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Going to school in England

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What's on this page:

  1. When do children start and leave school in England?
  2. Is education free?
  3. How do I get a school place?
  4. What are the schools for different age children called?
  5. What is a typical school day?
  6. What about school lunches?
  7. What equipment do children need for school?
  8. How do children get to school?
  9. What about missing school?
  10. What subjects do children study at school?
  11. How can I help my child learn English?
  12. How can I help my child with their schoolwork?
  13. How will I know how my child is getting on?
  14. How can I get more involved with my child’s school?

There's a lot of information on this page so we suggest you look at it on a computer, not a phone. There are computers in libraries across the town which you can use for free.


1. When do children start and leave school in England?

Early education

Certain 2-year-olds can get some free early education. In Middlesbrough this is called 'Achieving Two Year Olds'.

All 3 and 4 year-olds can get a certain amount of free early education. Usually this is taken as 15 hours per week, for 38 weeks of the year.

Free early education can take place at:

  • nursery schools
  • nurseries on school sites
  • nursery classes in schools and academies
  • children’s centres
  • day nurseries
  • some playgroups and pre-schools
  • childminders

You can use the Childcare Choices website to find out what early education your child can get.

Starting school

Children start primary school full-time in the academic year in which they turn five years of age. The first class they will attend is called the Reception class.

Leaving school

Your child can leave school on the last Friday in June if they'll be 16 by the end of the summer holidays. They must then do one of the following things:

  • full-time education, e.g. school or college
  • an apprenticeship
  • 20 hours or more a week working or volunteering, while in part-time education or training

2. Is education free?

Education in state (maintained) schools is free. This includes community schools (run by the council), foundation schools, voluntary schools, academies, and grammar schools.

You'll still need to pay for your child's:

  • school lunch - unless your child can get free school meals, or they bring food from home to eat (a packed lunch)
  • school uniform

You may also have to pay for:

  • educational visits outside school
  • some activities after the end of the school day or at weekends
  • private music lessons

You'll have to pay to send your child to a private school, public school, or independent school.


3. How do I get a school place?

You must apply for a school place for your child. Your child can't attend any school if they haven't applied for a place first.

If you live in Middlesbrough, you must apply to Middlesbrough Council for your child's school place.

You must apply to Middlesbrough Council even if you want your child to go to a school somewhere else. The council will then find out if there are any places available at that school.

If you have moved from overseas to live in England with your children, you can apply for them to attend a maintained school, no matter what your immigration status is.

Some schools have special admission arrangements. For example, religious schools can ask to see proof of your child's religion.

You can find out more in the school admissions section or contact the School Admissions team.


4. What are the schools for different age children called?
 

Type of school Age Year School stage
Nursery 3-4 FS1 or nursery Foundation Stage
Primary school 4-5 FS2 or Reception Foundation Stage
Primary school

5-6

6-7

Year 1

Year 2

Key Stage 1

Primary school

7-8

8-9

9-10

10-11

Year 3

Year 4

Year 5

Year 6

Key Stage 2
Secondary school

11-12

12-13

13-14

Year 7

Year 8

Year 9

Key Stage 3
Secondary school

14-15

15-16

Year 10

Year 11

Key Stage 4
Secondary school or Further Education College

16-17

17-18

Year 12

Year 13

Key Stage 5 (sixth form)

We don't hold children back a year if they do badly in their tests. It is very rare for children to be held back a year in school, because it is actually harmful to their education.


5. What is a typical school day?

Schools are open from Monday to Friday. Each school decides on their own opening and closing times, but most start at about 8.45am (in the morning) and end at about 3.30pm (in the afternoon).

Some schools have clubs called 'breakfast clubs', which start before the school day begins. You might have to pay for your child to go to a breakfast club.

Most schools have a range of after-school clubs for pupils. These usually finish at about 4.30pm (in the afternoon).

