Education in England

From Academic Kids

Education in England may differ from the system used elsewhere in the United Kingdom.

Broadly speaking, there are two systems: one covering England, Wales and Northern Ireland and one covering Scotland. The two education systems have different emphases. Traditionally the English, Welsh and Northern Irish systems have emphasised depth of education whereas the Scottish system has emphasised breadth. Thus English, Welsh and Northern Irish students tend to sit a small number of more advanced examinations and Scottish students tend to sit a larger number of less advanced examinations. It should be noted that local English practice can vary from this general picture although Scottish practice is well nigh universal.

In general, the cut-off point for ages is the end of August, so all children must be of a particular age on the 1st of September in order to begin school that month.


School years

  • 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, KS2 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 (KS3 National Curriculum Tests, known as SATs (Statutary Atainment 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)
    • Upper School, Secondary School, or Sixth form college
      • 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, pupils attend a Lower (Primary or First) School before going to a Middle School between 8 and 12 or, more commonly, 9 and 13 (for an example, see Isle of Wight School System), and then a High School or Upper School. Other, more vocational qualifications offered including GNVQs and BTECs.

Private schools have generally ignored the government-imposed "Year x" format of year names. Many retain the First Form to Upper Sixth nomenclature, as above. Those which offer (or formerly offered) education from age 9 to 18 often use the following system:

  • (First Form, age 9 to 10)
  • (Second Form, age 10 to 11)
  • Third Form, age 11 to 12
  • Lower Fourth, age 12 to 13
  • Upper Fourth, age 13 to 14
  • Lower Fifth, age 14 to 15
  • Upper Fifth, age 15 to 16
  • Lower Sixth, age 16 to 17
  • Upper Sixth, age 17 to 18

Some schools name the years. This generally differs from school to school. "Shell" often signifies the First Form. Other common year names include "Remove" and "Division", although these can mean totally different years at different schools.


The costs for a normal education in the United Kingdom are as follows:

  • Primary: no charge
  • Secondary: no charge
  • Further (Secondary) Education in either a sixth form or college: no charge if under 19 years of age in that particular academic year or on a low income.
  • Higher/Tertiary Education (University): A tuition fee of around 1500 per annum currently, with top-up fees scheduled to raise costs in 2006.

Primary and Secondary education can also be charged for, if a fee-paying school is attended by the child in question (public schools). Typical charges for these can vary from 5000 to 30000 per term.


The Period Before 1950

  • From August 1833, parliament voted sums of money each year for the construction of schools for poor children, distributed by the Treasury, the first time the state had become involved with education.
  • In 1839 government grants for the construction and maintenance of schools were switched to voluntary bodies, and became conditional on a satisfactory inspection.
  • Before 1870, education was largely a private affair, with wealthy parents sending their children to fee-paying schools.
  • The Forster Elementary Education Act of 1870 required partially state funded board schools to be set up to provide primary (elementary) education in areas where existing provision was inadequate. Board schools were managed by elected school boards. The schools remained fee-paying. The previous government grant scheme established 1833 ended on December 31, 1870.
  • Under the 1880 Elementary Education Act, education became free up to the age of 10, but was also made compulsory up until that age as well.
  • The 1891 Free Education Act provided for the state payment of school fees up to ten shillings per week.
  • The 1893 Elementary Education (School Attendance) Act raised the school leaving age to 11 and later to 13. The Elementary Education (Blind and Deaf Children) Act of the same year extened compulsory education to blind and deaf children, and made provision for the creation of special schools.
  • The Voluntary Schools Act of 1897 provided grants to public elementary schools not funded by school boards.
  • The Fisher Education Act of 1918 made secondary education compulsory up to age 14 and gave responsibility for secondary education schools to the state. Under the Act, many higher elementary schools and endowed grammar school sought to become state funded central schools or secondary schools. However, most children attended primary (elementary) school up until age 14, rather than going to a separate school for secondary education.
  • Education was made compulsory up to age 15 in 1947.

The Post War Period

Due to the perceived failures of the Tripartite system, the Labour government of the time requested proposals from all the UK's regions for them to move from the Tripartite system to Comprehensive Schools. Note that this was an optional reform for the regions, and as of late 2003 some regions still have the Tripartite System. Education was made compulsory up to age 16 in 1972.

