The Systems of Education in the UK – English and Welsh Year Groups

In the first part of a series of articles looking at the education systems across the UK, the overarching structure of the school year for state funded schools in England and Wales will be considered. The structures and terms for schools under the Scottish, Northern Irish and Independent School systems differ again and will be looked at in future articles.

The type and range of schools through which children pass during their education may vary depending on which part of the UK they grow up in, the nature of the schools in their locale and their parents ability to fund their education. However, for any schools receiving state funding in England and Wales, the defined schools years, and the requirements for education in each of those years, is set by the UK government and the Welsh Assembly respectively.

The Year Groups

The school year in the England and Wales begins on 1 September and runs up until 31 August and is split into three terms: Autumn (up to Christmas), Spring (Christmas to Easter) and Summer (Easter onwards).

Although children will usually progress through the school years depending on their age(s) in between those dates every year, it is possible to both skip years or repeat years if there is a need; if a child’s performance is above or below the level expected at their current age.

Whilst it is not compulsory attendance for a child, the (state funded) school year system begins with the Nursery year for children who are three years old. The system ends with Year 13 (the 15th year in total) for children who turn 18 in the relevant timeframe. School attendance is only mandatory from the ages of 5-16 and so children are required to enter school at some stage during Reception (the 2nd year), if they haven’t already, whilst, at the other end of the system, they can then choose whether or not to pursue their education in Years 12-13 (Further Education) once they’ve turned 16.

The third year of education is termed Year 1 as it is the first full school year in which children are required to attend school having been introduced to it in Reception (if not Nursery).

The Key Stages

To provide a framework for teaching and examinations the National Curriculum (for state funded schools) in particular uses the following key stages to group these years together:

  • Foundation Stages:
    • Foundation 1 – Nursery
    • Foundation 2 – Reception
  • Key Stage 1 – Years 1 & 2
  • Key Stage 2 – Years 3 – 6
  • Key Stage 3 – Years 7 – 9
  • Key Stage 4 – Years 10 & 11 (ending in GCSEs)
  • Sixth Form/College – Years 12 & 13 (ending in A Levels or International Baccalaureate)

The Standard School Structure

The first Nursery year nearly always involves the child attending a designated Nursery school but after that the structure can vary. The most common structure for the schools that a child will progress through in the subsequent years is that of:

  • Infant School – Reception to Year 2 [Foundation Stage 2 & Key Stage 1]
  • Junior School – Years 3 – 6 [Key Stage 2]
  • Senior School – Years 7 – 11 [Key Stages 3 & 4]
  • Sixth Form/College – Years 12 & 13

Many schools, however, combine the functions above so that the structure is simplified into two levels to fit neatly with the idea of primary and secondary education:

  • Primary School – Infant School & Junior School
  • Secondary School – Senior School & Sixth Form

Some more traditional schools in the secondary education system still refer to the Years 7 through to 11 in the older notation as Years 1 to 5 (or First Form to Fifth Form) with the following Sixth Form (Years 12 and 13) split into the Lower and Upper Sixth.

The Alternative School Structure

A less common alternative structure sees a three tier system straddling primary and secondary education and the curriculum’s Key Stages with:

  • First School – Reception to Year 4
  • Middle School – Years 5 – 8
  • Upper School – Years 9 – 13

Children can and do switch between schools following these structures according to the opportunities in their locality and it is particularly common, for example, for children to switch to a Secondary School for the rest of their secondary education once they have finished Middle School.

Ultimately, the year groups only provide a framework to determine how and when the National Curriculum and examinations should be implemented. There are therefore many varying types of schools even within the above definitions, from Faith Schools to Academies to Grammar Schools, depending on other factors such as selection criteria and funding.

Visit Boston and Experience New England

New England may offer a colder climate and fewer opportunities for sunshine than the country’s more vacation-friendly West Coast, but this north-eastern region remains a popular destination for tourists in the United States. Consisting of the states of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont, New England – one of America’s most historical locations – boasts a busy produce industry that counts seafood, potatoes and maple syrup among its main exports. However, if you’re planning a visit to New England and only have time to visit one location, make it Boston, Massachusetts – the region’s largest city by population.

