Expat Guide


The structure of the education system in the UK is a bit confusing to a parent moving from the US, it is slightly similar to the US system, but in many ways very different. For those moving with children, we have been told by the Education Agency that children are placed according to agegroup, and not tested for placement by skill level.

National Curriculum

The National Curriculum determines when subjects must be taught by describing broad ‘key stages’. The chart below shows the different key stages, and when national tests and tasks are taken (they are linked to information pages):


Age Stage Year Tests
3-4 Foundation Nursery  
4-5   Reception  
5-6 Key Stage 1 Year 1  
6-7   Year 2 National tests and tasks in English and maths
7-8 Key Stage 2 Year 3  
8-9   Year 4  
9-10   Year 5  
10-11   Year 6 National tests in English, maths and science
11-12 Key Stage 3 Year 7  
12-13   Year 8  
13-14   Year 9 National tests in English, maths and science
14-15 Key Stage 4 Year 10 Some children take GCSEs
15-16   Year 11

Most children take GCSEs, GNVQs or other national qualifications


 See Understanding the National Curriculum @ Direct.gov.uk.

 Schools and nurseries are inspected regularly, the reported results of which are available from OFSTED online. When your child's school is being inspected, OFSTED will send home a questionnaire for your comments and opinions.

Further Education

Further Education (FE) covers those types of education which go beyond what has been achieved in previous compulsory education but which are not at degree level (Higher Education). Typically Further Education includes A-levels, AS levels and certain vocational qualifications.

The largest group of people in further education are those aged between 16 and 19, to whom further education must be available if they want it. But many other people undertake full or part-time further education. Students aged between 16 and 19 can study at school or at a college providing further education. They can often remain at the school they have been attending or may transfer to a different school, for example if their current school doesn’t offer the range or combination of courses they wish to study. There are generally two types of college:

  • Sixth form colleges are similar to schools and a student can transfer to one at the age of 16
  • Colleges of further education usually offer a wider range of courses than sixth form colleges and provide education and training for student aged over 19 as well as for full time 16-19 year olds.

Colleges produce their own prospectuses, providing information on entry requirements and the purpose of courses. These prospectuses may also be available through your child’s schools and the local careers service. Some students aged 16 and over may be eligible for financial help through the Learner Support Funds. There are two types of fund:

  • School Learner Support Funds - administered by the Local Education Authority for students in school 6th forms. Pupils in financial need can apply to their LEA.
  • College Learner Support Funds - administered directly by further education colleges. Students should contact their college Student Support Officer for details.

Higher Education / University

Beyond college and sixth-form, is University, entry requirements to most degree courses are two A-levels at grade E or above, and some require more qualifications than this.

Students applying through UCAS to go to a university or other higher education institution now only have five choices of course/institution instead of six (as of the 2007 application cycle, starting on September 1st). Also, the deadline for application to universities is no longer December 15th; it's January 15th, and it could be said that that deadline is more for the somewhat 'higher-end' universities to which lots of people apply. What UCAS says is that universities, after this date, are not obliged to guarantee giving "equal academic consideration" to candidates. You can still apply after this time, and in some cases it won't effect your chances if you do – but it's best to check with universities in advance. In fact, the best thing you can do is plan ahead as much as you can.

The deadline for application to Oxford and Cambridge, however, is October 15th – and you need to get paper application forms together in addition to the electronic application through UCAS. This is not the case with most other universities.


Note this only covers the system in England. Scotland and Northern Irish Systems are different.



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