Educational System

In England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, which make up the United Kingdom, the education system is divided into three stages: 

  • Primary education, up to age eleven 

  • Secondary education, up to age sixteen 

  • Tertiary education, for those over the age of sixteen. 

Primary Education  Pre-school education begins from ages two to four/five through playgroups and nursery schools. The emphasis is on group work, creative activity and guided play.
Compulsory education begins at age four or five. There is little or no specialist subject teaching and a greater emphasis is laid on literacy and numerical abilities in these early years.

Secondary Education  The usual age for transfer to secondary schools is 11 - 12 and continues till about age 16 

Tertiary Education At age sixteen pupils in England and Wales may transfer to sixth form colleges or tertiary colleges. 

The National


In 1988 the National Curriculum was introduced into schools in England and Wales, making for a broader, more balanced and coherent schooling system. The Curriculum sets out what pupils should study, what they should be taught and the standards that they should achieve. 

The National Curriculum defines four 'key stages', and ten statutory subjects: 

  • Key stage 1: up to age seven 

  • Key stage 2: seven to eleven 

  • Key stage 3: eleven to fourteen (pre-GCSE) 

  • Key stage 4: fourteen to sixteen (preparation for GCSE and equivalent vocational qualifications). 

There are three 'core' subjects, English, Mathematics and Science and seven 'foundation' subjects which are: Technology, History, Geography, Music, Art, Physical Education, a modern foreign language

All children in key stages one to three must study the first nine of these subjects in key stage three they must also study a modern foreign language. Pupils aged fourteen to sixteen must study the core subjects, technology, a modern foreign language and physical education, plus either history or geography or short courses in both. 

There are however some differences in individual subjects in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

School Examinations

The most common age for pupils to transfer from primary to secondary schools in the UK is eleven. No form of examination has to be undertaken in order for them to do so. Entrance to independent secondary schools is by way of a Common Entrance Examination, taken atthe ages of eleven, twelve or thirteen. 

The General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) is the principal examination taken by secondary school pupils at sixteen-plus in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Scottish Certificate of Education (SCE) is its equivalent in Scotland. 

The GCSE is a single-subject examination, which emphasizes coursework, examination and application of knowledge. Differing abilities style="mso-bidi-font-size: 10.0pt">are taken into account, e.g. all students do not study the same classwork and answer the same examination questions. In the final exam there is a choice of papers and questions to suit students' abilities. School-based assessment of course work, by teachers, can form a significant percentage of the final result.

Grades are awarded on a single seven-point scale: A, B, C, D, E, F and G. Candidates who fail to reach the standard required for grade G will be ungraded and receive no certificate.

The GCE A-level is then taken at eighteen-plus usually in the sixth-form of secondary schools, sixth-form tertiary colleges or in colleges of further education. Traditionally students followed courses in two or three related subjects, for example the Sciences or the Humanities. However with the introduction of less conventional higher education courses, less traditional combinations of A-levels are now more common. There are five official pass grades, A to E, and a candidate not achieving the required standard may obtain an `N' (narrow failure or near miss) grade. Recently a 'super-A grade' has been introduced to recognise the very brightest candidates.

Alternatively the International Baccalaureate (IB) is offered at some schools and colleges of further education throughout the UK to students between sixteen and eighteen. The IB is a two-year course that provides a broad curriculum, which is recognised for entry to higher education in many countries, including the UK. It is an international examination administered by the International Baccalaureate Office (IBO), a Swiss-based, non-governmental organization holding consultative status with UNESCO. 

The Diploma is awarded after satisfactory performance in six subject groups: English (or the pupil's first language), which includes the study of world literature; a foreign language; the study of man in society, e.g. history, geography or economics; an experimental science; mathematics; an art, e.g. art, music, Latin, classical Greek or a second subject from one of the above groups. Three of these subjects must be offered at the Higher level, roughly the standard of A-levels, and three at Subsidiary level. At both Higher and Subsidiary level, each subject is graded on a scale from 1 (minimum) to 7 (maximum) with 4 representing satisfactory performance. In addition students must follow a course in the theory of knowledge; submit an extended essay in one of the subjects of the IB curriculum; and engage in extracurricular activities known as Creativity, Action and Service (CAS).

Under Graduate Courses

The Bachelors Degree (B.Sc., B.A., etc) is of three years duration and is generally awarded with honours. Honours can be single or joint. In the first year (level-1) of joint honours course students study three subjects of the degree together with a third subject which is 'elective' and chosen from a range of subjects. The joint honours program generally offers a considerable measure of flexibility to the students in the sense that at the end of first level it allows them to drop one of the original subjects in favour of the 'elective' or to apply to change for single honours or a major-minor program (here more emphasis is laid on one subject and the other is subsidiary) in one of the three areas studied. The professional undergraduate courses like engineering are of 4-year duration.

Entry to a degree course requires completion of GCE A-level (General Certificate of Education) or Scottish Higher Courses or a BTEC National Diploma (Business and Technology Education Council), in the subject to be pursued. If education acquired by an Indian student is not considered enough for admission in undergraduate course then for such students bridging courses, of one academic year are offered by universities, further education colleges and independent colleges.

Vocational Courses

Those wishing for vocational qualification, for example in the area of Travel and Tourism or Business and Finance, could study for BTEC Higher National Diplomas (HND) in a relevant subject. The National Diploma is equivalent to A-Level and of two years duration. HND is generally of 3 years duration and includes training in the industry. These diplomas can be studied at 'further education colleges'. After completing HND sutudent can either take up a job or enter a degree course in its second year.

Post Graduate Courses

Postgraduate diplomas courses are offered in vocational subjects and are generally of 9 months duration. Postgraduate degrees are of two kinds -'Taught Masters' and 'Research Masters'. Taught Masters Degree usually takes 1 year to complete and `Research Masters' takes 2 years and culminates in dissertation by the student.   Post Doctoral programs can also be pursued and take around 3years.