The ultimate education timeline: What to do and when


    If you’re unsure what to do for your child’s schooling, and when, here’s our myth-busting guide to planning their education and avoid missing those all-important deadlines

    Gazing down at your toddler, school can seem a distant concept you need not concern yourself with right now, but awareness of registration dates is essential when it comes to starting their educational journey. Navigating the British education system can feel overwhelming – the independent and state sectors operate on entirely different timetables when it comes to applications and starting age, and even schools within each sector have their own policies. Working out a plan for your child’s education is not something to fester at the bottom of your to-do list. Time is of paramount importance as places for some of London’s best prep schools are first-come, first-served.

    Here is a timeline to guide you through the whole process, but it’s worth noting the below framework as a guide:

    Pre-preparatory (pre-prep) schools cater for children aged four to seven, although there are fewer standalone pre-preps than there used to be; most are part of a prep school.
    Preparatory (prep) schools admit children at the age of eight, and prepare them for senior school. Many start from age four (see above) and go until 11 or 13.
    Senior schools admit children at age 11 or 13 and generally continue through to age 18.
    7+, 11+, 13+ are the milestone entrance exams used by schools denoted by the age they will be when they start. 13+ is also called the Common Entrance exam.
    Grammar schools are academically orientated secondary schools within the state system with a selective intake by means of an entrance exam.

    Note that every school and borough is different, so check with the institutions you are interested in to avoid disappointment.


    At birth/ shortly after – Some pre-prep and prep schools are first-come, first-served, so they will require you to register your child the day they are born or very shortly after. You will also need to think about registering your child if they are attending a private nursery as London places are extremely competitive.

    Age 1-2½ - It’s time to think about which catchment area you are in for state schools. If you’re thinking of a private school, most pre-prep and prep school applications will need to be in by now.

    Age 2 – Independent pre-school or kindergarten starts now.

    Age 3 – Children can usually start in a state-run nursery from the beginning of the school term after their third birthday. State primary school applications need to be submitted in the January of the year your child is due to start school in the September, so those who turn four during the coming academic year (1 September to 31 August). Private schools that assess children will do so when the child is three. Places should be offered one year in advance of entry.

    Age 4½ - 7 or 8 – If at a private school, your child will attend pre-prep. Should you be considering the 7+ (to start an independent prep school in Year 3) entrance exams usually take place early in the spring term for entry the following September. You will need to have registered at least 12 months before their start date.

    Age 4-11 – State primary education begins once your child is four.

    Age 9-10 – Register your child for their independent secondary school. Go to open days and meet heads of schools and the admissions team where possible.

    Age 11-18  – State secondary school starts. Apply by 31 October of Year 6 in primary school. Some independent schools start at 11, too.

    Age 11 or 13 – Most independent schools have a Year 7 or Year 9 entry. Some have Year 6 entry for which an exam will be taken in Year 5. The 11+ exam is taken in the January of Year 6. The Common Entrance 13+ exam is taken in June of Year 8 – this is preceded by a pre-test and interview in Year 6 or 7 when a firm offer has been made; the child then sits the exam for that school. Some grammar school applications need to be in before mid-July of Year 5, with exams taken in the autumn of Year 6. Many London day schools have their own exams for 13+/Year 9 entry taken in the January of Year 8. These applications must be made at least 12 months beforehand.

    Age 13-18 – Independent secondary school starts, day or boarding.

    Age 16-18 – When GCSE results are known, that can determine entry into sixth form or a sixth form college. Check with individual colleges for dates. For a 16+ move to a private secondary school, interviews and exams are undertaken in the autumn of Year 11.

    Want more? How to help your kids cope with exam stress