Families with children

Here you will find information on childcare, schooling, the National Curriculum and lots of practical guidance on the support available to families with children in UK.

Childcare and schooling

The British education system comprises a wide range of schools with different funding models and governance. Public schools are not government-funded but are fee-paying schools. Government-funded education is provided by State schools.

The government's Childcare and Parenting website provides detailed information about all aspects of education, including provision for children and young people with special educational needs. State schools and registered childcare providers are strictly regulated by the government's Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted), while independent (public or private) schools are regulated by the Independent Schools Inspectorate. As the education systems in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are slightly different, this page focuses on England and the local region.

Special educational needs

The government's Childcare and Parenting website also contains detailed provision for children and young people with special educational needs. 


While their parents are at work, preschool children are often looked after by a childminder or a nanny, or they attend a nursery. Childcare.co.uk provides detailed information to help you reach a decision about what is best for your child/ren. The University has its own Children's Centre on campus although places are limited.


The school year in England generally starts in the first week of September, and the cut-off date for admission is usually 31 August. Therefore, a child born on 30 August may be in the school year above one born on 2 September in the same calendar year.

School term and holiday dates vary from area to area and details are published by the local authorities. Note that once your child has reached Compulsory School Age (5), you do not have the right to take him/her out of school during term time unless the circumstances are exceptional and you have the permission of the head teacher.

UK school calendars are split into three terms, most schools have an additional half-term break in the middle of each term which means that pupils generally get six breaks per school year.

Parent Teacher Associations (PTAs)

If you're new to an area, it can be a good idea to get involved with the PTA at your children's school. Not only can you have a say in extra-curricular activities offered by the school, but the parents who are involved in the PTAs are often engaged in other activities and can give you a good introduction to your local area.

How to choose a school

The best way to choose a school is to talk to colleagues with school-age children and then to the head teacher of the relevant school. You cannot apply to a state school until you have a UK address, state schools have catchment areas - a geographic area from which the pupils are drawn. Be aware that occasionally schools are not located in their own catchment area, so it's important to check before making any decisions. Also, it's important to check that your chosen school will have available places.

You can start looking for a school before you get here, and our Living in Liverpool pages have links to the local authorities in Merseyside and West Cheshire where you will find lists of schools in those areas. You can then assess these schools based on their performance.

National Curriculum

State schools across the country follow the National Curriculum which is delivered in Key Stages.

BBC Bitesize provides user-friendly resources to support learning at all Key Stages.


Reception class: Most children start school in the September following their 4th birthday, when they enter Reception. Some schools start Reception pupils on a part-time basis at first, until they have settled in. You can discuss this option with the school. Children are not obliged to attend school until they reach the Compulsory School Age (5) but if you wish to delay their start, you should discuss this with the school you have chosen.

Applications to secondary school are made at the beginning of Year 6. Please be sure to check the admissions criteria of your preferred choice, and be aware that admission is not guaranteed. Most state secondary schools in England are all-ability, while many independent schools are selective and admit pupils on the basis of an entrance examination. 

It's also worth noting that grammar schools and some independent schools are 'single sex' schools, i.e. girls or boys only.

At the beginning of Year 10, pupils choose which subjects they wish to study for their GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education) examinations which mark the end of Key Stage 4 and the end of compulsory education (if the young person will be 16 in that school year).

Most young people choose to stay at school and study for their A levels (Advanced Level examinations) or the International Baccalaureate, whichever is offered by their school, and then take a university course. However, a range of post-16 education options is available for young people who do not wish to go to university, and these are outlined by GOV.UK and UCAS, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, also provides a comprehensive guide to all available options.

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