The English High School System Explained | Resource center for education and schools

Although grammar schools have been phased out in many parts of England, they still exist in some areas and are popular with relocating parents looking for a quality education for their children.

The following article is from To relocate global Guide to education and schools in the UK 2019/20 which is packed with expert advice and information for those moving and the professionals who support them. Access your free digital copy here. For co-branded or bespoke editions for your employees contact Fiona Murchie on +44 (0)1892 891334 or email [email protected]

Now available as an ebook on Amazon! Simply download from Amazon on your Kindle, mobile phone or tablet to read on the go!


Grammar schools were phased out in many parts of England in the 1970s, but they still exist in some areas and are popular with relocating parents who want to provide a quality education for their children. How does the high school system work and how do families apply for places?

What are high schools?

Lycées are government-funded secondary schools. They are the only public schools in England allowed to select all their pupils on the basis of their academic ability.Until the 1970s, pupils in England and Wales had to take what was known as the 11-plus exam, to determine which secondary school they would attend – a grammar (for high achievers) or a modern high school.This system was eventually replaced by a system of comprehensive schools, which admitted pupils of all levels. Most high schools were phased out, either becoming comprehensive or converted to private schools, but many were allowed to retain their status and still exist today.School and education search advice - connect with our experts in the countryIn 1998, the government of Tony Blair prohibited the creation of new secondary schools. There have been no new grammars for over 50 years, although existing ones are allowed to grow – controversial plans to expand one of Kent’s grammar schools by way of an annex in a town of nine miles away received government approval in 2015 and Weald of Kent Grammar School, Tonbridge opened in September 2017.Former Prime Minister Theresa May’s early days in office were marked by her proposal to lift a ban on new high schools. However, the plans were short-lived, and following the loss of the Conservative majority in the 2017 election, the plans were scrapped. The ban on new grammar schools remains.Move around the world guide to education and schools in the UK 2019/20

Popularity of high schools

High schools remain hugely popular, largely due to their undisputed academic success. They are available in some parts of England, not all. Some counties, such as Kent, Essex, Buckinghamshire and Lincolnshire, are well known for supporting the high school system.There are around 160 grammar schools in England, none of which charge fees, plus a further 69 schools in Northern Ireland. Some (although very few) have paid boarding facilities.In 2010, around 1,050 secondary school students were studying at Oxford or Cambridge, and 98% of secondary school students achieved at least five GCSEs, including English and Maths, in grades A* to C. This compares to 55% of students. students at the national level. As a result, competition for places in these schools is fierce.

Apply for a place in a high school

Parents are allowed to apply for a place at a high school in any region. As these schools are almost always overcrowded, whether or not a family lives in the catchment area (i.e. the geographic area from which the school draws its students) can be a determining factor.In some counties, there are also “super-selective” schools, which are allowed to select the best students in selection tests.The likelihood of the family being offered a place should be checked with the school and local authority, based on the criteria specific to that neighborhood and school.It will be worth taking a look at the school – on its website, in its prospectus and, above all, during school visits. You can search for high schools on the National Grammar Schools Association website, ngsa.org.ukMove around the world guide to education and schools in the UK 2019/20

Understanding the School Selection Test

Although each school has its own admission criteria, almost all offers of a place are based on the results of a selection test set by the school or local authority. This is referred to by various names, including the transfer test, the grammar access test, the Kent test, and sometimes still the 11-plus.The test is typically taken in early September of year 6, but it should be noted that an increasing number of schools and counties are requiring families to register for the assessment during the summer term. of year 5.Many parents work hard with their children, sometimes two years in advance, to prepare them for the test, sifting through past exam papers and hiring tutors to ensure they have the best chance of passing. However, a high test score does not always guarantee a place in a grammar, especially if the school is overcrowded.Relocate Global thanks Debbie Bowker, Bowker Boardfor his contributions to this article.This article was last updated on July 25, 2019.


The Guide to Education and Schools in the UK is designed to help relocating parents make informed educational choices.

  • Employers: Access the free digital guide hererequest a free hard copy here.
  • Relocation Professionals: Access the free digital guide here.
  • Parents: Access the free digital guide here or purchase a printed copy here

For volume options, co-branded editions, digital or online licensing agreements and advertising opportunities call Fiona Murchie on +44 (0)1892 891334 or email [email protected]


Access hundreds of global services and providers in our online directoryClick to access the Relocate Global Online Directory Access our free Global Mobility Toolkit Global Mobility Toolkit download fact sheets resource center© 2019. This article originally appeared in the 2017 edition of Guide to Education & Schools in the UK, published by Profile Locations, Spray Hill, Hastings Road, Lamberhurst, Kent TN3 8JB. All rights reserved. This publication (or any part of it) may not be reproduced in any form without the prior written permission of Profile Locations. Profile Locations accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of the content or opinions expressed herein.

Comments are closed.