Primary and secondary schools

Primary Schools

Children are required to attend school from the beginning of the term following their fifth birthday. However, they often start at the beginning of the relevant school year (in September) and thus start school at the age of four.

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

After Reception, children move into Years 1 - 6. Children are taught in classes of up to 30 pupils. They normally have one class teacher who teaches them for most of their time in school during that school year, and a teaching assistant (TA) who helps the teacher and supports children in small groups or individually. There are usually designated lessons for Maths, Literacy (i.e. language and literature) and Science. Many schools focus on a particular theme or topic each term and integrate aspects of literacy, art, history, geography, music, etc. as appropriate. Children are often encouraged to extend their learning by reading books or researching on-line, designing and making objects, or dressing in appropriate costumes. There may be opportunities for school trips - simple activities like a nature walk round the local area, or trips requiring travel (e.g. to a museum or to participate in a workshop with other schools). You will normally have to complete a permission slip and may be asked to make a voluntary contribution.

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

Secondary Schools

Children start their 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. Teaching is in classes of up to 30 and there are multiple classes in each year group. Most subjects are taught by teachers who are specialists in their subject area. Each child will have a form tutor who they meet at least once a day for a short period of time (usually registration at the beginning of the day/session). The form tutor is usually the best person to contact if you have any questions or concerns.

An important factor in choosing a secondary school might be the foreign language teaching provided there, particularly if your child has already been learning a second language and wishes to continue with this. French is compulsory as a second language in Oxfordshire's secondary schools, up to and including Year 9. Every school may decide which additional languages it wishes to offer.

At the end of Year 11, pupils take GCSE exams (General Certificate of Secondary Education). GCSE courses are usually taught over two years, though  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. The minimum number of subjects that need to be studied as well as the subject choices on offer differ from school to school, but will always include Maths, English and Science. You might like to check the requirements if you have a child joining a school at this late stage.

Students who meet the required standard in their GCSEs can progress to post-16 courses either at the same school if it has a ‘Sixth Form’ or at a college offering Further Education. Pupils are expected to take A level examinations at the end of Year 13. Usually pupils will study three subjects at A level, since this is the entry requirement for most university and other Higher Education institutions.

State School Admissions

State schools require that you apply for a school place for your child. In your application you will be asked to list up to three schools in order of preference. Applications are made via Oxfordshire County Council, and you are encouraged to appy online. The application deadlines are usually

  • Primary school entry [Reception] - second week of January
  • Secondary school entry [year 7] - end of October
  • Sixth Form [Year 12] - generally January to March prior to a September start
  • 'in-year transfers' [for start date other than September, or for entry into a year group other than listed above]
    - you may apply only in the half 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

Please note that you need to have a residential address in Oxfordshire to be able to apply for a school place. You will not normally be offered a place in a particular school if you do not live in the catchment area of the school. You can find the names and contact details of all Oxfordshire schools through the County Council or by catchment area.

When applying for a school place 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)

You may not be allocated a school place at your preferred school if it is oversubscribed or if you arrive mid-way through the school year. However, you will always be offered an alternative school place, as close as possible to where you live. You may stay on the waiting list (known as the 'continued interest list') of your preferred school until a place becomes available. It is also possible to appeal the allocation decision.

The FAQs may answer some of your questions on school admissions. Specific information for each individual family can be provided by the Oxfordshire County Council School Admissions Team. For further information please visit the government’s website.​

State Boarding Schools

The UK Department for Education also support 38 state-funded boarding schools, which are open to children who are UK or EU citizens or those who have the right of residence in the UK. Boarding school students live and study on school premises. In the case of state boarding schools, the UK government pays the cost of tuition, while parents or guardians pay the boarding fees.

These schools usually follow the UK system of GCSE exams followed by A-Levels, however, some also offer the International Baccalaureate. 

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

State Sixth Form

Unlike in state primary or secondary school when students must generally be living within a school's catchment area, Sixth Form places are open to any student so long as they meet the school's Sixth Form entrance criteria, usually at least six A*-C grades at GCSE. For information on equivalent marks overseas, please refer to the University and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) guidance.

Some schools have specialist Sixth Forms, for instance, with A-Level exam support in languages or STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects. All schools hold Open Evenings where students can meet Sixth Form teaching staff, visit the campus and learn more about a school and its A-Level subject offerings. 

Independent Schools

the time it takes to secure a place at an independent school can be as little as a few weeks (if a space is available) or as long as a year or more in advance. Independent schools provide education to children as young as 2 1/2 through to the end of secondary school and can offer day or boarding options, the latter generally from the age of 8.

Families interested in applying for bursaries or scholarships 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.

It is best to consult the admissions pages of the independent schools in which you are interested. The Independent Schools Council has further guidance and a searchable database of over 1,200 schools in the UK. You can learn more about these schools by reviewing reports from the Independent Schools Inspectorate