As one of America’s earliest founded cities, Boston is famous as the site of some of the most important turning points in the American Revolutionary War. From the Boston Tea Party of 1773 to the Midnight Ride of Paul Revere in 1775, Boston’s rich heritage is reflected in its diversity of museums and galleries. When in Boston, make sure you visit the Harvard Museum of Natural History, the MIT Museum, the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum and the Museum of Science, among a host of other attractions.

Moreover, Boston is renowned as one of the United States’ foremost centres of education and higher learning. Often referred to as “the Athens of America”, the Greater Boston area is home to more than 100 colleges and universities – from the likes of Harvard University (located across the river in Cambridge), MIT and Tufts University to smaller conservatories and art schools, including the Massachusetts College of Art, the Boston Conservatory and School of the Museum of Fine Arts. As a result, it boasts a lively, youthful atmosphere that makes it irresistible to many a visitor.

Indeed, Boston’s vibrant urban lifestyle and cosmopolitan culture has won the hearts of many. Among the numerous novels that have been set in or near Boston are Henry James’ “The Bostonians”, “The Sound and the Fury” by William Faulkner and, most recently, Zadie Smith’s “On Beauty”. Moreover, Boston has been represented on screen numerous times, in popular TV shows like Cheers and Ally McBeal as well as iconic Hollywood films, including Good Will Hunting and Martin Scorcese’s The Departed. So anyone planning a visit to Boston is sure to have an immediate frame of reference in mind.

If you’re visiting Boston, make sure you don’t miss out on its native cuisine, which generally presents itself as a fine example of the food you’d find in New England. Among the most well-known Boston dishes are New England clam chowder, lobsters, steamed or fried clams and fish and chips. Boston also offers visitors and residents a variety of first-class restaurants, including the Union Oyster House – the USA’s oldest operating restaurant.

Finding a hotel in Boston during your visit is easy too, as many of Boston’s hotels are located in its downtown Theatre District. From here, you’ll find it’s simple to locate Boston’s main performance venues, its busy Chinatown or the calming Boston Public Garden, as well as a host of other central locations in the city. So you’ll truly be able to appreciate New England’s premier city in style!

Passed Your GCSE? You’re Ready to Move on to A Level Education

Considered by many to be the “gold standard” in education, the Advanced Levels or A Levels are recognized around the world to be an in-depth and thorough method of preparation that will assist any student in their chosen field of endeavour. Typically, students of ages 16 to 18 study the A Levels in the UK including England, Northern Ireland, and Wales and older students are encouraged and appreciated when they also choose to move on with their education.

Courses or subjects can include a broad range of topics

Among the higher level courses a student will find they have a broad range of choices from which to choose. And to qualify for a top-level UK university students will need A Level grades in from three to five subjects. As many young people who have completed their GCSE and are preparing to move on even though they do not have a chosen path or career in mind, working on A Level classes will help them decide what they wish to do with themselves for a career or “calling”. Many choose several “basics” that will help them decide what they are good at and what they appreciate and enjoy doing.

A broad variety of courses are available in A Level classes

Choosing three or four subjects in the A Levels is encouraged and some students even opt to take on five at a time. Subjects that can be chosen include:
1. Business and business related studies
2. Sciences such as medicine
3. Mathematics including higher levels of math
4. Chemistry
5. Biology
6. English literature
7. Psychology
8. Accounting and economics
9. Engineering
10. Physics
11. Law and humanities

A Level education comes in stages

With each A Level there will be six units to be studied and these are accomplished in two stages. The first stage consists of three units of Advanced Subsidiary level (also known as the AS level. In the second stage or A2 Level you will find another set of three units which completes the A Level education. From this point on students who have a high grade level can most likely be assured of entrance into an advanced university anywhere in the UK.

Each grade earns points toward a solid future

Each A Level subject will gain students a grade that will be from A to E and each is awarded points that accumulate toward a final score that can be read by future employers and universities of higher education. The lowest score, 40 for an E is barely getting by and that student may benefit from assistance from a tutor. The highest grade bestowed, an A* earns 140 points, a basic A is worth 120, a B is worth 100, C is 80, and a D is worth 60 points. While it does take work and study to obtain those higher points, it will be well worth it when employers who use those scores to evaluate prospective employees approach with good job offers.

Beyond the education there is much to be gained with A Level study

The benefits of a higher education are obvious but there is more to be gained through learning how to think independently, how best to conduct research, how to analyse subjects, learning team work, and how to study effectively. The student’s brain is put through a thorough exercise program that enables one to think and solve issues more effectively.