Education and Schools in London

London’s schools vary tremendously in terms of the standard of education and the quality of the facilities they offer. As a general rule of thumb, the better schools tend to be in the more affluent areas of the city.

State schools (public) and independent schools (private) are the two main types of institutions in London.

State schools in London

State schools are run by the government, follow the national curriculum and can only be attended by pupils resident in the catchment area. Waiting lists for the better institutions are long.

Expat children aged between 5 and 16 years old can attend state primary and secondary schools in the UK, as long as they are dependants of a person who is legally allowed to live in the country. Expats will not have to pay for this. However, schools may sometimes refuse places to children if they consider their stay in the UK to be too short, or if competition for places at a particular school is too high. 

Private schools in London

Independent schools are privately run, charge high fees and usually offer a superior standard of education along with facilities for students to pursue a variety of extra-curricular activities. Most private schools in the UK follow the British curriculum, but some have introduced the International Baccalaureate programme as an option for education after the age of 16.

International schools in London

A third option, popular with expats, are international schools in London. These institutions offer the opportunity for students to continue with the curriculum of their home country, and as an added advantage, the familiar modes and language used for instruction can also be comforting for expat kids.

The school day usually runs from 9am to 4pm, Monday to Friday; though this is subject to change depending on the level and the type of school in which a pupil is enrolled. There are three school terms with a week's break between each; an additional two-week break is given at Easter and Christmas, and a six-week holiday is given over the summer period. The school year begins in early September and concludes in July.

Choosing a school in London

For expats moving to London with children, choosing a school for their child is one of the most important decisions they will have to make. 

Due to the fact that some of the more popular schools only offer places to students living within a particular catchment area, where a person wants to have a child schooled is likely to have an impact on the area or suburb in London that they set up home in.

London is a massive city and there are over 600 schools. To guarantee a child the best chance of getting into the primary or secondary school of their choice, expats should apply well in advance.

The best place to start when looking for a local school is on the Internet. Parents can use a school finder online and input a postcode to find all the schools near their home. It is also worth contacting local authorities in the area where a person hopes to live to get a list of local schools.

Get more information on chosen schools

Once expats have made some choices, it's important to get as much information as possible about their chosen school. This will allow parents to get a better idea of which schools suit their child most.

The best ways to get more detailed information on a school are:

  • Arrange a visit to the school

  • Read the school’s latest OFSTED (Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills) report

  • Get hold of a copy of the school’s prospectus 

Applying for a school place in London

Once parents have narrowed down a list of preferred schools, they can start the application process. Remember, it is best to have more than one choice of school, as competition for places at some of the top schools in London can be fierce.

Admissions criteria

Before submitting an application, parents need to be aware of the school’s admission criteria as these vary from school to school. While some schools will simply require potential students to live within a certain catchment area, others require children to pass an entrance exam almost a year before they are due to start at the school. Other schools will base admission on previous school records and references.

For those wanting their child to attend a particularly popular or prestigious school, taking a look at the admissions criteria will provide a good insight into what is required and the chances of their child being awarded a place at the institution. 


It is really important that parents are aware of the deadlines for applications for schools within the area. The dates vary between local authorities. It is always best to send off all forms early because missing an application deadline may jeopardise a child’s chance of getting into the school of their choice.