What Age Do Children Start School in the UK?
In the UK, children are typically entitled to start school in the September following their fourth birthday. This is known as the Reception year, and it is the earliest year that a child can start primary school in the UK. The eldest children in the year group will turn five at the start of Reception.
However, children aren’t legally obligated to start school until they are of Compulsory School Age in the UK, which is a set point in the year following their fifth birthday. For example:
If a child is born in the summer between 1st April and 31st August, they do not have to start school until a full year after they could have been admitted.
This is a general rule of thumb across the UK, with the only exception being that children in Scotland are entitled to start school in the August following their fourth birthday.
If your child is going to attend a state school, then you must apply through your local council/authority. Even if your child attends a nursery on a school site, they will not be guaranteed a place at that school and a separate application will need to be made.
The application window opens on different days across various council areas in the UK, so it’s important to keep an eye on your local authority’s website at the start of the Autumn term the year before your child starts school. Applications typically close on 15th January each year.
If you want to send your child to a private school, it’s important to remember that the application process differs depending on the chosen school. Rather than contacting your local authority, you will need to contact the school directly. Some private schools require children to complete an age-appropriate assessment during the application process.
Guidance for foster parents
For foster parents, this process is a little different. School admission is managed by your child’s Local Authority (LA) social worker, supported by their virtual school in England and by their children’s education team in Wales. Children who are looked after have the highest priority for school admission in England and Wales.
If you live in England, you can find details about Ofsted-rated Good to Outstanding schools on your Local Authority’s Local Offer website. If you live in Wales, you can find details about ESTYN-graded Excellent or Good schools on your local council’s website.
For foster children born between 1st April and 31st August, there might be agreement to defer their admission until later in the academic year. There can be various reasons for doing so, including delayed social, emotional or physical development, which will affect their readiness for school. In some instances, admission into school might be delayed by a full academic year,
Any deferment will be considered beforehand in discussions with your child’s LA social worker and virtual school or LACE team, as they have corporate parenting responsibility.
Some schools across the UK offer a staggered entry for new Reception starters, where children attend part-time to get used to the new environment. However, this option is only available if the child is not at Compulsory School Age, where they will then have to attend school full-time.
The years prior to mandatory education are known as pre-school, nursery, early-years education of the early years’ foundation stage (EYFS) across the UK. Your child will then move out of this stage when they are old enough to move into Key Stage 1.
Following their third birthday, all children across the UK are entitled to 15 hours of funded early-years education per week. These places are available at any setting registered to receive the Nursery Education Grant, and include pre-schools, day nurseries and child minders, which are all regularly inspected by Ofsted.
It is not compulsory for your child to receive early-years education, but it can help prepare them for school at the primary school level and give them a chance to gain social skills and new experiences that they wouldn’t necessarily get in a home environment.
It is possible for your child to receive early-years education below the age of three, but you will usually have to pay a fee. However, if you are a lower income household, your child may be entitled to 15 hours of funded early-years education per week following their second birthday, depending on family income/benefits.
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