The Education System In The United Kingdom

The Education System In The United Kingdom

Children between the ages of 5 and 16 must be in full time education under UK Law. The Academic year in England runs from September to July, and comprises of 3 terms:

Term 1:   Starting early September through to Mid December. Known as Autumn (also known as Michaelmas)
Term 2:  Staring early January through to mid/late March. Known as spring (also known as Lent)
Term 3:  Starting early / mid April through to Beginning of July. Known as summer

Each Term is broken up into 2 HALF-terms, with a one-week break in the middle, usually at the end of October, mid-February and the end of May.

Schooling in the United Kingdom is divided into the state sector, and the private sector (also known as the Public School System).

Private Schools

School building

Private sector schools are also known as public or independent schools. The schools are entirely funded by the fees that parents pay in order to send their children there. Many are boarding schools, although there are public day schools, particularly in cities.

When overseas children come to the UK to board, they will initially require some help in finding a suitable school. RUYANG International Guardian Service & Educational Consultants Ltd can help them find a suitable school placement, and once they have found the school they want to attend, we (RUYANG) can provide an educational guardian service for the duration of their stay in the UK.

The typical boarding school arrangement is where the child lives at the school during term time and returns home for holidays. Children that are from overseas must have an educational guardian to look after them if their own parents are not living in the United Kingdom. Outside of holiday periods, children may also spend weekends out of school (these weekend breaks are called exeats), and if the child is again from overseas, they may spend these times with their Guardian or a Host Family that has been appointed by the Legal Guardian. Exeats tend to be fixed, although some schools allow parents / educational guardians to choose their own exeats.

School Life

Public schools offer a wide range of extra curricular activities for children, because obviously they will be spending extended periods away from home. Activities such as drama, debating societies, computer clubs, chess clubs, trips abroad, music, singing, cadet corps and sport can all form an important part of the child’s life in the independent school. The best boarding schools will provide the opportunity for persnal growth in a secure, happy, environment, as well as to thrive academically.

Most reputable public schools, and certainly the ones recommended by the RUYANG International Guardian Service & Educational Consultants Ltd School placement department, will have strong EFL (English as a Foreign Language) departments, to assist children from overseas. The schools that we have relationships with help us greatly with the placement and guardian services processes.

The School Campus

Tutor group

Boarding schools are usually comprised of a collection of buildings each performing particular functions, and are very much a self-contained community, almost like a small village.

The main building is generally the administrative centre of the school, and is often an historic building, which houses the Headmaster’s office and other admin departments. Classrooms tend to occupy purpose built or other older buildings. Public schools tend to be well equipped with everything you would expect to see in a modern school.

Accommodation for boarding students may occupy part of the main school or may be a separate boarding house, or even separate boarding houses. Each school has it’s own library, dining room, shop and sports hall, and in many cases a chapel or even small church within the grounds. Many public schools also have their own swimming pool.
Medical care is provided in the form of a sanatorium, where children can go if they are taken ill. The guardian of the child would also be called in for any such emergency, one of the many important roles fulfilled by educational guardians in the UK
Boarding Houses
Boarding Accommodation is individual to each school, but generally younger children share accommodation in a dormitory arrangement, whereas older children will usually be accommodated in double or single rooms. In the dormitory scenario, very often children aged 8 to 14 will be grouped 3 to 5 students of similar age into rooms/ cubicles, often sharing 2 Toilets and 2 showers In most cases each student will have there own single bed a wardrobe and study desk, and may in some schools consist of bunk beds.

Student accommodation

Boarding houses are designed to make children feel at home. Children will usually personalise their own living space, security measures are made for money and valuables and in some schools personal safes for students are supplied. There are usually communal areas these rooms are used for watching TV playing board games and entertainment. Many schools have pool tables, table tennis and miniature football within each boarding house. Also supplied in each house are small kitchen areas for preparing drinks and snacks.

In some schools, private bathrooms are not provided for individual students. Washing facilities are generally communal – bathrooms, shower rooms and shower cubicles. Boarding houses, even in co-educational schools, are separate sex.

