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United Kingdom (UK) - Education and Schools

The education systems and schooling options in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are slightly different. In general, the school year in the United Kingdom starts in September and ends in July, with the main breaks in December, March and July.

The schooling system is divided into four levels:

Early years: Ages 3 to 4
Primary education: Ages 4 to 11
Secondary education: Ages 11 to 18
Tertiary education: Ages 18+

In the UK, education is compulsory for children between the ages of 5 and 17. Primary school usually starts during the school year in which children turn five. Students can choose between finishing school at the age of 16, after completing their GCSEs, or continuing secondary studies for two more years, when they can study for A-levels or BTEC awards. In recent years, many schools have started offering students the International Baccalaureate (IB) internationally recognised qualification. In Scotland, students have Standard Grade exams at the age of 15 or 16 and Higher / Advanced Higher Grade exams at the age of 17 or 18. In Wales, the situation is similar to England, but students also have the option of studying for the Welsh Baccalaureate.

Many different options exist when it comes to schooling in the UK. Each type of school is unique and offers different benefits to students. This wide variety of options ensures that expat families can choose what's best for their budget.

State-funded schools

State schools are covered by the government at no cost to British citizens or foreigners who legally live in the UK. These schools are funded by taxes.

There are many different types of state-funded school in the UK, including comprehensive schools, grammar schools, voluntary controlled schools and free schools. The education standard at these schools vary, because some offer good teaching and facilities, while other have troubles with bad academic results. The better state-funded schools are usually in more affluent areas.

Expats who want to find out more about the quality of teaching and facilities at a particular school should consult Ofsted, the Office of Standards in Education. Admission criteria also vary from one school to another. Most of the state schools base admissions on a particular catchment area, so expats with children should research this when deciding where to live in the UK. In general, these schools treat international students equally to British students, but in some of them it's difficult to find spaces for those who don't plan to remain in Britain long. Grammar schools will require students to pass an entrance exam called the 11+.

Private schools

Private schools are the part of the educational tradition in the UK, and they generally follow the British National Curriculum, but they also offer a wider range of subjects. During recent years, many schools offer students the option of studying for the International Baccalaureate. These schools aim to teach students foreign languages from a younger age, offering them a wider range of extra-curricular facilities as well. The standard at private schools is traditionally high, and their students perform better academically than those from public schools across the country.

Expats should be aware that fees at private schools are high, and can be between £3000 and £6000 per term. The fees at boarding schools can even be around £12,000 GBP per term. There's also the additional budget needed for uniforms, stationery, private tuition, music lessons and field trips abroad. Most private schools offer a limited number of scholarships for particularly gifted students.

The admission criteria for this type of schools also vary from one institution to another. Students usually have to attend an interview and pass an entrance exam for admission to some private schools. Most children in the private system will take an 11+ exam in order to get a place at a secondary school.

International schools

International schools are the most common choice for expat families in the UK, as these schools follow a variety of different curricula from around the world. One of the best options in this type of school is to continue studying the same syllabus as the child was studying at home. These schools are also good for those who don't plan to stay in the UK on permanent basis.

There are many international schools in the UK, covering many national curricula including American, French, Japanese, Canadian and Australian. As the city with the biggest expat population, London has the widest choice of international schools.

Fees in these schools can go up to 10,000 GBP per term. Expats who want to attend this type of school should try to negotiate an allowance into their employment contracts to cover the cost.

School Years In the UK

Primary Education

Infant School or Primary School

Reception, age 4 to 5
Year 1, age 5 to 6
Year 2, age 6 to 7 (KS1 National Curriculum Tests - England only)

Junior School or Primary School

Year 3, age 7 to 8
Year 4, age 8 to 9
Year 5, age 9 to 10
Year 6, age 10 to 11 (Eleven plus exams in some areas of England, Key Stage 2 National Curriculum Tests)

Secondary Education

Middle School, High School or Secondary School

Year 7, old First Form, age 11 to 12
Year 8, old Second Form, age 12 to 13
Year 9, old Third Form, age 13 to 14 (Key Stage 3 National Curriculum Tests, known as SATs (Standard Assessment Tests))

Upper School or Secondary School Year 10, old Fourth Form, age 14 to 15
Year 11, old Fifth Form, age 15 to 16 (old O Level examinations, modern GCSE examinations)
Year 12 or Lower Sixth, age 16 to 17 (AS-level examinations)
Year 13 or Upper Sixth, age 17 to 18 (A2-level examinations. Both AS-levels and A2-levels count towards A-levels.)

In some regions of England, children go to a Lower (Primary) School before going to a Middle School between the ages of 9 and 13, and then a High School or Upper School.

Degrees and Graduation

In the UK, there is a three-level hierarchy of degrees: Bachelor, Master, and Doctor. A graduate student is an individual who has completed a bachelor's degree, such as BA, BSc or similar, and is going to continue with further education, with the goal of achieving a master's degree, such as an MSc, or a doctorate, such as a PhD.

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