Teach in the UK• 3 Min read

20th August 2020

How Is The English School System Structured?

Teaching in another country isn’t just about moving your physical self abroad – schools systems differ all over the world! If you are considering a move to teach in the UK, it’s helpful to have an understanding of the school system and how it is structured. Like Australia, there are other options for parents who don’t think the mainstream school system is right for their child, including home-schooling and private or independent schooling – read more about the private school system and how it compares here.


In the UK it’s not compulsory for children under 5 to attend school. The government provides all parents with 15 hours of free childcare a week with a registered provider – the scheme is designed to get younger children ready for school life with structured learning through play. These providers must follow the EYFS framework which details the standards that must be adhered to in all early years settings.


Primary education starts in the September after a child’s fourth birthday. If a child turns four between 2nd July and 31st August, they will start school in the following September. The UK school year runs from September to July, with a six week break. Primary education lasts from Reception to Year 1 through Year 6 and is compulsory – parents can be fined for their children’s non-attendance. 

Classes have a maximum of 30 pupils and are taught the majority of lessons by their form teacher from one classroom.  Teachers are overseen by a Deputy Head and a Headteacher – it’s unusual for primary schools to have subject leaders in the UK.


In some areas of the UK, pupils will attend a ‘Middle School’ between the ages of 9-13 (Year 6,7 & 8) although this isn’t common. Where middle schools are operating, children will attend an infant school, followed by middle school, then join a secondary school after Year 9. 


Parents begin applying to Secondary schools towards the middle of Year 6 and they are allocated based mainly on proximity. Most Secondary Schools have now chosen to become Academies. Academies receive funding directly from the government and sponsors or trusts and have more freedom to decide teacher pay and the curriculum that they will teach. Many academies now have a specialism, such as technology or sports which makes them appealing for children and parents looking to develop in a certain subject.

In Secondary schools, pupils are allocated to a form and have a form tutor who may take the register for the class, deal with initial pastoral care and manage their day-to-day schooling within their form room, however, pupils will move around the school for lessons which will be taught by subject-specialist teachers. Subjects have a Head Of Department who will oversee the delivery of the curriculum for that subject and will likely also have their own form class. Class sizes in secondary school are lower than in Primary education, with an average of 22 pupils. Students will take GCSE exams in their final years, the results of which may impact which further education opportunities are available to them.

Further Education

Since 2013 it has been compulsory for young adults to continue their education in some way up to 18. Some secondary schools are able to continue educating young adults through Year 12 & 13 with an old-style ‘sixth-form’ often separate from the main school and with different rules, for examples, pupils rarely have to wear a uniform but may have to wear business or smart attire for some subjects. Further Education also comprises colleges and apprenticeships or other work-based training. Colleges specialise in providing A-Levels, foundation degrees or other qualifications required to progress to University. At this point in their education, students will be choosing subjects to fit their anticipated vocation – colleges can provide a much wider range of subject options than sixth-forms as well as a more adult learning culture. 

Higher Education

Higher Education in the UK is delivered from Universities, which each have different entry requirements. Students apply for the universities they would be interested in prior to receiving their A-Level results (or other qualification) and receive a conditional offer which is reliant on them attaining the expected result –  other paths into university are available through the Clearing system for pupils who don’t reach their expected grades – find out more about the UK Higher Education system with the official body, UCAS here.

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