Structure of Education System in UK

Full-time education is compulsory for every child in the UK between the ages of 5 and 16. After reaching 16, students can go for their secondary education for a further two years and then further education or higher education, depending upon the interests and eligibility.

Levels and Length of Study

Nursery School

In the UK, many children start their education aged 3 or 4 by attending a nursery school or Playgroup. 

Pre-Higher Education

Pre-higher education consists of Primary and Secondary education.
  • Age of entry: 5
  • Age of exit: 16

Primary Education

Primary education is for children aged four or five up to 11 or 13.
  • Total duration: 6 years

First Stage

  • Type of school: Infant School
  • Length of study: 2 Years 
  • Age level: 5 to: 7

Second Stage

  • Type of school: Junior School
  • Length of study: 4 years
  • Age level: 7 to: 11

Secondary Education

Secondary education is for children aged 11 or 13 to 16. It is being referred as secondary school or high school. 
  • Length of study: 5 years
  • Age level: 11 to: 16
  • Certificate awarded: General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) 


The General Certificate of Secondary Education is an academic qualification taken by students of the age group 14–16 in the UK, particularly in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. 

Sixth Form

  • Type of school: Sixth Form
  • Length of program: 2 years
  • Age level: 16 to: 18
  • Certificate awarded: General Certificate of Education Advanced Level 

Further Education

  • Age level: 16 or 17
  • Length of the program: 2 years
In the UK, there are many different options for students wishing to continue their education after the age of 16. Further education is for students from the age of 16, and can be technical or applied general qualification. 

Higher Education

Higher Education is for students aged over 18 and includes Universities, colleges, specialist institutions like art schools or agricultural colleges etc.
  • Age level: 18 and above
Higher Education includes Undergraduate, Postgraduate and Doctorate study etc.
  • Undergraduate level includes bachelor's degrees, foundation degrees, diploma and certificate. It usually takes three years for students in the UK to gain their bachelor’s degree. Undergraduate courses allow students to develop academically and also acquire workplace-related skills in them.
  • Postgraduate level includes master's degree, MBAs and more. Students who have attained an undergraduate qualification are eligible for postgraduate level of studies. The master’s degrees in the UK usually last for one year. A master’s degree requires students to delve deep into a study area. Aside from the regular courses of study, students also spend a substantial amount of their time researching their specialist subject area. Some postgraduate degrees require the students to submit a dissertation at the end of their course of study.
  • Doctorate level: includes Ph.D qualification. A Ph.D qualifications can take up to seven years to complete and requires the student to submit a thesis or dissertation at the end of their course of study.
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