System of Education in UK

System of Education in UK & Schooling in UK for Pupils

Within the United Kingdom education is widely diverse for age groups, subjects, providers and curriculum studied from the public and private education learning sectors.

With a number of age levels UK education starts nursery, primary school, secondary school, further education & university that’s optional attendance.

Legally, all resident children aged 5 and over must be enrolled at primary school in UK. Pupil’s then compulsory study continually until United Kingdom school leaving age at 16 years old.

At all education levels in UK state & private school children in Wales, N Ireland, Scotland & Wales attend school for 5 days a week for 7.5 hours per day term time.

The education system offers courses ranging in level from school, college, and UK universities and work-based learning. Students can study full time, part time, distance learning and open learning.

England & Wales have their own school national curriculum and education in Scotland’s curriculum for excellence is a separate education system, although very similar in subjects and school age.

UK school education system key stage levels

  • Reception or nursery school is optional for 4-5 year old children.
  • Lower primary school (KS1 years 1 & 2 England & Wales) (Scotland P1-P2) compulsory from 5-7 years old.
  • Upper primary school (KS2 years 3 to 6 Wales & England) (Scotland P3-P7) compulsory from 7-12 years old.

Nursery school

The governments in each part of the UK provide a certain amount of free attendance hours per week and year for each child. Emphasis is on education learning towards developing speech, reading activates and social skills.

There are free places for all young British children in state run nurseries, although some parents that can afford the extra cost choose private fee-paying providers.

Children can attend a nursery school or known as preschool learning optionally where a child at age of 3-5 years old goes before compulsory primary education.

Primary school

Primary education in UK

A vast majority of children start their real education at the primary school stage age, with grounding in literacy, numeracy, building on reading, social and moral skills.

At British schools children attend a primary school and follow a set curriculum from 5-12 years old. Primary school hours normally are 9am to 3pm 5 days a week, Monday to Friday term time between 37-39 weeks each year.

Educational subjects are taught through formal teaching & learning including mathematics, English, history music, geography and sciences, all part of the national curriculum.

Primary school age levels:

Wales & England

School YearPupil Age
Year 15-6
Year 26-7
Year 37-8
Year 48-9
Year 59-10
Year 610-11


School YearPupil Age

There are fee paying private preparatory schools that some pupils go, although for the vast majority of free state school parents in the UK this is not affordable option.

Primary education system is compulsory from 4 years of age in Northern Ireland the rest of the UK children start at 5 years old primary school in the state or private prep fee paying sector.

In England & Wales key stage one is years 1, 2, and key stage 2 pupils age 8-11 years in year 3 to 6.

Scotland’s primary school children start at P1 up to P7 spending 7 compulsory years at primary school level.

Northern Ireland primary school children have a similar path to the rest of the UK education system, although they are grouped into the first and second form infants and the first to the forth form juniors.

Testing at primary education level

The year before going of to secondary school at the age of 11 or 12 all UK school pupils sit tests in all core subjects of mathematics, science, English to gauge how well they have done compared to national standards.

These grades are then used to place students in academic ability groups from the brightest students in the top set to the bottom set for the so-called dumb people.  Well, that is what I was called or maybe the teachers were no good.

Each education authority decides which school a pupil attends until 16 years old. As a pupil, you could end up at one of the many good schools with effective teaching or at one of the hundreds of failing schools in special measures.

Secondary school

Schooling in UK

A secondary school is formal education for UK pupil’s aged 11 to 18. Compulsory attendance is from 11-16 and optional at 16 to 18 years old.

Pupils start state secondary school in KS3 England & Wales 11-14 age in year 7, 8, 9 and S1-3 (12-15) in Scotland. UK education system school learning focuses on core subjects and other learning areas including:

During the first 3 years of UK secondary education pupils are taught a range of topics for each subject progressively building up knowledge & understanding. Students sit end of year internal tests for all class subjects for the school to assess learning progress.

In year 9 pupils should have a good grasp of core subject topic areas enabling them to fully benefit from the last 2 years of compulsory school education where the subject topic become progressively more difficult.

16 years old is the leaving age for children in the UK, although students can stay on and gain education qualifications through sitting examinations at 17 and 18 years old. 

As mentioned before pupils must stay in school in England if they are not in work, study or on a training program until 18 years old.

School choice at secondary education level

Children can attend a fee paying public school if the parents have the money, although most parents do not have the funds to send their children to have a private education at an independent school in the UK.

There are many independent schools, grammar schools and other secondary schools delivering similar curriculum’s for students aged 11-18 all under secondary school education level in UK.

School examinations age 14-16 years old

From the age of 14 to 16 pupils must study core subjects of mathematics, sciences, English and other subjects that include history, languages, computing, religious education, home economics, physical education and music.

Pupils also choose option subjects from a list that the school offers that can also be business & economics, computing or languages.

At the age of 16 pupils take: GCSE examinations in England & Wales, and Northern Ireland. International Baccalaureate qualification can be studied in the UK which is an alternative to traditional GCSE’s in England.

Scottish Qualification Authority qualifications at “Higher” level in Scottish schools. They are school leaving qualifications that can be used to help secure a job, training place or go onto further study.