A typical primary school day:

Time Activity
8.45am School starts. Teachers take a register of attendance
9am - 10am English
10am - 10:30am Break (playtime)
10:30am - 11:30am Maths
11:30am - 12:15pm Physical education (PE)
12:15pm - 1pm Lunch
1pm - 1:30pm Phonics / guided reading
1:30pm - 3:30pm Science/geography/history/art
3:30pm School ends

School holidays

Each school should have its holiday dates on its website. As a guide, schools:

  • close for two weeks at Christmas
  • close for two weeks at Easter
  • close for six weeks from the middle of July until the end of August
  • have 3 one-week breaks each year (called 'half term' holidays)

Most schools have some extra days off during the years as well. These are called 'professional development' or 'PD days'. Each school chooses when to take their PD days, so check with your child's school when they are. Most schools publish the dates of PD days on their website and send reminders to parents.

You can look at school term dates for Middlesbrough, but these are only a guide. Speak to your child's school for the exact dates.


6. What about school meals?

Your child can eat a midday meal at school which costs about £2 each day.

Your child's school will help you to apply for free school meals if you get any of these benefits:

  • Income Support
  • income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • support under Part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999
  • the guaranteed element of Pension Credit
  • Child Tax Credit (as long as you’re not also entitled to Working Tax Credit, and have an annual income of no more than £16,190)
  • Working Tax Credit run-on (paid for 4 weeks after you stop qualifying for Working Tax Credit)
  • Universal Credit - if you apply on or after 1 April 2018 your household income must be less than £7,400 a year (after tax and not including any benefits you get)

All children in Reception, Year 1, and Year 2 can get free school meals.

Tell your child's school if your child follows a particular diet (e.g. vegetarian), has any allergies, or doesn't eat certain foods for religious or cultural reasons.

You can give your child food from home (a 'packed lunch') to eat instead of a school lunch. Schools often ask parents not to put sweets or chocolate in a packed lunch.


7. What equipment do children need for school?

Schools will usually give children most of the equipment they need for lessons. However, schools often expect children to have:

  • a writing pen
  • a writing pencil and some coloured pencils
  • a ruler, with measure in centimetres
  • an eraser (a 'rubber')

If you don't know what your child needs, ask their school.

Some secondary schools have extra expect students to have a scientific calculator and a geometry set.

Your child will need a PE kit for sports, which may include:

  • clothes and shoes for outdoor games and athletics
  • clothes and shoes for indoor games and gymnastics
  • a swimming costume and towel

Schools usually prefer pupils to wear PE kit in particular colours. Your school will have more details in the school brochure which you can find on the school website.


8. How do children get to school?

Children can walk, cycle, or take a train or bus to school. Some parents drive their children to school.

There is no law about when children can travel to school on their own. But you need to be sure that your child is safe getting to and from school. Most children of secondary school age (age 11 or older) make the journey to school by themselves, often with friends.

Your children may be able to get free transport to school, depending on how far away from the school you live, and any needs they have. All children aged between 5 and 16 qualify for free school transport if they go to their nearest suitable school and live at least:

  • 2 miles from the school if they’re under 8
  • 3 miles from the school if they’re 8 or older

You can find out more on the home to school transport page.


9. What about missing school?

It is important that you always tell the school if your child won't be attending, even if it's just for one day.

If your child is unwell, they won’t be able to attend school. You may also ask for your child to miss school for a religious festival.

If your child needs a medical appointment (e.g. doctor, dentist, etc.), try to make the appointment outside of school hours. This means your child won't miss out on any of their education.

You may want to take a long trip to visit family and friends overseas. If you want to do this during term time (i.e. not the school holidays), you will need to ask the school if it's okay. Most schools ask that families arrange these trips during the school holidays. Headteachers may refuse to approve a holiday during term time, so if you go on the holiday anyway, you could have to pay a fine.


10. What subjects do children study at school?

Pupils aged 5 to 16 in local authority maintained schools must follow the national curriculum. This is organised into 4 key stages and 12 subjects.

Schools are free to choose how they organise their school day, as long as all pupils are taught the national curriculum. Pupils in Key Stage 4 choose their own ‘options’ to study for GCSE or other examinations.

Key Stages 1 and 2

Compulsory national curriculum subjects at primary school are:

  • English
  • maths
  • science
  • design and technology
  • history
  • geography
  • art and design
  • music
  • physical education (PE), including swimming
  • computing
  • ancient and modern foreign languages (at Key Stage 2)

Schools must provide religious education (RE) but parents can ask for their children to be taken out of the whole lesson or part of it.

