Often US expats moving to London find getting a place at the right school for their children the most difficult part of their relocation. Certainly those of us living in London find it a challenge to get our children in to the school of our choice, so it is no wonder that many Americans moving here find this a real headache. If you are moving to London in the near future, you may find that a British or international school is your best option. Yes, there is an American school in London, but it is usually full with a long waiting list (but you may want to ask about availability). As there is a general shortage of places at good public schools in London, the chances are that US expats moving to London will have to find a place at a private school for their children.
Given that your children may well end up at a British school once you start living in London, I thought that it may be useful to learn a bit about more about school terms in the UK and school uniforms. Before you start, your children’s school should send you a list of required school uniform items, as well as the school terms and a list of anything else they should bring to school (such as a pencil case or PE clothes). But for those of you just starting to think about your move to London here is a short overview of term times and school uniforms.
In Britain there are three terms a year, each lasting around 10 weeks or so, with the school year starting in September and ending in July. Halfway through each term there is usually a one week break known as “half-term”. This means that the summer vacation is just six weeks long. On the plus side however, there are usually three weeks between each term. For US expat living in London having the school year end so late may make it difficult to co-ordinate vacations with their family in the States. If you are planning on moving to London you should also note that school hours are a bit different here. Private schools generally start sometime between 8:30 and 9 a.m., and finish at 4pm. The school day is a bit shorter at public schools in London and starts a bit before 9 a.m. and finish around 3:30 p.m.
Getting the school uniform
Unlike like most schools in the US, most British school children are required to wear a school uniform. The uniform can vary from the very formal jacke, hat and tie to just gray or black pants/skirts and a particular colored sweater. You may also find that the children are expected to wear a particular outfit for PE, such as the school’s sweat pants/shorts, sweater shirt and t-shirt. Being required to wear a school uniform may take a bit of getting used to for recently arrived US expats and their children. Something else that US expats moving to London should bear in mind is that their children may have to wear black schools shoes and have a pair of sneakers (AKA trainers) at school for PE.
Sometimes the school uniform is available through the school or it may be available online. If you have just started living in London, you should find that many of the department stores (as well as a few larger super markets) will stock some school uniforms and these can be a good place to get the uniform basics.