UK education system

Year groups and Key Stages

Children start formal schooling in the Reception year, then progress from Year 1 through to Year 13. The years are grouped into 'Key Stages'.

In most schools, children move from primary school to secondary school at the beginning of Key Stage 3.

Primary Secondary
Foundation Stage (Early Years) Key Stage 1 Key Stage 2 Key Stage 3 Key Stage 4 Key Stage 5
Nursery* Reception Yr 1 Yr 2 Yr 3 Yr 4 Yr 5 Yr 6 Yr 7 Yr 8 Yr 9 Yr 10 Yr 11 Yr 12 Yr 13

* optional (compulsory education begins just before the child's fifth birthday).

Children are placed in year groups according to age, not the level of knowledge, skills or achievement. They move up to the next year group after the summer break, whether or not they have reached the expected level of attainment. Children with special needs or who have fallen behind may receive extra support.

Subjects and examinations

State schools usually follow the National Curriculum which prescribes the subjects that are taught. It sets out the expected ‘levels of attainment’ for pupils at the end of every school year. At the end of Key Stage 1, pupils take tests in reading, writing and mathematics. They are tested in the same subjects in Key Stage 2, plus spelling, punctuation and grammar (SPaG).

At the end of Key Stage 4, pupils sit public examinations for each of the subjects studied, usually General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE). GCSEs are graded from 1-9, replacing the previous system of grades A* - G.

Pupils may then study for up to two further years in Key Stage 5 (often known as Sixth Form) for A Levels (General Certificate of Education Advanced Level). Most schools or colleges will set general and subject-specific requirements for Sixth Form entry.

Alternative post-16 choices include vocational qualifications and apprenticeships. You can study for a vocational qualification (such as hairdressing, catering, or leisure and tourism) at a college, or for an apprenticeship programme (such as accountancy, business administration, or engineering) through an employer.

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