Training and progression

Different types of school in the UK

19 Sept 2023, 14:17

Get an overview of the different kinds of schools in England, including the range of state schools; such as academies and free schools, as well as what’s available in the independent sector.

Different types of school to teach in

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Education in the UK falls into two sectors: state and independent. An understanding of the system will help you to decide where you would prefer to work.

What kind of school do you want to teach in?

There is no such thing as a standard school. Location, size and the gender mix are important factors; a small rural primary school will face different challenges to a large city academy in a deprived area or a single-sex grammar school. The way a school is funded and managed will have a big impact on the working lives of its teachers, so it’s worth giving some thought to the type of environment that will suit you best.

Want to know how to apply for teaching jobs and other approaches to becoming a teacher? Read our article teaching jobs: where to find them and when apply .

What are state schools?

Within the state school sector there are different types of schools and these can be defined by who employs the staff, controls admission and owns the land and buildings. They receive their funding either directly from government or from their local authority. Combinations of local authorities (LAs), school governing bodies and charitable trusts or religious organisations might be involved.

The main types of state school are:

  • Academies: these schools are found in England only. They may have businesses, faith groups or voluntary groups as sponsors. They are publicly funded by central government and have some freedom from the national curriculum. The number of academies has increased dramatically in recent years, with many secondary schools in particular converting to academies. Many academies are managed in groups, referred to as academy chains.
  • Free schools: these are similar to academies but have even greater independence - although they are still inspected by Ofsted. They can set their own curriculum, term dates, and conditions and pay for staff. Free schools can be set up by charities, universities, businesses, educational groups, teachers and groups of parents. They are funded directly by central government.
  • Community schools: which are wholly controlled by the local authority (LA) and not influenced by business or religious groups.
  • Foundation and trust schools: which are controlled principally by a trust and governing body.
  • Voluntary-aided and controlled schools: which are mainly religious or faith schools. A charitable foundation, often a religious organisation, is usually involved in the school in some way. However, in voluntary-controlled schools, the local authority employs the staff and sets the admissions criteria, rather than the governing body.
  • Grammar schools: which select all or most of their pupils according to academic ability.
  • Comprehensive schools: which are open to children of all abilities.
  • Faith schools: which incorporate more religious and spiritual elements into the schooling of their children and can choose what they teach in religious studies.

Most schools do not select pupils based on ability, though some will restrict intake to their catchment area if they are oversubscribed.

Other types of state school

  • Specialist schools: teach the whole curriculum but focus on a particular subject area. Both maintained and non-maintained schools can apply for specialist status.
  • Pupil referral units: provide teaching and learning for children of compulsory school age who cannot attend school; for example, due to medical reasons or exclusion.
  • Special schools: in the state and independent sectors provide education for pupils with learning difficulties or disabilities that are too severe for them to integrate within a mainstream school.

What schools are in the independent sector?

The Independent Schools Council (ISC) states that around 5.9% of children in the UK are educated in the independent sector, which is funded through fees, usually set by the individual school and includes public schools and most boarding schools.

  • Independent schools: these are sometimes called public schools or private schools and there are over 2,500 of them in the UK according to the ISC. Independent schools are not required to teach the national curriculum or employ teachers with qualified teacher status (QTS), although most do. Associations of schools belonging to the ISC are inspected by the Independent Schools Inspectorate, while some other independent schools are inspected by Ofsted. The ISC represents over 1400 independent schools. More information about independent schools is available from the Independent Schools Council (ISC) and the Independent Schools Directory .
  • Montessori schools: follow their own teaching method and in the UK cater for children mostly from the ages of three to six, although there are some primary schools. For more information see Montessori .
  • Steiner Waldorf Schools: part of an international movement with a particular philosophy of education. Find out more at Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship .

Working as a supply teacher

As an early career teacher, it is possible to complete your induction period working as a supply teacher if your placements are of suitable length. Supply posts frequently lead to offers of permanent positions. This means you can try a variety of different schools, before looking for a permanent post at the type of school you are best suited to.

See our teaching/classroom assistant job description

Making the decision

Each individual school will have its own ethos and atmosphere; shaped by the leadership and vision of its head teacher. The best way to assess this is to visit in person - having done your research and read the latest inspection report online beforehand.

There are also some less obvious differences in the working environment that you should consider. For example, at an urban school there are likely to be more children who speak English as a second language. All this should be considered when you make your decision.

To learn more about relevant teaching qualifications, see our article what qualifications do you need to become teacher?

For further information on teaching in other areas of the UK see our advice on training to teach in Scotland , Wales and Northern Ireland .

Written by Gill Kilvington, University of Hull, July 2023


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Occasionally targetjobs will work with another organisation to provide impartial careers content. This is to provide you with the most relevant information to make the best decisions about your future. As such, ‘in partnership’ content has been written or sourced by the partner organisation and edited by targetjobs as part of a content partnership.

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