Axcis Antip’s Tips: Guide to the UK School System



At Axcis, we work with lots of Antipodeans who come to the UK to teach. The similarity of our education system to that in Australia and New Zealand ensures that teachers and support staff usually find the transition fairly straight forward and really enjoy their experience working in UK schools.



We are publishing a series of guides called Axcis Antip’s Tips to give some pointers on what to expect when you come to the UK to work. To kick us off, here is a guide on the UK School System. 


To discuss the UK education system in detail would take rather a long time, so this post is aimed at supporting those who are completely new to the UK and need an overview of the school system here. Overseas trained teachers looking to work in the UK may find this useful.


The school year in the UK is divided into 3 terms – holiday dates can vary from region to region, but as a rule there are 2 week end of term holidays at Easter and Christmas with the long summer break taking place from mid July until September, when the school year starts. Somewhere in the middle of each term is a one week half term break. You can read more about term dates and check them for your area here.


Compulsory education in the UK starts at age 5 and ends at age 16. Depending on the time of year a child is born, there may be very slight variation in this, but for the most part this is true for the vast majority of the children who attend state schools. The table below gives a summary of how the age of a child relates to their year group in school, which Key Stage it relates to and which type of school they are in at that age (i.e. primary/secondary etc).


School Type Age of Pupil Year Group Curriculum Stage
Nursery School 3 – 4 Nursery Foundation Stage
Infant School Primary School First School 4 – 5 Reception
5 – 6 Year 1 Key Stage 1
6 – 7 Year 2
Junior School 7 – 8 Year 3 Key Stage 2
8 – 9 Year 4
Middle School 9 – 10 Year 5
10 – 11 Year 6
Secondary School orHigh School Secondary School with Sixth Form 11 – 12 Year 7 Key Stage 3
12 – 13 Year 8
Upper School 13 – 14 Year 9
14 – 15 Year 10 Key Stage 4GCSE
15 – 16 Year 11
Sixth Form/FE College 16 – 17 Year 12 (Lower Sixth) Key Stage 5 / Sixth formA-Level, BTEC etc
17 – 18 Year 13 (Upper Sixth)


Post compulsory education – Although in the UK compulsory education ends at the age of 16, a large number of students will stay on until they are 18 years of age. The 16-18 age group may stay on at their secondary school as 6th Form College Students or they may go to a separate college where they will take post-compulsory courses such as AS and A2 Levels, GNVQs, BTEC or AVCE courses. Some students will then go on to university at age 18 while others may prefer to start out in the working world or take trainee or apprenticeship positions.


Types of School and what the names mean


In the UK, we have lots of confusing jargon when it comes to types of school. Public Schools (or Private Schools as they are also confusingly known) are fee paying schools. You will have heard of Eton and possible Harrow School. They are both private/public schools and the students tend to be from financially well off families and sometimes have the children of celebrities or politicians on roll. In State Schools (or Government Maintained Schools) there are many different categories and the vast majority have an obligation to follow the National Curriculum – which is a set of standards and subjects used by primary and secondary schools so that all students learn the same things. Types of state school include the following:


  • Community schools – These are run by the local authority (or LEA), which employs school staff, owns the land and buildings, and sets the entrance criteria (such as catchment area) that decide which children are eligible for a place.
  • Foundation and Trust Schools – Foundation schools are run by a governing body which employs the staff and sets the entrance criteria. Land and buildings are owned either by the governing body or by a charitable foundation. Trust schools are similar, but are run together with an outside body – usually a business or charity – which has formed an educational trust.
  • Voluntary-Aided Schools – These are religious or faith schools. Just like foundation schools, the governing body employs the staff and sets the entrance criteria. School buildings and land are usually owned by a charity, often a church.
  • Voluntary-controlled schools – These are a cross between community and voluntary-aided schools. The local authority employs the staff and sets the entrance criteria, like a community school, but the school land and buildings are owned by a charity, often a church, which also appoints some members of the governing body.


Specialist schools

State secondary schools often specialise, which means they have an extra emphasis in one or two subjects, for which they may receive additional funding. Schools can specialise in: the arts, maths and computing, business and enterprise, music, engineering, science, humanities, sports, languages, and technology.



Academies are independently managed schools set up by sponsors from business, faith or voluntary groups in partnership with the local authority and the government Department for Children, Schools and Families.

City Technology Colleges

These are urban-based, independently managed secondary schools geared towards science, technology and the world of work. They offer a range of vocational qualifications as well as GCSEs and A levels.

Special Schools

Pupils at a special school are usually those who have been assessed as having some sort of special educational need or disability (SEND). These may include learning disabilities or physical disabilities. Some special schools are funded by the local education authority. These could be community, voluntary-aided or controlled, or foundation special schools. Some special schools are independent. At Axcis, these are the main types of school we focus on, although we do provide SEND staff to schools under all the other categories listed (and some more) too!


Free Schools

Free Schools are normally brand-new schools set up by teachers, charities, community or faith groups, universities and groups of parents where there is parental demand. They will be set up as Academies and will be funded in the same way, directly from central government. They also share with Academies a greater control over their finances, the curriculum, and teachers’ pay and conditions.


The DfE (or Department for Education) has lots of useful information on their website if you want to read more on types of school or explore any of the details discussed in this article further.


I am an overseas teacher or school support worker and would be interested in working for Axcis – how do I find out more? 


If you are interested in coming to the UK to work in special needs school setting, you can register online with Axcis here. We do get quite a few candidates registering on our website from overseas and we can’t always contact everyone personally. However, if you already have a visa and flight arranged and are ready to proceed to the next step of your application, email, advise us of where you will be based in the UK and we can put you in touch with your personal consultant who deals with that geographical area.

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