The UK education system is worldwide reputed for its high quality and standards. In general, the British higher education system has five stages of education: early years, primary years, secondary education, Further Education (FE) and Higher Education (HE). Britons enter the education system at the age of three and up to 16 are obliged to attend school (compulsory education), while afterward is upon their choice.
Besides sharing many similarities, the UK education system at different levels at each zone of administration (England, Scotland, and Wales) differs a bit. Generally spoken these differences are not so meaningful that we can talk about the UK higher education as being one.
In UK everybody, aged over 5 and under 16 is obliged to attend school. This aging time frame contains two sections of the education system in UK: Primary and Secondary School.
The Compulsory Education in UK
Key Stage 1
This stage includes pupils at the primary school aged 5 to 7 years old. Basically, during the key stage 1, kids are introduced to some of the most basic knowledge on subjects like the English language, Mathematics, History, Physical Education, Geography, History and Music. During the first year of this stage, the structure of the curriculum contains the Phonic screening, a short assessment of kids’ ability to decode and understand phonics properly. Typically, the student will speak loudly to his teacher a list of 40 words. At the end of this stage (same as in each of them), these pupils will sit for an examination aiming to measure their development in English, Maths and Science.
Key Stage 2
Between 7 to 11 years pupils will be in the second Key Stage of the compulsory education. Now the curriculum aims to move them further in gaining a bit more knowledge on core subjects. At the end of this stage, they will be tested in the following subjects
- English reading
- English grammar, punctuation and spelling
In English and Mathematics, the testing will be done through national assessment tests, while the teacher will independently assess the level of improvement of each student in Science.
Key Stage 3
Pupils aged 11 to 14 are in the third stage of compulsory education. To a certain degree, this period of their education is very important because only a few years later they will sit for the GCSE national qualification. The curriculum during this stage of education will also contain new subjects at which students are supposed to get some basic knowledge before moving any further in the upcoming stages of education. The subjects learned in Key Stage 3 are English, Mathematics, Science, History, Geography, Art and Design, Music, Physical Education, Modern Foreign Languages, Design and Technology and Computing. At the end of the Key Stage 3, some students may take their GCSE or other national qualifications.
Key Stage 4
The final stage of the compulsory education, the Key Stage 4 lasts from the age of 14 to 16. This is the most common period of time for students to undertake the national assessment tests that will lead them to take a GCSE or other national qualifications.
The compulsory national curriculum at this stage contains the “core” and “foundation” subjects.
These are the “core” subjects taught at the Key Stage 4:
And these are the “foundation” subjects taught at the Key Stage 4:
- Physical Education
Additionally, schools in UK are obliged to offer one of the following subjects during this stage of education
- Design and Technology
- Modern Foreign Languages
Further Education System
In contrast to other education systems in the world, people in UK don’t move directly to university after high school graduation. Due to completion of high school at the age of 16, people in UK have to sit for GCSE exams to prove they’ve gained the required level of education. After getting GCSE scores they have completed compulsory education and can attend further education to prepare for university or land the job market.
Further education can be either attended in high school or at a particular further education college. Many high schools in UK have a sixth form college incorporated in their campuses to prepare its high school graduates for A-Levels and ease their transition to higher education.
On the other hand, students are free to choose to enroll a Further Education college, which is a separated institution from high school. In principal, both high school sixth form colleges and further education colleges are same. However, there are some apparent differences like
The learning environment is different – In sixth form colleges, students are subject to the same rules as high school students and there are students of pretty much the same age and same educational backgrounds.
FE Colleges offer more courses than sixth form colleges – Typically, Sixth Form Colleges offer courses for A-Levels, whereas FE Colleges offer more courses besides A-Levels.
Dress Code – Students in sixth form colleges must adhere to dress codes, therefore they need to wear school uniforms.
Students of Different Ages – In Sixth Form Colleges students are recent high school graduates, therefore they are of almost the same age, while in FE college there are students of different ages.
The Higher Education System in the United Kingdom
In particular, the UK higher education is valued all over the world for its renowned standards and quality. Its higher education’s prestige it also emanates from its graduates’ work afterward. Many eminent people in many different areas whose work reached global recognition came out of British universities. Some of these universities and other higher education providers are ranked at the top among universities in the world. The UK capital city, London, not by accident, is considered to be the world’s capital city of higher education. With its four universities being ranked in the world’s top ten, London has the highest number of top worldwide ranked universities per city.
By definition, the UK higher education is the level of education that follows the secondary school at the hierarchy of educational system in the UK. When the high school is over, Britons have to sit in a standard examination, which makes them eligible or not to continue their education in the higher level of education.
In the UK education system in contrast to the US higher education, there is a difference between college and university. While in the US there is no distinction between college and university with most of the people referring to a higher education provider as a college, in the UK this is not the case. Here, a college is a Further Education institution which prepares its students to earn degrees, while a university is licensed HE institution so, at the end of it, students will gain a degree.
