Types of School in the UK: Which is Best For Your Child?


  1. How many types of school are there in the UK?
  2. What are the different types of school in the UK?
  3. Independent schools
  4. Boarding schools
  5. Forest schools
  6. Waldorf schools
  7. Sudbury schools
  8. Academies
  9. Schools for talented and gifted
  10. Montessori schools
  11. Grammar schools
  12. Private schools
  13. Which type of school to choose for your child


Whether your child is about to start school for the first time or are deciding which secondary school to send your child to, you have some tough choices to make as a parent. For some of you, it will be easier due to location and other factors, and for others, the choice may seem overwhelming to start. We’re going to help you out by breaking down the different types of school systems in the UK so you can make an informed decision.montessori classroom

How many types of school are there in the UK?


There are 10 main types of school systems in the UK. Some of them have similar approaches to teaching while others vary wildly. There are paid options and also free schools. 

It’s great that there is so much variety because all kids learn differently and there is no one right answer or one-size-fits-all when it comes to education. You, as the parent, get to choose which types of school would benefit your child over others. 🥰

The reason there are different types of schools and learning methods being run across the UK is the way the education system is set up. Leaders in Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales can make their own rules rather than following the same as England. 

Even within the same countries, you will see a wide range of choices available in terms of schooling for both fee-paying and free options. Let’s see what the schools are and what each of them offers. 


What are the different types of school in the UK?


The 10 main types of school in the UK are:

A common misconception is that independent and private schools are the same types of school in the UK. While they share many similarities, Independent schools are always overseen by a board of governors or trustees. Independent schools require tuition fees to be paid by parents as they are not funded by the state. 

There are distinct categories of Independent schools, including:

  • Pre-Preparatory and Preparatory School
  • Senior School And Sixth Form 
  • Curriculum Oriented 
  • Faith Schools

The main benefits of attending an Independent school are:

  • Customised learning
  • To boost digital skills
  • High-quality extracurricular infrastructure 
  • Better qualified teachers 
  • Higher university acceptance rate

    Boarding schools 

Boarding schools are said to be a British invention and have been in place since the middle ages. These days, boarding schools in the UK are also known as residential schools, where students live and study throughout the school year. You can find boarding schools for kids from the ages of four to 18. 

Obviously, boarding school fees are going to be higher since kids get accommodation, food, activities, and their education included. There are plenty of pros and cons when it comes to boarding school and ultimately it will come down to your situation as a family and whether you think this option could be a good fit for your child. 

Forest schools

Forest schools offer an alternative way of learning that is largely focused on the outdoors. They follow six principles:

  1. Being a long-term process of regular sessions
  2. Learning occurs in a woodland or natural environment
  3. Using learner-centred processes
  4. Promoting holistic development of everyone involved
  5. Offering the opportunity to take supported risks
  6. Are run by qualified Forest school practitioners Waldorf schools

Waldorf Schools

Waldorf schools are also known as Steiner schools because they are based on the teachings of Rudolf Steiner. Waldorf schools are the most popular types of schools using an independent educational structure and growing fast. 

The Waldorf educational system focuses on three developmental stages:

  1. First stage - sensory-rich, play-based activities (for children up until the age of seven)
  2. Second stage - artistic expression and social skills are promoted (for children aged seven to 14)
  3. Third stage - students are given much more independence and expected to think more critically (for students aged 14-21)Sudbury schools

Of all the types of school, a Sudbury school places the strongest emphasis on student-focused learning. There is no set syllabus and students are expected to learn through experience rather than coursework and are responsible for their own time. Sudbury schools are run as a democracy where students and staff are equals. 

These schools require that students are self-motivated and children are free to study what they find interesting. Another big difference compared to regular schooling is that students aren’t separated into age groups so they can mingle and learn with kids older and younger than themselves. 


Academies in the UK are run by an academy trust and receive funding from the government. They are still inspected by Ofsted and follow the same rules as other state schools. However, academies have more control over their school’s workings including setting term times and curriculum. 

Schools for talented and gifted

You will find schools across the UK that have programmes for talented and gifted students

There are also schools for talented and gifted kids that specialise in a particular area, or a couple e.g. music or sports. 

Another concept, known as the “curriculum collapse” is sometimes practised too. This is when a normal week’s classes at school are replaced with a single theme so students can come together to demonstrate their talents and gifts. 

Montessori schools

Montessori schools started out in the early 1900s and facilitated a much more liberal way of learning, allowing children to work autonomously. Some of the teaching methods that Montessori education follows are:

  • Students choose what they learn
  • Mixed-age classes
  • No homework or assessment
  • Open classes so that free movement is permitted

The premise is that when kids are allowed to play and learn for extended periods of time on something they find engaging they concentrate deeply and become self-motivated. The teacher’s role is as a facilitator who oversees an environment where students become independent in a safe space. 

Grammar schools

Grammar schools are secondary schools funded by the state that admit students who do well in their 11+ exam. To be selected, potential pupils have to complete the corresponding 11+ exams for their chosen institution at the end of primary school. The exams vary by region and school and can include the following elements: Maths, Verbal Reasoning, Non-Verbal Reasoning, and English. 

The entrance criteria will depend on the school but usually consists of one or more of the following:

  • Ranking of a student’s 11+ exam results
  • The distance a student lives from the school
  • Whether or not a student’s sibling already attends the school

The entrance exams for grammar schools (and independent schools) are more challenging than regular content students have been taught. This is to clearly identify the higher-performing pupils. If your kid needs to sit an 11+ entrance exam, we have professional tutors who can help by guiding your child on what to study depending on the school and exams they will be sitting. ✨

Private schools

As we mentioned earlier, private schools are very similar to independent schools in the UK. While all independent schools are essentially “private” schools, a private school can be run by a sole owner, whereas independent schools have a governing body. Private schools are also regarded as being more selective

Private schools require that parents pay the fees. You may wish to send your kid to a private school because they will have access to greater resources and facilities. Private schools will usually offer more subjects and have fewer students in each class too. 


Which types of school to choose for your child


With such a wide array of options, you may still be wondering which route to go down. First of all, you should rule out any of the types of school systems listed you don’t prefer. You’ll probably still be left with several on your list. From there, look at the practicalities of sending your kid to a particular school. Some of the factors to take into consideration include:

  • Location - some of these schools are highly specialised and you won’t find them in every town. Is there a school you like that you can get your child to that fits around all of your other responsibilities and day-to-day commitments?
  • Expense - could you reasonably afford a particular school or could your child be considered for a scholarship?

A great site for sorting through schools in the UK is The Good Schools Guide. It has a search tool where you can enter your town or postcode and view a list of nearby schools. If you live in a larger city you can still get thousands of search results but you can narrow these down by filtering on distance and other parameters such as mixed-gender schools, boarding, etc. 🔎

We hope this has helped you realise the extent of the types of school systems available in the UK, while at the same time identifying the best options for your child. No matter what stage in your kid’s education journey they are in, we wish them the best of luck. If they need to take an entrance exam as part of the admission process, we have experts here to help.

Every school has its own guidelines and knowing how to prepare for an unknown exam is daunting. That’s why at GoStudent, we have thousands of different tutors who specialise in their own subjects and level exams. If your child doesn’t know where to start in their preparation for any exam, let one of our tutors support them through the process. 

They will be able to provide advice, motivation, and coaching so your kid gets the best results possible. If you’d like to schedule a session, your first class will be free.