Choosing a good school for their offspring is one of the most important duties that parents will have to fulfil. Should they wish to do this on a private basis, their ultimate choice will be governed to an extent by the area in which they live, availability of places and the prevailing financial constraints on the family budget.
Most independent schools have charitable status, that is to say they are not funded by the state, most of their financial input coming from investments and fees paid by parents. Some will be day schools that will often make special transport arrangements for the pupils, some will be all-boarding or weekly-boarding (where the pupils go home at weekends) and yet others will offer a mixture of both, ie catering for mainly day pupils with boarding provided for a limited number of others.
In the state sector the picture varies depending on which part of the United Kingdom you live in. The types of school and how they are administered is summarised here:
England and Wales
- Community schools - here the Local Education Authority employs the staff, owns the land and buildings and is the admissions authority
- Foundation schools – the land and buildings are owned either by the governing body or by a charitable foundation
- Voluntary aided – similar to a Foundation school but where the governing body contributes towards the capital costs of running the school
- Voluntary controlled – here the LEA is both the employer and the admissions authority
- Special schools – whereas the majority of children with special needs are now mainstream educated, some specialised establishments do exist
North of the border, children’s education falls within the jurisdiction of each local authority. School boards, with elected parent and teacher members, play an important part in the running of individual schools, which may be purely in the state sector, grant-aided (including special schools) and self-governing establishments which approximate to English grant-maintained schools.
In the Province, education from primary to higher level is administered both centrally by the Department of Education and in the local sphere by Education and Library Boards. All schools are open to pupils of any religion, though a trend for Protestant and Catholic children to attend schools run within their own traditions persists to an extent. Schools fall into three main categories:
- Controlled schools – which come under the particular ELB for that area and are mainly Protestant
- Voluntary maintained schools – which are mainly under Roman Catholic management
- Voluntary grammar schools – these are grant-maintained non-denominational establishments
Provision of nursery education is similar throughout the UK. Parents of children under five can choose from a range of state nursery schools, nursery classes attached to primary schools, play groups and privately-run nurseries.
Choosing the right school
When looking for a school it’s a good idea in the first instance to get hold of a prospectus giving a broad outline of what the school provides and what its aims are. Most schools have open days for prospective parents, but there’s nothing to stop you requesting a visit to the school on a normal working day. Here you can gauge the atmosphere for yourself and get some idea of the style and pace of the teaching. You can also examine the curriculum in more detail, make enquiries about class sizes (an important consideration) and anything else which springs to mind and you believe is relevant to your child’s education.
The maintenance of standards throughout the United Kingdom is the responsibility of the Office for Standards in Education. OFSTED carries this out by a system of regular independent inspections, public reporting and informed advice. An annual OFSTED report will give, in comprehensive detail, information on a school’s quality of education, standards achieved by its pupils (with comments on their spiritual, moral, social and cultural development), and how financial resources are managed.