A Potted Guide to the School System


Academies, free schools, MATs, maintained schools, faith schools, community schools, foundation schools, trust schools, voluntary aided schools, voluntary controlled schools, university technical colleges, independent schools…

For a more detailed outline about each of these different types of schools, please click here. The government also provide some definitions which can be found here.

Exterior view of school

Read on for (our attempt at) a simplified version of the school system in England and Wales…

We can start with two types of school – state funded and privately funded. Into the latter category fall ‘private’, ‘independent’ and ‘public’ schools. This group have in common the fact that they charge fees for students to attend, and they usually have an entrance examination. Because Teach in Cambs is interested in state-funded schools, though, that’s all we’re going to say about that group.

Again, you can broadly divide state-funded schools into two categories – maintained schools and academies. Essentially, maintained schools are controlled by the Local Authority and academies are controlled by the Board of Trustees for the Academy Trust to which they belong. Both types of school receive funding from the state and are free for students to attend.

multi-academy trust (usually referred to as a MAT) could contain free schools, and/or schools that used to be LA maintained and are now academies. They do not have to sign up to the school teachers’ pay and conditions but usually do and they don’t have to teach the National Curriculum (apart from core subjects) but almost always do. They can vary the length of the school day or term and often have different arrangements from other schools – it’s worth checking when you’re applying for a job at a MAT.

MATs also have different leadership structures. The most common is to have an executive principal or CEO in charge of the MAT as a whole, with each school having its own ‘Head of School’. Often, roles such as SENCo or CPD leader are MAT roles rather than being specific to individual schools.

There are four types of maintained schools:

Community schools    

The Local Authority owns the land and buildings and is also in charge of employing staff and setting arrangements for admissions.

Foundation and trust schools 

Each school is run by its governing body, which sets the criteria for admissions and employing staff. Similarly, the governing body usually owns the land and buildings; in the case of trust schools, a charity is likely to be the property owner.

Voluntary Aided (VA) schools      

A foundation or trust (usually a religious organisation) inputs a small proportion of the capital costs for the school and forms a majority on the school’s governing body, which employs the staff and sets admissions criteria. The land and buildings are usually owned by the religious organisation.

Voluntary Controlled (VC) schools   

Like VA schools but run by the local authority, which employs the staff and sets admissions. The foundation or trust (usually a religious organisation) owns the land and buildings and usually forms a quarter of the governing body.

As you can see, what it boils down to is who owns the land and who employs the staff.

Maintained schools have to follow the National Curriculum and must apply the school teachers’ pay and conditions to their teaching staff. Often, schools join up in informal groups such as clusters, in which they meet to network, for CPD etc, or in more formal groupings such as federations – quite a lot like a mini-MAT but still LA maintained.

One more group of schools that we should mention is faith schools. Although they can be either academies or maintained schools (see VA/VC schools above), faith schools have the freedom to choose their own syllabus for religious studies. They might also have alternative staff policies or criteria for admissions compared to non-faith schools, but anyone can apply for a place at a faith school. In England, the two principal providers of faith schools are the Church of England and the Catholic Education Service.

Although it may appear simple on the surface, the school system is actually a lot more complex than many people realise. At Teach in Cambs, we understand the importance of ensuring those considering new positions are fully aware of the type of school they are applying to, as well as the sheer variety of different schools within our county.