Studying in the UK as an International Student
If you’re an international student, you must point out that not all higher education providers in the UK are referred to as a university. This issue is regulated by law. As this official regulation states, a higher education institution can be labeled as a university under these circumstances:
- If it gets an approval by the Privy Council under Further and Higher Education Act 1992
- If it gets an approval under the provisions of the Companies Act 2006.
As an international student coming from countries other than the European Economic Area (EEA) or Switzerland, you must know that you’ll need a student visa to study in the UK. If you’re aged 16 and you’re a resident of one of these countries you can apply for a Tier 4 visa (General student), the official student visa in the UK. Prior to this, you want to make sure you’ll have money to finance your stay there during your studies. When applying for a visa you’ll need to show you have enough money to cover your course tuitions and other expenses.
Most undergraduate education in the UK education system (other than the University of Buckingham and BPP University College, both private institutions) is state-financed with some top-up fees to cover costs. Those who study in the UK know of the hierarchy within the universities. In the British school system, there is The Russell Group, which is a network of 24 British public research universities, contains some of the most prestigious universities in the country. This prestigious group includes universities such as the University of Birmingham, the University of Oxford, the University of Cambridge, and the University of York. All of these are well-known universities and many people, both citizens of the UK and international students, aspire to attend university at one of these schools.
The UK Education System Level of Courses
Based on the actual education regulations in the UK education system, the Higher Education comprises these levels of courses:
Postgraduate courses that lead to a Doctorate, a Master’s degree (Taught or Research), Postgraduate diplomas, postgraduate certificates of education (PGCE) and professional degrees. To enter this level, it is usually required to have a first degree (Bachelor).
Undergraduate courses which include a wide range of first degrees (Bachelor’s): honours and ordinary degrees, qualified teacher status, enhanced first degrees, intercalated degrees (first-degree students in specific study fields may interrupt their ongoing studies and spend a year studying a field related to their major study subject).
Other undergraduate courses: Foundation degrees, SVQ, NVQ, Higher National Diploma HND (or equivalent), NHC (or equivalent) etc.
An undergraduate course it usually takes 3 years to finish, while Scotland makes an exemption because it takes 4 years to finish an undergraduate course. The higher education in the UK education system is having an extended number of universities that are offering 4-year undergraduate courses, also known as “sandwich courses”. This program includes one year in a workplace, usually in your third year.
Some British universities offer fast-track programs where you can obtain a Master’s degree at the undergraduate level. By contrast to traditional undergraduate levels, students in these programs can attend an additional year of studying instead of taking a Bachelor degree and then admit to a Master program. Besides, it costs much less than usual 3-year undergraduate courses, it’s normally much intense because there are shorten holiday breaks and the schedule is heavy.
Some of the more prestigious universities in UK offer postgraduate degrees. If schools offer postgraduate degrees, they offer Master’s Degrees (typically one year, sometimes two years if your degree is research-based) and/or Doctorate degrees (three-year degrees). These are only available if you have obtained a bachelor’s degree at an accredited university (not necessarily one in England).
In the United Kingdom education system, most syllabi are set by the universities which are offering them and are not controlled by the government or certain British educational institution. The only exception to this is teacher education programs, which the government has a lot of say over. The British government has established the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) to maintain those standards. Most countries have specific regulations for their teachers, so this isn’t any different than studying teaching in your home country. Because of their strict regulations and high standards for teacher education programs, the UK is considered to have some of the best teacher education programs in the world.
Even though the syllabi are set by universities, the Office for Fair Access (OfFA) in the British school system, has a lot of say on the admission procedures of each university. This office was created so that everyone who wishes to attend university in UK has the ability to do so. They also promote fair access to higher education, even for those who are attending university as international students. Fair access also includes those of different cultures, different races, different nationalities, and those who have disabilities.
UK Tuition Fees and Costs
The reputation of the British higher education goes hand to hand with its costs. Tuition fees may vary from university to university and in which zone of administration you’re looking at (England, Scotland, and Wales), so it’s always advisable to check the university’s website before making any further plan for your studies. For sure, to attend a British university you need a lot of money packed in, whether you’re a native or not, but since there are many scholarship schemes you can seek one.
International students are a substantial part of the student population in British universities. The UK is the second most popular study destination for international students following the US at the top. If you decide to be one of more than a million foreign students in the US, you’re definitely one step far from a guaranteed brighter future.
In the end, it must be emphasized that despite being hardly affordable, if you decide to study in the UK will surely worth the cost. The UK education system and its higher education degrees are valued by academics and employers all over the world.
The UK has a rich history of quality higher education and each university has great options for any student. If you would like some more information about England’s educational system, there is plenty of information available for international students at all of the following links.
- Higher Education Funding Council for England website – http://www.hefce.ac.uk/
- The UK Council for International Student Affairs – http://www.ukcisa.org.uk/
- The Guardian (UK)’s site on Higher Education- http://www.theguardian.com/education/higher-education
- The British Council’s page on Higher Education – http://www.britishcouncil.org/higher-education
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