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How Do I Prepare For The Next Stage Of My Child’s Education?

It really is never too early to think about your child’s formal education. Some parents-to-be start putting their child’s name on school waiting lists as soon as they know that they are expecting. Some even move home in order to secure a place in their preferred nursery or school.

If your child has been looked after at home or by family, they may need to adjust to being in an environment where there are a lot more children, older and bigger children, unfamiliar adults, and where they are not the centre of attention. If you can, try to visit primary schools to see how they are organised and how lessons are run. Will your child cope with sitting at a table with a group of other children? Do they understand that teachers have authority?

Even if your child has been to pre-school or nursery, he/she may need help to adjust to larger classes and longer days.

You can help to prepare your child for primary school by letting them know what to expect and, if you can, by arranging for them to meet other children who will be going to the same school.


The time to apply for a place at a local primary school will probably arrive sooner than you expect.

Remember that the law says that parents must make sure that their child is receiving suitable education by the first term after his/her 5th birthday. Some schools let children start full time as a ‘rising 5’ – at the beginning of the term in which they will have their 5th birthday. In some schools children may start part-time in Reception Class and gradually build up to full-time attendance.

Education, though, doesn’t have to be in a school environment. Some parents, for many different reasons, choose home education. Children who are educated at home don’t have to follow the National Curriculum or take national tests, but parents must make sure that the education is full time and suitable for the child’s age, ability, aptitude and any special needs. You do not need to be a qualified teacher to educate your child at home. There are organisations that offer support to parents who choose this route such as Education Otherwise, Parents might also consider sharing home education with other like-minded parents.

If you decide to educate your child at school, in most areas, you will need to apply for school in the autumn of the year before your child starts school. It is vital that you don’t miss the deadline for applying since that will make it less likely that you’ll get a place in the school of your choice. You’ll need to fill in an application form that you get from your local authority or you can apply online at your local authority’s website.

There are a number of choices and making the decisions about your child’s education can seem daunting and stressful. It will help if you start researching as early as possible.

Types of school

Most children will go to a primary school that covers Key Stages 1 and 2, ages 5 to 11. Some primary schools are divided into ‘infant’ and ‘junior’ schools, sometimes on different sites and sometimes with different head teachers.

In some parts of the country, there is a ‘middle school’ system where there is a first school, middle school and high school. Depending on the local authority, children transfer from first school to middle school at age 8, 9 or even 10.

Schools are either ‘state’ or ‘independent’ (fee-paying) schools. State-funded schools must follow the National Curriculum, which specifies the subjects that are taught and, to a large extent, how they are taught.

There are different types of state-funded school:

Community schools are run by the local authority and are closely linked to the community in which they are based through offering childcare and/or adult learning classes. The local authority is responsible for admitting pupils.

Foundation schools are managed by a governing body (or board of governors) that sets the admissions criteria.

Voluntary-aided schools are usually funded by the local authority, but not owned by them. The governing body sets the admissions criteria.

Voluntary-controlled schools are run by the local authority, which sets admissions criteria and handles admissions.

State-funded Faith schools may be Church of England, Roman Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh or Greek Orthodox. Some faith schools teach their own faith but others teach a locally-agreed syllabus that might include a number of faiths. Admissions criteria have a belief element but some schools also reserve places for those of other and no faith.

Independent primary schools set their own admissions criteria and are not obliged to follow the National Curriculum. They are registered with the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) and monitored by OFSTED. They are funded by the fees that parents pay as well as income from investments. Some independent schools have scholarships or bursaries available, possibly linked to a particular subject such as music, science or art. Some independent schools take children from the age of 4. They also include:

Preparatory – or ‘prep’ – schools prepare pupils for fee-paying independent secondary schools. Some may be linked to one particular school. They usually take children from the age of 7 or 8, but some ‘pre-prep’ schools take children at the age of 5.

Montessori schools aim to let children progress at their own pace. Teaching tends to be one to one or in small groups with nearly no whole-class lessons. Some of the goals relate to life skills, others to academic learning.

Steiner schools emphasise developing the ‘whole child’. Children learn through ‘hands-on’ activities like gardening, woodcraft etc. as well as classroom lessons. They also teach foreign languages from an early age.