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Can you enrol at a British school with little or no English?

Updated: Aug 12, 2023

It's possible to enrol at a British school with no English

Overall, the UK can boast of a great education system: for example, the country performed above the OECD average on the 2018 PISA tests that measure 15-year-old school pupils' scholastic performance in mathematics, science, and reading. It's also home to some of the most famous and prestigious independent (private) or so-called "public" schools like Eton, Charterhouse, Harrow, and Winchester College.

Foreign students who don't have a right of abode in the UK need to apply to an independent school, which charges tuition fees. And although British boarding schools are, in general, happy to accept students from abroad, they still require a high level of English proficiency comparable to one of native speakers.

Another big disadvantage is the price - higher than the average salary in the country, and the fees are heavily influenced by a particular school's reputation and location. Since 1980, private school tuition has tripled on average, and in places like Eton for example, the cost of the school uniform, trips and many other extras are not included. And although some independent schools offer pre-boarding school programmes for non-English speakers, they can be even more costly than typical British boarding schools.

On the other side, if you live in the UK, your child aged between 4 and 18 is eligible to attend the nearest school free of charge, no matter the level of English. Every school has an EAL programme (English as an Additional Language) that includes policies like teacher training in learning additional languages and providing texts in translated language versions. The government’s definition of an EAL learner includes anyone who has been exposed to a language other than English during early childhood "and continues to be exposed to this language in the home or the community".

In fact, around one million children in primary schools and over 600,000 secondary school pupils in the UK are categorised as EAL pupils.

However, EAL programmes vary, with EAL learners facing a number of unique challenges, including feeling isolated and excluded or affected by low teacher expectation, and this adaptation process can disrupt learning and affect their school performance.

Another way

There's another option for parents who want to transfer their child into the British system without the need to relocate and/or pay additional costs for boarding: a special online international school in the UK with ESL (English as a Second Language) support.

This educational setting allows children who speak little English or no English at all to not only learn or improve the language but also begin studying subjects in English and catch up with the British curriculum and British teaching styles. It's especially easy for young children who can acquire native-level fluency very quickly.

Do you know that the majority of the children joining LEO School at Key Stage 1 (5-7 years old) speak very little or no English? We make sure that they learn English as soon as possible to access the UK Key Stage 1 curriculum.

Our experienced Key Stage 1 specialist teacher Jemma delivers an intensive English course to our youngest pupils alongside Maths and Topic based education, making learning fun for the children whilst ensuring rapid progress.

To discuss how we can help your child get a head start in learning English, opening up lots of opportunities for them, please get in touch with us at

We also offer a variety of ESL (English as a Second Language) courses. Learn more about them here.

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