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Moving to the UK - the education system

(62 Posts)
MumDownUnder16 Thu 15-Oct-15 02:52:50

Hi everyone, I have recently discovered this site and there is so much information on here it looks like a great place to ask for advice. My hubby our 10 year old son (turns 11 at the start of February) and I are moving over at the end of the year, just for 6 months at this stage. We live in NZ and whilst hubby has UK passport and lived in the UK 25 years ago I have only ever been once on holiday for a couple of weeks. We loved it over there so have decided to see what it is like to live there. Short term at this stage, with a view to maybe making the move permanent if I can live through the winters.

Hubby has at least 2 job offers, with a 3rd potential offer coming. One job we have discounted due to location - up north, the other is near St Albans and the potential one which he really wants is near Southwark/Tower Bridge in London.

I know virtually nothing about schooling in the UK and it is very different from the system here in NZ...the more I read the more I freak out about whether or not we will even get our boy into a school anywhere! It just sounds so complicated and competitive and downright confusing.

That's before my other worries of is bringing up a child in the UK actually a good idea given we live in boring but safe little old NZ, how will he (or I) make friends, would we ever find somewhere safe to live where we can let him play on the street with other kids like he does here...blah blah

At this stage we have the option of living anywhere in greater London, though obviously we want to keep commuting time to a minimum if possible. Our son currently goes to a private boys school here in NZ (think that is the same as an independent school there), although the fees are half of what they appear to be in the UK.

From a financial perspective it would make life a lot easier not to have to pay 4-6 thousand pounds per term in fees but I am worried that we will not be able to get him into a local school because they are all full. And it looks like you can't choose the school you want, the local council makes the decision for you so even if we get a place it will be because the school has a bad reputation and no one wants to go there.

If that is the case and we have to pay to send him private then we will have to manage but we aren't wealthy by any means so we would probably stick out like sore thumbs.

I have tried looking for 'The Complete Idiot's Guide to UK Schooling' but such a book doesn't seem to exist so apologies for the rambling, but as you can see I really have no idea. I would love any advice that anyone can offer about how the system works, which schools/areas are to be avoided, which schools are good (fee paying or not), how to apply and any other information a newbie might need.

Thanks in advance fellow mums!

Apart from your dismissal of 'up north' it sounds like you've researched it pretty well. I think your best idea now would be to call the admissions offices of the boroughs your considering moving to and discuss with them. They'll know if schools have places

Your biggest problem is that when you arrive you'll be looking for a primary school but you will also need to get a secondary place for September 2016 and will be applying late (deadline is very soon & you can't apply until you're here) If private schooling is an option then that might be sensible at least while you wait for a place to become available.

RitaConnors Thu 15-Oct-15 03:43:30

We are moving to the uk next week from Australia with an 11 year old. My plan is to not worry about it till we get there....I don't know if that will work out though. As you can't apply until you are there we decided that we would wait and look at schools after we get there.

When we moved to Australia years ago I think that we placed too much importance on finding the right school before we arrived.

MumDownUnder16 Thu 15-Oct-15 04:23:03

Didn't mean to sound dismissive about 'up north'...we just decided that if we were going to spend only 6 months in the UK then we would try and stay as close to London as possible!

louisejxxx Thu 15-Oct-15 07:18:39

Unfortunately the timing of your move isn't brilliant because as a pp says - not only will you be in difficulty getting a primary space when you arrive, but you will also have missed the deadline for applying for secondary places should you still find yourself here in September next year.

Kangenchunga1 Thu 15-Oct-15 07:22:03

St Albans is lovely but very expensive.

Sorry. I didn't mean to sound snippy about your North comment. That came out wrong. Make sure you visit though. It's beautiful up here.

I like Rita's attitude. Moving and trying not to worry skunds wise.

MumDownUnder16 Thu 15-Oct-15 07:37:07

But given there is so much migration to/from and within the UK, surely schools have to accept students that move into the area at any time? I understand the deadline for applying...we have that here too...but if you move into an area, surely your local school is obliged to take you? Or do kids just end up not going to school because there are no places?

