Preschool And School Education In the United Kingdom

Education in the United Kingdom is valued worldwide. It can open doors to a lot of career opportunities. This is thanks to the flexibility of the British education system that adapts to modern requirements and provides pupils with knowledge and skills in line with the latest industry trends. At the same time, British people cherish their centuries-long education culture: pupils are brought up with immaculate manners, communicative skills, leadership qualities, and a drive for self-development. The high demand for British education creates strong competition among pupils who begin to think about their education and future career at an early age. To make the right choice, it is important to understand the key stages of British education and have some backup plans to achieve your goals effectively.

British Preschool Education

Preschool education is not compulsory. However, it can contribute to your child’s development, in particular:

  • Socialisation;
  • Communicative skills;
  • Basic reading, writing, and counting skills;
  • Imagination and logical thinking;
  • Physical education through games.

The above skills can help your child get a place in a prestigious school and facilitate the education process. Nurseries do not overload children with too much information but adapt the learning process to a child’s age so that they can enjoy it and gradually adjust to a new lifestyle. Nurseries accept children at the age of two, so there are three years to prepare for school.

The British government supports families with children and grants them three hours of free childcare per workday. If you need a nursery for longer, you will have to pay.

Apart from state nurseries, there are private ones that give children more attention and practice an individual approach. The emphasis is made on the extensive development of children’s abilities and preparation for school.

It is recommended to apply for a state or private nursery at least a year before you plan to send your child there. If you are late, your nursery may run out of places and refuse your application. In this case, you will have to wait until a place becomes available.

Early application is crucial if you have chosen a prestigious nursery. Sometimes, you need to apply more than a year ahead or even during pregnancy. For more information, contact the administration of your nursery.

British Primary and Secondary Education

UK primary and secondary education consists of several key stages:

  • Key Stage 1 – pupils at the age of 5–7;
  • Key Stage 2 – pupils at the age of 7–11;
  • Key Stage 3 – pupils at the age of 11–14;
  • Key Stage 4 – pupils at the age of 14–16.

Pupils complete their secondary education with exams and receive a General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE). The latter allows them to start working but does not lead to higher education. To continue studying at a university, pupils need to go to a college or take an A-level course.

British Primary Schools

Primary education corresponds to key stages 1 and 2. The first year is preparatory. Education begins with three subjects: English, Literature, and Mathematics. There are a lot of art and sports classes as well as open-air walks. A child is treated as an individual. Teachers try to develop in them strong will and leadership qualities as well as soft skills and the ability to defend their point of view. The curriculum gradually expands when new subjects like Science, Humanities, and other foundation subjects, are added. The whole primary education curriculum includes ten subjects.

British Secondary Schools

Secondary education starts with the key stage 3. The curriculum expands to 15 subjects, and preparation for Common Entrance Examination begins. Pupils take it at the age of 14. There are classes on professional orientation that allow them to get familiar with various career opportunities and decide on a future career path.

The last key stage is fully devoted to the preparation for the GCSE exams. It is compulsory and can influence your chances of getting into a British university since UK higher education institutions review their applicants’ GCSE results. To get the certificate, pupils must successfully pass exams in 8–10 subjects. They are chosen by the pupils themselves based on the courses they plan to take at a university.

The curriculum at a secondary school consists of three groups of subjects:

  • Mandatory (introduction to Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics, and English).
  • Optional (they are chosen by pupils and may include Geography, Art, Dancing, Music, etc.).
  • Additional; they combine two or more subjects for unique research work.

A-Level Courses for Higher Education

An A-Level course is designed for pupils who plan to continue their education at a university. They last for two years and involve advanced study of the school subjects, the practice of A-level tests, and thorough exam preparation. Pupils choose the composition of their course themselves. They must take a minimum of three subjects. However, most pupils sign up for more to be able to apply to several universities.

A Levels are accepted by all British universities and some foreign universities as well.

If a pupil wants to apply for British higher education, they must take an A-Level course. This requirement is valid for both British and foreign nationals.

Tertiary Colleges as Alternative to Higher Education

Not every pupil wants to study at a university. Though it is very prestigious, it requires a lot of investment and high academic performance. That’s why, after compulsory school education, students are given a choice. They can aim for a university education, or start working, or apply to a tertiary college. The latter offers various courses. For example, IT, Arts and Culture, etc. Education is practice-oriented and is organised in a real work environment. It has several blocks and ends with exams. After you get your certificate or degree, you can choose between various career paths. One of them is a junior manager.

