British Education System and Equivalency

The British education system offers a variety of study opportunities. With more than 130 universities included in the National Ranking with hundreds of degree programs for students from the UK and around the world, there is no shortage of higher education options. In the UK about one-third of all students go on to some form of higher education and this number is well over 50% for students from Scotland. This makes competition for schools very fierce and so it is advised to apply early for courses.
Education Levels UK_BIG

Higher education is the third level of the British education system after high school. It takes place at Universities and Further Education Colleges and normally includes Undergraduate (Foundation Year, Bachelor of Arts -BA, Bachelor of Science -BSc and Top Up ) and Postgraduate study (Master of Arts - MA, Master of Science - MSc, PhD, PGCE).

Around 30% of 18 to 19-year-olds enter full-time higher education. The formal entry requirements to most degree courses are two A-levels at grade E or above. In practice, most offers of places require qualifications in excess of this.


According to the British education system, children in England go through 2 separate stages of education. They begin with Primary Education at the age of five (5 years old) and this usually lasts until they are eleven (11 years old). Then they move to Secondary School, where they stay until they reach sixteen, seventeen, and eighteen years of age (16, 17, 18 years old). The main categories of school are State Schools (Local authority-maintained schools) that are Free to all children between the ages of 5 - 16 and Independent schools (Private or Public Schools) where parents pay for their children's education.

Education Levels UK_Schools

State schools

In the UK 93% of the children in England and Wales go to "state schools". State schools are non fee-paying, funded from taxes, and most are organized by Local Authorities (LA).

Parents are expected to make sure that their child has a pen, pencil, ruler etc. but the cost of other more specialized equipment, books, examination fees are covered by the school.

Parents are, however, expected to pay for their child's school uniform and items of sportswear. Charges may also be made for music lessons and for board and lodgings on residential trips. Schools may ask for voluntary contributions for school time activities - but no pupil may be left out of an activity if their parents or guardian cannot or do not contribute.

Stage 1 - Primary schools (5 - 11-year-olds)

The first level of the British Education system is known as primary education. These are almost always mixed-sex and usually located close to the child's home. Children tend to be with the same group throughout the day, and one teacher has responsibility for most of the work they do.

Parents are strongly encouraged to help their children, particularly with reading and writing, and small amounts of homework are set to all children, even during the early years at school.

Stage 2 - Secondary schools (11 - 16-year-olds)

Most children transfer at the age of 11 - usually to their nearest secondary school, though the law allows parents in England and Wales to express preferences for other schools too. A place has to be offered at the parents' preferred school unless the school has more applicants than places; in that case, it will admit the children who have the highest priority under its published admission arrangements which can vary a little in different places. Most secondary schools cater to both sexes. They tend to be much larger than primary schools.

  • Comprehensive schools: Nearly 88% of secondary school pupils in England go to comprehensive schools, as do all pupils in Wales. These take children of all abilities and provide a wide range of secondary education for all or most of the children in a district from 11 to 16 or 18.
  • ­Grammar Schools are selective, they offer academically oriented general education. Entrance is based on a test of ability, usually at 11. Grammar schools are single sexed schools i.e. children either go to a Boys Grammar School or a Girls Grammar School. There are grammar schools in Northern Ireland and some parts of England.

Independent Schools

Independent Schools, known as private/public schools, are part of the British education system.  7% of the children in England go to independent schools. Parents pay for their children to attend these schools. The most famous public schools are Eton, Harrow, and Winchester.

  • Prep Schools:  A preparatory school is a school to prepare pupils to go to a public school.
  • Public/Private Schools: A public school is an independent secondary school. Public schools in England are not run by the government. The entrance exams used by most public schools are known as Common Entrance exams and are taken at the age of 11 (girls) or 13 (boys).

Education after the age of 16 and above

The British education system allows children to leave school on the last Friday in June as long as they will be 16 years old by the end of that year's summer holidays. However, all young people must now stay in some form of full-time education or training until their 18th birthday, for example at a college.

If your child is aged 16 to 24 and not quite ready to start an apprenticeship, they could consider a Traineeship. Traineeships are designed to help young people who want to get an apprenticeship or job but don't yet have the appropriate skills or experience.

Levels of education and Professional Certificates

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, there are 8 Levels of education after Secondary school– as well as an Entry Level, to help you begin studying or pursue a higher degree. These are set out by something known as the RQF (Regulated Qualifications Framework).

All levels are suitable also for foreign students, living in the UK or migrant workers that left their own countries without achieving a final certificate of General Secondary Education and would like to pursue further education.

8 Levels UK

Entry Level is the most basic form of qualification and usually provides an introduction into education. They aren’t generally compulsory. Entry level qualifications are available three different sub-categories, which progressively get more difficult: entry levels 1, 2 and 3. The Entry Level is perfect for Anyone looking to learn a new subject or language, as well as those looking to enter formal education.

Level 1 (often achieved in Years/Class 10 and 11 of Secondary school) is the first formal rung on the numbered system of qualifications. This level is perfect for students aged 15-16, or anyone looking to further their education. You won’t necessarily have to complete an entry level qualification to move onto Level 1.

Level 2 is the next step up from Level 1 (also often achieved in Years 10 and 11of SE). It is perfect for those aged 15-16, or anyone looking to further their education. Because of the high standard of their grades, Level 2 learners will usually progress to Level 3 professional qualifications.

Level 3 generally shows greater knowledge in a subject (often achieved in Years 12 and 13 of SE) or in centres for further education. It is perfect for those who are looking to continue their education at a University or a College, or who want to specialise in a particular subject.

Level 4 is indicative of a greater understanding and a higher level of learning than that gained through core modules at the secondary education level. Level 4 acts as the bridge between level 3 and 5, and can help people progress to the next stage of education when they might not have been able to with their previous qualifications.

Level 5 demonstrates knowledge of a subject which goes beyond what was taught during secondary education. After achieving a Level 5 certificate students can proceed in a Top Up course at a University or a college for a year and get a Bachelor Degree. It is perfect for anyone looking to move on to university, or other forms of higher education.

Level 6 refers to qualifications gained at degree level, indicating the bearer has graduated from a centre for further education. It is perfect for anyone who wants to take their knowledge of a subject past secondary education level – whether that’s to gain a degree of a higher level NVQ or certificate. Also the first step for those looking to pursue a master’s.

Level 7 refers to a level of education equivalent to a master’s degree and is generally attained in a centre for further education. It is perfect for anyone looking for a qualification which validates knowledge beyond degree level. After Level 7, there’s only one more level – a doctorate (PhD) or its equivalent.

Level 8 refers to a doctorate level of education, often known as a PhD. Level 8 is perfect for anyone looking to achieve the highest formal level of education possible in England, Wales and Northern Ireland – and/or become a fully qualified Doctor.

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UNI Britannica is accredited by British Council to operate as an educational agency. We represent some of the top UK universities and schools and offer hundreds of programs for students in secondary and higher education. Find out what you can study with us.

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  14. Thank you for letting me know the difference between State schools and Independent Schools. The system of having apprenticeship for a student is much appreciable because he can make his own wage while studying. This will really boost his confidence and interest to further get into Higher Education.

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