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There are a number of considerations that parents with children who are school-going age need to consider when moving to the UK. This can vary from the time of year to move, as well as where to rent or buy property.

British children vs foreigners

Experts like Soft Landings warn that foreign students fall under exactly the same system of criteria as British children when it comes to the application process for schools. All applications will be determined not so much on the merits of where your children are from – in relation to a country – but where they are living in relation to the distance from your preferred school.

British parents are well aware of this and will even move house to be able to apply for a specific school of choice. In fact, you will often hear British parents make mention of living in, or moving to, the ‘catchment area’ of a school with an excellent reputation and high inspection rating.

When foreign couples with children move to the UK, they will be assessed in the same way as British couples. This also applies to the benefits that might be obtained; such as school meals or financial assistance for travel and uniforms. It is therefore vitally important to gain as much advice as possible before you move to the UK.


On top of this, parents who enter the UK with non-EU passports under one of the visa options available to them, have additional considerations to take into account because only schools with Tier 4 (student) visa status are included in the UK Visas and Immigration register of sponsor schools allowed to accept non-British passport holders.

To smooth this process, which might seem daunting at times, Soft Landings, a consulting firm providing guidance to assist individuals and families who are moving to the UK, have compiled a short list of some of the most important considerations for parents moving with school going children to the UK.

The importance of having an address

You cannot apply for a place at a state school (called ‘a maintained school’ – see below) unless you already reside in the UK. However, you can certainly start preparations for finding a place.

The most important factor is to know where you are going to reside because school admissions are handled by each Local Education Authority (LEA). Each LEA is responsible for coordinating admissions, including allocation of the number of places available at each school. This process is largely based on the area where you will be living, such as the exact borough of London of the county in which you will live.

Understand the terminology

Unlike most other countries, ‘public’ and ‘private’ (or independent) schools are not exactly what you might imagine. If you think a public school is government provided education, you are wrong. Actually, both types of schools are fee-paying schools and what’s more, ‘public schools’ are – much – more exclusive (read: expensive) than ‘private schools’.

Education specialists at Smooth Landings are constantly monitoring the state of education, changes in policy and options available to parents moving to the UK. The agency advises that many maintained schools have in latter years become ‘academies’. Academies have more independent control over funding, as well as admission policy, which could provide solutions to find placement for parents moving to the UK.

So-called “Grammar Schools” – remnants of UK’s education system when certain schools used to teach Latin – can still be found in some parts of the UK. These schools have their own admission policy, largely based on an admission exam. To gain admission to one of these schools, pupils need to take an exam in their 6th school year (also known as the 11+ Common Entrance exam).

Cut off dates

Cut off dates may influence parents’ timing for moving to the UK. The cut-off birthday for school admissions in England is 31 August, as the school year generally starts the first week of September. To start nursery in September 2017, a child needs to be three years old by 31 Aug 2017 at the latest. To start Reception (the first school year) in September, a child needs to be four years old by 31 August at the latest.

Independent schools are not bound by cut off dates, unlike maintained schools. This means that a child who is moving to the UK and needs to be held back a year to ensure smooth academic progress can be accommodated in most independent schools.

Read the ratings

Ofsted is the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills. Ofsted inspects and regulate services that care for children and young people, and services providing education and skills for learners of all ages. While services like Soft Landings monitor Ofsted ratings all the time on behalf of clients, parents are encouraged to be aware of Ofsted ratings simply because it is the most accurate system to evaluate the quality of schooling in the UK.

Independent schools, however, are inspected by the Independent Schools’ Inspectorate (ISI). Soft Landings warn that the two bodies do not use the same terminology to rate schools. As one example: the top rating for a school inspected by the ISA is “excellent”, while the top rating for a school inspected by Ofsted is “outstanding”.

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