The Best of it...

Sarah Best

Aussie mum living in London

We moved half-way around the world with two young kids. Some kind of warped thrill-seeking adventure. We did it to live life and now...  we're loving every moment.

  • Sarah Best

Primary schools... England V Australia

Updated: Feb 17, 2019

When we first arrived in london, we had a 2 year old and a 5 year old. There was so much about this place that was different to our life back home that it was completely overwhelming for the kids and their tantrums were endless. I laugh at some of the decisions we made in that first week but it was hard to see through the fog of the jetlag and everything that was going on.

Our first priority was starting our son at school. I’d spoken to a child psychiatrist before we left home who advised me that kids cope better with big change if you maintain a sense of normalcy and routine. Given L had just started prep in Brisbane, three weeks earlier, we signed him up for school as early as we could and he started within a couple of days of arriving in London.

London’s school system is bloody tough to navigate. Back home, each school has a catchment area and if you live within that catchment area, you are guaranteed a spot at that school. Not so in London. There are catchment areas but there are no guarantees. Even when you live within a hundred metres of the school. The problem is, that to even apply for a position at a school, you need proof of residence. So you have to rent/buy within a certain area before you apply for placement and then you just have to cross your fingers that you get into the school you want (there might be 5 or 6 schools within walking distance from any given home).

Schools here are also a lot smaller than Australian schools. Instead of having four or five classes per year-level, there’s usually just one class. So effectively, the same group of kids that start in Reception (London’s prep-equivalent) move together through Year 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 as one group. It also means the school grounds are a lot smaller and there’s not as much room to run around and play.

I wish I’d known all this before I set foot into my first London school. There was no grass, no trees, no playground and I was totally underprepared. Despite the wonderful teachers and amazing classroom resources, I was an absolute mess on L's first day. It just didn’t sit right with me.

After a couple of weeks, I started looking at other schools. When we were trying to do school research from Australia, our only tool/reference had been OFSTED (a score ranging from ‘outstanding’ and ‘good’ through to ‘needs improvement’ and ‘inadequate’) but once we were on the ground, I could do more research. There was one school that parents recommended time and time again and when I turned up at drop-off time, I knew I’d found our school. There were mothers out the front talking to each other; the Head Teacher was greeting each student as they walked through the gate and the kids in general, seemed happy, polite and-well behaved. I practically sprinted into the school office to be put on the wait list. But I got laughed at. The manager politely advised me that I’d have to live within 200 feet of the school to even be considered.

By this stage, we were about to move into a flat in Parsons Green, which was a kilometre or so away. So we cancelled that, forfeiting about $5000 that we’d already paid in rent and went house-hunting (again). After three months, we moved into a flat across the road from the school. Then crossed our fingers. Because, let’s remember, there were still no guarantees that we were actually going to get a place in this new school. Another three months later though, we got the call-up – first- my daughter was offered a place in Nursery, then my son through the sibling policy.

Two years on, I’m happy to say, our gamble has paid off. We absolutely love the school, its warm community and the friends we’ve made. It really has made a huge difference to our happiness and overall enjoyment of London.

Other differences: English V Australian primary schools (government)

  • Children start school in England as early as age 3 for Nursery

  • The school year in England starts in September and finishes in July (so yes, this meant L’s peers started school 1.5 years earlier than him – his first year of school was only a couple of months long)

  • There are a lot more school holidays in England (terms only run about six weeks)

  • Very few schools do before and/or after-school care

  • English schools seem to rely more heavily on parents volunteering their time to do things like one-on-one spelling and reading with the kids

  • Australian class sizes are generally capped at 25 while English class sizes are capped at 30; but almost every class has a teaching assistant.