Life in the UK

【British Education System】explained!!!

Hi. It’s konkaz (@konkazuk) here.

I had always thought that I was going to learn about the education system in the UK properly once I get enough time…

It has been successfully kept untouched until today, and now that my boy is going to secondary school from this September…and it means… “now is the time!!!

So, here, (and finally,) I have briefly summarized “UK education system“!!!

Although I have mentioned “briefly”, it has got a certain volume, I have to say…

Anyway, please have a look!


The overall flow of England’s education system

First of all, according to the Article 147 on UK law, once your baby has reached the stage where he or she can walk, you are ought to send the baby to work. 

image by Oleg Sergeichik

I’m sorry! … just kidding. 🙏


In England, an initial educational establishment where small children are sent to spend their time for playing, learning, sleeping and struggling, while parents are at work,

is called Nursery.

“Nursery” is equivalent of “Hoiku-en” in Japan, and it is not compulsory to participate.

Fundamentally, children go to nursery while they are 2~3 years old & 3-4 years old【2 years】, however, quite a few nurseries accept children while they are still 1 year old or … even a few months old.

image by bbc creative

You are only entitled to receive a support “subsidy” [sʌbsədi] from the government, while your child is 3 & 4 years old (30 hours of free child care per week / 38 weeks of the year) 👉 for more information

When my kids were 3 & 4 years old, it was only up to 15 hours of free childcare per week.

We had to send our kids to the nursery while they were still before the age of 2, and I remember it was deadly tough for a couple like us (minimum wage + irregular income) to make ends meet!!!

You can check your local nurseries with Oftsed (Office for Standards in Education)’s website.

You just enter your post code, and you will see the list of local nurseries with ranking, so this might help you to decide which one to choose…

However, I believe that raw information coming from a group of mothers is always the best!


Having spent some time in a nursery, your child will be attending the… 

Reception Year“. 

The “Reception Year” is basically a preparation year before your child is entering the “Year 1’ in primary school, which is the first year of the compulsory education in England.

This is for those who are 4 years old at the point of 1st September, and it usually belongs to the primary school your child is going to…)

Practically, your child is entering the school, so this must be an exciting moment for both parents and kids…

“Primary school”

And then, once your child has become the age of 5 at the point of 1st September, he or she will be entering 

Primary school” 

(which is equivalent of “Syogakko” in Japan)

…and as I mentioned earlier, this is the beginning of Compulsory Education in England.

image by CDC

Alternatively, you can opt for educating your child at home, which is often called “home schooling”, and there are parents actually applying this method.

Regarding the period of Compulsory education in the UK, it was originally 11 years (between the age of 5 and 16) for all the countries (England, Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland), however

in England, it has been extended to 13 years (between the age of 5 and 18) since 2015.

The reason for this is often said to prevent young people from falling into “NEET” (Not in Education, Employment or Training) category…

Anyway, the content of this 13 years of Compulsory Education in England is…

Age 5~11Primary school (Primary education)Year 1~Year 6 (6 years)
Age 11~16Secondary school (Secondary education)Year 7~ Year 11 (5 years)
Age 16~18Sixth Form/College (Further education)Year 12 & Year 13 (2 years)

Regarding the last couple of years (Year 12 & Year 13)…

If your child is planning to study in the University [Higher Education], he or she will need to go through a couple of years of learning process called Sixth Form”, which is normally attached to a secondary school (often referred to as school sixth forms), but if not, they need to study in sixth form college.

Or if your child wants to work in a specific field such as agriculture, art, designing, etc. in the future, they can choose to study in “Further Education College, or “Tertiary College which will provide them academic and vocational education.

Or they could be on-the-job training called “Apprenticeship”. They are to learn their trade or profession while working for an employer.

image by F1Digitals

Incidentally, you might hear the word “Key Stage” from time to time…

This term is used to divide the process of England’s compulsory education into 4 stages set by National Curriculum which is the standard course of study in the country.

Key Stage 1age  5 – 7 [Year 1 ~ Year 2]
Key Stage 2age  7 – 11  [Year 3 ~ Year 6]
Key Stage 3age 11 – 14 [Year 7 ~ Year 9]
Key Stage 4age 14 – 16 [Year 10 ~ Year 11]

Subjects and their contents for studying are allocated to each stage, and at the end of Key Stage 1 (Year 2) and Key Stage 2 (Year 6), pupils are to take SATs(Standard Assessment Tests)

It is said that these tests are not for measuring whether your child is passing or failing, but simply to grab the idea of academic ability in the school as a whole.

And at the end of Key Stage 4 (Year 11) pupils are to take

GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education).

The result of this test will be greatly affecting on pupil’s future (choosing university, getting a job, etc.),

therefore this is the “crucially important one”!!!

Secondary school

My son is currently in Year 6, and I remember it was about the beginning of October last year… There was a text message from the school, and it said…

“URGENT REMINDER: Secondary Transfer applications MUST be completed by Friday 23rd OCT…”

It was like… OMG!!! w

The new term has just begun, and we need to complete what???

The research on local secondary schools was kicked off hurriedly…

image by Glenn Carstens

While my wife was gathering each school’s information from local council’s website or via mom’s friends, I bombarded my colleagues with lots of questions at work.

During the conversations, there were several vocabularies, which were then new to me, such as “sixth form”, “catchment”, and about “Catholic schools“, and so on.

Also, it turned out that there were several types of school in this country, such as…

  • Public School
  • Independent School
  • Private School
  • Grammar School
  • Voluntary-aided School

And there was this one called “Comprehensive School” which seemed to account for the majority of secondary schools in the UK.

