Accessing Education

Education in England is overseen by the Department for Education (children’s education) and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Universities).

The education system in England is quite different to that in Ireland, so whether you are considering furthering your education, or want to know what options are available for your family, it’s useful to know how the education system works in the UK.

Nursery, Primary and Secondary Education

Education in England is divided into nursery (ages 3-4), primary education (4-11), and secondary education (11-18). Full time education is compulsory for all children aged 5-16, with a child beginning primary education during the school year they turn 5.

After they turn 16, students may continue their secondary studies for a further two years into sixth form, typically leading into A-level qualifications, although BTEC (Business and Technology Education Council) and IB (International Baccalaureate) are also available.

Early Years

All three- and four-year-olds are entitled to 15 hours of free nursery education for 38 weeks of the year. This applies until they reach compulsory school age (the term following their fifth birthday). Free early education places are available at a range of early years settings including nursery schools and classes, children’s centres, day nurseries, play-groups, preschool and child minders.

The estimated weekly cost of full-time nursery care for a child in England is £266. You can calculate costs more specific to your needs here:


Free state school education is accessible to all children between the ages of five and 18. However, the application process is complex, and you will need to be organised to ensure that your child is placed in a safe and comfortable school.

Before making applications, planning is crucial. You need to establish which schools you wish to apply to and when applying you need to establish the following:

| What the admission criteria are, including the catchment area

| When you find out which school your child has got into

| How to appeal if you don’t get a place at your preferred choice

| How local schools’ waiting lists operate

When applying for your child to attend a particular school, a whole host of factors are taken into consideration, including but not limited to geographical location, banding, sibling policies, religion, attainments, SEN or medical grounds.

The most popular criterion is geographic location. Schools will establish a ‘catchment area’ and you need to be living within the catchment area in order to attend that school. Therefore, if you are moving to London with children, it is very important to think about the local schooling options when considering where to live. Sibling policies can be the greatest challenge to those new to London or if you’re trying to get your firstborn into a school. For religious schools, you often need to demonstrate that you are practising that religion. For instance, the majority of places in Catholic schools go to Catholics. First of all, you need to have your child baptised a Catholic, and you also need to be attending mass regularly and be involved in parish life from when you move to London.

Local authorities coordinate the admissions process for all types of state schools, even if the local authority is not the school’s admission authority. You may be asked to put down one or more primary schools, and for secondary schools you can apply to at least three schools. Whether you can apply to more than three secondary schools will depend on the policy of your local authority. Have a look on your local authority website.

An independent body called Ofsted (Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills) is responsible for reporting on school standards and performance. You can find more information from them here

To find out what schools are in your catchment area, click here:

Further Education

Many London institutions offer a variety of higher and further education courses. Most of them are not free to over 19 year olds, but the British government offers a range of benefit options to students, depending on your circumstances. The UK’s Further Education (FE) system includes the next steps after the compulsory stage of secondary school - in short, sixth forms and colleges - and offers a range of qualifications including A-levels, NVQs, vocational and training courses and apprenticeships.

Apprenticeships involve balancing work with study and can be a way of entering a particular occupation or continuing into Higher Education. They can last 1-4 years. For further information or to search and apply for apprenticeships, visit the national apprenticeships website,

To find institutions offering a range of courses all over the UK, use the Next Step online course search at

Universities offer foundation degrees, undergraduate and postgraduate degrees/diplomas and research degrees. The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) is the British admission service for students applying to university and college. As nearly all British higher education institutions are members of UCAS, all those wishing to study for undergraduate degrees in the UK must apply through UCAS. This applies to all categories of applicants - regardless of whether qualifying as a home student (generally British and EU students) or as an overseas student. (And remember, in the UK you're going to 'Uni' not 'College'!) 

Some London universities, such as Birckbeck, offer a wide range of accredited university courses which can be undertaken completely through evening study, making them a good option for people who want to go back to education while working. 

University Financing

While higher level education is free in many cases for undergraduates in Ireland Ireland, annual tuition fees of £9,000 apply to university courses in England. This may be financed through a government student loan, which are paid back in installments with interest once your course has finished, but only when you are earning at £21,000 or more. You can find out more about these financing options here:

There is also a range of information regarding student financing from UCAS here




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