How to choose the right school for your child in the UK

Selecting the right school for your child is a critical decision that can have a significant impact on their future. The UK has a vast range of schools that cater to diverse needs and preferences, from state-funded schools to private institutions. This article aims to guide you through the process of choosing the best school for your child. It considers various factors such as location, curriculum, academic performance, and extracurricular activities.

Types of schools

The UK offers various types of schools, each with its own unique features and benefits. Understanding these options will help you make an informed decision.

• State schools: These schools are funded by local education authorities and provide education at no cost to families. They include community schools, foundation schools, special schools and voluntary schools. 

• Academies: Schools that are directly funded by the government and are independent from local education authorities. Academies have more flexibility in their curriculum than other state schools and can be sponsored by businesses, charities, or educational organisations. The government is encouraging all state schools to become academies. 

• Grammar schools: State-funded selective schools that admit students based on their academic ability, assessed through the 11+ entrance examination. These schools only exist in some areas of the country. 

• Faith schools: State-funded or private schools with a religious ethos, such as Church of England, Roman Catholic, Jewish, or Islamic schools. State funded faith schools have to follow the national curriculum but can choose what they teach in religious studies. They may have different admissions criteria to other state schools. 

• Independent schools: Privately funded schools that charge tuition fees. Independent schools often offer smaller class sizes, more resources, and a broader range of extracurricular activities. Some independent schools offer boarding. 

• Independent alternative schools such as Forest Schools, Montessori schools and Steiner-Waldorf schools. There are also some schools offering online education.

Most schools of all types are co-educational  but some schools are single sex. This is another important factor to consider. 

Location and accessibility

Consider how close the school is to your home. Many state funded schools take into account whether you live in the school catchment area when allocating places. Is the school within walking distance and if not, is it accessible via public transportation or school bus services?  If not, will it be easy to park nearby? Remember to factor in the impact of the daily commute on your child's schedule and family logistics when making your decision.


The UK has several curricula, including the National Curriculum for England, the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence, and the Welsh and Northern Irish curricula. Research the curriculum offered by the schools you're considering and ensure it aligns with your child's learning style and your educational preferences. Some independent schools offer different curricula. 

Academic performance and Ofsted ratings

Review the school's academic performance, including exam results, progress measures, and Ofsted ratings. Ofsted (Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills) inspects and rates schools in England, providing valuable insights into their quality. Similar agencies exist in other regions of the UK, such as Estyn in Wales, Education Scotland in Scotland, and the Education and Training Inspectorate in Northern Ireland. Independent schools are inspected by the Independent Schools Inspectorate.

Special Educational Needs (SEN)

If your child has special educational needs or disabilities (SEND), research the support and resources available at each school. These may include specialist staff, tailored teaching methods, and dedicated facilities. Some schools have specialist centres or units where pupils with particular needs can spend part of their time. 

Consider whether your child will be happier in a mainstream school or in a special school. Some special schools take pupils with a particular diagnosis such as autism, or may be adapted to support children with physical disabilities. Other schools take pupils with a wider range of needs. Special schools will usually have smaller class sizes, a higher staff to pupil ratio, more specialist support staff and equipment and a modified curriculum. 

Extracurricular activities

Of course, a well-rounded education includes not only academic subjects but also opportunities for personal growth and skill development. Evaluate the range of extracurricular activities offered, such as sports, music, drama, and other clubs, to ensure your child can pursue their interests. Find out if the school has breakfast and after school clubs if you need them. 

School culture and values

The best way to get to know the schools you’re considering is to visit. Go armed with our guide of the top ten questions to ask when you visit a school. This will give you a feel for their atmosphere, teaching approach, and values. Speak with the head, teachers, students, and parents to gather first-hand information and insights. 

Have a look at the school’s website and any other promotional material to get an idea of the ethos of the school. If it’s possible, try to visit on an ordinary school day as well, as this can give a more accurate impression than a carefully orchestrated open day. Pay attention to your and your child’s instincts when visiting schools. This can often be the best guide to whether your child will be happy at a particular school. 

Fees and scholarships

If you're considering independent schools, factor in tuition fees and other expenses, such as uniforms and trips. Investigate scholarship and bursary opportunities that can help with costs.

Next steps to choose the right school

Choosing the right school for your child is a complicated process that requires careful research and consideration. By evaluating factors such as location, curriculum, academic performance, SEN support, extracurricular activities, and school culture, you can make an informed decision that best meets your child's needs. Visiting schools is the best way to work out which is the right school for your child. 

To help with your decision making, School Guide has all the official performance data on schools gathered together in one place. It also gives its own star ratings based on a school’s recent performance and includes parent reviews. Explore our site for lots more helpful advice and information on choosing the right school for your child.