State-funded schools (England)

English state-funded schools provide education to pupils between the ages of 3 and 18 without charge. Approximately 93% of English schoolchildren attend approximately 20,000 such schools. Since 2008 about 75% of these schools have attained "academy status", which essentially gives them more budget per pupil from the Department for Education.[1] There are a number of categories of English state-funded schools including academy schools, community schools, faith schools, foundation schools, free schools (essentially academy schools established since 2011 including but not limited to 'studio schools' and University technical colleges; free schools don't have to follow the national curriculum); a small number of state boarding schools, and City Technology Colleges. Of the 15 City Technology Colleges established in the 1980s, only three still remain, with the rest having converted to academy schools). In 2011, about 7,000 (one third) of English state-funded schools were faith schools;[2] ie. affiliated with religious groups, most often from the Church of England (approximately 2/3 of faith schools), or the Roman Catholic Church (just under a third). There were 42 Jewish, 12 Muslim, 3 Sikh and 1 Hindu faith schools. These faith schools include sub-categories such as faith-academy schools, voluntary aided schools, and voluntary controlled schools: most voluntary controlled schools are faith schools.

All of these are funded through national and local taxation. A number of state-funded secondary schools are specialist schools, receiving extra funding to develop one or more subjects in which the school specialises. State schools may request payment from parents for extracurricular activities such as swimming lessons and field trips, provided these charges are voluntary.


Until 1870 all schools were charitable or private institutions, but in that year the Elementary Education Act 1870 permitted local governments to complement the existing elementary schools, to fill up any gaps. The Education Act 1902 allowed local authorities to create secondary schools. The Education Act 1918 abolished fees for elementary schools.

This table gives a simplified overview of how the compulsory provision of education by the state (yellow) and compulsory education (purple) developed since 1870, and also how the types of schools used for this purpose evolved. Use some caution with this table which gives a simplified view based on changing policies and legislation, the reality on the ground changed more slowly and is more complex.

Age 56789101112131415161718 Notes
1870Elementary schoolSchools must be provided by local authorities
1880Elementary schoolCompulsory education from ages of 5 to 10
1893Elementary schoolCompulsory education raised to 11
1899Elementary schoolCompulsory education raised to 13
1900Elementary schoolHigher elementary schoolDistinct higher elementary schools created
1902Primary school
Infant school Junior school
Secondary schoolLocal education authorities created, and new Primary schools
1921Primary schoolSecondary school, Central schoolResponsibility for secondary schools passed to the state
1947Primary schoolSecondary modern, grammar school, Secondary Technical SchoolTripartite System and Eleven-Plus exam
1960sFirst schoolMiddle schoolUpper school, grammar school Strong move towards comprehensive schools
1973Primary schoolComprehensive school, grammar school Phasing out of middle schools
2014Primary school, Academy school, Free school Comprehensive school, Academy school, Free school School leaving age increased to 17. Some three-tier areas still exist

Types of state school

Since 1998, there have been six main types of maintained school in England:[3][4][5]

