The education system in the UK is also split into “key stages” which breaks 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

Key stages 1 and 2 are usually undertaken at primary school in England and Northern Ireland. 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. The most important assessment occurs at age 16 when students pursue their GCSE’s or General Certificate of Secondary Education. Once students complete their GCSE’s they have the choice to go onto further education and then potential higher education, or finish school and go into the working world.

Our overview of the education system in the UK is divided into five main sections:

Primary Education

Primary and secondary education is mandatory in the UK. After age 18, education is optional.

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.

Secondary Education

In England, public secondary education consists of a combination of different types of school: academies and comprehensive schools. In England, academies are publicly funded independent schools while co-exist with other types of schools such as grammar schools in some areas.

Comprehensive schools largely admit pupils without reference to ability or aptitude.

Students will enter secondary school from age 11 to 16, for key stages three and four. This prepares them for GCSE’s – learn more about secondary education in the UK and what it will involve.

Further Education

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

Higher Education

There are three main levels of Higher Education courses:

  • Postgraduate courses: these lead into higher degrees, diplomas and certificates (including Doctorate, Masters (research and taught). Postgraduate diplomas and certificates nda postgraduate certificates of education (PGCE) and professional qualifications are also available and require a first degree as entry qualification.
  • Undergraduate courses: these include first degrees (honours and ordinary), first degrees obtained concurrently with a diploma, and intercalated first degees.
  • Other undergraduate courses which include all other higher education courses, for example SVQ or NVQ: Level 5, Diploma (HNC/D level for diploma and degree holders), HND (or equivalent), HNC (or equivalent) and SVQ or NVQ: Level 4 and Diplomas in Higher Education.