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Education Systems in UK

The United Kingdom which comprises of 4 countries, England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland has one of the best rated Educational Systems in the world, ranked the 6th in the 2017 global rankings. Schools in the UK are of two distinct categories, the publicly owned and funded schools, which offer free Education to all British children, and the independent schools which are privately funded and charge fees from the children’s parents.

The UK’s privately owned institutions are considered among the elite in the whole world. However, the publicly owned and funded schools are not far behind either, as there are some truly exceptional ones with the stellar reputation. Being a multi-country conglomerate, the UK’s Educational system is not uniform across the four nations that make it up, as there are subtle and sometimes major differences from one nation to another. With that said, there some general rules that apply to all, for example, all children between the ages of 5 and 16 must receive an education that is suited to their ability, age, aptitude and any special need.

The UK’s national curriculum is built in 5 distinct Key Stages

  • Stage 1: Foundation years 1 to 2 which is target for pupils between the ages of 5 and 7
  • Stag 2: Years 3 to 6 of Education for pupils between 8 to 11 years old
  • Stage 3;  This the 7th to 9th year of studies are targeted for children of 12 to 14 years of age
  • Stage 4: Is meant for the students of 15 and 16 years of age, it’s the 10 to 11th years of schooling
  • Stage 5: Being the final stage for students between the ages of 17 and 18

While key stages 1 and 2 are taught during the primary school years of the child, stage 3 to 4 are specifically meant for the secondary school age pupil. However, in some instances, a middle school system exists where the children are transferred from primary schools between the age of 8 and 9 before they get admitted to a secondary school at the age of 12 or 13 years

The United Kingdom’s national curriculum has a set of compulsory subjects which are Math, Science and English, while other foundation courses such as history, geography, ICT, arts, physical education and modern foreign languages are taught at varying stages between key stages 3 and 4.

The Welsh, English and Northern Irish schools follow the national curriculum strictly, with Wales adding the welsh language to its list of compulsory core subjects. All students get assessed on a national scale at the end of each key stage, with the General Certificate of Secondary Education being awarded to a successful student at the end of their secondary school studies. At which point, the option is made open for the student to either take their education further through tertiary institutions or simply look for employment.

School Types in the UK

Despite the commonality of the national curriculum among the constituting countries that make up the United Kingdom, there are subtle differences between one nation to another in the characteristics and naming of schools:

England

Schools in England are mainly categorized into 3 namely, Community Schools, Foundation Schools and Voluntary Controlled/Aided Schools. Each of these schools works in direct partnership with their respective Local Education Agencies (LEAs) and must stick to the principles of the national curriculum, but can have specific areas of specialization

  • Community Schools: These are under the direct tutelage of the LEAs and they control everything from staff employment to regular maintenance of infrastructure. Students admission procedure is also set by the LEAs
  • Foundation Schools: These are under special governing bodies that take care of the employment procedure of staffs and also determine admission standards. The school’s physical assets are also owned by the governing body or by a registered charity organization
  • Voluntary Aided/Controlled Schools: Both voluntary aided and voluntary controlled schools are owned by churches or charity organizations, however in the case of voluntary controlled schools, the churches and charity bodies hand over the reins of control of the schools to the LEA that presides over the area the school is located, allowing them to handle staff and admission arrangements. While in voluntary aided Schools the church or charity organization appoints a governing body to handle day-to-day running of the school

Scotland

Scottish schools also have their own broad categorization, with Local schools being the parallels of the English community schools but in the case of Scotland, parents are included in the decision making of the school, as well as teachers and other members of the local community. Special schools are the second kind of schools found in Scotland, with their distinguishing factor being that they are targeted specifically at children with special needs. These schools often run on a residential basis as every effort is made to make sure the child receives full-time care. And lastly, denominational schools are tailored for families with strong religious beliefs that want their wards to be schooled in religiously conscious environments.

Northern Ireland

The Northern Irish school system is one of the most complexes in the UK, due to the very diverse and sometimes acrimonious demographics that make up the country. Over 10 distinct bodies are in-charge with the running of schools, with charity organizations also playing a prominent role. Secondary schools are usually based on the specific abilities and talents of a child, as there are grammar schools among others for them to choose from

Wales

The Welsh system is almost identical with that of England. They share the same names and general features with a few modifications tailored for the local Welsh population

Further Education

On completion of their secondary school education, the student can choose to further their education or opt for employment. Further qualifications that are needed before a student gain admission in any UK university include A-Levels, BTECs and GNVQs among others.

Higher Education

This is the category that comprises of all kinds of post-secondary standard qualifications from Diploma courses, to Undergraduate Degrees, to Post-Graduate Masters and Doctorates. This is the main domain of interest of international students, who will be classified as eligible if they successfully concluded the equivalent of all the previous stages discussed in this article in their home countries. This category is explained in expansive details in our other articles concerning International Students.

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