There are many different types of school in the UK available for you to target. Knowing the differences between them will help you understand why your products and services might be more suitable for some types of school over others.

On this page, we cover the different types of schools in the UK (including state schools, academies, special schools, public schools, and more).

More Than Words link – click here for information on schools funding and here for information on selling to schools.

What are the different types of school?

There are two general distinctions on the different kinds of school in the UK:

  • 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)

In most of the country, children aged between 4 and 11 go to primary schools with children aged 11 to 16 going to secondary schools. In a few areas of the country, there is a three tier system – 4 to 9 primary schools, 9 to 13 middle schools, and 13 to 16 high schools.

More Than Words note – click here for our list of primary school email addresses or our list of secondary school email addresses.

Schools funded by the government or the local authority (state schools)

The following types of school are funded by the government either directly or they are paid from government funds from the council in which the school resides. They provide free education to their students.

More Than Words note – click the link for more information about school funding sources.


While there are different types of academies in operation in England, they all have the same status in law as ‘academies’.

Academies, free schools, academy converters, and traditional academies all have this status yet there are a number of differences between them, specifically:

  • who sets them up,
  • why they are set up,
  • whether there is a predecessor school, and
  • what the ‘provider’ has to demonstrate in order to be given permission to set one up.

What are academies?

Academies are state schools independent of local government control which receive funds directly from the government. They are held accountable to parents through a legally binding ‘funding agreement’.

How do they spend their money?

How much they have to spend is based on a formula calculated by the DfE but the amount per pupil will be similar to nearby schools controlled by the local authority.

Academies have full flexibility to allocate funds as deemed 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.

They have much more freedom and control over curriculum design and their students’ learning, school hours and term dates, and staff pay and conditions.

They should however teach certain subjects including maths, English and science.

They should be ‘broad and balanced’ in their curriculum.

How do they get permission to open?

Schools may apply to become academies to free themselves from council control and instead receive funding direct from the Government instead.

More Than Words note – among schools, academies have even greater freedom to spend their money that any other type of state school.

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?

Teachers, parents, existing schools, educational charities, universities, community groups.

In order to do set up a free school, the group must form a company limited by guarantee and choose members and directors to operate it.

Free school companies must use the DfE model memorandum and articles of association, meaning that, once constituted, the company will be an academy trust.

How are they run?

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

They are held accountable through a ‘funding agreement’- a contract with central Government.

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?

Usually, forced academies are underperforming existing schools which are forced to convert to become acadamies. When this happens, the school is allocated to a sponsor who will take them over.

Who sets them up?

Sponsors can be universities, FE colleges, education charities and business sponsors.

How are they run?

Traditional academies are independent, free from local council control.

They are held accountable through a ‘funding agreement’- a contract with the Government.

How do they get permission to open?

The Department for Education ‘brokers’ between academy providers and the underperforming schools.

City technology colleges

What are city technology colleges?

A city technology college (CTC) is a state-funded secondary schools with no entry exams and which charges no fee but which is free from control of councils.

Who sets them up?

The first CTC was launched in 1988 and, since the launch of the scheme, only fifteen CTCs were created, twelve of which (including the original) has now converted into academies. Following initial political reaction against their establishment by councils, these schools tend to be based

How are they run?

All running costs are met by the DfE. The DfE contributes 80% of capital costs with the remaining 20% normally comes from private sponsors who lease or own the building and land occupied by the CTC.

Do they have to follow the National Curriculum?

Yes however they specialise in certain subjects to a higher level including math, science, and technology.

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.

Who sets them up?

They are existing state schools.

How is an academy converter funded?

The school governing body signs a funding agreement with the Government and are 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. A large majority of primary schools are maintained however only around four in ten secondary schools retain this status presently.

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 schoolsfoundation and trust schools, and voluntary schools (Voluntary Aided schools and Voluntary Funded schools).

How a maintained school is classified depends on:

  • who employs the staff,
  • who owns the land and buildings, and
  • who controls the admissions arrangements.

Community school

What is community school?

A community school is a school which are controlled and run by the local council.

How are they run?

Local councils employs the staff, owns the land and buildings, and determines the 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?

The governing body employs the staff and sets its own admissions criteria.

The land and buildings are usually owned by the governing body or, in trust schools, 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?

A voluntary Controlled school is like a Voluntary Aided school but they are operated by the local authority.

How are they run?

The local authority employs the staff and sets admissions.

The foundation or trust (usually a religious organisation) owns the land and buildings and usually forms a quarter of the governing body.

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.

Do they have to follow the National Curriculum?

Grammar schools are exempt from the National Curriculum but they are required to teach certain subjects including maths, English (language and literature) and science.

They should be ‘broad and balanced’ in their curriculum.

What are multi-academy trusts?

Academies were first launched in England in 2010. They are not funded by their local authority – they’re funded direct by the Department for Education unlike maintained schools.

72% of English schools (both primary, middle, and secondary) have converted to become academies following the introduction of the legislation.