  • Academy schools, established by the 1997–2010 Labour Government to replace poorly performing community schools in areas of high social and economic deprivation. Their start-up costs are typically funded by private means, such as entrepreneurs or NGOs, with running costs met by Central Government and, like Foundation schools, are administratively free from direct local authority control. The 2010 Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government expanded the role of Academies in the Academy Programme, in which a wide number of schools in non-deprived areas were also encouraged to become Academies, thereby essentially replacing the role of Foundation schools established by the previous Labour government. They are monitored directly by the Department for Education.[6]
  • Free schools, introduced by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition following the 2010 general election, are newly established schools in England set up by parents, teachers, charities or businesses, where there is a perceived local need for more schools. They are funded by taxpayers, are academically non-selective and free to attend, and like Foundation schools and Academies, are not controlled by a local authority. They are ultimately accountable to the Secretary of State for Education, and are conceptually based on similar schools found in Sweden, Chile, New Zealand, Canada and the United States, where they are known as Charter schools. Free schools are an extension of the existing Academy Programme, and are in fact legally identical to Academies with the term "Free School" being used for Academies that are newly established under the Governments Free School Initiative rather than being an existing school converted to Academy status. The Academies Act 2010 authorises the creation of free schools and allows all existing state schools to become Academy schools. Persons or groups seeking to set up a Free School may obtain assistance from the government supported New Schools Network. This last should not be confused with the Local Schools Network which is a group set up to oppose both Free Schools, and indeed the whole Academy program. The first 24 free schools opened in Autumn 2011.
  • Community schools (formerly county schools), in which the local authority employs the schools' staff, owns the schools' lands and buildings, and has primary responsibility for admissions.
  • Foundation schools, in which the governing body employs the staff and has primary responsibility for admissions. School land and buildings are owned by the governing body or by a charitable foundation. The Foundation appoints a minority of governors. Many of these schools were formerly grant maintained schools. In 2005 the Labour government proposed allowing all schools to become Foundation schools if they wished.
  • voluntary aided schools, linked to a variety of organisations. They can be faith schools (about two thirds are Church of England-affiliated; Roman Catholic Church, which are just under one third; or another faith), or non-denominational schools, such as those linked to London Livery Companies. The charitable foundation contributes towards the capital costs of the school, and appoints a majority of the school governors. The governing body employs the staff and has primary responsibility for admissions.[7]
  • voluntary controlled schools, which are almost always faith schools, with the lands and buildings often owned by a charitable foundation. However, the local authority employs the schools' staff and has primary responsibility for admissions.

In addition, 3 of the 15 City Technology Colleges established in the 1980s still remain, the rest having converted to academies. These are state-funded all-ability secondary schools which charge no fees but which are independent of local authority control.

There is also a small number of state-funded boarding schools, which typically charge for board but not tuition. Boarding fees are limited to £12,000 per annum.[8]

School years

Children are normally placed in year groups determined by the age they will attain at their birthday during the school year.[9] In most cases progression from one year group to another is based purely on chronological age, although it is possible in some circumstances for a student to repeat or skip a year. Repetition may be due to a lack of attendance, for example from a long illness, and especially in Years requiring standard tests. A child significantly more advanced than their classmates may be forwarded one or more years.

State-funded nursery education is available from the age of 3, and may be full-time or part-time, though this is not compulsory. If registered with a state school, attendance is compulsory beginning with the term following the child's fifth birthday. Children can be enrolled in the reception year in September of that school year, thus beginning school at age 4 or 4.5. Unless the student chooses to stay within the education system, compulsory school attendance ends on the last Friday in June during the academic year in which a student attains the age of 16.[10]

In the vast majority of cases, pupils progress from primary to secondary levels at age 11; in some areas either or both of the primary and secondary levels are further subdivided. A few areas have three-tier education systems with an intermediate middle level from age 9 to 13.

Years 12 and 13 are often referred to as "lower sixth form" and "upper sixth form" respectively, reflecting their distinct, voluntary nature as the A-level years. While most secondary schools enter their pupils for A-levels, some state schools have joined the independent sector in offering the International Baccalaureate or Cambridge Pre-U qualifications instead.

Some independent schools still refer to Years 7 to 11 as "first form" to "fifth form", reflecting earlier usage. Historically, this arose from the system in public schools, where all forms were divided into Lower, Upper, and sometimes Middle sections. Year 7 is equivalent to "Upper Third Form", Year 8 would have been known as "Lower Fourth", and so on. Some independent schools still employ this method of labelling Year groups.

The table below describes the most common patterns for schooling in the state sector in England.

