A beginners guide to choosing a school in London

London is one of the world’s most exciting and sought-after cities. The British capital offers enviable opportunities, and culture. It attracts a hugely diverse set of people both domestically and internationally – most of whom, if staying, will at some point find themselves choosing a school in London.

In this blog, we will break down the process of choosing a school in London, so you can make the right choices when considering your move.

London school system

London is known to have an array of truly fantastic establishments, with some of the world’s most famous schools being in and around the city. Beyond the historically famous institutions like Eton College, Westminster School and St. Pauls school, are a huge number of strong private and state schools that practice varied approaches to how they educate your child.

On average, London boasts stronger SAT scores than anywhere else in England, but there is still a great deal of variation between the quality of education different schools offer. The city’s schooling system is also famously cut-throat and competitive, so establishing your needs, doing your research and acting early are all essential to ensuring success.

London offers two separate systems of education: state-run and independent (Public Schools). Most state schools in London are either Comprehensives (secondary schools that do not select children based on academic attainment) or Grammer schools (selective options following the ’11 plus exam’ taken in year 6).

State schools

True catchment areas are a rarity in London. The density of schools in the city means you may need to live as closely as 250m from a primary school to secure your first choice. Detailed information on school admissions will be found on each local authority’s website. It is essential to check the home-to-school gates distance and the over-subscription criteria for the schools you are interested in.

The areas adjacent to top primary schools have attracted a raft of middle-class parents, which has unsurprisingly put house prices in these vicinities up.  As a result, it is commonplace in London for two schools, barely 500m away from one another, to have a very different intake of pupils; one representative of the wider local community, and one more dominated by middle-class, professional families. This is something that should be considered when looking at different schools – if you want to get your children into the top-performing state schools, there will likely be an additional cost to your property.

Secondary schools are larger and serve less localised areas. Grammer schools are found in the boroughs of Barent, Bexley, Bromley, Enfield, Kingston-on-Thames, Redbridge and Sutton. These schools are often excellent, rivalling many private schools in the national league tables. However, you may want to consider tutoring your child in primary schools as the entrance exams are famously competitive. Semi-selective schools can be found in the boroughs of Barent, Croyden and Wandsworth. These are comprehensive schools that will reserve a percentage of admissions places to top-performing pupils.

Independent Schools

If you are interested in taking the independent route, London has a wealth of options that cater to different interests and abilities. Many of these schools still operate a single-sex policy though this has become slightly less common over the past 20 years, and this trend is likely to continue.

Pre-preps take children from 3 years old and will begin preparing pupils for 7+ or 8+ entrance exams for prep schools. Prep schools will usually take pupils from either year 3 or 4 until year 8 or 9 where they will sit a common entrance exam that acts as a gateway to many London public schools or boarding schools around the country.

If you want to secure your child a place at any top London independent school, be sure to start planning when they are very young. Like the best state schools, the independent sector in London is oversubscribed. Children in pre-prep and prep schools are in a better position to gain entry to linked public schools. 

How to find a good school in London

Good timing is indispensable. This applies to all schools in London and is why early research is key. It’s no exaggeration to say that you may need to put your child on a waiting list at birth to secure a spot in some schools, but extremes aside, if you’re looking to move your children to schools in London, you will need to act fast.

Location is another crucial factor – but it cannot be overly relied upon. The density of London creates confusion surrounding your ‘local’ state primary school. Whilst secondary schools in most of the capital rarely prioritise a catchment zone over other factors, location remains important; you must consider how your teenager makes their way to and from school. London has an extensive transport system but there are inevitably long commuting times between different parts of the city.

Understanding what’s important to you and your family is the first step towards choosing a school in London. The range of options can at times feel overwhelming. If you are torn between the state and independent sectors, our blog on whether Private Schools are Worth the Money may be of interest to you.  You can also read our guide on Moving house and choosing schools and on Mixing State and Private Education in London should you wish to combine both state and private education.

For further information and for supported applications to top London state and independent schools, please do contact us.