Moving to England- How To Manage Kid's School?

I am in serious need of guidance and advice. I am an American. I have been recruited to a London hospital and am tentatively scheduled to move to London in February 2022. This happened quite suddenly. I have a daughter who is 15 years old, and currently in 10th grade in the United States. She turns 16 in Sept 2022. Originally, I was going to have her stay in the US with her other parent (we are divorced but have a close relationship) until the end of term in June. Unfortunately, our local school will not allow her to remain enrolled for the final 3 months of the term, which means she would have to switch schools anyway. It seems to us a better plan to change schools only once, instead of midway through the spring term and then again when she comes to England in the summer.

We are absolutely baffled about whether to enroll her in a college in London or a local secondary school. She is a smart child, and made honor roll every term from age 12 onwards, with the exception of lockdown, which was quite hard. Here secondary school / high school has a standard curriculum all must follow. She takes history, English, Spanish, gym, art, maths (geometry this year), health, and drawing. She aims to go to University, but is unsure of her intended major.

Would you recommend we enroll her in a local secondary school? College? Something else? How the heck do we even do this? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Do you want her/Does she want to go to an English school? Because, otherwise, the answer is The American School in London (ASL). And other, similar institutions. Fifty-five years ago, I lived out in Surrey and went to an English Grammer school for a couple of years while my older brothers commuted into London to go to ASL. Then we moved into London and I went to The Overseas School in London for a year and then ASL for a couple of years. Most of the teachers are American and the curriculum is similar (but better) than an American high school. The school is still going strong.

Or, you could do what two of my sisters did and send her off to boarding school on the continent. My sisters seem to have a fun time partying in Austria.

This is an excellent idea and I am checking it out now.

I want her educated in some manner, and not a street urchin, sticking hat pins into gentlemen on the train to steal their pocket change.

Especially in this cashless society we live in.

Yikes! £32k a year.

Hat pins it is.

It was a good idea though.

This is why she clearly needs an education- the two-bit slatternly ways are even ill-informed.

Until someone better qualified to help you comes along, some suggestions/thoughts.

Where will you be living? The local education authority will have a catchment area, so in practice, if you’re planning to use the UK state school system, you’ll be restricted to the schools in your area.

Let’s say you are planning to move to New Cross. Google new cross local education authority - the following site is hit #2

The tab “Schools” will take you to further tabs including a list of secondary schools and information on schools admissions.

So if you know where you are going to be living, you can therefore contact a selection of the local schools and ask them for guidance.

The following seems like a useful … do we call it British Education System 101?

There’s also a wiki page on

Finally, is your future employer in a position to help with advice?


ETA - not all schools are equal - is anyone (perhaps a future colleague?) in a position to guide you towards the better ones? When you are looking for a home, an estate agent may be able to offer suggestions.

Can you help a gal out with what Tenth grade is? How old will she be?

Kids go to secondary school until at least 16, when they take their GCSE exams (which your daughter obviously won’t be able to do). After that, they can take two years of A Levels (the precurser quals for university), either at a high school which has a ‘sixth form’, or a six form college. I’m afraid I have NO idea how someone from outside the system would be able to start A Levels having not done GCSEs. But tapping up the local education authority for advice is certainly the place to start.

Bear in mind that quality of schools do vary, but you can get an idea of standards by looking up schools on OFSTED (the english school’s government inspectorate).

You should also try chat forum - there ain’t nothing those girls don’t know, I am told.

Full disclosure - my response was largely based on asking Mrs T - a retired teacher. And my reaction was similar to my bolding above - how do you get taught a full curriculum in a year and a bit? (if I’ve calculated that right.) Mrs T’s response - it’s a really difficult time to be making the shift, but for most subjects it should be do-able. Maths is maths (add the S for UK use), science is science, Spanish is Spanish. History is a problem.

So maybe not as bad as you and I presumed.

Good calls on OFSTED and mumsnet, BTW.


Middle class parents in the UK who are keen to obtain the best education for the fruit if their loins take a forensic approach to finding the best state schools. There are plenty of league tables that help. Some are very good indeed. The catch is, to be eligible you have to live in the geographic catchment area. So they move house to be near a good school and this tends to influence property values and rents. Many state schools have very good facilities and call themselves academies. The state education sector got a big injection of government finance during the Tony Blair/Gordon Brown years and invested in education infrastructure. If the schools don’t get good results, they are closed down, renamed and relaunched with new staff. It is government policy to inspect them rigourously and the reports are available to the public. So there is a lot of information out there.

For the well heeled, there are the private schools, which are confusingly called ‘Public schools’. These have long histories and were established by charitable foundations for ‘the education of the Public’. Sometime in the 19th century they became factories for training gentlemen to go out and manage the natives in the furthest reaches of the Empire. So attending one these schools became route to a social and professional network. They account for that peculiar variety of Englishman that seem to get the best jobs and accounts for most of the senior politicians who are busy mismanaging the country with an erudite incompetence for which the UK is internationally famous.

There are league tables for these schools as well and are popular with expats from everywhere who are looking for a Hogwarts experience and are route to an easy entrance to one of the top universities.

State school ‘sixth form’ colleges teaching A-levels to students that are over 16 are a good choice because the teachers specialise in that 16-18 age group heading for a university education.

Hope this helps.

I don’t think you’d have much of a choice regarding the secondary school/college- colleges would be very unlikely to accept a 15 year old who hasn’t done GCSEs, she wouldn’t meet the requirements. You’d be looking at a secondary school.

It’s not an easy time to make the shift though- the GSCE syllabus really is taught as a 2 year block, even switching from one UK school to another at that time can make things very hard.

There are variations, and I think there has been a shift towards the single exam focus (so far as that’s been possible these last few years) but there may even be some work the rest of the class has already submitted by the time she starts in some classes. Given the situation, I think your best bet would be to maybe have a quick check of league tables, but mainly I’d try and contact the schools in the area where you’ll be moving, and talk to them. IMO the top priority would be to get a school who’s dealt with students in similar situations before and has a good idea how to support them, and you’re not going to find that out by looking at the lists.

I went to a school that was right at the top of the league tables (it made the top 10 for state schools countrywide), but they did that in part by effectively pushing anyone struggling into switch elsewhere - they gave zero support. Never dropped below a top OFSTED rating either. I’ve taken the league tables with a pinch of salt since. I mean, avoid places at the bottom, but…

Since your daughter’s in 10th grade already, just 2 1/2 years to graduate and move up to college/university, the long-range plan is important. If she’s planning to attend a US college, then most of them would accept the UK GSCE exams which are something like the USA AP exams.,'%20(AP)%20classes).

Or you could look for a UK school that teaches IB (International Baccalaureate) courses, which quite a number of USA high schools do, instead of AP.

Get her set up with some sort of credit/debit card reader, and she could do a modern take on the Victorian match-seller.

Online early admissions classes at a US university that will then admit her? Online US GED program followed by UK university coursework? I don’t know what the options are; maybe the embassy or your colleagues can help?

I don’t understand; why won’t the school let her finish out the school year?

This bit really confused me, too. Public schools pretty much have to take anyone who’s living in the area. They don’t get to pick and choose like this.

They may be requiring that she is living with a legal guardian who is a resident of that school district.

Oh–if the other parent lives in a different district? That makes total sense.

Perhaps. But rather than change schools three months from the end of the term, would it be easier to change schools, now, between semesters? Perhaps to the school in the partner’s district. (And of course another option is a boarding school in the US. Not cheap, though.)

There’s a forum for American ex-pats in the UK, you could try your question there - UK-Yankee Forum - Index