The English School System Explained

With a myriad of choices, it can be confusing for parents to understand how the English school system works and to choose the right school for their child, especially if they are relocating to the UK.

At Maple Walk School, we urge you to put your child’s name on the registration list as soon as possible (to register please complete and return this form). We recognise, however, that the school system itself can be confusing. We’ve put together a brief guide, which we hope may help you to navigate the system.

  • In England there are three stages of education up to age 18 : Early Years, Primary, Secondary. There are then two stages beyond: Further Education (FE) and Higher Education (HE).
  • Education is compulsory for all children between the ages of 5 and 18, before this, children can be educated at nursery.
  • FE is non-compulsory and covers non-advanced education that can be taken at further (including tertiary) education colleges and HE institutions (HEIs).
  • The fifth stage, HE, is study beyond GCE A levels (and their equivalent) which, for most full-time students, takes place in universities and other HEIs and colleges.

Pupils have to have some form of education up until the age of 18.  This could include an apprenticeship or part-time work or volunteering whilst also undergoing training. For more information see:

Primary Education

Typically in England (the rules vary in Scotland and Northern Ireland), children attend primary school or infant and junior school between the ages of 4 and 11.  Whilst the compulsory school age is 5, children typically start at 4-years-old in Reception class and finish in Year 6.

Independent schools (also known as private or fee-paying) are known by a number of different names:

  • primary school – a term often identified with schools provided within the State sector;
  • pre-prep or pre-preparatory – refers to the period up to the age of eight;
  • prep or preparatory school – refers to the period up to the age of eleven or thirteen.

At Maple Walk School we call ourselves a primary; we divide our classes into the 'Lower School' (Reception – Year 2, ages 4-7) and ‘Upper School’ (Year 3 - Year 6, ages 7-11).

What is an Independent School?

The National Curriculum, established in 1988, provides a framework for education in England between the ages of 5 and 18.

Independent schools do not need to follow the National Curriculum, although some schools choose to follow it in whole or in part.  At Maple Walk, we follow parts of the National Curriculum and also the Core Knowledge Curriculum.

At Maple Walk School the early years foundation stage (EYFS) is followed in Reception.  The EYFS is overseen by Ofsted, the UK’s national schools’ regulator, which is responsible for inspecting state schools.  Maple Walk School is a member of the ISA (Independent Schools Association) and ISC (Independent Schools Council), which means we are inspected by the ISI (Independent Schools Inspectorate).

Pupils can join Maple Walk School from Reception (aged 4) through to Year 6 (aged 11).  Maple Walk does not currently run a nursery. All the classes are located at the building in North West London. 

Children leaving Maple Walk School for the state school system would typically join their new secondary school in Year 7 in the September that they reach 11 years old.  State schools can be selective or non-selective.  In recent years, there has been a change in the educational provision in UK schools and school admissions are handled in a number of different ways.  For more information on the types of State schools, please visit  It is worth noting that if you are from overseas, you may not be entitled to a free education in the UK.  

Pupils leaving Maple Walk School in Year 6 for independent secondary schools are prepared for sitting the 11+ exam from Year 4.  Not all independent schools are academically selective and some focus more on the arts or sports.

Some independent schools, but not Maple Walk School, are pre-preps (teaching children aged 3 or 4 to 7 or 8) in either nursery through to Year 2 or Reception to Year 2.  Children then join a prep in Year 3 and stay until Year 6.  Traditional English prep schools may also cater for boys up until the age of 13 (Year 8), when they leave to attend an independent boarding or day school. Somewhat confusingly, these are typically known as 'public' schools, although they are in fact fee paying and usually selective.  It is unusual for girls to stay on at a prep school until 13 and most girls transfer at age 11.

To find out more about admission to Maple Walk School, click here.