The England Education System


The England Education System - a short introduction

The England Education System

In England and Wales general compulsory schooling applies to all children permanently resident in this country, irrespective of their nationality, and lasts for eleven years. There are private (generally known as independent schools) and state schools; in state schools, no tuition fees are charged. Compulsory education in England and Wales is divided into four “Key Stages”. Key Stage 1 is for up to 7, Key Stage 2 is for ages 7 to 11, Key Stage 3 is for ages 11 to 14, and Key Stage 4 is for ages 14 to 16. It is also possible for a child to receive education at home.  Parents choosing this option need to gain approval.

Primary level
Compulsory education starts with a primary school (or special needs school). Primary school education lasts for the first 2 “Key Stages” and lasts until the age of 11. Children must start compulsory education on a prescribed day after their fifth birthday. These dates are set by the Secretary of State and the National Assembly of Wales and are usually 31 August, 31 December and 31 March. As soon as a child has reached compulsory school age they must start school when the new term starts. Most children actually start at school between their fourth and fifth birthdays. Primary schools should provide a balanced and broad based curriculum which is suitable to the child’s age, ability, aptitude and any special needs the child may have. The Education Act 2002 defines a balanced and broadly based curriculum as one which promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils at the school and of society. It should also prepare pupils for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of later life. During the early years of primary level education there is little or no specialist subject teaching and a great emphasis is placed on literacy and numeracy. Special needs schools promote and educate mentally or physically disadvantaged children who are not able to follow lessons in primary or secondary schools and prepare them for integration into the world of work. 

Secondary level
Secondary education in England and Wales is divided into two “Key Stages”. Key Stage 3 is for pupils between the ages of 11 and 14. Key Stage 4 is for pupils between the ages of 14 and 16.
All state schools in England and Wales must provide a general education for pupils as set out in the National Curriculum. The National Curriculum is a framework which schools must incorporate into their curriculum. The National Curriculum sets out which subjects must be taught but doesn’t say how much time should be spent teaching each subject.

In England, Key Stage 4 sees a reduction in the number of compulsory subjects to be taught and pupils have the right to be offered some work related learning. In Wales, Key Stage 4 requires all pupils to follow a framework for work related education approved by the National Assembly for Wales.
Students study towards the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) at the end of Key Stage 4 (16 years old). The GCSE examination is done on a subject by subject basis and the examinations are marked by independent examination boards. Students usually take up to ten GCSE examinations in different subjects including Maths and English Language. There is no fixed number of GCSE examinations taken. The examinations are marked with grades A*, A, B, C, D, E, F, and G, with A* being the highest. Pupils who fail to reach a grade G are recorded as U for unclassified and do not receive a certificate. The GCSE grade can be awarded based on coursework done over the last two years along with the examination. The percentage of marks given on coursework differs from subject to subject. It has recently become possible to undertake GCSEs in eight vocational subjects (applied art and business, applied business, engineering, health and social care, applied ICT, leisure and tourism, manufacturing, and applied science). New GCSE vocational subjects are being considered and may be added in the future. A vocational GCSE is equivalent to two (general/academic) GCSEs in terms of size and demand.

There are a number of different types of schools available for this period of study. These are comprehensive schools, grammar schools, specialist schools, city technology colleges, and academies.
By far the most common of these is the comprehensive school, which is attended by 90% of school pupils. Comprehensive schools are not selective and accept pupils regardless of their ability.
Grammar schools select pupils by their ability. There are 164 grammar schools in England. Applicants to grammar schools will usually have to sit an entrance exam.

Specialist schools specialise in a particular area of the curriculum, while still delivering the National Curriculum and a broad and balanced education to pupils. There are 10 subject areas for specialist schools these are arts, business and enterprise, engineering, humanities (history, geography or English), languages, mathematics and computing, music, science, sports, and technology. Schools can combine any two of these areas and must renew their specialism every four years. Specialist schools may select up to 10% of their pupils by ability and they must receive some external sponsorship. More than half of all secondary schools have specialist school status. The specialist schools programme only applies to England.

