Education System

Education is compulsory for all children up to the age of sixteen in the UK. The UK education system consists of two distinct systems of courses and qualifications which are compatible with each other. One system is followed by England, Wales and Northern Ireland and the other is adopted by Scotland.

The UK education system is made up of the following levels:

Pre- school, primary and secondary education

At school level there are two types of schools which are state schools and independent/private schools. Both of these types of schools ultimately prepare students for GCSE or equivalent qualifications. Pre-school is generally for 3-4 year olds; primary is from 5 to 11 and secondary education is up to the age of 16.

Pre-university education

Education at this level is mainly taught at schools, sixth form colleges and further education colleges. The types of courses include AS level, A-level, Scottish Highers, access/bridging/foundation programmes and other equivalents.

Vocational education

Vocational education focuses on courses that are skills-based and work-oriented. Qualifications include BTEC diplomas, vocational A-levels and other equivalents. These courses are mainly run in further and higher education colleges. The unique features of these courses are the wide range of subjects available and the flexible entry based on the student’s academic ability and experience. Depending on the results it is possible for the students to progress to undergraduate degrees.

Qualifications such as Higher National Certificates/Diplomas and Foundation degrees are employment-related higher education qualifications. These qualifications allow students to progress to the 2nd or 3rd year of an undergraduate degree based on their results.

Undergraduate qualifications

Undergraduate degrees are usually taught at universities and colleges of further and higher education. Most of these degrees are 3 years except for Scotland where the degrees are 4 years. Undergraduate degrees that incorporate industrial placement are longer by one year and are generally known as sandwich courses. Courses such as medicine, dentistry and architecture are longer, usually about 5 years.

Postgraduate qualifications

Postgraduate courses are either taught or by research. Taught programmes include the postgraduate certificate, postgraduate diploma and taught masters. Research programmes include research masters and doctorates. The duration of the taught programmes range from 9-12 months and for research programmes the duration is between 1 to 4 years.


Time line (age) Level of Education
3 to 16            Pre-school, primary and secondary   education
17 to 21                  Pre-university education

Vocational education

18 or 19 to 21 up to 26 (depending on type of course)                 Undergraduate qualifications
After 1st degree and/or with work

experience (depending on entry

requirements of course)

                Postgraduate qualifications
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