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Education in the United Kingdom facts for kids

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Education in United Kingdom
Department for Education
National education budget (2015)
Budget 6.6% of GDP
General details
Primary languages English, Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Welsh
Literacy (2020)
Total 99%
Male Unknown
Female Unknown
Secondary diploma 88%
Post-secondary diploma 45.7%

Education in the United Kingdom is a devolved matter with each of the countries of the United Kingdom having separate systems under separate governments: the UK Government is responsible for England; whilst the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government and the Northern Ireland Executive are responsible for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, respectively.

For details of education in each region, see:

The Programme for International Student Assessment coordinated by the OECD currently ranks the overall knowledge and skills of British 15-year-olds as 13th in the world in reading, literacy, mathematics, and science with the average British student scoring 503.7, compared with the OECD average of 493.

In 2014, the country spent 6.6 percent of its GDP on all levels of education – 1.4 percentage points above the OECD average of 5.2 percent. In 2017, 45.7 percent of British aged 25 to 64 attained some form of post-secondary education. 22.6% of British people aged 25 to 64 attained a bachelor's degree or higher. 52% of British people aged 25 to 34 attained some form of tertiary education, about 4% above the OECD average of 44%.


In each country there are five stages of education: early years, primary, secondary, further education (FE) and higher education (HE). The law states that full time education is compulsory for all children between the ages of 5 (4 in Northern Ireland) and 16, the compulsory school age (CSA). In England, compulsory education or training has been extended to 18 for those born on or after 1 September 1997. This full-time education does not need to be at a school and a number of parents choose to home educate. Before they reach compulsory school age, children can be educated at nursery if parents wish though there is only limited government funding for such places. Further Education is non-compulsory, and covers non-advanced education which can be taken at further (including tertiary) education colleges and Higher Education institutions (HEIs). The fifth stage, Higher Education, is study beyond A levels or BTECs (and their equivalent) which, for most full-time students, takes place in universities and other Higher Education institutions and colleges.

The National Curriculum (NC), established in 1988, provides a framework for education in England and Wales between the ages of 5 and 18. Though the National Curriculum is not compulsory it is followed by most state schools, but some private schools, academies, free schools and home educators design their own curricula. In Scotland the nearest equivalent is the Curriculum for Excellence programme, and in Northern Ireland there is something known as the common curriculum. The Scottish qualifications the National 4/5s, Highers and Advanced Highers are highly similar to the English Advanced Subsidiary (AS) and Advanced Level (A2) courses.


Traditionally a high-performing country in international rankings of education, the UK has stagnated in recent years in such rankings as the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests; in 2013 for reading and maths the country as a whole stood in the middle-rankings, a position broadly similar to three years before. Within the UK Scotland performed marginally better than England; both were slightly ahead of Northern Ireland and markedly ahead of Wales. However these results contradict those of the education and publishing firm Pearson published in 2014, which placed the UK in second place across European countries and sixth worldwide; these rankings took account of higher-education graduate rates, which may have accounted for the higher ranking than in PISA.


Funding for UK schools will change to a national formula in 2018, with some schools likely to gain from the new formula and others likely to lose. Secretary of State for Education, Justine Greening claims funding will depend less on the postcode lottery. The National Audit Office (NAO) claims funding will be cut by 8%. Opponents fear class sizes will increase, schools will be less able to buy basic equipment and children's life chances will be damaged. Liberal Democrat education spokesman John Pugh accused the government of having, "completely the wrong priorities." adding, "It is a disgrace that while schools face a severe funding crisis, £240m is being spent on expanding grammars." Five teachers' and head teachers' unions gave out as joint statement suggesting that schools suffer the "biggest real-terms cuts in a generation". Malcolm Trobe of the Association of School and College Leaders said: "We are deeply concerned that the life chances of young people are being put at risk by the government's under-funding of education." Grammar schools also face problems, many claim their funding will be cut. Some are considering asking parents for financial contributions.

Head teachers in Sussex have been writing letters complaining about lack of funds. Head teachers in Sussex and Cheshire are considering a four-day week among other options. Children could lose the chance to learn some subjects, mental health support workers and teaching assistants could be made redundant due to funding shortages. Class sizes will increase and services for children with special needs will be reduced. Heads previously petitioned Downing Street and complain that, "no matter how clearly we state our position or how reasonable our approach is, no improvements are made to either the financial or associated staffing crises". They describe the national funding formula as "giving with one hand whilst taking away with two". The heads ask whether they should, reduce staff, increase class sizes further, reduce books, equipment and IT, change school hours, stop counselling and pastoral services. Reduced counselling can reduce children's performance in school. Costs head teachers face are rising, National Insurance and teachers' pensions are more expensive, the national living wage also adds to costs as do pay increases and the apprenticeship levy. Funding per pupil is rising by less than inflation. The National Audit Office fears cuts could damage children's education outcomes. The education services grant of £600m also faces cuts making it harder for local authorities to pay for school improvements. Parents have also been asked to write to MPs and councillors or email them asking for schools to be better funded.

