The United Kingdom have different education systems, with their own levels and qualifications. The overall education system is divided into primary, secondary, further, and higher education. Schooling in the UK is mandatory between the ages of five and 18. Preceding that, parents have the option of placing their children in early childhood development at institutions or through in-home assistance. Once students graduate from the elementary and secondary school systems, they are ready to continue with higher education.

The school education system in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland include these stages:

  • Pre-Prep is also known as Infants – Reception class, Year 1 and Year 2 (4 to 7 years old)
  • Prep is also known as Juniors – Year 3 to Year 6 (7 to 11 years old)
  • Primary Education
  • Secondary Education
  • Higher or Further Education


Preschool and Kindergarten

Children generally start playschool (preschool or kindergarten) at around three years old and they start school (with a first foundation year, also known as “senior kindergarten”) the year they become five.


Besides, there are other options for early years or preschool education, such as daycare, “nursery schools” (like kindergartens), childminders. However, preschool is not mandatory.


Primary Education

Based on England’s National Curriculum, a child will attend primary school from age 5 to 11. For children at most schools, a normal school day begins between 8:00 and 9:00 and ends between 15:00 and 16:00.

At primary schools in the UK, children focus on the core subjects of math, science, and literacy. They should also learn about history, geography, technology, art, and music, and they can participate in PE (physical education) and religious education.

In Year 6, at the end of Key Stage 2, all students at primary schools in the UK, have the option to participate in a standardized exam.


Secondary Education

Secondary education (including what they call high school in the UK, sixth form, and “college”) lasts for five to seven years. Students between 12 and 16 years old are legally required to attend a secondary school in the UK. This stage of compulsory education is called “lower secondary”.

Upon completing lower secondary, students may choose to start work or vocational training. Or they can go on to college or sixth form, where 16 to 18-year-olds prepare for university.

At age 16, students take General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) exams covering Maths, English Language, English Literature and Sciences, and other chosen subjects.

These important exams test their knowledge in subjects under the national curriculum. After taking GCSEs students may leave secondary schooling, may go on to further education colleges (typically for vocational or technical courses) or may continue an academic track and prepare for admission into university. Students continuing an academic track take a higher level of secondary school exams known as A-Levels (short for Advanced level) after a further two years of study at a secondary school, sixth form college or further education college.


Higher Education

At age 18 upward, Students may choose to study a bachelor’s (or ‘undergraduate’) degree.

Bachelor’s degrees in England usually last 3–4 years. They focus on writing and analytical thinking, helping students to develop academic and work-related skills.

There are many places to study in the UK but finding some of the best universities for international students in the UK, and more about the different degrees you can opt for, is what you must consider. If you are looking to go to law or medical school, you won’t need a bachelor’s degree before applying in the UK.

Higher education in the UK is though expensive, but prices are relatively standard across the country. Undergraduate students who qualify for ‘Home fee status’, that is, UK and EU citizens, will not pay tuition fees higher than the amount capped by the government. For 2020 and 2021, this maximum is 9,250 GBP (11, 500 USD).

University graduates can then study a master’s (or ‘postgraduate’) degree. A master’s degree in England usually lasts 1 year, and requires extensive research, in-depth analysis, and a demonstration of critical thinking.



Most school children receive free education whilst others attend independent fee-paying schools. Apart from children attending independent or private paying schools, most children attend school for free in the UK. However, students wishing to engage in post-secondary education, such as university, will need to incur their tuition fees.

According to North London Grammar School, the average fee for primary school is £10,500 per year for UK Residents and £13,800 per year for International Students. For Secondary School, the average fee is £11,700 per year for UK Residents and £15,700 per year for International Students while there is little or no difference in the University tuition fee for both UK Residents and International Students (Ranging from £13,800 to £24,000) depending on the fields of study.

These fees vary from one university to another, and overseas students are usually required to pay higher tuition fees. For financial assistance with tuition, many students have the option of applying for a scholarship or a student loan.


Terms and Holidays

According to Wikipedia, the English school year supposedly runs from early September to mid or late July of the following year. Most schools operate a three term school year, each term divided into half terms.

Autumn term runs from early September to mid December (half term falls in late October). Spring Term runs from early January to Easter. (half term falls in mid February). Summer Term runs from Easter to mid July (half term falls in late May or early June).

At the end of each half term, in October, February and May, there is a holiday which lasts about one week (usually nine full days, including two weekends).


The Christmas holidays separate the autumn and spring terms, and the Easter holidays separate the spring and summer terms. Each holiday lasts about two weeks.

The local education authority sets the holiday dates for all schools under its control. Academies set their own dates, but often match the dates of other local schools. There may be days when individual schools are closed due to teacher training, bad weather, or other unplanned events. Depending on the university, students usually start their year in September or October and finishes in May or June. The main holidays are at Christmas, Easter, and Summer in which the school year usually breaks for these statutory holidays.