UK Education at a Glance

Posted on December 23, 2016

A quick summary of how the UK education system works:

All children between the ages of five and sixteen are required by law to receive full time education, usually at school but they can be home educated instead. In accordance with recent changes in the law, young people in England and Wales are now required to continue in school or training (such as apprenticeships) until the age of eighteen.

Schools in Britain are largely divided into state schools which are funded by the taxpayer, and private schools (also sometimes confusingly referred to as public or independent schools), which are funded privately.

The vast majority of children (around 95%) attend state primary or secondary schools. Independent fee paying schools account for 5-6% of British children.

The education system is split into “key stages” which break down as follows:

  • Key Stage 1: 5 to 7 years old
  • Key Stage 2: 7 to 11 years old
  • Key Stage 3: 11 to 14 years old
  • Key Stage 4: 14 to 16 years old

Generally key stages 1 and 2 will be undertaken at primary school and at 11 years old a student will move onto secondary school and finish key stages 3 and 4.

Students are assessed at the end of each stage. In England and Scotland, pupils take the National Standard Attainment Test (Sats) at seven, eleven and fourteen years old and at aged 16 most pupils take GCSEs (General Certificate of Secondary Education). At seventeen and eighteen, many young people take AGCEs (General Certificate of Education at an Advanced Level, often referred to as A Levels), AS level units or vocational qualifications.

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