Artandco Thu 15-Oct-15 07:43:37

I would actually go for the St. Albans job as then you can live there, which is far cheaper and spacious that tower bridge area in London. It's not far from London so you can all go into London at the weekends, but a commute from there to Southwark would get annoying as always in rush hour

As an example housing wise £2000 rent a month would get you a 2 bed flat near Southwark no outdoor space, and a 3/4 bed house with garden in St. Albans

MumDownUnder16 Thu 15-Oct-15 07:43:48

No worries ATUA...we did spend time with family in Derbyshire and we absolutely fell in love with the area. The countryside and villages are jaw droppingly beautiful...actually I though England was wonderful wherever we went and I struggle to understand why so many English who live here in NZ moan about it. I know it's crowded and all that but the history, architecture and fact there is so much to see and do (certainly by NZ standards) left me wanting more!

MumDownUnder16 Thu 15-Oct-15 07:56:00

Thanks Artandco...to be honest we don't actually want a lot of space...in the short term anyway. We have a big house here and it just means lots of cleaning and maintenance. Our idea was more along the lines of renting something like a small terrace or nice apartment that we can lock up and leave on the weekends...we want to have fun and see as much of the UK as possible rather than spend time at home. I guess it's what happens after the 6 months is up...if we decide to stay or not and whether in fact we are better trying to settle immediately into an area that is more suitable in the long term.

Hoppinggreen Thu 15-Oct-15 08:28:16

Your local school is not obliged to take you at all unfortunately. The local authority has an obligation to offer you a school place somewhere but as you said it couid be a school nobody wants and once they have offered one place that's it. I understand that many private schools in London are also full or selective so hard to get into as well.
I don't know St Albans but it sounds like a better bet - but up North wouid be even better !!!

Needmoresleep Thu 15-Oct-15 08:33:55

It is more than possible to raise children in Central London, and its fun living here. Some state primaries near Tower Bridge are good. The Cathedral School www.cathedralprimaryschool.com/ seems to be the one everyone wants to get into, though they seem to take from surprisingly far afield.

If your husband gets the job near Tower Bridge, I would recommend this community website www.london-se1.co.uk/ as a place to get practical questions answered.

Artandco Thu 15-Oct-15 08:37:11

That's the thing, it would be a lot more to actually get a 'nice' apartment in Southwark, a small terrace def not. You could still live in an apartment in St. Albans and live right in centre and it would be a much nicer standard. Also schooling is hard in London, even private which usually requires entry exams or long waiting lists, in St. Albans you are far more likely to get in local school or private

Does he have to actually go to school if it's only 6 months? Personally I would just homeschool. He can do maths and English at home, and will learn history and geography etc from all the travelling if you do, frees you up to visit places and do things weekdays also. If your in UK say Januaru -June, you will have at least a school holiday in February, Easter holidays in April, and half term end of May. These are 1-4 weeks long each depending on area/ or private. So that's potentially 6-7 weeks no school, leaving only 4 1/2 months anyway in school. If you go home anyway he won't need to be following UK curriculum but ideally nz one.

Needmoresleep Thu 15-Oct-15 08:43:20

I disagree with Hopping. I don't think you will have a problem finding a place in a good primary for the last six months of Yr 6. The trend is for families to move out of London, or to switch to private, as children get older, so whilst Reception is a bunfight, the same schools often carry empty places at the top of the school.

Secondary is a whole different issue, and good state schools are highly sought after. If you stay in London one solution is to look at prep schools which go through to 13 but which lose a lot of pupils at 11. And places in private schools in SE London are not nearly as competitive as those in SW London.

Helenluvsrob Thu 15-Oct-15 08:45:07

Your son will be year 6 - last year of primary and you are only going to be here for 6 months. Are you going back to NZ then?

Devils advocate here but why not home educate? He'll be joining a term into the last school year at primary- those last two terms are tests tests tests then fun things for the last few weeks ( shows, concerts, assemblies, trips) If he's not an established member of the group ( some of whom will have been in the same school since age 4 if it's a primary, a tearful leavers assembly with photos of what we did through our school career is meaningless to your son) it's going to be a term of tests that he hasn't been prepared for or even covered the right curriculum, then fun with kids that he hardly knows.

Why not spend 6 months learning about the UK but seeing it, doing museums and theme parks yourself?

Certainly if I took at 10yr old for 6 months in NZ and the roles were reversed, if there was a parent at home I'd not send them to school smile

Needmoresleep Thu 15-Oct-15 08:50:26

There seem to be a few anti-London prejudices as well as anti-Northern prejudices around!

As long as you can afford the rent and don't mind somewhere small Central London will be fine. And a fantastic experience. Being able to just walk or hop on a bus and see as much theatre and as many musuems as you want is amazing. Even now after many years I get a thrill from simply walking along the South Bank.

