State-Funded Schools

State-funded schools in England are schools in England which provide education to pupils between the ages of 3 and 18 without charge. Approximately 93% of English schoolchildren attend such schools. These include academy schools, community schools, foundation schools, voluntary aided schools and voluntary controlled schools; a small number are state boarding schools and three are City Technology Colleges. A significant minority are faith schools, which are attached to religious groups, most often the Church of England or the Roman Catholic Church.

All of these are funded through national and local taxation. A number of state-funded secondary schools are specialist schools, receiving extra funding to develop one or more subjects in which the school specialises. State schools may request payment from parents for extracurricular activities such as swimming lessons and field trips, provided these charges are voluntary.

Until 1870 all schools were charitable or private institutions, but in that year the Elementary Education Act 1870 permitted local governments to complement the existing elementary schools, to fill up any gaps. The Education Act 1902 allowed local authorities to create secondary schools. The Education Act 1918 abolished fees for elementary schools.

This table gives a simplified overview of how the compulsory provision of education by the state (yellow) and compulsory education (purple) developed since 1870, and also how the types of schools used for this purpose evolved. Use some caution with this table which gives a simplified view based on changing policies and legislation, the reality on the ground changed more slowly and is more complex.

Types of state school
Since 1998, there have been six main types of maintained school in England:

Academy schools, established by the 1997-2010 Labour Government to replace poorly performing community schools in areas of high social and economic deprivation. Their start-up costs are typically funded by private means, such as entrepreneurs or NGOs, with running costs met by Central Government and, like Foundation schools, are administratively free from direct local authority control. The 2010 Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government expanded the role of Academies in the Academy Programme, in which a wide number of schools in non-deprived areas were also encouraged to become Academies, thereby essentially replacing the role of Foundation schools established by the previous Labour government. They are monitored directly by the Department for Education.

Free schools, introduced by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition following the 2010 general election, are newly established schools in England set up by parents, teachers, charities or businesses, where there is a perceived local need for more schools. They are funded by taxpayers, are academically non-selective and free to attend, and like Foundation schools and Academies, are not controlled by a local authority. They are ultimately accountable to the Secretary of State for Education, and are conceptually based on similar schools found in Sweden, Chile, New Zealand, Canada and the United States, where they are known as Charter schools. Free schools are an extension of the existing Academy Programme, and are in fact legally identical to Academies with the term "Free School" being used for Academies that are newly established under the Governments Free School Initiative rather than being an existing school converted to Academy status. The Academies Act 2010 authorises the creation of free schools and allows all existing state schools to become Academy schools. Persons or groups seeking to set up a Free School may obtain assistance from the government supported New Schools Network. This last should not be confused with the Local Schools Network which is a group set up to oppose both Free Schools, and indeed the whole Academy program. The first 24 free schools opened in Autumn 2011.

Community schools (formerly county schools), in which the local authority employs the schools' staff, owns the schools' lands and buildings, and has primary responsibility for admissions.

Foundation schools, in which the governing body employs the staff and has primary responsibility for admissions. School land and buildings are owned by the governing body or by a charitable foundation. The Foundation appoints a minority of governors. Many of these schools were formerly grant maintained schools. In 2005 the Labour government proposed allowing all schools to become Foundation schools if they wished.

voluntary aided schools, linked to a variety of organisations. They can be faith schools (often the Church of England or the Roman Catholic Church), or non-denominational schools, such as those linked to London Livery Companies. The charitable foundation contributes towards the capital costs of the school, and appoints a majority of the school governors. The governing body employs the staff and has primary responsibility for admissions.

voluntary controlled schools, which are almost always church schools, with the lands and buildings often owned by a charitable foundation. However, the local authority employs the schools' staff and has primary responsibility for admissions.

In addition, 3 of the 15 City Technology Colleges established in the 1980s still remain, the rest having converted to academies. These are state-funded all-ability secondary schools which charge no fees but which are independent of local authority control.

There is also a small number of state-funded boarding schools, which typically charge for board but not tuition. Boarding fees are limited to £12,000 per annum.

School years
Children are normally placed in year groups determined by the age they will attain at their birthday during the school year. In most cases progression from one year group to another is based purely on chronological age, although it is possible in some circumstances for a student to repeat or skip a year. Repetition may be due to a lack of attendance, for example from a long illness, and especially in Years requiring standard tests. A child significantly more advanced than their classmates may be forwarded one or more years.

State-funded nursery education is available from the age of 3, and may be full-time or part-time, though this is not compulsory. If registered with a state school, attendance is compulsory beginning with the term following the child's fifth birthday. Children can be enrolled in the reception year in September of that school year, thus beginning school at age 4 or 4.5. Unless the student chooses to stay within the education system, compulsory school attendance ends on the last Friday in June during the academic year in which a student attains the age of 16.

In the vast majority of cases, pupils progress from primary to secondary levels at age 11; in some areas either or both of the primary and secondary levels are further subdivided. A few areas have three-tier education systems with an intermediate middle level from age 9 to 13.

Years 12 and 13 are often referred to as "lower sixth form" and "upper sixth form" respectively, reflecting their distinct, voluntary nature as the A-level years. While most secondary schools enter their pupils for A-levels, some state schools have joined the independent sector in offering the International Baccalaureate or Cambridge Pre-U qualifications instead.

Some independent schools still refer to Years 7 to 11 as "first form" to "fifth form", reflecting earlier usage. Historically, this arose from the system in public schools, where all forms were divided into Lower, Upper, and sometimes Middle sections. Year 7 is equivalent to "Upper Third Form", Year 8 would have been known as "Lower Fourth", and so on. Some independent schools still employ this method of labelling Year groups.

The table below describes the most common patterns for schooling in the state sector in England.

Age at birthday during school year Year Curriculum Stage State Schools
4 Nursery Foundation Stage Nursery School
5 Reception Infant School Primary School First School
6 Year 1 Key Stage 1
7 Year 2
8 Year 3 Key Stage 2 Junior School
9 Year 4
10 Year 5 Middle School
11 Year 6
12 Year 7 Key Stage 3 Secondary School or
High School
Secondary School
with Sixth Form
13 Year 8
14 Year 9 Upper School
15 Year 10 Key Stage 4


16 Year 11
17 Year 12 (Lower Sixth) Key Stage 5 / Sixth Form

A-level, BTEC, International Baccalaureate, Cambridge Pre-U, etc.

Sixth Form/FE College
18 Year 13 (Upper Sixth)