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The British Education System

Since the United Kingdom is made up of four countries – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – there are slight differences in the education systems. However, all students in the UK between the ages of five and 18 must attend school by law. Education is free for all children between these ages, whether they are British citizens or not.


The vast majority of schools in the UK are state-funded, meaning they are paid for by taxes. There are also a small number of private schools, which parents pay to send their children to. In general, state schools are free to attend but parents may be asked to make a voluntary contribution towards things like school trips and extra-curricular activities.





There are around 24 million students in total enrolled in educational institutions across the UK. Of these, just over half (52%) are studying at secondary level (ages 11-18), while 48% are primary level (ages 5-11).

The typical age when students start primary school in the UK is four years old. They then move on to secondary school at age eleven, although some pupils choose to leave school before taking their GCSE exams at sixteen. After GCSEs (or equivalent qualifications), many students stay on at sixth form or college until they’re eighteen and take A-Level exams (or other Level 3 qualifications).


Some pupils opt for vocational courses instead which can lead to various work qualifications such as NVQs/SVQs.


It’s important to note that although most schooling is compulsory up until age eighteen in the UK, there is no law stating that young people must continue their education after taking their GCSEs; it’s entirely up to them whether they stay on at sixth form or college, or enter into full-time employment instead.