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Education and Childcare

Student Journey / Student Information / New Students / International Pre-Arrival Guide / Education and Childcare
Children in a classroom

Education and Childcare

If you are studying with us on a research course and planning on bringing family to the UK, including young children, you will need to consider the process of applying for a school place in the UK's education system - or, if they are younger, explore childcare options. This will ensure that your children are accessing education and care at an important age, and you are able to focus on your studies at the appropriate times. 

Education in the UK

The education system in the UK is compulsory for all children between the ages of 5 and 16. This is split between primary education (5y – 11y) and secondary education (11y – 16y). However, most children start school in the September following their 4th birthday.  

Key stages 
UK schools are split into primary and secondary with some having a 6th form for further education, and in some areas there is a separate 6th form college. 

Primary schools are for ages 4-11, with the years split into Reception (early years age 4-5) Key Stage 1 (years 1 and 2 – ages 6-7) and Key Stage 2 (years 3 to 6 - ages 8-11).  

Secondary schools are for ages 11-18 (depending if there is a 6th form). Year 7 (age 11-12) year 8 (age 12-13) year 9 (age 13-14) year 10 (age 14-15) year 11 (age 15-16). 6th form is for ages 16-18. This is called Further Education and consists of years 12-13. 

Accessing Education

If you intend on bringing dependents to the UK under the student route visa, whilst you are studying on a research course, and they are within this age range, you will need to enrol them in a suitable school whilst you are studying.

The UK Government has a helpful webpage on what to consider when applying for a school place for your child. Where you can, go and see the school yourself. Schools in the UK are also required to present key performance data on their website, please follow this link and enter a particular school postcode to find out more about them Ofsted school reports.

Choosing and applying

Once you have secured long-term accommodation you will then need to research what schools are close by. If you are applying for a Primary School place you can apply directly with the school. Sunderland Council has produced a directory of schools which will help you find one that suits your needs. Research carefully as some schools are fee paying and some are for children with a medical or educational need. This is why research is important. The faith schools in the area are very full so the likelihood of achieving a school place is more difficult. When completing a secondary school application you can't do this directly with the school. You must download the form and send it to the admissions team at Sunderland Council Admissions form.

Most schools will require a UK address before confirming your child’s school place, as proximity of the family home is important. Therefore, it is advisable to arrange your accommodation as soon as possible, and ideally, before travelling to the UK. It is also possible to apply for school places before your children arrive in the UK, if they are joining you later. You can download the application forms via the following link. It may take a few weeks to secure a place in a school, so if you do apply before your children travel, this will allow for time to process the application and confirm your child’s place at the school.


You will need to factor in uniform costs for your dependents as UK schools require those attending to wear a uniform. Once you have a school place, the school will give you information about the uniform and where it can be purchased from.

Secondary school uniform can prove to be more expensive than primary school uniform. You will also need to provide your dependents with a PE kit for sport which is a part of the UK curriculum. On average one set of uniform for secondary school can cost around £60 per dependent. One set of uniform for primary school can cost around £40 per dependent. We advise you to purchase more than one set of uniforms per dependent (excluding school blazers where you will need just one per dependent). Some schools have second-hand uniform that can be bought from them so please discuss this with the school, once you have your school place confirmed. Your dependents will also need school shoes. There are many shops that sell school shoes and many supermarkets such as Asda, Tesco and Sainsbury's stock school uniform and shoes as a cheaper price.

You will need to provide your dependents with lunch whilst they are at school. This could be a packed lunch which is prepared at home and then taken in or you can pay money to the school for your child to eat something provided by the school.

The government have made free school meals permanent for people in certain circumstances. The guidance suggests that students with a visa will be able to apply for free school meals for their children. More information and support on this can be found here. Your income will be means-tested. This means that in order to apply you will need to provide the government/your child's school, with income evidence and a decision will be made based on this.

More information on the government's free school meals scheme can be found here. You can also find the free school meal application form at UK GOV - Free School Meal Application.

Please note, most schools are cashless and will have a system in place to transfer money electronically should you wish for your child to purchase food from their school.


If your dependent is under the age of compulsory education in the UK (5y-16y), you will need to consider childcare arrangements. This could include: 

  • If your partner has travelled with you to the UK, they will be able to care for your child. However, consider other options if you are both working and/or studying and need additional support.  
  • registered childcare provider or a childminder is a common choice in the UK. A childcare provider would typically be an organisation who run a day nursery, with a team of staff caring for many children. A childminder is usually an individual who is responsible for fewer children in their care. For a list of registered providers in Sunderland, check this website 
  • pre-school nursery is usually attached to a primary school and enables a smooth transition from your child to move from childcare into education.   

The University also has an on-campus nursery, which is available to be used by the children of students. More information can be found here. 

If your child is aged three or four years old, they will be eligible for the UK government’s 15-hour free childcare offer, regardless of immigration status. It is important to note that the children of international students are not eligible for other free childcare schemes or benefits, such as child benefit, tax credits or 30 hours of free childcare. Therefore, plan your budget accordingly. The average cost of childcare is around £50 per day, though you can ask that your child only attends a morning or afternoon session, which will lower the cost.  

Whilst the university understands it may be necessary at times for your children to accompany you onto campus, it is not appropriate for your children to be regularly present in an academic setting, such as lectures or seminars. If you are not able to attend a session due to childcare arrangements, inform your module leader and ask if the information can be shared in an alternative method.

Safeguarding - keeping children safe

Child protection is taken very seriously in the UK and it is important that you follow national guidance to keep your children safe. It is an offence to neglect children or intentionally put them at risk. Please follow this guidance to ensure your children’s safety:

  • Children should not be left alone for long periods of time – this includes at home. Young children should never be left unattended.
  • Young children are not allowed to walk to and from school on their own. This means that you must always go with your children to school and pick them up when school is finished. It is not appropriate for younger siblings (primary) to be dropped off at school by their older siblings (secondary)
  • Parents should not smack or beat their children.

If you require any support or advice about the safety and welfare of your children, including services for disabled children, contact Children’s Services on 0191 520 5560. To find out more about the safeguarding of children, go to Safeguarding children