For the pupils that stay on at school they choose subjects to study towards Advanced Subsidiary (AS) or A level awards or in Scotland Higher or Advanced Higher in Scotland.

Most recent student qualification introduced is T-levels, or technical levels, have vocational focus towards employers, also 120 universities accept the study award for entry onto a degree course.

Grammar school in England

UK education system

Attendance from 11-18 years old at a boy’s or girl’s grammar school is firstly through selective testing, and a competitive application process.

Not all counties in England have a boy’s or girl’s grammar school in each city or town as many grammar school places have been transferred into comprehensive schools.

What is grammar school: They provide an education framework for a pupil’s educational requirements, including ruby, football as well as a range of academic subjects.

Only a few grammar schools keep formal school systems along the lines of the Tripartite System. Eleven plus examination is used solely to identify and select children suitable for grammar school education.

As all grammar school places are competitive other selection criteria are used to allocate places, such as siblings, distance or on faith grounds.

More able students take the 11+ examinations to see if they can gain a place in a grammar school in England.

Counties that have a number of grammar schools include Buckinghamshire, Rugby and Stratford districts of Warwickshire, the Salisbury district of Wiltshire, Stroud in Gloucestershire and most of Lincolnshire, Kent and Medway which have highly competitive boy’s and girl’s grammar school places.

What is grammar school pupil performance?

The performance of children attending a grammar school in academic subjects tends to be higher than state comprehensives in examination due to the academic selective nature of students at 11 years old.

A grammar school is free education providing benefits for students attending the school in relation to academic, sporting and club activities. Some studies show that boys learn better in a single sex class from the age of 12-16 years old.

Less distractions at a certain age at a grammar school help students concentrate on their academic work. The competitive nature and higher ability level required in each subject means a grammar school is suitable for gifted children, although a boy’s grammar school does not match every child’s way of learning and environment.

Middle School

An education curriculum can be studied at a middle school from 11-13/14 years old. In between a primary and the first 2 years of a secondary school a middle school provides a balanced UK curriculum and examination testing for independent and state schools.

Schools in this sector can be single-sex schools for boys or girls delivering an education.  Once again this is just an England school system in some counties like Bedfordshire, but not all.

Independent day & boarding school

Throughout the UK outside villages, in towns & cities private independent day & boarding schools offer children a full education where parents pay school fee’s for a child’s education.

Parents from many countries around the world send children to independent schools in the United Kingdom as the standard of education offered is seen as quality and a high standard. Teachers that dislike teaching in state comprehensive school can find behaviour far less challenging and reduced admin requirements in private schools.

Private primary and senior schools deliver a good range of different subjects for pupils to study and have much more freedom to choose the curriculum than the state sector. Boarding schools also have an extensive weekend sports and activities

With 500 boarding schools the UK offers children as young as 8 years old to 18 the opportunity to spend 5 days or 7 day boarding. 8 to 16 age children in prep and senior that choose to board don’t get they’re own room, resulting in sharing with another person the same age.

Majority of private school children attend 5 days a week and return home each day living outwith the school.

Sixth form colleges

Students can attend a college to learn and sit examinations for entry to higher education or for work. Courses are mainly academic GCSE, AS & A level studied over 1-2 years with a final external examination for the qualification.

Only certain counties in England have sixth form study colleges for school leavers at 16 to gain important qualifications.

Sixth form college pupils take GCSE and A level qualifications from the age of 16-18 years to gain qualification to enter the work place or further study at higher education level.

College of further education


System of education in UK at this level is where further education colleges provide a range of school, university and work-based education courses for 14 year old + including adults.

Traditionally they were set up as vocational community colleges providing school levers and adults the option to study for a trade.

Colleges in the UK provide the option to gain nationally recognised qualifications, including degree awards by part and full time study and are popular with British students and people from other countries.

FE college popular course qualifications include:

  • 3-4 year degree courses & professional courses such as ACCA.
  • National Certificate.
  • Higher national certificate, (HNC).
  • Higher National Diplomas (HND).
  • GCSE, A Level’s, BTEC and T Levels.
  • Apprenticeships.
  • Plumber, electrician and healthcare industry vocational qualifications.


An education at a UK university is available in all major towns and cities that provide an extensive range of courses at all levels of higher education with qualifications from professional courses, foundation, undergraduate degree, masters and doctorates.

Universities provide a vast amount of courses that can be studied full or part time, open & distance learning, online or by blended learning.

Students can study for an undergraduate degree that progress onto a masters taught degree or a master or doctorate qualification by conducting research.

Scottish universities offer 4 year degree at undergraduate level where students start at 17 years old after completing higher & advanced higher qualifications at school or college.

All other university students in England, N Ireland & Wales start courses at 18 years old and study 3 years for a bachelor degree with honours.

You would find yourself sitting next to local, national and international students as UK universities are a popular choice as they are recognised as providing a very good class of academic and vocational higher education.

Adult education centre

Education courses for learning development run in the community play a vital educational role to develop adult learning.  Access courses in literacy and numeracy, reading as well and writing are offered to adults mainly free.

Education Tay
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