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Taxonomy of schools

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Title: Taxonomy of schools  
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Subject: American School of Doha, Aloisiuskolleg, 'Aiea High School, Abaarso School of Science and Technology, Ayer High School
Collection: School Types
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Taxonomy of schools

Educational institutions are often categorised along several dimensions. The most important is perhaps the age or level of the students in the institution, but funding source, affiliation, and gender, racial, or ethnic exclusivity are also commonly used.


  • By age 1
    • Infants and toddlers 1.1
    • Primary school 1.2
    • Middle school 1.3
    • Secondary school 1.4
    • Post-secondary education 1.5
    • Postgraduate education 1.6
  • By funding source 2
  • By gender 3
  • By race, language, ethnicity 4
  • By living arrangements 5
  • By exclusivity 6
  • Miscellaneous 7
  • See also 8

By age

Infants and toddlers

This level of education is for children up to about age 5. In most places, it is still optional, with some students staying home with parents until the next stage. Schools of this type are often not part of any formal education system, and many are not free of charge even where the school system as a whole is.

Primary school

The first years of the formal educational system are known most generally as "primary school", although they also have the following names in some areas (not all entirely synonymous):

Middle school

Many jurisdictions have no formal "middle" level between primary school and secondary school, but in those that do, "middle school" is a generic term for it. Some areas treat "junior high" as an interchangeable synonym for "middle school", but others maintain a distinction as to level (junior high being slightly higher) or style (junior high being modeled more closely after a secondary school). Some jurisdictions have both, in which case the middle school is typically grades 5–6 and the junior high grades 7–8. Some also use "intermediate" school.

In some areas, there is no formal middle school, but the secondary schools have a "junior division". This is more common among private schools.

In England, a "Preparatory school" is a specific type of middle school.

Secondary school

Secondary school can start at different ages (typically anywhere from 11 to 15). They usually educate children up to the ages of 18 or 19. They go by a variety of now-mostly-synonymous names:

Post-secondary education

There is no truly generic term for all post-secondary education. Some types of post-secondary (or tertiary) education include:

A special note about the term "college": in North American and especially US usage, this is a truly generic term for all post-secondary education, right up to and including university, but can also be understood to mean a smaller, four-year, baccalaureate institution. Elsewhere, it is more commonly understood to mean only the junior colleges and vocational schools. An older usage still persists in the proper names of some secondary schools. Generally, the term is not suitable for an international audience without further definition.

Postgraduate education

Schools that offer postgraduate education are often, but not always, one unit of a larger university. Categories include:

By funding source

Another major classifier is whether the institution is state-funded or not.(1) This is complicated by contradictory international usage.

  • Public schools (or, in the U.K. and parts of the Commonwealth, State schools) receive nearly all their funding from the government. Most are open to all students.
    • Magnet schools are a type of public school with enrollment restricted according to placement test scores or admission. In some cases, racial or ethnic quotas are also used. Some magnet schools are also called "exam schools" that offer a specialized curriculum and have competitive admission.
    • Charter schools, which started in the 1990s, are in much of the United States and in Alberta, Canada. They are funded like other public schools, but are run independently of any school district, with separate oversight bodies.
    • In the US, "State schools" refers chiefly to publicly funded universities.
    • Comprehensive schools are state schools that do not select its intake based on academic achievement or aptitude.
    • In Canada, "Separate schools" are publicly funded religious schools.
    • In England, academies are state schools which receive their funding direct from central government and which are allowed a great deal of operational and administrative freedom in the way in which they operate.
    • In New Zealand, state-integrated schools are former private schools which have integrated into the country's state education system, becoming state schools but retaining their religious or philosophical character.
  • Private schools or Independent schools (or, in the U.K. and parts of the Commonwealth, Public schools) are those owned by a private (non-government) entity, and that normally receive some or all of their funding through tuition charged to individual students.
    • Parochial schools are those attached to a particular parish or congregation, or possibly religious schools in general.
    • In England, "Grammar school" is a specific type of school catering for the more able student. Grammar schools in England can be found either in the state sector (i.e., publicly funded) or in the private sector (i.e., fee-paying schools).

Note (1): While full public (aka state) funding generally denotes a public school in North America, technically this isn't always the case, and isn't the literal definition of a public school. A government may provide full funding for a student to go to a private school, such as

By gender

Historically, most schools were segregated by gender (and many more were all-male than all-female). The modern norm is for schools to be coeducational; the vast majority of publicly funded schools in the English-speaking world are so, although this is not universal worldwide. Many private schools, both religious and secular, remain single-sex schools.

By race, language, ethnicity

Until the mid-20th century, schools in much of the US were explicitly racially segregated. This is no longer the case, although a number of institutions of higher learning still call themselves historically black colleges.

In many areas of the world where different ethnicities coexist, especially when different languages are spoken in those communities, parallel school systems are often organised to serve them. Motivations for this can vary; such a system can be oppressive if one of the parallel systems is inferior to the other, but it can be empowering if it enables a minority community to perpetuate its languages, traditions, and norms.

By living arrangements

  • Residential schools are those where most or all students live at the school.
    • Boarding school is a term for residential schools that carries connotations of being private, old, and/or elite.
  • A day school is a private school where no students live at the school; the term is used in contexts where this is not the default, and dates from a time when most private schools were boarding schools.

By exclusivity

  • Selective schools are those that only allow students to enter if they achieved successful results in an annual entrance examination. These schools are commonly the highest ranked schools in Australia where they are especially prevalent in New South Wales and Victoria.
  • Partially selective schools have accelerated classes set aside for students who have achieved successful.
  • Geographically selective schools only allow students from a certain zone to enter. In some cases these schools are selective in allowing any students from outside this zone.


See also

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