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