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A Quick Guide to the British Education System

Among the numerous education systems around the world, the British Education system is understandably not the simplest to make sense of. As of 2015, England’s official school leaving age was increased from 17 to 18, meaning that most children will spend at least 13-14 years in formal education. But just how are these 14 years structured? Here is Holland Park Tuition & Education Consultant’s quick guide to demystify it all.

Primary Education and Entry Points

Children begin their formal education at ‘Reception’, the year preceding Year 1. A child is qualified to start Reception if they have reached the age of 4 on the 31st August of that school year. Don’t be confused between ‘Nursery’ and ‘Reception’ though, as Nursery comes before Reception, is optional and is a much more informal setting. Below is a comparative chart between a child’s age, what year group they should be in, and the American equivalent:

Graph 1-page-001-1

To make it all slightly more complex, you’ll see that England has ‘Key Stages’ (KS) which is implemented in the State Education system; consider them simply as marking out the expected knowledge at the end of the KS. At State/Government-funded schools, Year 6 students will take low-stake National tests in Maths, English and Science to ensure that they have worked towards expectations and are ready to progress into the next KS. Independent/Fee-Paying schools do not have to follow the same state policies, and therefore may not have the same tests; some schools, however, still do. Not to fret however, they are low-stakes and formative.

School entrances, meanwhile, are another mystery and slightly complicated matter; don’t worry – we can help you. Independent schools have their own “major” entrances point besides Reception. London independent schools - in particular – have entrances at Year 3 and Year 4, what they call 7+ and 8+. These entrances will have their own interviewing and assessment process; as what they are assessed on are not part of the curriculum, parents will most likely seek external tuition to strengthen their children’s chances. In the past, we have also helped children prepare by doing a full Mock Assessment in the style of a 7+ and 8+ entrance exam to identify knowledge gaps and seek areas of improvement; contact a member of the Consultancy team to set one up for your today.


Secondary Education and Entry Points

Graph 1-page-001

Secondary school will take students at the start of Year 7 up until Year 13. Following Year 13, majority of pupils will progress into further education, higher education, apprenticeships or work experience.

Year 7 is the next major entry point, where children who are striving for places at independent schools or grammar schools will sit the 11+. Here’s a reminder that students that are registered with grammar schools will sit their 11+ mid-September in Year 6, whilst independent school candidates will have their 11+ examinations in January in Year 6. Be careful not to get confused and miss the registration deadlines.

The final year of Key Stage 3 is another common entry point to independent schools, what we call 13+. The 13+ is similar, but a slightly more demanding examination than the 11+. There are no official summative assessments at the end of KS3, though depending on their school curriculum and policies, independent schools may decide to hold some formative assessments in preparation for the GCSEs.


GCSEs and A-Levels

At the end of KS4 (Year 11), students that are following the UK’s curriculum will sit their GCSEs; in Scotland, this is called the Standard Grade. The GCSEs – previously known as the O-Levels – is the first high-stakes and National Qualification examination that most children will sit. Students will begin preparing for their GCSEs at the beginning of Year 10; the exam is composed of compulsory subjects such as English, Mathematics and Sciences, foundation subjects like ICT, Physical Education and Citizenship as well as the arts, humanities, languages and Design Technology. The GCSEs are important, as it will be something that university admissions team will take note of.

Following their GCSEs, schools will see a large change and turnover in their student population as we reach the final common entrance point: the 16+. This is the final change in schooling where families may decide that their children should attend a different education institution to complete their A-Levels.

Since the rise in school leaving ages, most students will now leave their last year of compulsory education with A-Level qualifications. Though common, it should be emphasised that A-Levels are not compulsory; students who do “leave school” at 16 must continue their education at a vocational college, undergo apprenticeships or do part-time education until 18.

Traditionally, students who do stay on for their A-Levels will take three to four subjects of their interest that will also compliment their career plans. Universities will also ask for certain A-Level subjects from students pursuing particular courses. For example, students choosing Medicine must have a Biology and/or Chemistry at A-Levels. Choosing A-Level subjects can be difficult, as how can a 16-year-old know exactly what they want to pursue for the future? We understand the challenges, so get in touch with one of our Consultants who can advise you on what subjects your child should be studying.

If you would like to seek further advice or consultation on the UK’s education system or would like to arrange a mock assessment for your child for a particular entrance exam, give us a call on +44 (0) 20 7034 0800 or fill in an enquiry form below.


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