Types of British Schools and Forms of Education

Pupils can get their school education in one of the following institutions:

  • State school;
  • Public school.

State schools offer both free and fee-charging options. The UK government provides free school education only for British nationals or those who stay in the UK on a long-term visa (for at least half a year). Children are assigned to the nearest school. If you live outside the UK and are not a UK citizen, you will have to pay for your children’s education, and they will be able to apply only to a public school.

Public schools are considered more prestigious. The curriculum differs depending on the school and sometimes has its interim evaluation. Thanks to such flexibility, subjects are taught at an advanced level that provides more efficient preparation for A Levels. In theory, anyone can apply to prestigious British universities, like the University of Oxford or Cambridge University. However, the statistics show that most of the students there are graduates of public schools. Since class sizes are smaller, teachers can give each pupil more attention.

There are several forms of education in the UK:

  • Daytime education.
  • Weekly boarding – pupils live in a boarding school Monday through Friday and return home for the weekend.
  • Full boarding– pupils study and live in a boarding school, coming home only during term breaks.

Some British schools are all-girls or all-boys. It is believed that such separation provides fewer distractions and makes the education process more efficient.

Children can also attend a religious school. To go there, your child must belong to the relevant confession and actively take part in religious services. For example, regularly go to church or any other religious institution.

A child’s abilities and talents are always taken into account by educators. There are a lot of extracurricular activities: theatre clubs, sports clubs, and research laboratories that can help a child take up new hobbies and develop new skills that may come in handy in the future. The whole list of extracurricular activities offered by a school is publicly available. As a rule, public schools offer more activities than state ones.

State schools are free. Public schools always charge a fee that starts at £15,000 for an academic year (three trimesters). The fee at some boarding schools can be up to £25,000.

The school year is divided into three trimesters. There is a term break in between. This is conducive to effective learning and distributes the mental load equally between the trimesters. Pupils have more chances to maintain a life-education balance. Each public school develops its curriculum. Classes begin in September and end either in June or July.


At British schools, pupils get two marks:

  • A, B, C, D, E, F, G, or U – for academic performance where “А” is the highest mark, and “U” indicates a complete lack of understanding of the subject.
  • 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 – for motivation and persistence where “1” demonstrates the highest level of engagement and “5” – total indifference.

This approach allows the school to assess pupils’ achievements more objectively. It is impossible to understand all the subjects equally well, so two marks help to maintain motivation and encourage active pupils.

Main Advantages of British School Education

British school education has a lot of advantages. There is a wide range of subjects and extracurricular activities that can help pupils successfully pass entrance exams and get enrolled in prestigious British universities. Children are broad-minded and knowledgeable in various fields.

British schools value discipline and teach their pupils manners, etiquette, and negotiating skills, just as it was centuries ago. Initiative and leadership are encouraged. The conditions are created for the development of pupils’ talents.

At every stage, children’s performance and aptitude are monitored. If the need arises, they can be transferred to another school that has the relevant specialisation. Children are free to choose their future career path and decide what can make them truly happy and successful. To cut a long story short, the UK offers brilliant education opportunities for British and foreign nationals.

If you want your children to get a UK school education, it is recommended to contact professionals who will help you choose an appropriate school for your child based on their aptitude and collect and fill in all the required documents.

FAQ about UK Primary and Secondary Education

What are the particularities of UK preschool education?

Children can be sent to private crèches starting from the age of three months. Then, they attend nurseries and leave them at the age of five for primary school. Most British parents send their children to nurseries when they are already two or three years old. Nurseries resemble schools. From the age of three, each child is entitled to three hours of free childcare five times a week. If you need more, you will have to pay a fee. The government guarantees 15 hours of free childcare both in state and private nurseries. Teachers try to boost children’s versatile development through special education programs. In contrast to primary and secondary school education, preschool education is not compulsory.

At the age of four, children attend free reception classes. They study for six hours (from 9 am to 3 pm). During this time, children further develop their skills and prepare for school.

What types of preschool institutions are there in the UK?

Apart from state and private nurseries, there are also playgroups. They are regulated by the Pre-School Playgroups Association and receive funding from the government, charity organisations, and parents. About 70% of children aged two and three attend such playgroups.

Childminder is another available childcare option. Just like private nurseries, childminders must be officially registered and meet the Ofsted requirements. Groups in childminders are small and contain 3–5 children.  Childminder groups offer various courses for children’s development and track their performance. The working hours are convenient for busy parents: from 7.30 am till 6.30 pm. The government program for free childcare applies to childminders too.

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