City technology colleges and city technology colleges for the technology of arts exist only in England. They are publicly funded independent schools. These schools are owned and managed by sponsors or promoters, who must make a substantial contribution to school. They must be in urban areas, they must not charge a fee, they must provide education to pupils from the area where the school is situated of different ability levels, and they must provide a broad curriculum with the emphasis on science and technology or the application of technology to the creative and performing arts.

Academies are set up by sponsors from business, faith or volunteer groups working with partners from the local community. Academies must be located in areas of disadvantage, they must provide education for pupils from the local area of differing ability, they must provide a broad and balanced curriculum with an emphasis on a curriculum area, and they must not charge fees.
Private education at secondary education is also an option. Private schools are often known as independent schools. Most independent schools are privately funded and get most of their income from tuition fees that are charges to parents. Some also receive donations and grants from benefactors. Some long established secondary private schools are known as “private schools”.

In some regions a system of middle school and upper schools exist instead of a primary/comprehensive school combination. In this system pupils leave a first school at eight or nine to attend a middle school. The pupil then attends the middle school until the age of twelve or thirteen when they transfer to an upper school.

Post Compulsory Education
In England and Wales, full-time post-compulsory education is offered in the sixth form of many secondary schools. There are no official qualifications needed to attend the sixth form of a secondary school, schools usually set their own admission requirements.

General Certificate of Education Advanced-level examinations (GCE A-levels) are offered on a subject-by-subject basis and can be studied in any combination and it is the main route into Higher Education. The structure of GCE A levels was recently reviewed. As a result of the review A levels now have a new system of AS/A2. To get a complete A level pupils have to complete three AS (advanced subsidiary) units and three A2 units. In the first year of post compulsory study pupils can choose to study up to five subjects, each consisting of 3 units, and sit AS exams in each subject. After the completion of the first year of each subject the pupil can either take the subject as an AS only and get a recognised qualification or continue and do the A2 year which after successful completion leads to an A level.

A levels can be taken in around 80 subjects of which 14 are VCEs (Vocational Certificate of Education.
GCE A-level and GCE AS qualification passes are graded on a scale of A to E. The grade U denotes a fail.
The VCE (Vocational Certificate of Education) has also been restructured to fit in with the new format of A levels. They have the same AS/A2 structure. The qualifications are called GCE A levels in applied subjects. The qualifications will provide a broad introduction to a vocational area. There are 4 different qualifications available under this structre:

Advanced Subsidiary General Certificate of Education. This requires three AS units and is graded A-E
Advanced Subsidiary General Certificate of Education (double award). This requires six AS units and is graded AA, AB-EE.
Advanced General Certificate of Education. This usually requires three AS units and three A2 units and is graded A-E.
Advanced General Certificate of Education (double award). This requires six AS units and six A2 units and is graded AA, AB-EE.

The Advanced Extension Awards (AEA) have been available since 2002. The AEA qualification is available for pupils who are expecting to get a grade A from their A levels. The AEA is an opportunity for the pupil to demonstrate a greater depth of understanding than required for an A level but are based on the curriculum content for the relevant subject. AEA qualifications are currently available in 19 subjects and count towards university entrance.

Full time and part time post compulsory education is also available in further education colleges and sixth form colleges.

Vocational Training
An apprenticeship is a work-based training programme for young people. Young people get paid wages and get the opportunity to gain a new qualification. There are currently more than 255,000 young people in apprenticeships in over 150 occupational areas.  An apprenticeship can last for between 1 and 5 years depending on what is being studied. After the completion of an apprenticeship  the participant will leave with: practical experience, a National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) at Level 2, and any extra qualifications that are required for the chosen profession.
Apprenticeships are open to anyone aged between 16-24 and living in England.   

Adult education
In both England and Wales adult education is seen as an important stage of the education system. Adult education can be undertaken either full time or part time. Adult education can take place at further education colleges. Further education colleges have traditionally offered courses of a vocational nature but they are increasingly offering academic qualifications.

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GDP growth (in %)   1.8%
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