Schools, Further Education Colleges and Universities
Ukrainian refugees have the right to access education in the UK. Here, we give a brief overview of schools, and education institutions such as colleges and universities.
On this page
- Primary and secondary schools
- School starting age and progression
- Applying for state schools
- School term times and holidays
- School attendance
- Support for Ukrainian refugees in schools
- School uniform
- Nursery places
- Further education colleges
- Universal Credit support for students without parental support
- University education in the UK and student loans
- Equivalence of Ukrainian qualifications
- Continuing Ukrainian university online in the UK
Primary and secondary schools
The Government has produced useful information regarding school education here: https://www.gov.uk/browse/childcare-parenting/schools-education. There is also information in the Welcome Guide for Ukrainian refugees here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/childcare-and-education-up-to-16-years-old-homes-for-ukraine.
There are quite a few types of schools – broadly speaking though, there are ‘state’ schools, where education is free for all children, however, some parents choose to send their children to ‘private’ schools where there are admission fees of around £15000 a year or more. Some private schools do offer scholarships to some pupils.
Some state schools are ‘selective’, which means that interested children must prepare for, enter and take ’11+ plus’ entrance exams held once a year in order to meet the eligibility criteria for being offered a place.
Private schools will also usually have admissions tests; these could be at different ages (7+, 9+ etc) depending on the school.
In general, younger children attend primary school, and older children attend secondary school, although some schools still have other variations such as infant and junior schools.
School starting age and progression
Most children start school full-time in the September after their fourth birthday. This means they’ll turn 5 during their first school year.
For example, if your child’s fourth birthday is between 1 September 2022 and 31 August 2023, they will usually start school in September 2023.
Children will usually start in what is known as Reception Year at primary school. From here, there are 6 more classes (called Year 1 to Year 6), which are attended at primary school.
After this, usually you would progress to secondary school, which runs from Year 7 to Year 11 (another 5 years of school). Pupils starting secondary school are usually aged 11 or 12.
In Year 11, children will sit exams known as GCSEs.
All young people in England are required to continue in education or training until their 18th birthday and most continue until the end of the academic year that they turn 18. From the age of 16, many children will go on to study 3 or 4 A level subjects (or Highers in Scotland). You can study for these at a secondary school ‘sixth form’, which refers to Years 12 and 13. You can continue in the same secondary school, or apply to the ‘sixth form’ at another school. It is also possible to study at a further education college or take up an apprenticeship aged 16 and over. See https://www.gov.uk/guidance/education-for-people-from-16-years-old-to-adults-homes-for-ukraine. Local councils must support 16 and 17 year olds to get into education and training.
From the age of 18, you can take up a higher education course such as an undergraduate degree from a university or college.
Read more about school starting age and when it’s compulsory to start school by in this country here: https://www.gov.uk/schools-admissions/school-starting-age
Applying for state schools
When it comes to applying for schools, state schools may have different admissions criteria, which will be published. These criteria determine the priorities by which applicants are selected and offered places. Generally speaking, one very common criteria is based on distance; the closer you live to a school, the better your chances of admission. Faith schools will have priority admissions criteria based on religious background as well. For any school that you are interested in, it’s advisable to understand their specific admission criteria so that you can judge whether or not it is a feasible option for you.
Ultimately though, you will always be offered a place at a school, although it might not be your first or ideal choice.
Usually, there are fixed times of the year when applications to join a primary or seconday school are made. Parents list up to 6 choices, submit their application form by the application deadline, and receive letters telling them which school they have been offered some months later. The child then starts at their new school in September.
One important thing to note: although you apply via the local council that you live at, you can apply for schools that are in other councils’ areas. Your nearest or preferred school might even be in the neighbouring council area.
In order to apply for a primary school place, you can enter your postcode on this page in order to be directed to your local council’s relevant webpage: https://www.gov.uk/apply-for-primary-school-place.
In order to apply for a secondary school place, the equivalent link is: https://www.gov.uk/apply-for-secondary-school-place.
However, for Ukrainian refugees arriving throughout the year, and in different class years, you don’t need to wait till September to start school. You will follow what is known as the ‘in year admissions‘ process. Contact your local council to find out how to do this. They can tell you which schools still have places and how to apply. You may ask to go on the waiting list for other schools, and change schools if a space comes up. Once your child has been offered a place, they will usually start school at the beginning of the following term.
School term times and holidays
The school year is divided into 3 terms, each of which has a one or two week holiday in the middle known as ‘half-term’. There are also Christmas, Easter and summer holidays.
Check the local council website for the term start and end dates for the school that your child attends, as these can vary from one council to another. Importantly, check your school’s website or parent WhatsApp groups, as it’s quite common for each school to have some ‘inset’ days in the academic year, which means the school is closed for staff training, and you will need to arrange childcare or take the day off work.
Schools expect children to attend school for every day of the term, unless there is a good reason. If you do not inform the school beforehand that your child will not be attending, this can be classed as an ‘unauthorised absence’ and there is a risk of fines or welfare involvement if it continues.
If your child is sick, then normally, you would be required to telephone or email the school the same morning and tell them they will not be attending.
If you need to arrange a visit to Ukraine and want to miss some days of school, speak to the school first and give your reasons (maybe it’s hard to afford the flights otherwise), as the school may be willing to authorise the absence in this case as an exception.
Support for Ukrainian refugees in schools
See this statement from the Minister for Education: SoS integration letter (publishing.service.gov.uk) – the Government clearly sets out that there should be support for:
- loan of laptops for children that need them
- childcare during holidays and free school meals for low income families through the Holiday Activities and Food programme (see also Help With Childcare).
You may have to remind your local council of these obligations and expectations, as some will be better organised than others.