The Daily Schedule

Typical daily schedule at a public school may look something like this:

07.30 Wake up, wash and dress.
08.00 Breakfast.
08.30 Assembly, registration.
08.45 Lessons begin (usually 2 or 3 lessons each of 35 or 40 minutes).
10.00 Mid-morning break (usually 20 – 30 minutes).
10.30 Lessons resume (usually 2 lessons).
13.00 Lunch.
14.00 Lessons resume (usually 3 lessons).
16.00 Lessons end.
16.30 Prep (supervised homework periods) / activities.
18.30 Supper / Dinner.
19.30 Prep (supervised homework periods) / activities.
22.00 Bed time (or earlier, depending on the child’s age).

The Weekend Schedule

Student activities

Most schools allow for one afternoon a week for sports, field trips, museum and cultural trips. The weekends tend to have a slightly different, less structured schedule, with sports very often-taking place on a Saturday morning. Shopping trips are sometimes arranged. Sunday morning there are church services, after which children are encouraged to write letters home. Lunch is usually at the same time, and the afternoon often taken up with other trips of interest, with supper just after this in the evening.


Breakfast, Lunch and Supper/ Dinner are all provided. They usually occur in a communal dining area (refectory) for staff and students. Most schools have a self-service arrangement at meal times, with plenty of choice, and a lot of effort is put into making menus healthy and well balanced.

  • Fruit juice / fruit.
  • Cereals (e.g. cornflakes) / bran / porridge.
  • Sausage / bacon.
  • Eggs – scrambled / fried / boiled.
  • Toast and preserves (jam, marmalade).
  • Tea / hot chocolate/ coffee / milk.
Lunch – a choice of up to 6 main courses, of which one is vegetarian
  • Soup.
  • Salad buffet.
  • A chicken dish (e.g. roast chicken, chicken casserole) or a meat dish (e.g. meatballs in tomato sauce, steak & mushroom pie) or a fish or pasta dish (e.g. broccoli &
  • pasta in cheese sauce, pizza, quiche, fish in breadcrumbs).
  • Potatoes (boiled, fried, roast or jacket) OR Rice.
  • 2 or 3 other vegetables.
  • Dessert (e.g. fruit sponge & custard, bread & butter pudding).
Supper – similar to lunch, but a little lighter
  • Soup.
  • Salad buffet.
  • Pizza, quiche, omelette or spaghetti Bolognese.
  • A light dessert (e.g. cheesecake, fruit & ice cream, fresh fruit).

Age (years)
State Sector
Private Sector
2.5 Nursery / Kindergarten Nursery / Kindergarten
5 Infant / First School
National Curriculum
Year 1 Key Stage 1
6 Year 2
7 Year 3 Preparatory School
Lower 1st
8 Year 4 Key Stage 2 1st Form
9 Middle School Upper 1st
Year 5
10 Year 6 2nd Form
11 Secondary/Upper School Key Stage 3 Senior School
Year 7 1st Form Lower 3rd *
12 Year 8 2nd Form Upper 3rd *
13 Year 9 Secondary / Upper School
3rd Form Lower 4th *
14 Year 10 Key Stage 4 4th Form Upper 4th *
15 Year 11 5th Form
16 Year 12 Key Stage 5 Lower VI
17 Year 13 Upper VI

The National Curriculum (Key Stages)

Key Stage
Age (years)
1 5 – 8 All subjects in the National Curriculum are studied except a modern foreign language.
2 8 – 11
3 11 – 14 Core subjects: Maths / English / Science (single or double time allocated) / one foreign language / technology. In addition children must study at least one humanity subject – geography or history, and at least one arts subject – art, physical education or music. Depending on the school’s timetable, children may study both humanities and all arts subjects, if they wish.
4 14 – 18 Public examinations: GCSE and GCE “A” Level.


Once your son or daughter has joined a British independent boarding school, he/she will probably be following courses of study that will, in most cases, ultimately lead to public examinations called GCSEs and A Levels.


Pupils joining a British school below Sixth Form level generally follow a programme leading to GCSE examinations that are usually taken at 16 years of age in a wide variety of subjects.


Pupils joining the Sixth Form of a British school generally follow a 2 or 3-year programme leading to A Levels and/or other examinations, which are usually taken at 18 or 19 years of age in a limited number of specialised subject areas.

EFL Courses

In addition to GCSEs, A-Levels and other examinations, overseas students will generally be required to follow courses and gain qualifications in English as a Foreign Language.

Passes at the required levels in appropriate subjects should provide the foundations for entry onto courses of study at British universities and other academic institutions.

