Education in the United Kingdom is a devolved matter with each of the countries of the UK having separate systems under separate governments: the UK Government is directly responsible for England; whilst the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government and the Northern Ireland Executive are responsible for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, respectively.
Across the UK there are five stages of education: early years, primary, secondary, Further Education (FE) and Higher Education (HE). Education is compulsory for all children between the ages of 5 (4 in Northern Ireland) and 16. FE is not compulsory and covers non-advanced education which can be taken at further (including tertiary) education colleges and HE institutions (HEIs). The fifth stage, HE, takes place in universities and other HEIs and colleges.

Early Years Education 

In England since September 2010, all three and four year olds are entitled to 15 hours of free nursery education for 38 weeks of the year. Early Years education takes place in a variety of settings including state nursery schools, nursery classes as well as settings outside the state sector such as voluntary pre-schools, privately run nurseries or child-minders. The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) is a single regulatory and quality framework for the provision of learning, development and care for children in all registered early years settings between birth and the academic year in which they turn 5. 
In Scotland, education typically starts with early learning and childcare.  The term early learning and childcare seeks to capture all formal provision in any setting, by any provider, regardless of hours.   Local authorities have a duty to secure a part-time funded place for every child starting from the beginning of the school term after the child's third birthday. Around a quarter of 2 year olds are also eligible.
The Scottish Government will double the entitlement to 1140 hours from 2020.
In Wales, children are entitled to a free part-time place the term following a child’s third birthday until they enter statutory education. These places can be in a maintained school or a non-maintained setting such as a voluntary playgroup, private nursery or child-minder which is approved to provide education. 
In Northern Ireland funded pre-school places are available in statutory nursery schools and units and in those voluntary and private settings participating in the Pre-School Education Expansion Programme. Places in the voluntary/private sector are part-time whilst, in the statutory nursery sector, both full-time and part-time places are available. Pre-school education is designed for children in the year immediately before they enter the first year of Primary. 


The primary stage covers three age ranges: nursery (under 5), infant (5 to 7 or 8) and junior (up to 11 or 12) but in Northern Ireland there is generally no distinction between infant and junior schools. In Scotland primary schools deal with the age range 4/5-11/12. In England, primary schools generally cater for 4-11 year olds. Most public sector primary schools take both boys and girls in mixed classes. It is usual to transfer straight to secondary school at age 11 (in England, Wales and Northern Ireland) or 12 (in Scotland), but in England some children make the transition via middle schools catering for various age ranges between 8 and 14. Depending on their individual age ranges middle schools are classified as either primary or secondary.
The major goals of primary education include achieving basic literacy and numeracy amongst all pupils, as well as establishing foundation knowledge and skills in science, arts, social subjects, health and wellbeing, and other subjects. Different curriculum frameworks are in use in each of the four home nations.
Children are assessed at various points during primary school.  At the end of primary school, pupils in England and Northern Ireland sit standardised national tests and in Wales there are statutory teacher assessments. Scotland is introducing national tests to complement teacher judgements in primary and secondary schools from 2017. 


Across the UK, most secondary education is funded by the state with around 7% of pupils being educated in private schools, 5% in Scotland.  In England, since 2010 there has been a rapid growth of Academies which are publicly funded independent schools. These schools have greater freedoms than schools governed by local authorities in that they can set their own pay and conditions for staff, have freedom around the delivery of the curriculum and the ability to change the lengths of terms and school days. 
In Scotland education authority secondary schools are comprehensive in character and offer six years of secondary education.
In Northern Ireland, government policy is that primary to secondary transfer should be on the basis of non-academic criteria, however legally secondary schools can still admit pupils based on academic performance.
At the later stages of secondary education, pupils are normally entered for a range of external examinations. Most frequently, these are GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education) in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and Nationals and Highers in Scotland, although a range of other qualifications are available.

Further Education

Further education may be used in a general sense to cover all non-advanced courses taken after the period of compulsory education. It may be at any level from basic skills training to higher vocational education such as City and Guilds or Foundation Degree, and Scottish Vocational Qualifications.
FE in the United Kingdom includes education for people over 16, usually excluding universities. It is primarily taught in FE colleges, work-based learning, and adult and community learning institutions. This includes post-16 courses similar to those taught at schools and sub-degree courses similar to those taught at higher education (HE) colleges (which also teach degree-level courses) and at some universities.

Higher Education

Students normally attend HE courses at HEIs, but some attend at FE colleges. There are three main levels of HE course:
      - Postgraduate courses leading to higher degrees, diplomas and certificates including Doctorates and Masters (research and taught), 
      - Undergraduate courses which include first degrees 
      - All other higher education courses, for example Higher National Certificate (HNC) and Higher National Diploma (HND). 
Further information can be found using the following links.  

Our Partners

Deparment for Education
Scottish Government
Education International