10 best state schools in the UK and where to live nearby

Henrietta Barnet School – one of the best state schools in the UK

Catchment areas, league tables, ‘state vs private’ – finding the right school in a given area is hard. However, it’s a necessary consideration for millions of families across the UK. To help make the task a little bit easier, we present the top-10 best state schools in the UK as we head into 2024.

Why are schools so important when looking to move?

If you’re planning to move homes, and you have children of school-going age, then good schools are a must. Along with an area’s overall safety, schooling options represent a top priority for families. In fact, the presence (or lack) of good schools can significantly affect the average house price of an area.

The number, concentration and overall quality of schools in a given area are important because schooling represents a crucial element of family life. Firstly, parents want their children to receive the best education possible. Secondly, more schooling options provide a greater chance of a ‘better fit’ for a specific family. Ideally, the chosen school will be as close as possible to the family home, and will follow an educational ethos that suits the wishes of the parent(s) and children.

Finally, some families may prefer to send their child to a faith-based school, or to a fee-paying private school.

Having all these options makes an area more suitable for a wider range of families. This is why all regions and specific areas across the country strive to make their schooling options as attractive as possible.

10 best state schools in the UK

The following list comes from The Sunday Times Parent Power 2024 league tables. It uses A-level and GCSE past performance data to identify the 1,600 top-achieving schools in the country. These are the best state schools in the UK, including grammar and other selective schools, but excluding independent private schools.

1: Wilson’s School, Wallington

A-level A*-B: 98%

A/A*: 82.5%

GCSE (9-7): 95%

Overview: Founded in 1615 by royal charter, Wilson’s School’s educational prowess extends well beyond the classroom. It has a strong focus on real-world experiences to help prepare its male students (aged 11-18) for their post-academic lives. As well as regular adventure sporting activities and educational trips abroad, the student body maintains three separate journalistic outlets.

Where to live: Sutton, Surrey


Surrey is a county in the south of England. It has an area of 1,663 square kilometres and a population of 1.2 million people. Surrey borders London to the North West and Hampshire to the East. The county has many beautiful parks which are Read more about Surrey

2: Queen Elizabeth’s School, Barnet

A-level A*-B: 96.9%

A/A*: 89.1%

GCSE (9-7): 93.3%

Overview: QE Barnet promises: “A state school experience like no other”. Founded in 1573 by royal charter, the school has gone from strength to strength in its centuries-long history to become the highest-performing state school in the UK. It reinforces its exceptional academic results with a sports offering that is comparable to the best-resourced private schools. There’s also the planned development of the Robert Dudley Studio, a 104-seater advanced theatre that will allow QE students to perfect their performance skills and build their overall confidence.

Where to live: Barnet, Hertfordshire


Hertfordshire is a county in the East of England that has been an important centre for trade, industry and commerce since the Iron Age. The county has over 760,000 residents, which makes it one of the most populous counties in England. It also contains Read more about Hertfordshire

3: The Henrietta Barnet School

A-level A*-B: 91.1%

A/A*: 73.5%

GCSE (9-7): 97.6%

Overview: Set just north of the leafy delights of Hampstead Heath, The Henrietta Barnett School (HBS) is a non-denominational grammar school for girls aged 11-18. HBS is consistently near the top of the league tables each year. It provides a wide range of extra-curricular and enrichment opportunities within an open, caring and supportive environment.

Where to live: Hampstead, North London

North London

North London
Welcome to North London, home to some of the most popular postcodes in the capital. This place fuses charming village centres with architectural gems and fashionable high streets, so it’s easy to see why half of London’s eight million-strong population have laid down roots Read more about North London

4: Pate’s Grammar School

A-level A*-B: 91.5%

A/A*: 70.4%

GCSE (9-7): 90.7%

Overview: Pate’s Grammar School is another school admitting boys aged 11-18, with a mixed sixth form. Around 1,200 students attend here annually, aiming to have “excellence nurtured”. It is a two-time winner of the Sunday Times’ State Secondary School of the Year award. This is, according to its current headteacher, a ringing endorsement of the ‘Pate’s Way’, which puts challenge, fun and creative collaboration at the forefront of school life.

Where to live: Cheltenham, Gloucestershire


Gloucestershire is a historic and beautiful county in the West Midlands, England. With its rolling countryside and picturesque villages, it has long been known for its high quality of life. It’s not just great to live in; it also provides excellent opportunities for business Read more about Gloucestershire

5: St Olave’s Grammar School

A-level A*-B: 90.7%

A/A*: 77.2%

GCSE (9-7): 91.4%

Overview: Kent is another county where grammar and other selective state schools thrive. St Olave’s Grammar School is the top-rated non-private school in the county. This is thanks to its winning combination of high-performing teachers, excellent resources and a focus on allowing its students to look beyond academics and develop wisdom, honesty and strength of character. It admits almost 1,100 students per year, boys aged 11-18, with a mixed sixth form.

Where to live: Orpington, Kent


Kent is one of the most popular counties in England, with a population of 1.8 million people. It has some really beautiful scenery and many great amenities for families that are looking to buy their first home or move up into a nicer place. Read more about Kent

6: Colchester Royal Grammar School

A-level A*-B: 93.7%

A/A*: 76.8%

GCSE (9-7): 85%

Overview: Colchester Royal Grammar School has one of the longest and most intricate histories of any school in the country. It was founded in 1206 and granted two Royal Charters, by Henry VIII in 1539 and by Elizabeth I in 1584. Today, there is a firm focus on providing a family atmosphere, one where professionalism and the pursuit of excellence combine. It’s an 11-18 school for boys, but admits girls into its co-educational Sixth Form.