Traditional Academic Qualifications and their Vocational Equivalents

GCSE – GNVQ foundation level
A-Level – GNVQ Intermediate and Advanced levels (or BTEC/EDEXCEL First and National Diplomas)
Years 1 & 2 of undergraduate degree – BTEC/EDEXCEL Higher National Diploma


GCSE – General Certificate of Secondary Education
A 2 year syllabus that commences in year 10 and finishing with exams in May / June of year 11. Grades run from A to G (U = unclassified or fail). If the pupil wants to continue studying a particular subject at A-Level, they must achieve the Grade of (B) or higher. Students may under take up to 10 GCSE’s subjects, although the average amount of subjects taken by students is 6.

GCE “A”/”AS” Level – General Certificate of Education Advanced (Advanced Subsidiary) Level
A 2 year syllabus that commences in year 12 and finishing in May / June of year 13. Some subjects are studied for 2 years (A-Levels) and some for just 1 year (AS-level). University places are offered on the basis of A-Level and AS-level grades obtained.

GNVQ Advanced level / NVQ level 3
This is the equivalent of obtaining 2 A levels.

Age (years)
Year of Study
16 Year 11 GCSE – General Certificate of Secondary Education. A* – G (pass)
U = fail
18 Year 13 GCE “A” Level – General Certificate of Education Advanced Level. A – E (pass)
N is equivalent to a GCSE pass
U = fail
“AS” level.
GNVQ Advanced Level / NVQ Level 3.

Further and Higher Education

Further education is for students over 16 years old taking a variety of course as an interim to Higher Education. Courses range from low level technical and commercial, to more advanced courses aimed at business and commerce.

Science class

Further education (FE) and higher education (HE) colleges in the UK are roughly the equivalent of the so-called “community colleges” in the USA. There are hundreds of FE colleges in the UK, which offer a wide range of courses including English, GCSEs, A-Levels, vocational qualifications and in some cases university access courses and undergraduate degrees.

Higher education refers to institutions offering bachelors level degrees and above. There are over 150 colleges of higher education in the UK in addition to the 98 universities.

The UK has been a leader in the development of vocational qualifications and FE colleges provide vocational training for every area in business and industry. From beauty therapy and hairdressing to mechanics and childcare, vocational qualifications can be taken at FE & HE colleges in the UK.

Vocational Qualifications

General National Vocational Qualifications (GNVQ’s) are taught at varying levels from the age of 16 and can lead to university entrance. Vocational education can continue at undergraduate level with the BTEC/EDEXCEL Higher National Diploma (HND). This is the equivalent level to the first two years of an undergraduate programme. Students graduating with this qualification can apply for entrance into the third year of a degree so completing their undergraduate studies in the same time as they would on the more traditional academic route.

The main difference between the traditional academic qualifications (GCSE, A-Level, bachelors degree) is that the vocational courses are a blend of “hands on” training, backed up by the necessary academic study to bring the skills into context. The courses are graded on a mixture of course work and examinations rather than just on examinations at the end of the academic year like the traditional academic qualifications. In some cases courses can be passed before examinations are taken which can relieve a lot of the pressure from the students. In general, overseas students have a lower level of English language proficiency and therefore find examinations more difficult than native speaking peers. Bearing this in mind, all overseas students should seriously consider the option of taking the vocational route through to bachelors level.

Applying for University

  1. UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service) acts on behalf of UK Universities and Colleges of Higher Education.
  2. All applications to any University within the United Kingdom are dealt with through UCAS and need to be submitted between September and mid December. Late applications can be submitted up till 30th June, but most of the university places will have been allocated by this time.
  3. Applicants can choose up to 6 different universities / course on the UCAS form.
  4. UCAS records the details of each application and sends the application on to the correct institute.
  5. Each university considers the application, and may request that the student comes in for an interview before they are offered a place.
  6. Offers of places on course is usually subject to the student obtaining satisfactory grades in their exams.
  7. UCAS informs the student of the decisions made by the universities.
  8. When all universities have made their offers (or rejected a student), candidates can accept up to 2 offers, received back from the Universities – a first choice and an optional insurance choice.
  9. When exam results are published (the third week of August), universities will then make a final decision on each student.
  10. All students who have achieved the results demanded have to be accepted by the university.
  11. The university at their discretion may accept any students who have not achieved the results demanded.
  12. Students who do not get their place or who apply too late (after 01 July) are eligible to apply for ‘Clearing’, whereby students are given vacancy information by UCAS and may negotiate direct with the universities.

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