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Different Types of School Systems

Find a comprehensive list of different types of schools in England. It also explains how free schools, community schools, and academies function.

TYPES OF SCHOOLS IN UK: Several other schools are also covered in this section. They include faith schools and state boarding schools.

In England, all children are entitled to a free place at a state school while they are between 5 and 16 years old.

As a rule, state schools get funded and controlled by local authorities (the state). Thus, they do not charge fees for pupils to attend.

They are often called public schools outside of England and Wales. The biggest majority of all state schools get inspected by Ofsted. These types of schools must follow the national curriculum in the United Kingdom.

Different Types of State Schools

  • Community Schools: They get controlled by the local council. They are not influenced by business or religious groups.
  • Foundation Schools: Have more freedom than community schools to change the way they do things.
  • Academies: Run by a governing body independent from the local council. They often follow a different curriculum.
  • Grammar Schools: Run by the council, a foundation body, or a trust. Most pupils get selected based on their academic ability and there is often an entry exam to get accepted.

Note: Your local authority can help you find learning activities for your child (e.g. with communication, language and literacy skills).

Special Needs Schools

A special needs school is also called a ‘special school’. It caters for students who have unique educational needs. This is due to behavioural problems or some severe learning or physical disabilities.

Special schools are often designed, constructed, and staffed to provide an appropriate education. They meets the needs of children who have specific challenges and difficulties.

Special needs schools cater for pupils aged 11 and above. They will usually specialise in one of these categories of special educational needs for children:

  • Communication and interaction
  • Cognition and learning
  • Social, emotional and mental health
  • Sensory and physical needs

Note: Special schools may specialise further within these categories. They often reflect the individual special needs of those who need extra help. Examples include Autistic spectrum disorders, visual impairment or SLCN (speech, language and communication needs).

Faith Schools

A faith school is usually intended for students who have particular religious beliefs. But, there can be different kinds of faith schools. Examples include academies, free schools, and voluntary aided schools. They are all in this list of different types of schools, but associated with a particular, and individual, religion.

As a rule, faith schools get run the same as other state schools. They must also follow the national curriculum. There is an exception for their religious studies.

Faith schools are free to teach religious subjects only about their particular religion. Anyone can apply for a place at a faith school. But, their school admissions criteria and staffing policies may be different than a typical state school.

Faith Academy

There is no compulsion for faith academies to teach the national curriculum. As a rule, they also have their own admissions processes.

Free Schools

As a rule, free schools in England are much like an academy and get funded by central government. Free schools have more control over the way they operate because they are not run by the local council.

There are more than 400 approved free schools in the United Kingdom. They are non-profit-making, independent, and State-funded.

As you might expect, free schools are free to attend. But, their ‘all-ability’ process means they are subject to the same School Admissions Code as all other State-funded schools. This system also occurs in grammar schools.

They can change the length of school terms and days. They can also set their own pay and conditions for staff. Free schools do not need to follow the national curriculum.

Who can set up a Free School?

Free schools are usually set up by local community groups by applying through the Department for Education (DfE), such as:

The Secretary of State for Education needs to approve all applications to set up a free school. But, providing you meet the criteria, you can:

Different Types of Free Schools

University Technical Colleges

A university technical college (UTC) resembles a secondary school in England. But, they specialise in practical subjects such as construction and engineering. This often leads to technical qualifications for the pupils.

University technical colleges are usually led by a sponsor university. Often this will be employers or further education colleges. They will support the curriculum development.

They teach their specialist academic subjects besides business skills and using Information Technology. This provides professional development opportunities for teachers. Thus, it guides suitable and qualified students to foundation and full degrees.

Studio Schools

Studio schools are usually government-funded state schools. they are for 14-19 year old pupils of all abilities. They tend to be small schools with less than 300 pupils. They deliver mainstream qualifications through project-based innovative learning. They use realistic situations as well as teaching academic subjects.

Students at studio schools work with local employers and a personal coach. The schools often follow a curriculum designed to give them the skills and qualifications they need in the workplace. It also helps prepare them for taking up further education.


In general, academies are state-funded and independent. That means they receive most of their funding from central government. It does not usually come through a local authority. Academies set their own term times and they rarely follow the national curriculum.

Note: Academies must follow the same rules as state schools on admissions, exclusions, and special educational needs.

As a rule, an academy trust (or business sponsorship) runs the school. Thus, they will also employ the staff. Academy sponsors are responsible for improving the school performance. This occurs no matter whether they get run by a trust, a university, or some other voluntary group.

City Technology Colleges

City technology colleges in England have similarities to a secondary school. They are independent schools which are often set up through partnerships. They often combine central government and business companies – not local councils.

They will focus in inner-city urban areas. They place a particular emphasis on teaching technological and science practical skills.

State Boarding Schools

State boarding schools provide free education, but they charge fees for boarding. Some state boarding schools get run by local councils, and some will run as academies or free schools. State boarding schools give priority to children who have a particular need to board. Thus, they will assess the suitability of children for boarding purposes.

Charities will sometimes help with the cost of boarding. They include recognised charities such as Buttle UK or the Royal National Children’s Foundation. Contact the State Boarding Forum for more information. They can also give further advice on state boarding schools, eligibility, and how to apply.

Private Schools

Private schools, often called independent schools, are not funded by central government. Thus, they charge fees to attend. In the United Kingdom there are around 2,500 private schools. They must have registration with the government.

They get inspected on a regular basis and must provide annual performance reports. But, the pupils who attend private schools (600,000+ children) do not have to follow the national curriculum.

Private School Report

Private school reports get published online. The particular organisation responsible for their regular inspections do the publishing. The school will inform you which organisation inspects them. But, around 50% of all independent schools get inspected by Ofsted.

The Independent Schools Inspectorate inspects schools that are members of the Independent Schools Council. Some other schools get inspected by the School Inspection Service.

Special Educational Needs Private Schools

In England, there are some special education needs private schools. They specialise in catering for, and teaching, children with particular challenges or disabilities.

List of Different School Types in the United Kingdom