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Everything you need to know about studying in UK: primary, secondary, higher education

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Everything you need to know about studying in UK: primary, secondary, higher education

The education system in the UK is one of the most conservative in the world with an unrivaled teaching quality and a high level of discipline. The pursuit of excellence and respect for tradition gets along well with the latest educational programs and practices. Let's try to figure out what features study in the UK has and how it works.

Preschool education in the UK

Preschool education in the UK is provided for children aged 2-5 years. This step is not compulsory, but most parents take their children to preschool. Free education is designed for 15 hours per week for 38 weeks a year. Parents receive vouchers confirming that the state has paid for the child's stay in a preschool institution, and can independently dispose of them. For finding a child all day in the garden you have to pay extra. You can send a child not only to the state, but also to a private kindergarten taking part in the state program.

There are many types of preschool institutions, differing in the source of funding, mode of operation, organization of activities and content of the educational program:

  • nursery
  • kindergartens
  • family groups
  • game centers
  • mother and child clubs
  • + on the territory of most kindergartens there are preparatory classes for school.

All kindergartens adhere to special methods developed by the Ministry of Education. Some establishments adhere exclusively to the basic program, while others introduce the latest techniques, focusing on the acquisition of certain skills by children. Kindergartens are very popular, where instruction takes place in several languages. There are also religious institutions located at the churches.

During his stay in the garden, the child receives:

  • personal, social and emotional development
  • development of communication, language, literacy
  • physical education
  • development of mathematical skills
  • general view of the world
  • creative development.

Most preschool institutions work from 8.00 to 18.00. The regime of each individual garden is regulated by the management. There are part-time groups working until 12 noon due to lack of space.

School education in the UK

British schools are divided into private and public. Education is free in public schools, but only UK citizens can enroll. Private education in England is not cheap, but it is of high quality and prestige, therefore it is very popular among foreigners.

Another criterion for classifying schools is the gender of the students. Educational institutions are divided into:

  • mixed schools in which both boys and girls study together
  • schools for girls
  • schools for boys.

Particularly popular with both British and foreign students are private boarding schools that offer on-campus accommodation in full-board residences. Many of the boarding schools are listed as prestigious or elite schools in the UK.

Primary School

Little Britons begin to receive their primary education early: from the age of 5. It consists of two parts:

  • Key stage 1: from 5 to 7 years old
  • Key stage 2: from 7 to 11 years old.

In elementary school, children study ten subjects. The main ones are English, mathematics, literature, natural sciences, humanities, exact and computer sciences are gradually added to them. The main task of elementary school is the development of socialization, communication and teamwork skills, the formation of an independent personality.

Secondary School

After graduating from primary school, children move to secondary. The preparation process is aimed at obtaining a general certificate of GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education), which gives a great advantage when entering the university. Education includes the following stages:

  • Key stage 3: from 11 to 14 years old
  • Key stage 4: from 14 to 16 years old.

At this stage, 15 subjects are studied + vocational guidance classes are present. At the end of the first stage of secondary school, students take a special exam: Common Entrance Examination. At the end of the second stage, schoolchildren will have to pass another exam ─ GCSE. After that, preparation for the university begins. 

Preparation for high school (Sixth Form)

Sixth Form is the term used for the last two years of schooling. It is divided into two parts: Lower Sixth and Upper Sixth. The Lower Sixth is the first year of school when yesterday's students are officially called students. Upper Sixth, respectively, is the second year, after which students take final exams and, based on their results, enter the university.

The traditional training program in the Sixth Form is the A-level program. There are no compulsory subjects at this stage. The A-Level program includes 45 disciplines, of which the student independently chooses 3-6 specialized subjects related to his future specialty. The list of disciplines includes mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, economics, accounting, business, English literature, politics, psychology and others.

The training process takes two years and consists of two parts. It includes 20-25 hours of classes per week. After the first year of study, students receive an As-Level degree, after the second year - an A2-Level degree. At the end, you must pass the A-Level exam (Advanced Level Examinations), the result of which is quoted in all British universities and in many higher educational institutions in the world. Each subject is scored according to the ABCDE grading system, where A is the highest point and E is the lowest.

The main goal of A-Level is to prepare students for university studies. Based on the results of the exams, the admissions committees of universities judge the knowledge and skills of the applicant and make a decision on admission to the training course.

Colleges in the UK

The main difference between UK colleges and universities is the number of students. They do not have master's and graduate studies. A highly specialized university or program can also be called a college.

There are several types of colleges in the UK:


Their main task is to provide students with the knowledge they need to enter the university. The educational process here is aimed at deep preparation in academic disciplines, improving the English language, preparing for international exams.


Boarding colleges have a closed territory and are most often located outside the city. In addition to training, they provide students with everything they need for a comfortable stay: residences, laundries, canteens, gyms, medical centers and other services.

International colleges

Not only British people can study here, but also foreign students. Institutions of this type are distinguished by the absence of extracurricular activities, free discipline and a democratic atmosphere.

Tutorial colleges

Such colleges are a type of tutoring and involve personal training with students in the main disciplines required for admission to universities.

Features of studying at a British university

Great Britain is rightfully considered a country of students: most visas are issued exclusively for study. British universities are  deservedly considered one of the best - among them Cambridge, Oxford and others: they occupy leading positions in the rankings of prestigious universities in the world due to high-quality teaching programs and practical training.

Study in the UK includes the following stages: bachelor's (3-4 years), master's (1 year) and postgraduate studies. The main difference between studying in the UK is that only applicants who have reached the age of 18 are admitted to universities.

There are several types of universities. Among them:

  • higher schools
  • universities
  • colleges
  • music and art academies
  • observatory.

British universities graduate specialists in creative specialties. Among them there are many famous sound and film directors and writers. They have also proven themselves well in teaching medicine, business, finance, social sciences, media, and information technology.

What do you need in order to enter a UK university?

For admission to the university, an application must be made through the online UCAS system. Certificates from educational institutions in other countries are not listed, so you need to obtain a minimum of GCSE - the British equivalent of a certificate - and take a high school / university preparation course. This can be done by choosing one of three programs:

  • A-level , designed for two years and giving the opportunity to study four subjects
  • Foundation , designed for a year and designed for foreign applicants who do not speak the language well enough
  • International Baccalaureate, designed for two years of study and involving the study of six subjects. With this program, you can enroll in any British and Irish university without having to take entrance exams.

You can apply for a master's or postgraduate studies if you have a bachelor's degree. The average grade required for admission is 4.5 and above. Some areas, for example, economics and business, require a GMAT certificate , which confirms a high level of knowledge in specialized subjects. Proficiency in English is a prerequisite, which requires TOEFL iBT or IELTS certificates. The number of points depends on the chosen university and specialty.

The main package of documents also includes a motivation letter in English, which tells why you chose this university and this specialty. Letters of recommendation, participation in olympiads, competitions, forums, and active social activities will help to increase the chances of admission.

Current material has been prepared by Egor Eremeev
Education: Kuban State University, Russia (World Economics); Westminster University (Business & Management).
Egor studied and lived in the UK for 8 years and graduated from the university of Westminster. He is currently the co-founder and the director of business development at Smapse Education and personally visits foreign schools and universities, interviews students studying in those institutions.
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