Types Of School
Types Of School
Ralph Lucas (Editor, The Good Schools Guide) gives expert video advice on: What is a primary school?; What is a middle school?; What is a comprehensive? and more...
What is a primary school?
A primary school is the basic unit of education in England at the junior ages. You start primary school at five, though most schools will be offering some kind of reception or nursery provision before that, and you end at eleven, when you move on to senior school. That's the basic principle; there are some variations on that.
What is a secondary school?
Secondary school is your last experience of schooling in the state system. Usually it starts at 11 and it will carry on to the standard school leaving age of 16. Many of them will then carry on into sixth form to take you through A levels, IB or whatever you're doing before university.
What is a first school?
A first school is one of the old varieties of junior school that still exists in some parts of the country. It takes children from the moment they start school - whether that's three, four, or five - up to the ages of about seven or eight, and then they would then move on from there to a middle school or a junior school.
What is a middle school?
A middle school runs from the ages of seven or eight up to 13 or 14. This was a very common pattern of provision over in England. It's been fading recently as people are placed by preparatory schools, but it had a lot of supporters.
What is a senior school?
Senior school is whatever takes you through to your CSEs, and perhaps O levels. It's the end of your schooling in the state system. Some senior schools will run to 16, with six-form colleges providing beyond that. Others run to 18, and do the whole thing.
What is a comprehensive?
A comprehensive school is a school which does not select its children on a basis of academic ability. Most schools in England are now comprehensive schools. They will select on other bases, but you won't have to take a test to get in.
What is a private school?
A private school is a school which is owned by a charitable trust mostly, or by private individuals, which will provide you with education if you pay them enough.
What's the difference between a private and a public school?
None, none at all. Public schools are called public schools because they were different from the private arrangements made by individual colleges and individual noblemen for the education of their children, and they were open to anybody who could pay the money. They are essentially private schools - they aren't owned by the state, you have to pay to get in them.
What's the difference between a public school in the US and a public school in the UK?
A world of difference. A public school in the States is an ordinary state school that anyone can go to without paying any money for it. It is open to the public for no fee. A public school in the United Kingdom is one of the top echelon of private schools; one of the great old foundations and you will pay very large fees to go to it.
what is a prep school?
Prep schools are schools that prepare you for entrance to senior schools. They're part of the private system, though you can go to a prep school to get into a grammar school. They're all about getting you up to speed for the examinations to get into the secondary school - the senior school of your choice. That used to run from ages seven until thirteen, which was the standard age for boys, and seven to eleven for girls. The prep schools have got so hard to get into that you now get pre-preparatory schools that prepare you to get into the prep schools. They all have a great academic focus, or they mostly have a great academic focus, making sure that your children pass the examinations.
What is a state school?
A "state" school is any school which you don't have to pay to get into because it is funded by the state. They come in quite a variety of different forms, and they will have names attached to them like trust, or foundation, or voluntary aided, or voluntary controlled. But essentially, at the heart of them, they're free to everybody. They're paid for by the state.
What is a grammar school?
A grammar school is a state school which selects its pupils on the basis of passing an examination or some other exam or academic test. There's about 170 of them left in the UK. There used to be many more, and there are patches of England where they are very much part of the system. Counties like Buckinghamshire and Kent have school systems which are essentially divided grammar schools and secondary modern schools, and the top third or quarter of the accademic ability range will go into grammar schools, and the rest will be turned into lesser academic schools. Some of which can be quite good, but generally they can be pretty disappointing schools.
What is a single sex school?
There's a long tradition of single-sex education in the UK, both girls and boys. The great boys' schools like Eton and Winchester are essentially single-sex and have no intention of letting girls in. There's a great strand of single-sex girls' schools. There's a belief that the individual sexes work better without the distraction of having the other sex around, and I think that's true for many individual boys and girls. The trend these days is for the schools to go co-ed in one form or another, and single-sex education is getting quite rare.
What is an academy?
An academy is this government's latest attempt to revive the state school system. Essentially it is a state school which has a strong outside sponsor, so there's a commercial or a charitable enterprise that's involved with this school and its governance. It has a lot more freedom to do things its own way; to set its own terms for teachers, to set its own curriculum. It's an uber state school; something with more power and more discretion. It seems to be the case that this will tackle some of the difficulties within the city schooling and start to produce good state schools in difficult areas.
What is a specialist school?
This was an earlier attempt at making state schools different and special. The idea was that when you had a time where a number of state schools, particularly senior schools, that they would specialise in different things. You'll get a specialist language school, you'll get a specialist science school and, the whole business of going specialist was incentivised by the government saying that if you can make it to specialist status, we will give you an extra quarter of a million pounds a year. So a lot of schools have tried, succeeded and got there, but it hasn't produced much difference because they've still got to teach everything. They may have got an extra bit of equipment, but have they got the teachers to go with it? So you've still got language colleges that don't teach much language, and science colleges where science is pretty standard. And anyway, how could you choose it alone, you don't know what your child likes best, and you don't know whether they will specialise in one thing or another. So, it's an interesting metaphorage, but it hasn't really gone anywhere.
What is a Montessori school?
