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An overview of the English education system

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A parents' guide to the key stages and assessments within the structure of the education system in England.

In England, children ages 5-16 must be in full-time education, but the education structure begins at age 3-4 with Nursery. Children will enter primary school at age 4-5, then secondary school at age 11-12. The age of a child on 1 September determines when they need to start school.

All maintained schools (most state schools) in England follow the National Curriculum, which lays out learning targets, essential and optional subjects, and an assessment strategy for school years 1-11. This includes four National Curriculum Tests (NCTs), which are more commonly known by their former name, SATs (Standard Attainment Tests).

The four divisions are called Key Stages – Key Stage 1 SATs are administered at the end of year 2 and Key Stage 2 SATs at the end of year 6. Students in Key Stage 3 are not given a series of exams, but are continually assessed by their teachers throughout years 7-9. Key Stage 4 ends with students taking General Certificate of Secondary Education exams (GCSEs).

Students are not required to stay in school after completing Key Stage 4, but may go on to sixth form (years 12-13) if they choose to. They will be eligible to take A-levels during this time, as well as BTEC qualifications.

Age during school yearEngland and Wales:
National Curriculum (plus Foundation Phase in Wales)
Northern Ireland:
Northern Ireland Curriculum
Curriculum for Excellence
4-5ReceptionYear 1(Nursery)
5-6Year 1Year 2P1
6-7Year 2Year 3P2
7-8Year 3Year 4P3
8-9Year 4Year 5P4
9-10Year 5Year 6P5
10-11Year 6Year 7P6
11-12Year 7Year 8P7
12-13Year 8Year 9S1
13-14Year 9Year 10S2
14-15Year 10Year 11S3
15-16Year 11Year 12S4
                         A-Levels and SCE Highers – not compulsory
16-17Year 12Year 13S5
17-18Year 13Year 14S6
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