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The British State System

State Education in the UK

In order to assist and guide the expatriate seeking relocation, it is of considerable benefit to understand, when arriving in the UK that State Education is quite unlike any other in the world. It is not only useful but also vital, that parents are aware of some of the complexities of the system.

In the USA for example, when moving into an area, pupils are entitled to a place at the local school. The Education Board is required by law to provide that place. In some areas such as, for instance, East Lyme in Connecticut the town spends some 75% of its budget on the provision of schools and education, hence the determination of people to move into that specific location.

In the UK although the phrase is of "parental choice" variations in provision are manifold.

Most parents when coming into the UK have heard that there are some excellent schools in the State Sector - indeed in some cases those State Schools can and have dramatically out-performed some of the Independent establishments.

Forward-looking parents, plan ahead and find out the names of good State Schools and decide where they hope that their children will be able to attend. In order to assist parents and to help them avoid disappointment and confusion from the outset, it is hoped that some of the following information will be of some use. Additionally the use of an Education Consultant with local knowledge and established links with schools will be of considerable benefit to facilitate the process.


Some Important Points to Consider

First and foremost, for an incoming family with children, there is the issue concerning residency. Until the family has a residential address, a State School is unable to offer a place. Families are naturally cautious of purchasing or leasing a property until they know they have a place in their chosen school. When residency is confirmed, then a place may be offered, providing there is a vacancy.

In some areas where applications to good schools are highly competitive, the LEA (Local Education Authority) requires evidence of home ownership or a secure Tenancy Agreement. From past experience the authorities are extremely vigilant and experienced in detecting attempts made by anxious parents, to make false claims of residency, or by encouraging others to do so for them.

In connection with this particular situation parents are advised that a place is only offered when the child is physically resident in the UK . Although parents may already be installed in the home, the pupil must be also and available to attend immediately. In this way the system provides equal fairness to all prospective pupils in the catchment area and valuable places are not left unoccupied and to the detriment of those already in residence.

In order that there is no confusion and to reiterate: a genuine residential address within the catchment area of the school, is essential and your child must be ready to begin. Then, the law is quite specific; a place may be offered providing the school has one available. If the school is full, the LEA will offer a place at a school in close proximity, having done this, all legal obligations have been fulfilled.

The catchment area itself, for each school, varies and is determined in effect by the child living the furthest distance from the school, therefore it alters year on year.

Parents coming into the UK from abroad and are unfamiliar with the system would be wise to consult the League Tables, which are published openly and are available to all. They highlight the most successful schools as well as others and because education is for the majority of us, one of the most important aspects of family life, parents in the UK are also willing to relocate themselves and move house into a more favourable residential area, in order to secure the best possible advantages for their children.

The system attempts to provide a fair opportunity for all as far as possible and it is the same for everyone wishing to use it. On an anecdotal note, it is interesting to learn here, that one mother, resident in Merton was unable to secure a place for her own child for over two years despite the fact she was herself the Headmistress. At another school in Kensington and Chelsea the family lived right next door to the school and although they could smile and acknowledge the headmaster as he sat by the window of his study, they could not secure a place until one became available after a year.

Once again parents may benefit from professional guidance from those who are in possession of this knowledge and have an ongoing view of the local situation.

The strict regime has become more rigidly enforced since the time when David Blunkett was Secretary of State for Education and issued a letter indicating that no class from Reception upwards (at that time up to the age of 8) could go over 30 pupils. The idea of course was for the benefit of all pupils and has now progressed through the system and now includes all year groups within the Primary sector (4-11 years of age). Previously one could appeal and an extra child might be added to the class, that cannot now happen as the number 30 has become Statutory.

Appeals are occasionally won both at Primary and Secondary level but the incidence is rare and LEA'S are reluctant to provide extra teacher funding. In some authorities appeals are made in vast numbers (Buckinghamshire for example where Grammar Schools are still in existence and tend to be of a very high quality. Here again the success rate is minimal and distressing for all parties).

Knowledgeable information on all these matters can be invaluable to the relocating family.

Professional experience and sound advice urges relocating families to be determined but also open minded in their search for the best area and schools for their children.

Choosing an area and a good State School takes time and it is sensible to look at all possibilities, an adviser will assist in helping to draw up a short list of schools and their place availability. Do not hesitate to ask questions and if still unsure ask for further clarification from your adviser or the school itself, many of which have special members of staff who assist the Head in helping prospective parents and candidates, when they believe they have found the right school for their child. In all cases it is prudent to cultivate a good relationship with the Headmaster or Headmistress; it will be he or she who has the authority and will make the final decision.


Reception Pupils (4 Years Old)

Reception age children and Year 1 (5 years old) are also very important and finding them a good place also requires patience and time. The law states that a child must attend school from the September in which he or she has reached 5 years of age. Every child in the UK must be in full time education by the age of 5 (that means 5 on the 1 st September in the year in which they are 5 years of age. The date "1 st September" is non-negotiable.

In some areas, for example Camden (Hampstead) and Kensington and Chelsea the schools are, by this time, very full indeed and heavily oversubscribed. Waiting lists in some areas are long and rigidly adhered to; this does not mean to say that places cannot be found but guidance and flexibility are essential. Patience and a good adviser can be a great asset to the incoming family.

The Government have now legislated that all children of the age of 4 (Reception Year) are entitled to Free State Education, naturally this has meant that parents have taken the opportunity to enrol their children early and again places in the best schools are highly sought after.

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