Age at birthday during school year[9] Year Curriculum Stage State Schools
4NurseryFoundation Stage Nursery School
5Reception Infant School Primary School First School
6Year 1Key Stage 1
7Year 2
8Year 3Key Stage 2 Junior School
9Year 4
10Year 5 Middle School
11Year 6
12Year 7Key Stage 3 Secondary School or
High School
Secondary School
with Sixth Form
13Year 8
14Year 9 Upper School
15Year 10Key Stage 4


16Year 11
17Year 12 (Lower Sixth)Key Stage 5 / Sixth Form

A-level, BTEC, International Baccalaureate, Cambridge Pre-U, etc.

Sixth Form/FE College
18Year 13 (Upper Sixth)


All maintained schools in England are required to follow the National Curriculum, which is made up of twelve subjects.[11]

Under the National Curriculum, all pupils undergo National Curriculum Tests (NCTs, commonly still referred to by their previous name of Standard Attainment Tests, or SATs) towards the ends of Key Stage 2 in the core subjects of Literacy, Numeracy and Science, but not in the foundation subjects such as Geography, History and Information & Communication Technology where individual teacher assessment is used instead. Pupils normally take GCSE exams in the last two years of Key Stage 4, but may also choose to work towards the attainment of alternative qualifications, such as the GNVQ. Former tests at the end of Key Stage 3 were abandoned after the 2008 tests, where severe problems emerged concerning the marking procedures. Now at the end of Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 3, progress is examined via individual teacher assessment against the National Curriculum Attainment Targets for all subjects.

The core subjects—English, Mathematics and Science—are compulsory for all students aged 5 to 16. A range of other subjects, known as foundation subjects, are compulsory at one or more Key Stages:

In addition, other subjects with a non-statutory programme of study in the National Curriculum are also taught, including Religious education in all Key Stages, Sex education from Key Stage 2, and Career education and Work-related learning in Key Stages 3 and 4.[11] Religious education within community schools may be withdrawn for individual pupils with parental consent. Similarly, parents of children in community schools may choose to opt their child out of some or all sex education lessons.


All state-funded schools are regularly inspected by the Office for Standards in Education, often known simply as Ofsted. Ofsted publish reports on the quality of education at a particular school on a regular basis. Schools judged by Ofsted to be providing an inadequate standard of education may be subject to special measures, which could include replacing the governing body and senior staff.

Test results for schools are published, and are an important measure of their performance.[12][13]

Selection and attainment

English secondary schools are mostly comprehensive, except in a few areas that retain a form of the previous selective system (the Tripartite System), with students selected for grammar school by the Eleven-Plus exam. There are also a number of isolated fully selective grammar schools, and a few dozen partially selective schools. Specialist schools may also select up to 10% of their intake for aptitude in their specialism, though relatively few of them have taken up this option. They are not permitted to select on academic ability generally. The intake of comprehensive schools can vary widely, especially in urban areas with several local schools.[14]

Sir Peter Newsam, Chief Schools Adjudicator 1999–2002, has argued that English schools can be divided into 8 types (with some overlap), based on the ability range of their intake:[15][16]

  1. "Super-Selective": almost all of the intake from the top 10%. These are the few highly selective state grammar schools where there is no other grammar provision close by and consequently intense competition for entry, and which also select from a wide radius (sometimes as much as 30 miles). Examples include Reading Grammar School, and such schools dominate school performance tables.
  2. "Selective": almost all of the intake from the top 25%. These include grammar schools in areas where the Tripartite system survives, such as Buckinghamshire, Kent and Lincolnshire.
  3. "Comprehensive (plus)": admit children of all abilities, but concentrated in the top 50%. These include partially selective schools and a few high-status faith schools in areas without selection, and are usually in areas with expensive property prices that lead to a predominance of pupils from the higher social classes.
  4. "Comprehensive": intake with an ability distribution matching the local population. These schools are most common in rural areas and small towns with no nearby selection, but a few occur in urban areas.
  5. "Comprehensive (minus)": admit children of all abilities, but with few in the top 25%. These include comprehensive schools with nearby selective schools "skimming" the intake.
  6. Secondary Modern: hardly any of the intake in the top 25%, but an even distribution of the rest. These include non-selective schools in areas where the Tripartite system survives, such as Buckinghamshire, Kent and Lincolnshire. Such schools are little different to "comprehensive minus" in practice.
  7. "Comprehensive (Secondary Modern (minus)": no pupils in the top 25% and 10–15% in the next 25%. These schools are most common in urban areas where alternatives of types 1–5 are available.
  8. "Comprehensive (Sub-Secondary Modern)": intake heavily weighted toward the low end of the ability range and tend to be in areas of considerable social deprivation.