Schools often also teach:

  • personal, social and health education (PSHE)
  • citizenship
  • modern foreign languages (at Key Stage 1)

Key Stage 3

Compulsory national curriculum subjects are:

  • English
  • maths
  • science
  • history
  • geography
  • modern foreign languages
  • design and technology
  • art and design
  • music
  • physical education
  • citizenship
  • computing

Schools must provide religious education (RE) and sex education from key stage 3 but parents can ask for their children to be taken out of the whole lesson or part of it.

Key Stage 4

In Key Stage 4 most pupils work towards national qualifications - usually GCSEs.

The compulsory national curriculum subjects are the ‘core’ and ‘foundation’ subjects.

Core subjects are:

  • English
  • maths
  • science

Foundation subjects are:

  • computing
  • physical education
  • citizenship

Schools must also offer at least one subject from each of these areas:

  • arts
  • design and technology
  • humanities
  • modern foreign languages

They must also provide RE and sex education at Key Stage 4.

You can ask the school not to include your child in Religious Education lessons nor in collective worship.

Academies and free schools do not have to teach the National Curriculum. However, they must teach a broad and balanced curriculum including English, mathematics, science and religious education.


11. How can I help my child learn English?

Children learn English more quickly and do better at school if they have a strong first or home language and feel that they are adding English to this rather than replacing their home language with English.

Good first language skills act as a support for learning another language. The development of the first language teaches children how to speak and understand that language. It also teaches them how languages work.

Give babies and toddlers a good start by using your first language in the home. Once children start learning English at school, it is important for them to continue to use and develop their first language. Encourage your child to read and write in their first language as well as to speak it. Reading dual language books with your child will help them to make links between your first language and English and will help them with their reading and writing in English.


12. How can I help my child with their schoolwork?

You should encourage your child to develop their first language. If they keep their first language active while they are learning English, and use their first language in their learning, they can continue their intellectual development without a break. Knowing more than one language can increase the flexibility of your child’s thinking. There are also lots of job opportunities for people who speak more than one language.

Ask your child’s teachers to tell you what texts will be read in class. You could read and discuss these texts with your child in your first language before they are read in class.

If you know the topics that your child will learn about, you can discuss these with your child in your first language before, during and after the study of the topic in school. This will help to reinforce their understanding and also help them to develop academic English.

You could ask your child’s teachers to give you some key words related to the topics they will study.

You can discuss the meaning of these words in your first language with your child. You could help your child to find these words in a dual language dictionary or use Google translate to find out what they mean. You could help your child to keep a vocabulary book with key words for topics/ subjects. They could write the words in English together with translations of the words in the first language and maybe an explanation or a picture.

Nearly all schools give children homework. Most schools provide a diary or planner where this is recorded. Finding out from your child what homework they have been set and checking that they have done it will be really useful.


13. How will I know how my child is getting on?

Primary school teachers may talk to you informally. All schools have parent/teacher meetings for you to come and meet the teachers and to discuss your child’s progress in all school subjects. Your school may contact you by letter, although some use their websites. You should check the school’s website from time to time to stay in touch with what is going on.

If you want to ask the school for a meeting it is best to phone the school to make an appointment as it is often difficult for teachers to talk to parents during the school day.

You will also get information from school reports and the results of tests your child takes. Progress in the National Curriculum is measured in Levels.

End of Key Stage Age of children Expected level
Key Stage 1 7 years Level 2
Key Stage 2 11 years Level 4
Key Stage 3 14 years Level 5/6
Key Stage 4 16 years 5 GCSEs at 4-9, including English and maths (previously A* - C)

You need to remember that some children are ahead of national expectations and some take longer to reach them.


14. How can I get more involved with my child’s school?

  • Join the Parent Teachers Association (PTA), which are groups of parents who run fund raising activities to help buy extra resources for the school.
  • Volunteer and, with the Headteacher’s agreement, come into school to help support children with reading or offsite visits or other activities.
  • Offer to become a School Governor. Parent governors can be elected or sometimes appointed.

As a governor you can make a real difference in helping your school provide the best possible education for all of its pupils.

Some schools also have Parent Councils which help the Governors find out and respond to parents’ views. You could offer to join this.

You can also get involved in school life by attending the parent/teacher meetings, which are held regularly, and by attending the many school events that take place throughout the year.