Education system in England

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Overview

The formal education system is divided into a number of phases which map onto different ages of people. In all of these phases provision includes both private and state funded facilities.

Education is compulsory between the ages of 5 and 16. State funded schools are required to follow the National Curriculum and administer national tests/exams (except in exceptional circumstances). Schools are inspected by Ofsted to ensure that they are providing a high quality education and value for money.

Age in years Phase
0 to 2 This is a big growth area in England, with initiatives such as SureStart. Provision includes child minders, pre-school playgroups and nurseries.
3 to 5 Foundation stage 'Curriculum guidance' is provided, which sets out 'early learning goals' (see the Sure Start webiste for more info. Provision includes state (eg nurseries, foundation units in primary schools) and private settings (eg nurseries, pre-school playgroups). There is statutory provision of pre-school education for children who are identified as having Special Educational Needs aged between 2 and 5 years old.
6 to 7 Key Stage 1

(Years 1 & 2)

In state funded schools, which may be referred to as infant, primary or combined schools, children are normally tested at the end of Key Stage 1 (Key Stage 1 SATs).

Private schools (which are often referred to as Preparatory or Prep schools) and home schoolers do not have to follow the National Curriculum but are subject to inspection.

8 to 11 Key Stage 2

(Years 3 to 6)

In state funded schools, which may be referred to as junior, primary or combined schools, children are normally tested at the end of Key Stage 2 (Key Stage 2 SATs).

Private schools (which are often referred to as Preparatory or Prep schools) and home schoolers do not have to follow the National Curriculum but are subject to inspection.

12 to 14 Key Stage 3

(Years 7 & 9)

In state funded schools, which may be referred to as combined (for 12 and/or 13 year olds) or secondary schools, children are normally tested at the end of Key Stage 3 (Key Stage 3 SATs). Some state schools are selective - taking children who have demonstrated their academic competence by taking an examination such as the 11+.

Private schools (which are referred to as public schools for children aged 13 plus) and home schoolers do not have to follow the National Curriculum but are subject to inspection.

15 to 16 Key Stage 4

(Years 10 & 11)

In state funded schools (secondary schools), children will normally take their GCSEs (which replaced CSEs and O Levels) in Year 11 (ie the year in which they are 16).
17 to 18 Post 16

(Years 12 & 13)

Tends to be split between academic study in sixth form (school or college), and vocational training in FE colleges. Students in FE colleges tend to study for vocational qualifications such as NVQs or GNVQs. In sixth forms students tend to study for A levels.
19 to 25 Adult Academic study is focused on universities (Higher Education or HE). Vocational training is located in FE colleges (Further Education or FE). The introduction of foundation degrees is an attempt to broaden access to Higher Education and to make stronger links between the FE and HE sectors.
26 to 64 'Mature students', adult learners, so called 'lifelong learning'.
65 plus Universities of the third age are aimed specifically at this cohort of learners.

Educational alternatives

In England parents are responsible for ensuring that between the ages of 5 and 16 their child receives 'efficient full-time education suitable to his/her age, ability and aptitude and to any special educational needs s/he may have, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise' (adapted from Section 7 of the Education Act 1996). Most people assume that this means that children have to attend school, but that is NOT the case.

Education within the state funded system is very constrained, because of the requirement to follow the National Curriculum (except in exceptional circumstances). There is no state funding for alternative education, except where children are identified as having specific difficulties which prevent them from attending mainstream schools.

A growing number of parents are choosing not to send their children to state schools on a full time basis, preferring to make alternative arrangements, which may include:

References

HMSO (1996) The Education Act 1996, London: The Stationary Office Limited.

Useful links

The UK entry in Eurybase (http://www.eurydice.org/Eurybase/Application/frameset.asp?country=UK&language=VO)
Eurybase provides detailed information on the education systems in each country within the EU. (Visited 20-June-05)

Wikipedia – Education in England (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Education_in_England)
This entry within the Wikipedia provides an overview of the education system in England, including sections on: school years, costs, history, and external links. (Visited 20-June-05)

The Department of Education and Skills (DfES) (http://www.dfes.gov.uk/)
This official government site provides a mass of information about education (and related issues) in the UK.