Education in UK


The British education system may be quite different from other countries. The most important facts are:

*Children are organised into classes according to their age on 31 August each year. For example:

Date of birth Age on 31 August 2008 Year
30 August 1994 14 10
01 September 1994 13 9

The table below is designed to help parents and overseas educational consultants gain a better understanding of the UK education system.

Children ages* National curriculum
(school years)
State education National examinations Independent education LISC
9 4 primary school 11+ examinations to grammar schools lower preparatory school yes
10 5 yes
11 6 yes
12 7 secondary school end of compulsory education internal schools exams (key stage 3 exams are being abolished) upper preparatory school (common entrance exam 13+) yes
13 8 yes
14 9 senior school
15 10 iGCSE/GCSE yes
16 11 yes
17 12 a minimum of 5 GCSEs required to continue education in the Sixth Form AS - Advanced Subsidiary Level AS - Advanced Subsidiary Level or IB (International Baccalaureate) Year 1 yes
18 13 A2 ('A' Level) Advanced Level Year 2

A2 ('A' Level) Advanced Level Year 2 or IB (International Baccalaureate) Year 2


* Students turn this age during the academic year (1st September to 31st August).

(1) England & Wales

School type Description
Pre-school Young children may stay at home, attend a nursery school (sometimes known as a kindergarten, for children aged between 2 and 5), go to a day nursery, join a playgroup or be looked after by a registered childminder.
Primary Children have to go to school (or receive home schooling) after the age of 5. A primary school educates children up to 11. It is sometimes divided into an infant school (for children aged 5-7) and a junior school (for children aged 7-11), or sometimes into a lower school, middle school and upper school. Children who are attending a primary or secondary school are often called pupils.
Secondary Children must attend a secondary school (or receive home schooling) from the age of 11 until they are 16. This type of school is sometimes called a high school. The exams taken at the end of this are called GCSEs (General Certificates of Secondary Education). Most schools are comprehensives, which are free and open to children of all abilities including both boys and girls (they are co-educational). In some areas there are selective schools known as grammar schools which admit the most able children using an entrance test (known as 11+ or eleven-plus): the non-selective schools in these areas are known as secondary moderns.

Most secondary schools also have a sixth form, in which children can choose to stay for another 2 or 3 years to study for A levels (GCE Advanced Levels): it is most common to study for A levels in 2 or 3 different subjects, and to take the exams when aged 18 or 19. Pupils may also take AS levels (Advanced Supplementary Level exams) when aged 17. In some cases children travel to a separate sixth form college to continue their studies: these provide education for pupils aged from 16 to 19, including both academic (study-related) and vocational (work-related) subjects.

There are some other types of school. A community school provides education for both adults and children together with activities involving the whole community. A voluntary school is run by a church or other voluntary organisation. A CTC (city technology college) provides a general secondary school education but places special importance on technological subjects.
Special needs There are a range of special schools at all levels for people with some kind of special need or disability.
Independent Schools which receive taxpayers' money from the British government or local authorities are known as maintained schools or grant-aided schools or State schools. There are also independent schools, many of which accept boarders (who stay overnight at the school) as well as day pupils. A prep school (preparatory school) is a school which prepares children for the entrance exams of a public school (the Common Entrance exam). A public school is a not-for-profit school for children aged between 13 and 18 for which parents pay school fees.
Further education (FE) courses are studies (taken when aged over 16) which are at or below the standard of an A-level exam (in other words, at a lower academic level than a university course). The institutions at which these courses are taught are known as colleges. There are many possible titles depending on the type of subject and level of courses taught at a college. As well as maintained further education colleges, there are a wide range of fee-paying colleges. These are known as independent further education colleges. Courses may be full-time (FT) or part-time (PT), and may be in any subject. Vocational colleges teach practical, job-related subjects. The most common qualifications taken in colleges are HNCs (Higher National Certificates) which usually take 1 year to complete, and HNDs (Higher National Diplomas) which usually take 2 years to complete. NVQs (National Vocational Qualifications) include some workplace assessment and are generally taken while already working in a job. English language schools teach English to foreign students, known in the UK as EFL. Many people who are working go to part-time evening classes or attend short courses, for example at a summer school. Tutorial colleges (sometimes known as crammers) offer short intensive courses to prepare students to take certain exams (for example, for students who need to re-take their A-level exams).
Higher education (HE) courses are studies which are above the standard of an A-level exam. The institutions at which these courses are taught are known as universities. Students have to pay living costs and a contribution to the tuition costs: some people receive financial help from the government (a student grant). Most EU students pay home fees, while students from elsewhere have to pay higher overseas fees.

A 1-year foundation course may be taken by people who have not taken A-level

(2) Scotland

Primary school education is for children up to the age of 12 (compared to 11 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland). The equivalent of grammar schools are known as senior secondary schools, and the equivalent of secondary moderns are junior secondary schools. Secondary school exams in Scotland are based on five levels of National Qualifications: Access, Intermediate 1, Intermediate 2, Higher and Advanced Higher. Scottish Vocational Qualifications (SVQs) are the Scottish equivalent of NVQs. Scottish university courses usually last for 4 years (compared to 3 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland).

(3) Northern Ireland

Many secondary schools in Northern Ireland are selective schools rather than comprehensives.