Where to live: Colchester, Essex


Essex is a county in the East of England and is one of the most populous counties in the country. It has a population of 1.4 million people, making it an attractive place for prospective home buyers to invest their money and enjoy all Read more about Essex

7: The Tiffin Girls’ School

A-level A*-B: 88.5%

A/A*: 76.1%

GCSE (9-7): 94.4%

Overview: London has many of the best state schools in the country, including The Tiffin Girls’ School. Boasting exceptional exam results and general progression every academic year, it also provides a highly creative learning environment. The school is a great incubator of artistic talent in its students, as well as sporting prowess.

Where to live: Kingston Upon Thames

Borough of Kingston upon Thames

Borough of Kingston upon Thames
Kingston upon Thames is a vibrant and dynamic town that has something to offer for everyone. It boasts an incredible range of shops, restaurants and pubs in its historic town centre. Meanwhile, the many parks and green spaces provide the perfect backdrop to Kingston’s Read more about Borough of Kingston upon Thames

8: The Reading School

A-level A*-B: 90.1%

A/A*: 73.1%

GCSE (9-7): 88.3%

Overview: Don’t let the unimaginative name fool you, The Reading School is a heavyweight contender in the national education sector. It is a selective grammar school for boys aged 11-18. It provides a small proportion of boarding places (8% of the student population). Alongside the traditional range of academic pursuits, there is also an emphasis on developing leadership skills with an emphasis on integrity, teamwork and celebrating success.

Where to live: Reading, Berkshire


Berkshire is a county in the South East of England. It has a population of around 540,000 and contains some beautiful countryside and towns. The landscape here is varied, from chalk downland through rich farmland to woodland and water features. The county town is Read more about Berkshire

9: King Edward VI School, Stratford

A-level A*-B: 89.9%

A/A*: 71.6%

GCSE (9-7): 84.4%

Overview: Our ninth entrant in the top 10 is located in Stratford-upon-Avon, and prides itself on providing a “breath-taking array of opportunities, both in our traditional academic curriculum and across our extra-curricular and enrichment programme.”

Where to live: Stratford-upon-Avon


Warwickshire is an amazing county located in the heart of England, just south of Birmingham and north of Oxfordshire. The county has an area of approximately 900 square miles and a population of around half a million people. It is well known for its Read more about Warwickshire

10: Altrincham Grammar School for Girls

A-level A*-B: 85.3%

A/A*: 59.6%

GCSE (9-7): 91.2%

Overview: AGGS is part of the Bright Futures Educational Trust. It’s also a leading school across various subjects, including mathematics, science, PSHE and modern foreign languages. It provides almost 1,400 places per year for girls aged 11-18.

Where to live: Altrincham, Greater Manchester

Greater Manchester

Greater Manchester
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UK state schooling FAQs

How many UK schoolchildren attend state school?

For the majority of UK families with school-aged children, state-provided schooling will be their chosen option. In 2020, only 6.5% of UK schoolchildren were privately educated. This means that well over 90% of schoolchildren attend state schools in the UK.

Is UK schooling good?

Overall, UK state schooling is well regarded internationally. A new UCL study also shows that young adults and teenagers who went to state schools are just as happy with their lives as those who attended private school.

However, as any teacher will tell you, the quality of education provided by state schools varies greatly from place to place. That’s why it’s important to have a firm grasp of the quality of schools in your home area.

Is state schooling free in the UK?

All state schools are free to attend (i.e. there are no annual or termly fees). However, there are different types of state-run schools. For example, some are selective, such as grammar schools. This means that schoolchildren must pass an entry exam and interview process before being accepted.

What’s the difference between state and public schools?

While many countries use the term ‘private school’ to describe fee-paying schools, in the UK, these schools are confusingly called ‘public schools’. Meanwhile, non fee-paying schools that are typically publicly run by local authorities, or by charitable trusts, are known as ‘state schools’.

Why are selective state schools only in certain areas?

While there are still over 150 selective state schools in the UK, the grammar school system and selective state education has died out in large parts of the country. There’s an ongoing debate about the fairness of grammar schools and the risks of a selective system contributing to division and inequality.

Some local authorities have chosen to remove selective schooling altogether, while in some other areas, only small numbers of grammar schools remain. Kent has by far the largest number of remaining grammar schools, while Lincolnshire, Buckinghamshire and parts of London (particularly southeast London) are also grammar school hotspots.

How do you make sure your child gets into your preferred state school?

You apply for state schools to your local authority, on behalf of your child. You can state your preferred schools, and the local authority then assigns school places to children based on various factors, including the preferences of parents or guardians. The most influential factors in the decision process are typically your proximity to the school, and the number of places available. If your preferred school isn’t the closest one to where you live, or is over-subscribed, you might find your child ends up at a different school.

Will Labour abolish private schools?

If the Labour Party are elected to government in the next general election, they do not plan to abolish private schools (at the time of writing). However, they do have several policy suggestions that seek to reform the education sector. One previous plan was to remove private schools’ charitable status, making their profits taxable and providing more money for the state school sector. However, Labour dropped this policy in September 2023. Another Labour plan is to apply VAT to private school fees, with the same objective.

How do catchment areas work?

Catchment areas are used by UK primary and secondary schools to help them determine which children should be given priority for places if that school is ‘oversubscribed’ – i.e.: there are more applications than available places. If you live within the designated catchment area, your child’s application will be stronger than someone who lives outside of it. Catchment areas are determined by the school and they change every year depending on the population size and changing dynamics of the local area. Consult our full guide to catchment areas for schools if you want to know more.

If you want to find out more about the best private and state schools in the UK, as well as specific areas, consult our growing range of school-focused guides below. We know how important it is to find the right schooling options, so you can find the best place to live.

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Jan Moys

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