Education in UK

Education System

The education system in the UK is divided into four main parts, primary education, secondary education, further education and higher education. Children in the UK have to legally attend primary and secondary education which runs from about 5 years old until the student is 16 years old.

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



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. The most important assessment occurs at age 16 when students pursue their General Certificate of Secondary Education. Once students complete their GCSE's (General Certificate of Secondary Education) they have the choice to go onto further education and then potential higher education, or finish school and go into the working world.

Primary Education

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

For international students coming into the UK for secondary education, it is common to either enter at the age of 11 or wait until the age of 13 and have one year in the school before starting the two-year GCSE program which will run from 14 to 16 years old.

Further Education

When students reach the age of 16 and have completed their GCSE's they have a few options to choose from:

  • Find work


  • Academic qualifications:

    Most schools in the UK have what is called a "6th Form" for students to enter after they have taken their GCSE's. As an alternative, there are many "6th Form Colleges" that will offer the same courses from students at schools that do not have a 6th form. Here students typically study A-levels, further academic qualifications required of students before they enter higher education and a degree program.


  • Vocational qualifications:

For students who are not so academically minded, they still have the option to further their education by studying a vocational course that will provide them with a more hands on experience and education.

Higher Education

In the UK most undergraduate degree programs take three years to finish; however, the “sandwich course” is increasing in popularity, which is four years and involves one year in the work place (normally in your third year). In Scotland the courses are four years in length for undergraduate programs.

For graduate or masters programs they are generally shorter in length and undertaken after graduation of your undergraduate program. Some professional degrees like medicine, veterinary, law etc. have longer programs that can be as much as five years.