Following the 1979 General Election, the Conservative party regained power in central government, and made two main changes in this period:

  1. New Vocationalism was expanded (Labour had done some small efforts beforehand, but the conservatives expanded it considerably). This was seen as an effort to reduce the high youth unemployment figures, which were seen as one of the causes of the rioting that was relatively commonplace at the end of the seventies.
  2. The Assisted Places scheme was introduced in 1980, where gifted children who could not afford to go to fee-paying schools would be given free places in those schools if they could pass the school's entrance exam.

The Education Reform Act of 1988

The 1988 Education Reform Act made quite a few changes to the system of education. These changes were aimed at creating an education 'market' so that schools were competing against each other for 'customers' (pupils), and that bad schools would lose pupils and close, leaving only the good schools open.

The reforms are as follows:

  • The National Curriculum was introduced, which forced schools to teach certain subjects, as opposed to the choice of subjects being up to the school as had previously been the case.
  • National curriculum assessments at the key stages 1 to 3 (ages 7, 11, 14 respectively) through what were formerly called SATs. At key stage 4 (age 16), the assessments were done with the GCSE exam.
  • League tables started to be compiled showing statistics for each school, which are published in newspapers so parents can see which schools are doing well in each area of the country and which aren't.
  • Formula funding was introduced, which basically meant that the more children a school could attract to it, the more money it got.
  • Open Enrolment and choice for parents were brought back, so that parents could (within limits) choose what school their children went to.
  • Schools could, if enough of their pupils' parents agreed, opt out of local government control, becoming opt-out schools and receiving funding direct from central government. The enticement for schools was that the government offered more money than the school would get from the local authority, and this was seen as a political move given that local authorities were not run by the Conservative party as a rule, and central government was.

New Labour's Educational Policies from 1997

Following the 1997 General Election, the Labour party regained power in central government. New Labour's political ideology meant that most of the changes introduced by the Conservatives during their time in power stayed.

The following changes happened:

  • The previous Labour focus on the Comprehensive system was shifted to a focus on tailoring education to each child's ability. Critics see this as reminiscent of the original intentions of the Tripartite system.
  • Comprehensives are being turned into specialist schools (known as Centres of Excellence), which will teach the National Curriculum subjects plus a few specialist branches of knowledge (e.g. business studies) not found in most other schools. These schools will be allowed to select 10% of their pupils.
    • Numbers: In 1997 there were 196 of these schools. In August 2002 there were 1000. By 2006 the plan is to have 2000, and the goal is to make all secondary schools specialist eventually.
  • The concept of Beacon schools was introduced, where in any area of deprivation a school that is doing well is marked as a Beacon school, and shares its ideas and methods with other less successful schools.
  • Academies were introduced, which are schools that have done so badly as to close, and have been reopened under the control of central government and local businesses/interested third parties.
  • Education Action Zones were introduced, which are deprived areas run by an action forum of people within that area with the intention of make that area's schools better.
  • Vocational qualifications were renamed/restructured as follows:
    • GNVQs became Vocational GCSEs and AVCEs.
    • NVQs scope expanded so that a degree-equivalent NVQ was possible.
  • The New Deal was introduced, which made advisors available to long-term unemployed (in the UK this is defined as being unemployed for more than 6 months) to give help and money to those who want to go back into Education.
  • Introduced Literacy and Numeracy hours into schools, and set targets for literacy and numeracy.
  • Set Truancy targets.
  • Set a maximum class size of 30 for 5-7 year olds.
  • Introduced the EMA, which is paid to those between 16 and 18 as an enticement to remain in full-time education and get A-Levels/AVCEs.
  • Introduced Curriculum 2000, which reformed the Further Education system into the current structure of AS levels, A2 levels and Key Skills.
  • Abolished the Assisted Places scheme.
  • A report was commissioned, led by the former chief-inspector of schools, Mike Tomlinson, into reform of the curriculum and qualifications structure for 14–19 year-olds. The report was published on October 18, 2004 and recommended the introduction of a diploma that would bring together both vocational and academic qualifications and ensure that all pupils had a basic set of core skills. It is proposed that the current qualifications would evolve into this diploma over the next decade, whether the government will follow the recommendations is yet to be seen — the Conservative Party have already introduced alternative proposals to return to norm-referencing in A-levels rather than the current system of criterion-referencing.

See also

External links


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