Primary and secondary schools

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Children are required by law to attend school from the beginning of the term following their fifth birthday. Many parents choose for their child to start at age four at the beginning of the school year in September.

In the first year of compulsory schooling, known as 'Reception’, the focus is on learning through play and adapting to structured activities. Some schools offer half-day schooling for three-year-old children (known as Nursery, or Foundation Stage). The class teacher will lead on planning and record-keeping, but your child may spend much of their time in a small group with a 'key-worker' who may be a qualified teaching assistant or nursery nurse.

After Reception, children move into Years 1 - 6. Each class has up to 30 pupils. The class will have one teacher for the whole year, and may have a teaching assistant (TA) who supports children in small groups or individually. There are designated lessons for Maths, Literacy (i.e. English language and literature) and Science. Many schools use a particular topic each term to teach art, history, geography, music, etc. Children may be encouraged to read books or research on-line, design and make objects, or dress in appropriate costumes. Your children may be able to go on school trips, e.g. a nature walk round the local area, an educational visit to a museum, or a workshop with other schools. You will have to complete a permission slip and may be asked to pay a voluntary contribution.

More information about the curriculum and testing can be found in the section 'National Curriculum and different phases of schooling'.

Children start secondary education at the age of 11 (Year 7) and continue until at least the age of 16 (Year 11). Secondary schools are usually much bigger than primary schools. Class sizes are about 30 and there are multiple classes in each year group. Most lessons are taught by subject specialists. Each child has a form tutor who they meet at least once a day (usually for registration at the beginning of the day/session). Contact your child's form tutor if you have any questions or concerns.

Pupils take GCSE exams (General Certificate of Secondary Education) at the end of Year 11. GCSE courses are usually taught over two years. Schools may start some GCSE courses in Year 9, with the exams taken either at the end of Year 10 or Year 11. Some schools offer vocational qualifications instead of or as well as GCSEs in certain subjects. All pupils take exams in Maths, English and Science, and choose additional subjects from a range of options. The subjects available differ from school to school. It is important to check the subjects available if your child will be joining the school in year 9 or later. You may wish to check if your child will be able to continue studying a particular language that they speak at home or have studied before. Most schools offer French, and may offer other European or Asian languages.

Pupils can progress to post-16 courses either in a school ‘Sixth Form’ (Years 12 and 13) or at a Further Education College. The most common post-16 qualification is Advanced Levels ('A levels'), taken at the end of Year 13. Pupils usually study three subjects at A level, which is the entry requirement for most universities.

Primary and secondary school admissions

You have to apply for a place at a state school for your child, via Oxfordshire County Council (or via your own county council, if you live outside Oxfordshire).

The main application rounds are for the first years of primary school (Reception) and secondary school (Year 7). You should apply on-line and if at all possible by the appropriate deadline:

  • primary  - second week of January
  • secondary - end of October

All other applications for school places are 'in-year transfers'. You may apply only in the term prior to start date (approximately six weeks). If your application is late, you are less likely to get a place in your preferred school. See the guidance of the Oxfordshire County Council on requirements and deadlines for applications: How to apply for a school place

Choosing a school

You can list up to three schools on the application form in order of preference. Most schools are happy to arrange for prospective pupils and their parents to visit and meet the headteacher. Please call the school office to make an appointment. For reception and Year 7 entry, you may be able to attend an open morning or evening and meet teachers and current pupils.

Find the names and contact details of all Oxfordshire schools, or search by location. You are more likely to be offered a place in a particular school if you live nearby in the catchment area of the school.

Documents required

You will normally need to provide:

  • proof of the child’s date of birth (e.g. birth certificate or passport);
  • proof of residence (e.g. electricity bill or rental agreement showing that you will be living in Oxfordshire at the time of school start);
  • proof of parental responsibility (if you are not the parent, you should have a letter stating that you have assumed legal parental responsibility for the child)

Some additional documents may be required,

  • for international applicants: copies of valid visas (for both children and parents)
  • for applicants to faith schools: proof of religious affiliation (e.g. a letter from a minister of religion, baptism/communion certificate)

Outcome of applications

Places for Reception and Year 7 in all English state schools are announced on a set day. If you are not allocated a school place at your preferred school, you will be offered an alternative place at a school as close as possible to where you live. You may stay on the waiting list ('continued interest list') of your preferred school until a place becomes available, or in certain circumstances you may be able to appeal. For any queries on the progress or outcome of individual applications, please contact the Oxfordshire County Council School Admissions Team.

Post-16 admissions

You should apply directly to the school or college for a post-16 place. Applications are usually open from January to March. Schools and colleges set their own admissions requirements, which usually depend on results at GCSE or equivalent in core subjects (English, Maths and Science) and in the chosen subjects for post-16 study. It is a good idea for you and your child to attend an Open Day if they plan to move to another school or college for post-16 study.

The UK Department for Education supports 38 state-funded boarding schools. Boarding school students live and study on school premises. The UK government pays the cost of tuition at state-funded boarding schools, so the parents or guardians just pay the cost of boarding.

State boarding schools are open to children who are UK or EU citizens or who have the right of residence in the UK. They usually offer GCSE exams followed by A-Levels or the International Baccalaureate. 

State-funded boarding schools within approximately one hour's travel from Oxford are:

Post-16 ('Sixth Form') places are open to any student who meets the entrance criteria, usually at least six grades C/5 and above at GCSE, with specific grades in the subjects to be studied at post-16 level. For information on equivalent overseas qualifications, please refer to the University and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) guidance.

If you plan to change school for post-16 study, it is a good idea to attend an Open Day where you can meet Sixth Form teaching staff, visit the campus and learn more about the courses offered. Students do not have to live in the catchment area to attend a particular school sixth form, although if it is over-subscribed preference may be given to those who live closest.

Independent schools educate children aged 3 to 18. They may be single sex or co-educational. Some offer boarding options from the age of 8.

Most independent schools process applications between one and two years before the required date of entry, but you can express your interest earlier. If you wish to apply for a bursary or scholarship, you will generally need to apply by the beginning of October of the year prior. Scholarship applicants may be asked to sit an examination, and/or attend an interview or assessment day.

You can find details of local independent schools from the Independent Schools Council using its searchable database of over 1,200 schools in the UK, or review reports from the Independent Schools Inspectorate. When you have chosen a few possibilities, you should request a prospectus and arrange to attend an Open Day or book an individual visit if you will be in the area.

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