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K-12 Education System in UK

Each of the countries of the United Kingdom having separate education systems under separate governments. The "National Curriculum", provides a framework for education in England and Wales between the ages of 5 and 18; in Scotland between the ages 5 and 14, and in Northern Ireland ‘the common curriculum’ provides framework for education.

The school education system in the UK is split into "key stages". Key stages 1 and 2 refer to primary education and at 11 years old a student will go on to secondary school and finish key stages 3 and 4. Student’s performance is evaluated at the end of each stage. The most significant evaluations happen at age 16 when students go for their General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE). After students finish their GCSE's they have the option to move onto further education and then higher education, or finish school and enter into the corporate or business world.
  • 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

Compulsory Education

It is mandatory for children in the UK to attend primary and secondary education which runs from about 5 years old until the student is 16 years old.

K-12 Education: Classification

  • Age 3–4: In the UK, many children start their education aged 3 or 4 by attending a nursery school, or a Playgroup of a primary school. 
  • Age 4–16: Full-time education is mandatory for all UK children between the ages of 5 and 16. All UK children are entitled to a free place at a state school between these ages. 
  • Primary education: Children aged four or five up to 11 or 13 can go for Primary education.  Primary education is known as primary school, junior school, and preparatory and pre-preparatory school. The term ‘pre-preparatory’ and ‘preparatory’ are most commonly used in the independent sector. Primary education lays down the foundation for future learning’s.
  • Secondary education : Students aged 11 or 13 to 16 can go for Secondary education. Secondary education is referred to as secondary school, high school and senior school. The term ‘senior school’ is more commonly used in the independent sector.
From the age of 11-14, students will study a wide range of subjects such as Math, Sciences, English, etc. and when they reach 14, they enter into their first year of a 2 year process known as GCSE or SCE in Scotland.  GCSE's is of 2 years and mark the end of compulsory education for students in the UK. In the final two years of secondary school, most students in UK take one of the following sets of qualifications:
  • GCSEs: The General Certificate of Secondary Education is an academic qualification taken by students of the age group 14 to 16 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. 
  • International Baccalaureate Middle Years programme: The International Baccalaureate (IB) is available at an increasing number of schools in the UK. Students study languages, arts, sciences, mathematics, arts, physical education and technology.
  • Standard grades and Intermediates (Scottish qualifications): Standard Grades take two years of study in the third and fourth year of secondary school, with an exam at the end of the fourth year. There are three levels of study at Standard Grades: credit, general and foundation. Exams are taken at two levels – credit and general, or general and foundation. Intermediate levels-1 and 2 are for students who have cleared Standard Grades at general or foundation level, and for any student wanting to take up a new course of study at school or college.

Post-16 Qualifications

After GCSEs, students may opt to follow either an academic or vocational paths of study. Students on a vocational path can choose to obtain a work qualification. Students continuing on an academic track attend sixth form colleges. 

School Admissions

Procedure for School Admissions in the UK:

Searching and Choosing Schools

Find schools in your area and the admission criteria for the schools you’re interested in by contacting your council. People can also apply outside their local council area. To know about your council area, visit local council  .
You can find out more about the schools by visiting the school. Most schools have open days. By attending open days, you get to know better about the schools, admission process, education etc. 

Admission Criteria

All schools have different admission criteria.  

School Entry Requirements

Most UK state schools, and some independent schools, major entry requirements are close proximity, i.e. distance of the student’s place to the school. However, some independent schools and state schools have academic entry requirements.
  • Interview: For some schools, interview is an important part of the admissions. Student as well as the parents has to undergo an interview process. They serve as a chance for you to ask questions about the schools and course, and for the school to find out what you are looking for.
  • Entrance Exams: Many schools hold entrance exams. Entrance exams and levels vary.
  • English Language Skills: Most schools require students to have taken an English Language course before they begin their studies or enroll. 

Applying Ways and Means

The way you apply depends on whether you’re applying for a primary school place or a secondary school place You can apply online as well as offline. Fill in the form-online or on paper with all the necessary information. Mention your order of preference. You must apply for at least 3 schools. To get a copy of the application form on paper, contact your local council . Private or Independent schools have their own admissions procedures. Apply directly to private schools. For state schools, places are normally managed and allocated by their local government authority.

Dates and Deadlines

Applications open on different days in each local council area, usually at the beginning of the autumn term of the year. You must apply for a primary school place by 15 January and Secondary school place by 31 October.

Grading System in Secondary Schools

In the UK, alphabetical system of grading is followed, i.e. from A to E wherein A means excellent/outstanding; B refers to above average; C means average; D refers to below average; and E refers to fail. Highest on scale is grade A and E is the lowest on scale. C and D refer to pass and fail respectively.

International Students

  • Students from the European Economic Area (EEA) can attend a UK state school and have the same rights to education as British citizens. The European Economic Area includes all member states of the European Union (EU) in collaboration with Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein.
  • Students from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) must go for an independent, fee-paying school. 
  • British overseas territories citizens and British Overseas citizens must attend independent school, fee-paying schools. Many of British overseas territories citizens also hold British citizenship. British citizens are eligible to Free State school places.
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