How to know the difference between UK State,

Independent and International Schools

Introducing the UK Schooling Assistance Series

                                                                                       By Ann Dinsdale, GMS,


*This article is the first part of an 8 part series on the UK schooling system.  See the foot of this article for links to the other 7 parts.*

We often hear from clients that one of the most stressful parts of moving overseas is selecting and getting into a school for their children.  The practise can be particularly stressful in places like the UK where rules and tradition reign over the schooling process.

Because of this, we’re introducing a new series all around schooling in the UK.  Everything from the differences between state and independent, the timing of the academic year, how to choose a school, the application process, etc.

Note that the information is geared towards those coming from the States but is applicable for all that are moving to the UK.  


State schools in the UK are the same thing as ‘public schools’ in the US.  It’s free (aka government funded) and follows the national curriculum.  State schools that follow the national curriculum include:

  • Community
    • Controlled by the local council and not influenced by business or religious groups
  • Foundation and voluntary
    • Have more freedom to change the way they do things than community schools
  • Academies
    • Run by a governing body, independent from the local council
  • Grammar schools
    • Run by the council, a foundation body or a trust - they select all or most of their pupils based on academic ability and there is often an exam to get in

The only ones in this category that don’t have to follow the national curriculum to a tee are faith-based, city technology colleges and boarding schools.


Independent schools in the UK are the same thing as ‘private schools’ in the US.  They are fee-paying (relying on tuition fees, gifts, and endowments) and don’t have to follow the national curriculum.  They are, however, registered and inspected by the government. 

All school reports are published online by the organisation responsible for inspecting them.  Find out from the school which organisation inspects them. Two of the most common bodies are Ofsted and Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI)

They typically have smaller class sizes and a wider range of extracurricular activities to offer their students.


International schools can be found worldwide but are ideal if your child doesn’t know the language in the country they’re moving to.  They are fee-paying and offer a wide and varied curriculum.  Some of the most common are American, French and International Baccalaureate (IB).

International schools provide similar standards of schooling around the globe, making for an easy transition between schools wherever you go next.  There is usually a local population, as well as an international student body.  Space is often limited and preference may be given to students based on nationality.

Tuition tends to be expensive based on local standards, but offers high standards of learning, boast smaller class sizes, first-rate facilities, and extracurricular opportunities.  Boarding facilities are available at some schools, but most only provide day classes.

It’s always important to plan your move overseas carefully, especially if you have children.  There are many things you need to cover at both ends of the move.  People moving abroad make big mistakes by failing to get good, independent advice and support.

As international relocation specialists, the experts at Saunders 1865 – The VIP Relocation Company – can help you avoid making the common mistakes and we can make sure you accomplish everything that needs to be done around:

  • Helping parents navigate the complex education systems
  • Relieving parents’ worries about finding the right schools & securing places
  • Providing a quick & efficient service that saves time & provides independent, objective advice

Why not arrange a free consultation with one of our relocation experts today?  Just message us using this Contact Form