You certainly won't be the first. And some, whose contracts extend, stay on in the same area. Not least making friends through a local primary school allows for a network of information, eg on whose neighbour wants to rent their house, etc.

Gruach Thu 15-Oct-15 08:54:02

Given choice and funds and only 6 months I also wonder if you wouldn't have more fun outside the overcrowded, stressful South.

You could live somewhere glorious in the North of England, or even in Scotland, and enjoy an outdoor lifestyle. (I'm remembering that whenever there are threads here about where people live that they love, those in Northumberland and Edinburgh always seem remarkably happy.)

You might find slightly less pressure on state school places - but also that school fees are significantly lower the further you are from London. (There's a school in the Lane District that appears to be mostly sailing and climbing.envy)

So, while living in the smoke might be a blast in the short term, I'm suggesting you may well find organization so tough that you give up the idea after six months, whereas if you choose a more enjoyable lifestyle you may decide to stay.

(I know absolutely that life can be equally tough in the north if one is struggling of course but if you have the money to have fun ...)

Gruach Thu 15-Oct-15 09:00:42

And yes, an up to 13+ prep would be far and away the easiest option - giving you time to plan ahead if you decide to stay. (You will have missed deadlines for some highly sought after independent schools - "public schools" but a prep would be helpful in planning the next stage of your son's education.")

Dungandbother Thu 15-Oct-15 09:03:42

I too would say don't put too much emphasis negatively on school place.

There's a logic to follow anyway. Get the job. Decide how close to live to the job. Look at available properties to rent. Before signing the rental, you will have researched the areas and emailed the relevant schools.

I think a primary place will be fairly easy, close to home and he's big enough to walk anyway.

If you decide to stay beyond the Sept, then sort secondary out once that decision has been made.
I agree, avoid SW London. There are lots of private schools SE London if the offered state secondary is unacceptable to you. And if the job is the London one, SE greater London is an excellent commute.
Think Greenwich, Blackheath, Lee and right across to Dulwich past Brockley, even Peckham (in parts) and out towards Bromley, Chislehurst and Kent Borders.

From that Corner of London, even Europe is on your doorstep wink

Gruach Thu 15-Oct-15 09:09:21

(Lake District obvs.)

MumDownUnder16 Thu 15-Oct-15 10:12:16

Wow...thank you SOOO much all of you for your fabulous advice and information. Its great to hear such a variety of opinions and makes us see things from more than one perspective.

In terms of home schooling, that is definitely out. I wish I could be the kind of mother that could do this but I am too selfish and don't have the patience. I love when everybody leaves the house in the morning and I can get on with work. I was actually quite looking forward to the idea that I would have 6 months off and have the weekdays to myself to head out and explore the museums and galleries and just wander around London and soak it all in. My idea of heaven!

As you can imagine our boys is a little worried about the idea of a new school and being the new kid but he is also really excited about the idea of all the things we can't do here..theme parks, Legoland, going to the theatre and hopefully the chance to do a bit of travel in Europe.

balletgirlmum Thu 15-Oct-15 10:24:02

If home school is out of the question I wouod look for a private primary for the kast 6 months of year 6 & try to find one who doesn't do SATS.

As previous postershsve said the last oart of Year 6 is completely geared towards Sats preparation, practice papers & revision. All stuff not relevant to your son & he won't have covered the curriculum.
Once the tests are over in May then it's wind down to leaving time with school trips. Fun activities & leavers concert preparations.

balletgirlmum Thu 15-Oct-15 10:25:00

SATS are compulsory in English state schools but optional in private ones.

smee Thu 15-Oct-15 11:36:44

State schools aren't all like that balletgirl. Anyway SATs don't exist anymore - I'm not too sure what replaced them, but someone will know. My son was yr 6 last year and had a ball. They went on loads of trips though they did gear a lot towards the SATs, they made it fun too. So much depends on the individual school. Tests are done and dusted by May, so that still leaves a good couple of months to have fun.

I'd say more of a thing is that the kids he'll be joining will mostly have been together since they were 4 or 5, so that's maybe hard to break into. If you want him to go to a primary, I'd try and choose a bigger one (more than one class per year), as that gives him more chance of finding new mates.

Definitely stick in London if you like the idea of it - it's largely very good for schools and I think fantastic for kids growing up. My son plays out on the street - we're in inner London. smile

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