A Montessori school is a school which claims to follow the teachings of Maria Montessori, who was an early 20th century educationalist as to how to educate young children. There is actually no standard Montessori method, and you will get schools which claim to be Montessori and aren't, and schools which don't make much of being Montessori but are actually following a lot of her teachings. The underlying principle is that children should have the freedom to learn and develop on their own and that the teachers are there as facilitators of that, looking after the children, helping them make progress, but essentially the engine of progress is coming from the children themselves. You should see a Montessori school as something being quite calm, purposeful, children working on their own, not sitting in rows and doing things in a directed sort of way. When it works well, it's a wonderful education, but you need a lot of parental support and you need some good teachers to make it work.
What is a Steiner school?
A Steiner school is one that follows the teachings of Rudolf Steiner who was a guru in the early part of the twentieth century associated to begin with, with theosophy and later with is own brand of social science as it were which he called anthroposophy. And that led him to propound various theories for how children should be brought up and how they should be taught. And has led to a thriving group of schools that operate either under the name of Steiner or Rudolf, which was the name of the factory where the first school was sited. And they aimed to educate the whole child rather than just being focused on Academic excellence. They will suit parents who are prepared to provide a lot of support for their children. Who have a belief in that sort of education. Who are not to fussed about the day to day academic grind and making progress against the particular benchmarks. They tend to produce children who a typical career might be heading off the United Nations or overseas development or being involved in social work in this country. A very responsible, very open, very involved people. Again, a wonderful kind of education for those who like it. Quite small in this country. Only a few dozen schools. But growing and much stronger on the continent. So it is a very respectable form of education, but it does not suit those who want to see the GCSE's come in on time, and the A levels come in on time, and the Ox free regents after that.
What is an international school?
Everywhere in the world, there are groups of international schools because there are children who move around regularly with their parents - their parents are diplomats or businessmen - and they want to have systems of education which they can follow around the world where their children will be reasonably well provided for, and can follow on from one school to the next and can end up with, in sum, a decent education at the end of it. There are three principal sets of curricula. There is the British system which follows the GCSEA. That doesn't really exist in the UK because we've got UK schools that a lot of overseas people can get into and use easily anyway. There's the International Baccalaureate that has several very good schools scattered around the UK, and UK schools now are taking it up themselves. So that is available to overseas parents to use. There are also the American Curriculum schools of which there are five good, major schools in London. There's a very good availability of international schools in the capital. Beyond that, there are international schools for particular languages. There's a good German school out in Richmond, there's a wonderful French lycee in London, and there's a Spanish school and various other schools which will help children keep within their national curriculum if they're here for a while.
What is a faith school?
The origin of state schools in England, in particular, were the religious foundations of the middle to late 19th century. And when the state began to take on education itself they did a deal with the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church in particular; that they could come within the state system and keep the faith within the schools; that they could be selective as to who they took in, so that they were looking after people of their own faith; that they could teach their faith within the school. That principal has remained through today. A lot of Church of England schools have become quite inclusive. The Church of England is quite a broad church in that sort of way. So although you will be brought up as a Christian and told what Christianity is, in quite a definite way if you go to a Church of England faith school, you can probably get in without having any faith at all. Some Church of England schools, most Roman Catholic schools, and most of the newer Islamic schools and others from similar faiths will require you to pass tests in the religion to prove that that is where you are bringing up your child; that you are bringing up your child in the faith. Often it's a certificate by a priest and sometimes it's some form of examination or a point score of your involvement with the church. They tend to be quite good schools – if you can take the religious aspect; because they have chosen parents who have made a commitment to something, they tend to be prepared to make a commitment to the school itself; to support it, and that is one of the key things to look out for in a school, how strongly the parents are committed to its success.
what is a special school?
Special schools provide for children who can't survive in mainstream schools. Mostly, they will have some kind of recognized special educational needs and will be statemented, things like autism or severe dyslexia or emotional problems that mean that they really don't behave in school and are just too disruptive. A school where they can have much more care and specialist attention is absolutely right for them. There are some wonderful special schools, particularly those that focus on particular kinds of child, who will find themselves with maybe one, maybe two, teachers per child if they need it, and a lot of attention to make sure that by the time they get to 19, 20, they are able to survive in the world outside, which is a great challenge for some of these children. There are still those in special schools which are despondents, they say they can do everything. You get a whole mixture of all kinds of children in there, they're simply disadvantaged because they've got cerebral palsy or something like that, combined with the very disruptive, and the whole thing becomes a total nightmare. The legacy of those schools is the reason why the movement has grown up, to try to put as many pupils as possible into mainstream schools, so that they become part of the ordinary world rather than being "canned" into these hellholes from which very few people escape alive, and those who do come out very angry. It's a particular provision for a particular kind of child, and, just like ordinary schools, can be wonderful or really horrible.
What is home schooling?
Home schooling is often known as education, because there is a phrase in the education act that says education otherwise than at school is every parent's right. You can take your child home and educate them there and never send them to school. It ought to be a system which is well supported with lots of help from the LLA and lots of help from professional teachers to see that you are on track and to tell you how you're going wrong and to keep you up to speed. But it isn't. It's very much a do it yourself thing. There are organizations out there, the best of them called Education Otherwise, but there are others there too who will support you, but you can find yourself totally left on your own. And how can you know everything? Particularly if you are bringing up an older child, how can you be an expert in geography and science and mathematics and the particular techniques of passing examinations. It requires a lot of help and support to get it right. There are some wonderful families that do it, but it is a real struggle to get it right.