At the end of the day, we had found that there were no options for ordinary people like us to choose other than “Comprehensive School” (often called as “State School”, too.), …so, this bit was sorted without struggle… w

image by Wander Fleur

But there was another problem…

Normally, each secondary school is meant to have “open days” about this time, so that parents and pupils can go and see how the schools they are applying look like, but due to pandemic situation, most of them were cancelled, and were only available online…

My wife and son participated only in available ones and the rest was…using Imaginations!” 

Anyway, we had made our decision out of gathered information and filled from 1st choice to 6th choice in the form, and managed to press “Apply” button in time…

Phew! 💦

The time has gone by, and the new year has come…

As the month changed from February to March, the email of the verdict from my son’s new school arrived in the evening and…

We were fortunate enough that our son has been offered a place at the school of his/our first choice! ✨

The bad news was the fact that my son’s best friend had not got the same school. They have been together since the years of nursery, so it was very sad.

Anyway, we later found out that one of the reasons why our son had been offered the place at the school of his/our first choice was possibly because of the location we live.

image by meineresterampe

It looked like where we live was pretty closer side of school’s catchment area.

According to the information I have picked, the State schools (maybe other type of schools too?) tend to offer the place to the applicants in order of their address’ nearness to the school. 

And moreover, some parents who consider their children’s future move into their desirable school’s catchment area with precise timing!!! wow!

Some people say that most of the secondary schools in our area are good on the whole, and the quality of the schools have a lot improved over the last 10 years or so… (possibly due to the result of East London’s urban development plan?)

image by PublicDomainPictures

Anyway, since choosing the secondary school for your kids seems to be a crucial matter that might affect well on their future, I recommend you researching the things at the earliest opportunity, so that you will have enough time to consider, unlike how we acted… 

p.s. My son’s best friend was offered a place at the same school as my son’s later on! ✨


image by CDC

I remember that it was about early spring last year. I delivered my wife’s work to the gallery, and on my way home in the taxi, I heard students being interviewed on the radio, expressing their gutted feelings about the cancellation of GCSE exam due to pandemic situation.

I cannot imagine how things will look like by the time my kids reach the age to take this GCSE exam…

well, hopefully things will have been settled by then…

 Anyway, here are the summaries of GCSE and SIXTH FORM…

GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education)

Once pupils reach Year 10(14 – 15 years old) in the secondary school, they will start studying particularly for the exam called “GCSE” which they will be taking two years later. 

While they are in Year 9 (13 – 14 years old), pupils are expected to choose 9-10 subjects to study for this exam and among all, there are 3 core subjects they must take…

These compulsory subjects are…

  • Mathmatics
  • English language/literature
  • Science (Biology, Chemistry and Physics)

As for other optional subjects, you need to choose from each category, such as… Humanity subject (History, Geography, etc), Arts subject (Music, Drama, etc.), Modern foreign subject (French, German, Spanish, Mandarin, Japanese! and so on), Technical subject (Computer science, Design and technology, etc.) 

Considering the fact that they are still 13 years old, and are to be asked to make their mind to choose all these subjects which could be well-related to their future career, I initially thought it was a bit too early…

image by Compare-Fibre

however, if we take account of the fact that things are nowadays changing with incredible speed with crazy amount of information coming up daily, I later thought that starting early could be a good thing for their generation.

(At this age, I was still doing the things like… catching fish in the river, playing football until very late at night, etc. w)

Anyway, the way GCSEs are accessed and graded was changed in 2017. 
They are now graded 9-1 (9 is the highest) instead of A*- G.

…umm this looks really heavy stuff!

5 is said to be the safe grade to pass the exam, but it looks like you need to look further… 

Pupils will need to get a certain number of GCSEs at a specific grade to apply to Sixth Form, and to study at A level…

they seem to require at least grade 6 and above of GCSEs in the subjects they are going to choose over there…


So, if your child is to study in the university, he/she is moving onto 2 years of further education course called

Sixth Form
(normally attached to their secondary school).

They call the 1st year Lower Sixth (L6), and the 2nd year Upper Sixth (U6).

Sixth Form is also sometimes called “Key Stage 5”

I was wondering why they are calling this 2-year-period as 6th Form [Year 12 & Year 13], and now I just realised that it’s 6th from the 1st year [Year 7] of secondary school! w 

image by Aaron Burden

In the past, pupil had to take 2 exams, which are… 

AS (Advanced Subsidiary Level) at the end of Year 12,


A Level (Advanced Level General Certificate of Education),


AS exam has become non-compulsory since the Department of Education announced that they would emphasise more on the performance in an exam and less on coursework in 2018, hence they would not count the result of AS exam towards the A level,therefore pupils are currently to take only A level exam.

Majority of pupils are said to take 4 subjects at the 1st year, and then choose 3 subjects (dropping 1 subject) at the 2nd year so as to prepare for the A level.

Grades are to be calculated as A* A B C D E, and if you have marked appropriate grades with each subject which the university you have applied for requires, then you will be allowed to enter.

There are no individual exams for each university like Japan.

Tuition fees in England is currently up to £9250 per year (approx. 135,0000yen / £1 = 150yen). 

Most students borrow money for their tuition fee and living expense from the country and will need to pay back once their yearly wage have reached certain amount after graduation.

You go to university in order to earn better money, but you will be mired in debt once have graduated from it… ? What the hell is going on???

image by Michaela Filipcikova

Anyway, this is it for the summary of “British education system”.

Thanks for reading the article till the end and hopefully it was useful!!!


👉 *Japanese version of this blog post

*Maybe you are interested in reading… 👉 【UK Political System】 explained!!!