Many schools converted to academies because of a desire among their teaching and management staff to run their school in the way that they wanted to with their budget being top sliced by local councils.

Other schools were forcibly converted into academies because they were deemed to be failing by OFSTED and then brought into a sponsoring MATS group to start their road to recovery.

multi-academy trust is responsible for the operation of two or more academies. At time of the production of the latest version of the database, there are over 1,000 trusts in operation.

Special school

What is a special school?

Children with special educational needs go to special schools – in the UK, around 1.2m children have a special educational need or disability recognised by the education system. Following diagnosis, children are issued with a SEN statement or an EHCP. Half of children with an EHCP attend mainstream state schools whereas the remainder go to a state special school.

There are 1,257 special schools in the UK.

Who sets them up?

Provision of special schools across the UK varies. Some special schools are maintained schools and some are academies – there is a small number of private special schools.

What are the four types of special school?

There are four broad classifications of special schools:

  • sensory and physical needs,
  • social, emotional, and mental health,
  • cognition and learning, and
  • communication and interaction.

Do they have to follow the National Curriculum?

Maintained special schools do but they have the freedom to teach the National Curriculum in line with the specific needs of pupils making individual adjustments for each pupil. Academies and free schools which are run as dedicated special schools can device their own curriculum.

Pupil referral unit

What is a pupil referral unit?

Currently, there are around 16,000 children being educated at pupil referral units, the majority of which are in secondary education. Pupil referral units are designed to educate children who aren’t able to benefit from education at a mainstream school.

There are 352 pupil referral units in the UK.

Why do children attend pupil referral units?

The reason why an individual child may attend a pupil referral unit varies from having experienced severe bullying, special educational needs, children with a long- or short-term illness, behavioural and emotional difficulties (including mental health, anger, and school refusal/phobia), and exclusion from mainstream education.

How are pupil referral units run?

Class sizes in pupil referral units tend to be smaller with a lower teacher-to-pupil ration. Each child has their own timetable and education plan centred around their educational needs.

Do they have to follow the National Curriculum?

No but they are targeted with teaching as much of the National Curriculum as possible with a particular emphasis on PSHE (personal, social, and health education), computing, science, maths, and English.

Independent schools/private schools (not government funded)

What are independent schools/private schools?

Independent/private schools (sometimes known as public schools) are schools which charge fees to attend, rather than being funded by the government, and can make a profit although they are mainly charitable in nature. They are governed and operated by the school itself. They are lightly regulated by government and inspected by a range of bodies.

Who sets them up?

Independent schools/private schools vary from those set up by foundations in the middle-ages to those founded by new companies and charities.

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.

What are the advantage to send a child to a public school?

There is a very low teacher-to-student ratio. The teachers within public schools tend to be of the highest quality and teachers are backed by considerable education resources provided by the school.

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.

Boarding school

What is a boarding school?

There are over 500 boarding schools in the UK. At a boarding school, most children live at the school during term time however some schools are now opening themselves up to receive daytime pupils who return home at the end of the day.

Who sets them up?

Some boarding schools are privately-run establishments which require the payment of a fee by parents or carers to attend. There are some state-run boarding schools, most of which are academies with a handful being run as maintained schools and free schools.

Do they have to follow the National Curriculum?

If a boarding school is run by the state, it must follow the National Curriculum. If it is privately held, the same rules apply to it as to public schools.

Types of school FAQ

Do all pupils with special educational needs go to special school?

Children with special educational needs do not always go to a special school. Teachers and schools tend to want to education as many children within mainstream education as possible and, as a result of this, around half of all children with special educational needs attend mainstream establishments.

When there is a belief that a child may struggle without assistance in mainstream school, they are assessed and, where appropriate, provided with an EHCP (education, health and care plan). A child’s parents then may, in consultation with teachers and the local education authority, request that their child stay in mainstream education or attend a special school.

What is a school governing body?

With a school, a governing body is there to act as an “critical but interested” friend to the head teachers and other staff in providing strategic management to the schools.

The governors are responsible for managing the school budget, deciding which staff to employ (including the appointment of the head teacher), reviewing exclusion decisions, and monitoring the progress of their school.

Does a faith school allow in pupils of a different faith?

A faith school generally admits pupils based upon the particular religion of their parents. It’s not uncommon for a faith school to ask parents to provide proof of their child’s membership of their faith by asking for a letter from a local religious leader or for a copy of a baptism certificate.

Of all faith schools in the UK, most of CoE or Roman Catholic. There are very small numbers of Jewish, Muslim, and Sikh schools.

Marketing to different types of school 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.

They are:

You don’t have to buy the entire database – let us know which types of school you wish to sell to and we’ll come back to you with a count and a quote.

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 010 830 or click here to email our direct marketing and marketing databases team.

Call 0330 010 3495

Promote your products and services direct to UK schools

Please call us on 0330 010 3495 or you can click here to email us, or fill in the form below and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.