Education in the United Kingdom

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Education in the United Kingdom is a devolved matter with each of the countries of the United Kingdom having separate systems under separate governments: the UK Government is responsible for England; whilst the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government and the Northern Ireland Executive are responsible for Scotland,[1] Wales[2] and Northern Ireland, respectively.

Key Stages

A Key Stage is a stage of the state education system in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and the British Territory of Gibraltar setting the educational knowledge expected of students at various ages, often associated with a test or evaluation. The term is also used in some other countries such as Hong Kong and Australia (some states) although the ages at which each Key Stage applies differ from England. The Scottish Curriculum for Excellence does not use the concept of Key Stages in a comparable way to the other countries of the UK [3]

The stages are as follows:[4]

Key Stage (KS) Ages Duration School years (Y) Forms Final exams
0 3–5 2 years (1 compulsory) Nursery, Reception Nursery, Infant Reception Class
1 5–7 (4-6, in Northern Ireland) 2 years (3 years, in Northern Ireland) 1–2 (1-3, in Northern Ireland) 1st–2nd form infants KS1 SATS, Phonics and Reading Check (taken in Year 1, but may be retaken in Year 2 if failed)
2 7–11 4 years 3–6 (4-7, in Northern Ireland) 1st–4th form juniors SATS Tests, eleven plus exam (generally only for Grammar school entry)
3 11–14 3 years 7–9 (8-10, in Northern Ireland) 1st–3rd form secondary
4 14–16 2 years 10–11 (11-12, in Northern Ireland) 4th–5th form secondary GCSEs
5 16–19 2 or more years 12–13 (13-14, in Northern Ireland) Sixth form secondary, also FE college A-Levels, AS-Levels, NVQs, National Diplomas


In each country there are five stages of education: early years, primary, secondary, further education (FE) and higher education (HE).[5] The law states that full time education is compulsory for all children between the ages of 5 (4 in Northern Ireland) and 16, the compulsory school age (CSA).[5] In England, compulsory education or training has been extended to 18 for those born after 1 September 1997. This full-time education does not need to be at a school and a number of parents choose to home educate.[6] Before they reach compulsory school age, children can be educated at nursery if parents wish though there is only limited government funding for such places.[7] Further Education is non-compulsory, and covers non-advanced education which can be taken at further (including tertiary) education colleges and Higher Education institutions (HEIs). The fifth stage, Higher Education, is study beyond A levels or BTECs (and their equivalent) which, for most full-time students, takes place in universities and other Higher Education institutions and colleges.

The National Curriculum (NC), established in 1988, provides a framework for education in England and Wales between the ages of 5 and 18. Though the National Curriculum is not compulsory it is followed by most state schools, but some private schools, academies, free schools and home educators design their own curricula.[8] In Scotland the nearest equivalent is the Curriculum for Excellence programme, and in Northern Ireland there is something known as the common curriculum.[7] The Scottish qualifications the National 4/5s, Highers and Advanced Highers are highly similar to the English Advanced Subsidiary (AS) and Advanced Level (A2) courses.[9]


Traditionally a high-performing country in international rankings of education, the UK has stagnated in recent years in such rankings as the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests; in 2013 for reading and maths the country as a whole stood in the middle-rankings, a position broadly similar to three years before.[10] Within the UK Scotland performed marginally better than England; both were slightly ahead of Northern Ireland and markedly ahead of Wales.[11] However these results contradict those of the education and publishing firm Pearson published in 2014, which placed the UK in second place across European countries and sixth worldwide; these rankings took account of higher-education graduate rates, which may have accounted for the higher ranking than in PISA.[12]

See also


  1. The Scottish Government, accessed 6 June 2009
  2. About, accessed 6 June 2009
  3. Education Scotland: Curriculum Levels (in the Curriculum for Excellence)
  4. BBC Learning Article: "The National Curriculum and Key Stages in England"
  5. 5.0 5.1 "EDUCATION SYSTEM IN THE UK" (PDF). British Government. Retrieved 3 December 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Guardian article
  7. 7.0 7.1 "THE EDUCATION SYSTEMS OF ENGLAND & WALES, SCOTLAND AND NORTHERN IRELAND" (PDF). British Council. Retrieved 3 December 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Education Otherwise website
  9. "The British Education System". HMC Projects. Retrieved 3 December 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Coughlan, Sean. "UK makes no progress in Pisa tests". BBC. Retrieved 3 December 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. "Pisa ranks Wales' education the worst in the UK". BBC. Retrieved 3 December 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. Coughlan, Sean. "UK 'second best education in Europe'". BBC. Retrieved 8 May 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

External links