£384m which was planned to transform all schools into academies has been taken back. Head teachers complained about the loss of funding at a time when a 4-day week is being considered to save money. Recruiting and retaining teachers is difficult and recruits to teacher training are falling. Dr Mary Bousted of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers said, "Excessive teacher workloads continue to drive down retention rates, salaries are falling behind those of other graduate professions and funding cuts are reducing what schools can provide for children. The government must tackle the workload and salary levels for classroom teachers as a key priority, investing in school funding and national pay."

Higher education

See also: Universities in the United Kingdom and Tuition fees in the United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, higher education is offered by universities and non-university institutions (colleges, institutes, schools and academies) and provide both research-oriented and higher professional education. Universities provide degree programmes that culminate to a degree (bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degree) and non-degree programmes that lead to a vocational qualification such as a certificate or diploma. British higher education is highly valued around the globe for its quality and rigorous academic standards. The prestige of British higher education emanates from the alumni of its world renowned institutions. Prominent people that have reached the apex in their respective fields have been products of British higher education. Britain is home to some of the world's most prominent institutions of higher learning and ranked among the top universities in the world. Institutions such as the University of Cambridge, the University of Oxford, Imperial College London, and UCL consistently rank among the world's top ten universities.

Entry qualifications

Students that sit for the GCSE usually take 20 to 25 examinations and they usually take 9 GCSEs. Most student will take Maths, English literature, English Language and double science, which total to 5 GCSEs, students normally take a further 4 GCSEs in a variety of different subjects. Sitting at the exam culminates the end of 11 years of mandatory education. A General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) is awarded for each subject passed and World Education Services issues a high school diploma after the evaluation of a minimum of three GCSEs. Pre-university education in the United Kingdom is a two-year senior secondary programme that leads to a new round of examinations, the General Certificate of Education, Advanced Level (also known as GCE A-levels). As with the GCSE, students who sit for the exam choose the subjects and the number of examinations (the average number taken is three). WES awards undergraduate credit based on the nature and number of subjects passed. Each university has their own set of admission policies and the minimum entry requirements for each particular higher education programme that they offer. The General Certificate of Education Advanced Level (GCE "A Levels") is an entry qualification for universities in the United Kingdom and many other universities across the world. Students that are interested in pursuing higher education will usually enrol in pre-university and further education programmes. Pre-university education takes up to two years which culminates with a new set of examinations, the General Certificate of Education, Advanced Level (GCE A-levels). Similarly with the GCSE, students who take the exam choose their subjects of interest and the number of examinations. Most students take three subjects on average and the WES grants undergraduate credit based on the nature and number of subjects passed. Bachelor's degrees at the bare minimum typically require two to three GCE A Level passes, and a minimum number of GCSE passes with a grade C or above.


Technical and vocational education in the United Kingdom is introduced during the secondary school years and goes on until further and higher education. Secondary vocational education is also known as further education. It is separate from secondary education and doesn't belong to the category of higher education. Further education incorporates vocational oriented education as well as a combination of general secondary education. Students can also go on to a further education college to prepare themselves for the Vocational Certificate of Education (VCE), which is similar to the A-levels. Major provider of vocational qualifications in the United Kingdom include the City and Guilds of London Institute and Edexcel. Higher National Certificates and Higher National Diplomas typically require 1 and 2 years of full-time study and credit from either HNE or Diplomas can be transferred toward an undergraduate degree. Along with the HNC and HND, students who are interested in other vocational qualifications may pursue a Foundation degree, which is a qualification that trains people to be highly skilled technicians. The National Apprenticeship Service also offers vocational education where people at ages of 16 and older enter apprenticeships in order to learn a skilled trade. There are over 60 different certifications can be obtained through an apprenticeship, which typically lasts from 1 to 3 years. Trades apprentices receive paid wages during training and spend one day at school and the rest in the workplace to hone their skills.

T Levels are a technical qualification being introduced between Autumn 2020 and 2023. They are intended to provide the knowledge and experience needed for learners to progress to skilled employment, further study or a higher apprenticeship.

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