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What types of school are there in the UK?
Selling To Schools

Discover which types of school there are in the UK so you can better target your sales and marketing campaigns.

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Apr 20, 2023

You can target many different types of school in the UK, however, knowing the differences between them will help you understand why some products and services might be more suitable for certain types of schools. This page looks at the types of schools across the UK.

What are the different types of schools?

Schools in the UK can be divided into two types, based on:

  • the age of the students attending the school
  • how the school is funded (mainly funded by the government, paid for by fees, or a mixture of both
More Than Words note – click here for our list of primary school email addresses or list of secondary school email addresses.

Types of schools by name


What are academies?

Academies are state schools independent of local authority control but who receive funds directly from the government. They are held to account by a legally binding ‘funding agreement’.

How do they spend their money?

Based on a formula developed by the Department for Education, the amount per pupil will be comparable to that of nearby public schools. Academies can allocate funds as they deem fit, including services normally provided by their governing council.

Do they have to follow the National Curriculum?

Academies do not have to follow the National Curriculum. Consequently, they have more control over curriculum design, learning outcomes for their students, school schedules, and employment conditions of their staff.

More Than Words Note: Read more about academy schools and Multi Academy Trusts in our how to sell to multi academy trusts article.

Free school

What is a free school?

A free school is new state-funded school (which includes when an independent school becomes a state school for the first time).

Who sets free schools up?

Parents, teachers, schools, educational charities, universities, and community groups. To set up a free school, the group must form a company limited by guarantee and choose members and directors. Free school companies must use the DFE model memorandum and articles of association, meaning that, once formed, they will be academy trusts.

How are they run?

A free school is independent – they are not controlled by local councils.

How do they get permission to open?

Free schools must submit an application to the Department for Education. They should demonstrate that there is a clear demand for that type of school from the parents in the area.

“Forced” academies

What are forced academies?

Forcibly converted academies are usually underperforming schools that were forced to convert. The school is then assigned to a sponsor who takes it over.

Academy converters

What are academy converters?

Usually, an academy converter is a high performing school already in existence, who opt out of local council control to gain independence and autonomy.

How is an academy converter funded?

The school governing body signs a funding agreement with the Government and is independent from the local authority.

How do they get permission?

An outstanding school should apply to the Department for Education for approval.

Maintained school

Maintained schools are overseen by local government.

How is a maintained school funded?

Maintained schools are funded directly by the local authority.

How do they spend their money?

The amount spent per pupil varies significantly by the local authority. Each school is free to allocate all funds received but some money is held back to pay for the authority’s “central services”.

Do they have to follow the National Curriculum?

A maintained school must follow the national curriculum and national teacher pay and conditions. An individual school can focus on specific learning targets as long as the National Curriculum requirements are still being met.

There are three main types of maintained school – community schools , foundation and trust schools , and voluntary schools (Voluntary Aided schools and Voluntary Funded schools ) .

Community school

What is community school?

Community schools are run and controlled by local councils.

How are they run?

A local council employs the staff, owns the land, and determines admissions arrangements.

Foundation schools and trust schools

What are foundation schools and trust schools?

Foundation and trust schools are schools operated and controlled by their own governing body.

How are they run?

Staff and admissions criteria are set by the governing body. The land and buildings are typically owned by the governing body or, in trust schools, by a charity.

Voluntary Aided schools (VA school)

What is a Voluntary Aided school?

The majority of voluntary aided schools are faith schools.

A foundation or trust (usually a religious organisation) inputs a small proportion of the capital costs for the school and forms a majority on the schools governing body.

How are they run?

The governing body employs the staff and sets admissions criteria. The land and buildings are usually owned by the religious organisation.

Voluntary Controlled school (VC school)

What is a Voluntary Controlled school?

Voluntary-controlled schools are a hybrid of community and voluntary schools.

How are they run?

Staff are employed by the local authority, like a community school.

However, the property is owned by a charity, usually a church, which also appoints the governing body’s members.

Grammar school

What is a grammar school?

Grammar schools are state funded schools which select their pupils on the basis of academic ability. Grammar schools can also be maintained schools.

Special school

What is a special school?

In the UK, there are nearly 1.2 million children with special educational needs or disabilities, most of whom attend special schools. Upon diagnosis, children are issued a SEN statement or an EHCP.

Approximately half of children with EHCPs attend mainstream schools, the rest attend special schools. There are 1,257 special schools in the UK.

More Than Words Note: Interested in finding out more about special education schools? Read our SEN schools article.

Pupil referral unit

What is a pupil referral unit?

Currently, there are approximately 16,000 children at pupil referral units, the majority of whom are in secondary education. The purpose of a pupil referral unit is to provide education to children who wouldn’t benefit from a mainstream school.

There are 352 pupil referral units in the UK.

Why do children attend pupil referral units?

Children may attend a pupil referral unit as a result of severe bullying, special educational needs, a long- or short-term illness, mental health, anger, or exclusion from mainstream education.

How are pupil referral units run?

In pupil referral units, class sizes tend to be smaller with a lower teacher-to-pupil ratio. A detailed schedule and education plan is devised for every child based on their learning needs.

Independent schools/private schools (not government funded)

What are independent schools/private schools?

Private or independent schools (sometimes referred to as public schools) are schools that charge students fees rather than being state-funded. Independent schools are operated and governed by their own boards. They are lightly regulated by the government and frequently inspected by a variety of bodies.

Who pays for them?

Independent schools/private schools are funded by fees, gifts and endowments and are governed by an independently elected board of governors.

Do they have to follow the National Curriculum?

Independent schools/private schools must give “pupils experience in linguistic, mathematical, scientific, technological, human and social, physical and aesthetic and creative education’.

How many public schools are there in the UK?

There are currently 2,408 public schools in the UK.

More Than Words note – click here for our list of private school email addresses.

What is a school governing body?

A school’s governing body serves as a “critical, but interested” friend to the head teachers and other staff for the purpose of providing strategic leadership.

In addition to managing the school budget and hiring staff (including the head teacher), governors are responsible for reviewing exclusion decisions and monitoring the school’s progress.

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Marketing to different types of schools with More Than Words

We offer a number of direct marketing services to companies who have the staff and infrastructure to sell into educational establishments.

If your company does not have the ability to send email campaigns or its own telemarketing team or you want us to run them for you, please ask us about our:

Please call 0330 010 8300 or click here to email our direct marketing and marketing databases team.

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