look at:

What year of school will my child be in?

The UK education system is divided into four main parts:

  • Primary education (5-11 years of age)
  • Secondary education (11-16 years of age)
  • Further education
  • Higher education

It can then be further split into Key Stage’s:

  • Key Stage 1: 5 to 7 years old
  • 7 to 11 years old: Key Stage 2
  • Key Stage 3: 11 to 14 years old
  • 14 to 16 years old: Key Stage 4

Children living in the UK have to legally attend both primary and secondary education. This runs from the ages of 5 until 16 and is free at state schools.

Most schools in the UK have three terms: Autumn, Spring and Summer. The school year starts in September and ends the following July, with breaks in-between each term. This may vary for academies or private schools.

Children must start their full-time education once they reach the compulsory school age. This is on 31st December, 31st March or 31st August following their fifth birthday, whichever comes first.

If you are an international doctor relocating with your child, the year/stage of school that your child will be in is dependent on which time of year they were born. Click on the images below to find out which which year your child would enter the UK education system at, or for a breakdown of the Key Stages.

What is the application process for UK schools?

The below process applies for anyone living in England:

  • Find out who your local council will be (based on your postcode). To do this, click here 
  • Contact your local council to discuss which schools are your catchment area and what the admission criteria is. You’ll find your local councils contact details on their website
  • Research the schools in your catchment area: For detailed information on the schools in your area, including their Ofsted scores, click here
  • Complete an application form: You will need to fill in an application form either online or by paper. This will be provided on your local councils website and will need to list the schools of your choice in order of preference. We recommend listing more than one school – Listing just one will not increase your chances of getting a place in that school. 

The criteria may differ slightly if you are living in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. If you are relocating to Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, follow the below links for more information:

Catchment areas: What are they and how do they work?

For many schools, where you live will be one of the main factors as to whether your child will be accepted. To understand this, you’ll need to know about catchment areas.

In short, catchment areas are based on the distance from the school to your home. To determine this, councils and schools use the:

  • Straight line catchment method: This is a circular catchment area around a school that changes each year. The size of the circle is based on how far away the last child that was offered a place that year lived from the school.
  • Walking distance catchment method: A walking distance catchment is an irregular shape that changes each year. This is partly based on the network of roads and paths that surrounds a school, and partly by how far away the last child that was offered a place in a given year lived from the school.

For more information on catchment areas, click here.

To find out which school are in your catchment area, you will need to contact your local council. Please click here to find out who your local council is.

If you are interested in working in the UK, want to discuss available job opportunities or may have already begun your journey and need further advice, please contact our team today.