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The 5 steps to finding a state or private school in London 

Whether you are moving from abroad to London, or you are already in London and your children are to start school soon, finding places in London schools can be a daunting prospect.

The main challenge in finding schools in London is the lack of places: most schools are unable to offer places to all the children who apply.

This results in a complex process for parents and schools alike, with multiple applications made by families, schools trying to remain transparent and fair in how they allocate the few places they have, and managing waiting lists which are as secret as the Google algorithm!

A German family was telling us the other day “In Germany it is so easy, you apply to the school which is nearest to your home, and they give you a place – they have to. Period.” We wish it could be that simple in London! And if you are reading this, you probably do too!

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 different, and the choice of schools will be paramount to their success in school and at a later age. So the pressure is high, and many parents find it difficult to cope with.

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. It will depend on your family’s and children’s circumstances, and objectives.

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 open for 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, you will be better off searching for your London home after you have secured a school place, and you know where the school will be located. However we do recommend that you check out rental prices in the area of the school, so you are sure you can afford to live in that area. London is full of surprises (and high-level rents). 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 have listed a few of our favourite primary schools in London, and why we think they are.

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).

Once the children have started at their new school, you can be proud of yourself!

Good luck with finding the best London school for your children!

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