While you may be worried that your child doesn’t speak English and won’t be able to cope, it seems that children do pick up English quickly through being immersed and surrounded by English speakers all day, so give this some time. Speak to the school if you think your child needs further support.
If your child is a victim of bullying at their new school, please raise the matter with their class teacher or headteacher in the first instance, as state schools are obliged to have policies in place for preventing and dealing with bullying by law (see https://www.gov.uk/bullying-at-school).
It is also recommended to ask to be added to any WhatsApp groups that exist for your child’s class or school year, and to make sure you are on the school mailing list, so that you don’t miss any important communications.
For school uniform, try the specific school first for second-hand uniform, local Facebook pages, or Asda, Tesco, M&S and Sainsbury’s are very good for unbranded uniform and shoes at good prices.
All children aged 3 and 4 are entitled to 15 hours free nursery education per week, regardless of their parents’ circumstances. See https://www.childcarechoices.gov.uk/.
Some children aged 2 may also be entitled to 15 hours e.g. if the parent is on Universal Credit.
The 15 hours may be provided by primary schools who have their own nurseries (but these will usually be full already) or private nurseries, as part of a larger number of hours / days. Contact your local nurseries to see if they have space.
If you are eligible for help from Universal Credit (i.e. your savings are below £16000), you could receive up to 85% of childcare costs, to enable you to afford childcare while you work. See Help With Childcare and UK Benefits System for more details.
Further education colleges
In addition to universities that tend to offer more academic courses, there are many further education colleges that offer more vocational courses.
If you are aged 16 to 19, courses are free. The colleges also offer courses for adults, such as English classes.
This website gives a good description of further education colleges: Careerpilot : Get information : Further education at 16+ : What is Further Education (FE)?
Universal Credit for students without parental support
Students who are here without parental support could be eligible for Universal Credit to support themselves. See https://www.gov.uk/universal-credit/eligibility – “You can also claim Universal Credit if you’re 21 or under, studying any qualification up to A level or equivalent and do not have parental support.”
This would apply to those Ukrainian children coming to the UK without their parents.
See UK Benefits System for details on how to check what you are entitled to and how to apply.
University education in the UK and student loans
Under the Ukraine visa schemes, you are classed as a ‘home’ student rather than an ‘overseas’ student when it come to university education in the UK. This means that different fees apply. See https://www.gov.uk/guidance/education-for-people-from-16-years-old-to-adults-homes-for-ukraine.
University education is not free in the UK (with the exception of Scotland, where ‘home’ students receive free tuition). Typically, you take out a ‘student loan’ with the Student Loans Company (a Government organisation) to pay for your fees, and to support yourself financially during your education, but you are only required to start paying back this loan once you are earning above a certain threshold of income. The threshold depends on which country you end up living in after your studies. It is an affordable option to pay for education, and it is how the majority of the students in the UK get through university.
For example, currently, if you were to go on to find a job in the UK, the threshold is around £27200. If you were to go on to find a job back in Ukraine, the threshold is around £10300. You pay 9% of the amount over the threshold, per annum. If you earned £10500, you would pay 9% x £200 = £18 over the year to the Student Loans Company. These thresholds and rates change every year, but it is always meant to be affordable. See https://www.gov.uk/repaying-your-student-loan/what-you-pay
The website for student loans is https://www.gov.uk/student-finance; this is a good place to start your research. Also see the terms and conditions of the student loan here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/student-loans-a-guide-to-terms-and-conditions/student-loans-a-guide-to-terms-and-conditions-2022-to-2023 – especially paragraph 6.7 which explains what happens if you leave the UK after your studies.
The process is to apply for all the courses that you are interested in, with the universities, and apply for a student loan at the same time. Hopefully, you will be successful in being accepted onto one of the courses. Your application for a student loan (in England) is through Student Finance England, which is part of the Student Loans Company.
When applying for a student loan, select the option ‘ROW’ – Rest of the World.
You can take out a loan partway through a course e.g. if you decide to transfer to a UK university to continue your studies.
Note that the Government is not funding you for free; it is a loan, but it is a good option as you do not pay anything until you can afford it. If after 30 years, you have not managed to earn enough to pay it all off, the loan itself is cancelled.
In Scotland, Ukrainian students should qualify for free tuition fees, which is the same as Scottish students.
You can get further advice from the following helplines:
- England and Northern Ireland: 0300 100 0607
- Scotland: 0300 100 0077
- Wales: 0300 200 4050
A number of institutes have also created special scholarships and provisions for Ukrainian students to benefit from. Lists can be found here:
Equivalence of Ukrainian qualifications
A common question for Ukrainian refugees is what their qualifications equate to in the UK. A ‘Statement of Comparability’ assessment can be done by an organisation called UK ENIC (European Network Information Centre) – see https://www.enic.org.uk/Qualifications/SOC/Default.aspx. There is a fee of £49.50 + VAT for this service.
See https://www.gov.uk/guidance/education-for-people-from-16-years-old-to-adults-homes-for-ukraine for details of how to use the UK ENIC service if you are Ukrainian, and https://www.gov.uk/what-different-qualification-levels-mean for more information on qualification levels in general.
Continuing Ukrainian university online in the UK
Unfortunately, if you continue your university studies fulltime in Ukraine (by attending online classes), you are classed as a fulltime student and not eligible for Universal Credit (as this is only designed for people who can look for and take up fulltime work). You are also not eligible to take out a student loan to support yourself, as you are not taking a UK university course. The only practical option is to work and study online, which would be quite difficult, or to give up studying in Ukraine for a while. Please think carefully about this situation, as your sponsor is not obliged to support you financially in this case.