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The modern school system

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Though the school system is more or less the same throughout the country, there are various types of school, each with different entrance requirements. Never assume anything. Do your research and find out what the local situation is - you don't want to commit to a new home and then find that the handily located school just around the corner isn't quite what you thought it was.

Generally, children in this country must start school no later than the first term after their fifth birthday. Many start whilst they are still 4 years old, though they often attend less than a full day at this stage.

Leaving aside pre-schools and nurseries, state primary schools usually cover the infant and junior ages (4 -11), with the main entrance criteria being residency in the cachment area. Independent schools are slightly more likely to separate the infant school from the preparatory school, which normally teaches those aged 7 - 11, though some retain the pupils as late as 13. These private fee-paying schools are not always easy to get into, with some parents pre-registering children as soon as they are born (if not before!).

There are two ways of classifying state secondary schools - by the selection policy and by who owns and runs the school.

Selective schools admit pupils purely on the basis of performance in entrance exams. There are fewer and fewer of these as the tendency has been towards partially selective schools, which are often grammar schools. The new allowance of children is made up of the best performing exam candidates and a quota of kids from within the school's cachment area (which can change each year). The majority of mainstream state schools are non-selective, though even these sometimes have to turn people down if they are oversubscribed. Families living within the cachment area should be able to find places in these schools for their children.

Most schools are run by the local authority, which also sets the admission policy. These are known as community schools. These are most likely to be non-selective. Schools which are run by the local authority but which govern their own admission policy are known as foundation schools. These are slightly more likely to be selective or partially selective. Finally, there are still a fairly high number of aided schools. These are owned and run by the church and are likely to heavily favour children of parish members in their selection procedure.

Independent schools are fee-charging schools outside the mainstream state system. These can be infant, preparatory or secondary schools. Some preparatory schools are strongly favoured when it comes to gaining entrance to secondary schools. It is no longer the case that money guarantees your children entry - fierce competition means that many of them use entrance exams in an attempt to get the best students and boost the school's overall performance. Most of these schools will have some places reserved for scholarships that are awarded to very bright pupils whose families may not be able to afford the fees.

In addition, there are International schools which are fee-paying schools especially for children from overseas. These can sometimes take children from four right through to eighteen years and can be day schools or offer boarding facilities.

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