This ranking is reflected in performance tables, and thus the schools' attractiveness to parents. Thus, although schools may use the phrase 'Comprehensive' in their prospectus or name, the schools at the higher end of the spectrum are not comprehensive in intake. Indeed, the variation in the social groupings in school intake, and the differences in academic performance, are enormous, and there are wider variations between supposedly mixed-ability comprehensive schools at the higher and lower end of this scale, than between some grammars and secondary moderns.

Permanent and temporary exclusions of pupils from schools in England are rising. Pupil support services, which can prevent bad behaviour escalating till exclusion becomes necessary have been cut due to underfunding. Also council support to vulnerable families has been cut leading to problems in schools.[17]


Almost all state-funded schools in England are maintained schools, which receive their funding from local authorities, and are required to follow the National Curriculum. In such schools, all teachers are employed under the nationally agreed School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Document. Debt among local-authority-run secondary schools is increasing. In 2016-2017 there were 26.1% of secondary schools in deficit. Lack of government funding is blamed.[18] Independent accountants also concluded that 8 out of 10 academies are in deficit if depreciation is taken into account.[19]


See also


  1. "SCHOOLS, PUPILS, AND THEIR CHARACTERISTICS". Department for Education. 16 July 2015.
  2. BBC News 3 Dec 2011 Catholic faith schools in academy switch
  3. "Categories of Schools – Overview". GovernorNet. Department for Children, Schools and Families. 5 September 2003. Archived from the original on 13 January 2009. Retrieved 10 December 2008.
  4. "The Composition of Schools in England" (PDF). Department for Children, Schools and Families. June 2008. Archived from the original (PDF) on 24 February 2009.
  5. Types of School, Citizens Advice Bureau.
  6. "What are Academies?". Standards Site. Department for Children, Schools and Families. Archived from the original on 7 December 2008. Retrieved 10 December 2008.
  7. "Voluntary Aided Schools". Teachernet. Department for Children, Schools and Families. 8 January 2008. Archived from the original on 10 February 2009.
  8. Jeevan Vasagar (31 January 2012). "State boarding school boom: surge in pupils living away from home". Guardian.
  9. 1 2 Education Act 2002, s.82.
  10. "School attendance and absence: the law". Directgov.
  11. 1 2 "National curriculum". Teachernet. Department for Children, Schools and Families. 2007. Archived from the original on 23 February 2008. Retrieved 19 February 2008.
  12. "National Curriculum teacher assessments and key stage tests". DirectGov website. H M Government. 2008. Retrieved 18 February 2008.
  13. "School and college achievement and attainment tables". DCSF website. Department for Children, Schools and Families. 2008. Retrieved 18 February 2008.
  14. Clyde Chitty (16 November 2002). "The Right to a Comprehensive Education". Second Caroline Benn Memorial Lecture. Retrieved 22 January 2009.
  15. Peter Newsam (2003). "Diversity and Admissions to English Secondary Schools", Secondary Heads Association, 28 June 2002, revised and reprinted in 'Forum 45:1'". pp. 17–18.
  16. Tim Brighouse (2003). "Comprehensive Schools Then, Now and in the Future: is it time to draw a line in the sand and create a new ideal?". Forum. pp. 3–11.
  17. Sharp rise in pupil exclusions from English state schools The Guardian
  18. Proportion of English secondary schools in deficit almost trebles The Guardian
  19. Eight out of 10 academies in deficit, say accountants BBC
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