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The UK Education System

PRIMARY EDUCATION

Primary education begins in the UK at age 5 and continues until age 11, comprising key stages one and two under the UK educational system.

The major goals of primary education are achieving basic literacy and numeracy amongst all their students, as well as establishing foundations in science, geography, history and other social sciences. The relative priority of various areas, and the methods used to teach them, are an area of considerable political debate.

SECONDARY EDUCATION

At the end of Year 6, aged 11, your child will transfer to secondary school where again they will move up automatically each year. Children and young people will be assessed by teachers and take tests to monitor their progress. At the end of Year 11 (aged 16) pupils sit important exams called GCSEs. Pupils may choose to leave school after these exams, or continue to study for further exams to gain entry to college or university.

FURTHER EDUCATION

Once a student finishes secondary education they have the option to extend into further education to take their A-Levels, GNVQ’s, BTEC’s or other such qualifications. UK students planning to go to college or university must complete further education.

GCSE

The General Certificate of Secondary Education is an academic qualification taken by students aged 14–16 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. This is the most common qualification for students at this age in the UK.

Students take their GCSEs might study between 7 and 10 subjects including maths, English literature, English language, physics, chemistry, biology, information technology, geography and history.

All of these qualifications are highly regarded by universities, colleges and employers in the UK and around the world. The aim is to give pupils a good grounding in a variety of subjects, to help prepare them for further education or for a career.

New GCSEs will be graded 9–1, rather than A*–G, with grade 5 considered a good pass and grade 9 being the highest and set above the current A*. The new system is intended to help provide more differentiation, especially among higher achieving students.

The grades will be given for the first time in 2017 exam results, for specifications that first started teaching in 2015. By 2019, all GCSE results will be using the new system.

A-LEVELs

A-levels (short for Advanced Level) are the traditional qualifications that are offered by schools and colleges for students aged between 16 and 19. They follow GCSEs and generally focus on academic subjects, compared to more practical-based vocational qualifications like BTECs and NVQs.

There are more than 40 different A-level subjects that you can take – some will be subjects that you studied at GCSE and others may be new. A-levels are very highly valued by employers and universities so they can open up lots of doors to further study and careers, but they are only one option.

A-levels are made up of two units: the AS-level and the A2-level, with the exception of certain other subjects that are made up of three units. The AS and A2 levels are taken in separate years, with the AS-level in the first year and the A2-level in the second. In order to meet the pass criteria for an A-level you must obtain grade E or above, with the highest result being an A grade.

Types of School

The type of funding

State School

State schools generally refer to primary or secondary schools mandated for or offered to all children without charge, funded in whole or in part by taxation. 

Public School

Public school, also called independent school, in the United Kingdom, one of a relatively small group of institutions educating secondary-level students for a fee and independent of the state system as regards both endowment and administration.

The type of accommodation

Day School

A day school is an institution where children are given educational instruction during the day, after which the students return to their homes.

Boarding School

A boarding school is a residential school where pupils live and study during the school year. There are approximately 500 boarding schools across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The gender of students

Boy School, Girl School, Co-educational School