What age do children start school in the UK?

In the UK, children must legally attend school from the age of five. However, most children start education before they are five years old, attending nursery and then reception (the first year of primary school).

This article covers the facts around starting school in the UK, and at GDST schools


What date does your child’s first year of school start?

The UK school year starts in September. A child attending school for the first time will typically start in the September after their fourth birthday

From this age, children are entitled to a full-time school place. 

Here are some examples:

  • If they turn four by 5th December 2022, they would start school in September 2023. 
  • If they turn four by 5th July 2023, they would start school in September 2023. 
  • If they turned four by 5th September 2023, they would usually start school in September 2024. 

This means your child will have their fifth birthday during their first year of school. 


What is the compulsory school age?

Though most children start school at the age of four, the compulsory school age, defined by the government is the date of the start of term after their fifth birthday, so this could be in September, after Christmas, or after Easter. However, the majority of children start at the beginning of the school year in September. 

At GDST schools, it is recommended that children join at the beginning of the school year in September, after their fourth birthday.

Your child must legally be in education full-time in the school term after their fifth birthday. This means attending a school, receiving suitable home education, or a mixture of both.


What age is best to send your child to school?

The age that children are entitled to a full time school place is earlier than the compulsory age. It is typical in the UK for parents to make use of this entitlement and start their children’s education at the earliest date. This gives them more time to acclimatise to the school environment and meet new friends.

This is a decision for parents to make, but government advice is that “the majority of children will thrive in reception aged four ” 

Even if you send your child to school later, you should apply to their school at the designated time. 


What is early-years education?

Years of education prior to age five are sometimes called pre-school, nursery, early-years education, or the early years’ foundation stage (EYFS). 

The reception class of a primary school is included as part of the EYFS. The Early Years Foundation Stage ends when a child enters Year 1, which is also the first year of Key Stage 1.

Sending your child to school at this age is not compulsory. However, it gives your child a chance to practise social skills, play and be exposed to new experiences that they might not be at home. It also prepares them for further schooling at the primary/prep school level


How do I apply for my child to start school?

Applications to a state school depend on the local council/local authority. You must apply between September and January, the year before your child is entitled to start school. 

Applications to an independent school differ depending on the school you want to apply to. You should contact the school directly to learn more. Your child many be required to complete an age-appropriate assessment

Find a GDST independent girls’ school


Understand other Educational Terms

This article is a part of our Jargon Buster collection. To find out everything you need to know about the UK school system, visit our Educational Terms and Jargon Buster for Schools