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How to find a school in London

Whether you’re relocating from overseas to London or currently residing in the city with children preparing to enroll in school, the task of securing placements in London schools can be quite stressful.

The primary hurdle in this endeavor lies in the scarcity of available spots: the majority of schools struggle to accommodate all the applicants.

Consequently, both parents and schools face a complicated process. Families find themselves submitting numerous applications, while schools endeavor to maintain transparency and equity in their allocation of limited spaces.

If you have already done some research online, including on forums, you will surely have found A LOT of information, and this can be overwhelming.

Every child is unique, and selecting the right school is crucial for their academic and future success. Consequently, the pressure on parents is substantial, and many find it challenging to navigate.

To give you a head start, you will find below the methodology that we use when helping clients find a school in London, whether that is a private school or a public school.

Step 1 – Think about which type of school your child will attend

The main question you will have to answer first is: will my child go to a private or public (state) school in London?

That is an important decision, as this will define how and when you can apply for schools, and when you should have your UK home and address.

This decision can be driven purely by school fees:

  • Public schools don’t charge anything, they are entirely free
  • Private schools charge fees (usually around £20’000 per child per year)

But it doesn’t have to be the only criteria for your decision, and there isn’t one solution that fits everyone. Your choice will hinge on your family’s specific circumstances, as well as the individual objectives and needs of your children.

To help you make the right decision, you can check our article on whether state schools are a good option.

You can of course decide to apply for both private and state schools in London. In fact this is an ideal solution if you are still unsure. You can then make a final decision when you have received responses from all schools.

Step 2 – Check when you can apply for London schools

If both public and private schools options are available to you, your next step is to understand the timing of school applications.

Your timing will depend on the type of school you want your children to attend:

  • For public schools in London, you cannot apply in advance, and you cannot apply if you do not have a UK address. You can apply once you are a resident in London.
  • For private schools in London, you can apply anytime, including in advance, and/or before you have moved to London with your family.

The different application systems between public and private schools in London have a major impact on when you should be looking for your home in London.

What it means to be clear is:

  • For public schools in London, you have to find your London home before submitting your school applications.
  • For private schools in London, it’s advisable to begin searching for your London home after securing a school place and knowing its location. However, we do recommend researching rental prices in the vicinity of the school to ensure affordability before finalising your decision.  Rightmove is a good place to start with that.

‍Step 3 – Check how to apply for London schools

Applying for schools in London also works differently depending on the type of school:

  • For public schools in London, you will need to apply with the Borough of your London residence. Some exceptions might apply, for schools with a religious character for example. Check with the Borough first. You will be able to apply for several schools within the Borough.
  • For private schools in London, you will apply with each school individually. You can apply to as many schools as you want. However, each school will require an application fee to be paid, even if you end up not obtaining a place in the school.

Check out our comprehensive guide on when and how to apply for state and private schools.

Step 4 – Research the best schools in London

Whatever the type of school you have chosen, you will need to research the best schools in London and decide which ones you want to apply for.

Before you start your research, don’t forget to define what a good school is for your child:

  • Academic level
  • Type of curriculum
  • Other pupils
  • Class sizes
  • Extra-curricular activities
  • Anything else that is really important to you and your child

For some inspiration, we’ve compiled a list of a few of our favorite primary schools in London a few of our favourite primary schools in London, and highlighted why we hold them in high regard.

Here are some resources to get you started with your research:

  • For public schools in London: the Ofsted reports will give you a mine of information about each public school in London. Beware, it is addictive!
  • For private schools in London, the ISI reports will provide you with a lot of information about private schools.

We recommend that you focus on 3 to 6 schools.

If you are overwhelmed with the number of schools, you might need to narrow down you location options in London first. You can check out our guide on finding the best neighbourhood in London.

If you are still unsure about which school type you want to choose for your children, take our survey to find out which option would be best for you and your family:


Step 5 – Proceed with your school applications

Once again, applying for schools in London will be different depending on the type of school.

Public schools:

  1. Once you have got your London home, visit your Borough’s website to find out about the school application forms. Most of them are available online.
  2. The application documents will let you to indicate up to 6 state schools that you wish to apply for, in order of preference.
  3. Fill out the forms, include the required documents (proof of address)
  4. Do not omit any required document, as your application with not be processed and you risk getting lost/delayed in the “incomplete” pile
  5. If you struggle, you can call their admissions teams, but they sometimes are hard to reach on the phone.

Private schools:

  1. Visit each schools’ admissions page, or call their admissions teams. They are very friendly and easy to reach.
  2. Fill out the application documents, and return them to the schools, together with application fees.
  3. If interviews or tests are required for the applications, the admissions teams will guide you through the process.
  4. Some schools might require a physical meeting with the child, and a school visit. Be prepared to plan for that.
  5. Repeat for each school.

Whatever type of school you have chosen, you will receive a response from the school(s) and/or London Borough, and a place or several places offered.

There is no set time frame for the response, but it usually works like this:

  • For public schools in London: a response will be sent once the application is processed, and a place can be offered in one of the schools you applied for. This can take between a few days and a few weeks.
  • For private schools in London, a response will be sent within a few days (maximum 3 weeks usually). The response can be either a place offer, or a confirmation that you are on the waiting list.

Once you have been offered a place, you will always need to confirm acceptance with the school or London Borough:

  • For public schools in London: you will sign a form confirming the school place(s)
  • For private schools in London, you will also sign a form, and be required to pay the fees for the first term (for each child) to confirm the place(s), within a certain time frame. If you don’t, you will lose your place.

Have you found school places for your children? Congratulations!

Once that is done, don’t forget to read all the information sent out to you by the school, including where to buy the famous school uniform (not all schools expect it, but many do).

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Once your children have settled into their new school, you can take pride in your accomplishment!

If you’re eager to integrate into London life swiftly (fingers crossed!), explore our 10 tips for successfully settling in the city.

And remember, London boasts abundant green spaces – perhaps this guide to the best family parks will keep you occupied on weekends!

Want to learn about the school options in London? Buy and download our Guide to state and private schools in London!

This guide gives you all the detailed information to help you understand schooling in London, including:

  • Overview of the British education system
  • Where are the best schools in London?
  • Which school grade for which age?
  • The school day and the academic year
  • State schools
  • Private schools
  • International schools
  • Boarding schools
  • The applications process for state and private schools
  • GCSEs, A levels and the International Baccalaureaute
  • How to select a school for children with Special Education Needs
  • Glossary of school terms used in the UK
  • Links to essential websites and resources
  • Note: This guide covers primary and secondary schools, for children between 4 and 16 years old.

Click here for a preview of this fantastic guide!

Guide to Schools in London
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