State-maintained schools

Planning ahead for secondary school choices

Once you have read options in secondary education you can start to make a list of possible individual schools. It is advisable to start thinking about this at least 18 months before your child would start. Remember that even if your child is placed in a primary school that feeds the local secondary school admissions criteria apply so admission is not guaranteed. However, if you already have made your decision, and can be certain that your child will be accepted in the school of your choice, you can conveniently skip this whole section.

State-maintained schools - are all committed to the inclusion of pupils with special educational needs and follow the guidance of the Inclusion Development Plan.

In England and Wales, 90 per cent of children are educated in state-maintained schools, the majority referred to as mainstream or 'ordinary' schools. State schools have a lot in common; they are all funded by the state, follow the National Curriculum and are regularly inspected by the Office for Standards in Education (OFSTED).

Main categories of state-maintained secondary schools

Only read this if you are concerned about what body has responsibility for running the secondary school, you may just be interested in how the school delivers and can skip this section.

  • Community schools - the commonest state school run by the local authority (LA), which employs the staff, owns the school land and buildings and has primary responsibility for deciding on pupil admission criteria.
  • Foundation - the Governing Body owns the land, employs staff and is the admission authority with the LA. Usually there is some LA representation on the Governing Body.
  • Voluntary aided - owned by a voluntary body, usually religious, who appoint most of the governors. LA funded except for building and repair costs, which are shared between the Governing Body, LA and government. The Governing Body is the admission authority - with consultation again from the LA - and may prioritise practising members of the relevant religion.
  • Voluntary-controlled - mainly religious or 'faith' schools, but run by the LA. The land and buildings are often owned by a charitable foundation, but the LA employs the staff and has primary responsibility for admission arrangements.
  • Community and foundation special schools - cater for children with specific more complex special educational needs, such as physical or learning difficulties.

Other state schools - in some cases these schools are allowed to select a small proportion of their pupils according to aptitude. This is constantly being reviewed so parents should always check the individual admission arrangements before making an application.

  • Academies - These are independent state schools sometimes established by sponsors from business, faith or voluntary groups in partnership with central government and local authorities. Primary schools may now apply for academy status although most academies are currently all-ability secondary. Academy status can give individual schools freedom from the local authority and for Headteachers almost complete control over budgets, the curriculum, hiring staff, term times and the length of school day. Extra funding is provided to support the conversion to an academy. The first wave of new academies from 2010 will be drawn from schools rated as outstanding by OFSTED.
  • Specialist schools - though they follow the National Curriculum, specialist schools focus on a particular subject area. Examples include Sports, Technology or Visual Arts.
  • City Technology Colleges - These are independently managed, non-fee-paying schools in urban areas for pupils of all abilities aged 11 to 18. They are geared towards Science, Technology and the world of work, offering a range of vocational qualifications as well as GCSEs and A levels.
  • 'Free' schools are schools which once the legislation is in place may be set up by parents and teachers.

Maintained boarding schools - offer free tuition, but charge fees for board and lodging

Types of state schools - parents have a wide choice of school

Mixed comprehensive high schools - are 11-16 or 11-18 for pupils of all abilities. Occasionally they are single sex.

Grammar schools - in some areas. These are mixed or single sex, 11-18, where entry is decided by academic ability. There may be an entry examination at 11 plus.

Middle schools - some local authorities also provide these. They usually cater for pupils of 8-12 or 9-13 years. In areas where there are middle schools there is provision for pupils to enter a secondary school at 12 or 13, depending on the local arrangements.

All-age mixed inclusive schools - less commonly found. There are now some based around the same campus.

Faith schools - are mostly run in the same way as other state schools. However, their faith status may be reflected in their religious education curriculum, admissions criteria and staffing policies.

When can your child start attending a state secondary school?

Year 7: in September of the school year in which your child reaches the age of 12.

Where can I find out more about state education?

Directgov: local authorities (This has contact details of all local authorities and you can access lists of state schools from their web sites).

Edubase (provides lists of all types of state schools in your selected area(s)).

Schoolsfinder (provides profiles for all schools in England).

State boarding schools' association (gives information about these).

Teachernet: faith schools (provides a general picture of the number and type of faith schools with useful links to other sites).


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