UK Education System

The education system in the UK is divided into four main parts, primary education, secondary education, further education and higher education. Children in the UK have to legally attend primary and secondary education which runs from about 5 years old until the student is 16 years old.

Primary and Secondary Education
The school system in the UK is split into “key stages” which break down as follows:

  1. Key Stage 1 – 5 to 7 years old
  2. Key Stage 2 – 7 to 11 years old
  3. Key Stage 3 – 11 to 14 years old
  4. Key Stage 4 – 14 to 16 years old

Generally key stages 1 and 2 will be undertaken at primary school and at 11 years old a student will move onto secondary school and finish key stages 3 and 4. Students are assessed at the end of each stage. The most important assessment occurs at age 16 when students pursue their GCSE’s or General Certificate of Secondary Education. Once students complete their GCSE’s they have the choice to go onto further education and then potential higher education, or finish school and go into the working world. Primary and secondary education is mandatory in the UK; after age 16, education is optional.

Further Education
Once a student finishes secondary education they have the option to extend into further education to take their A-Levels, IB Diploma, GNVQ’s, BTEC’s or other such qualifications. UK students planning to go to college or university must complete further education which typically is completed in a total of thirteen years. International students have the opportunity to gain the equivalent of a Further Education qualification by undergoing a one-year Foundation Programme that transitions them from their qualifications from their home country and gives them an award acceptable for university entry. Institutions such as Bellerbys College specialize in these types of courses.

Higher Education

Higher Education refers to programs such as Higher National Diplomas (HND), Foundation Degrees (FdA, FdSc), Bachelor’s Degrees (BA, BSc. B.Eng, B.Arch, BSN), Master’s Degrees (MA, MSc. MPhil) and Doctorate Degrees (Ph.D.).

Bachelor’s Degree

Students apply to UK universities, through the University and College Admissions Service (UCAS), a central processing service that coordinates applications for every university. Students may make 5 choices on their UCAS form of universities/courses. Wide ranges of degree courses are available, which provide skills for a variety of jobs or further study.

  • A Bachelor’s degree is usually a 3 year program at a university.
  • Universities evaluate students’ predicted A-level/IB scores (or equivalent), among other criteria, during the admissions process
  • Students must choose a course as part of the university application
  • Some degree programs are for 4 years and include a ‘sandwich’ year when students gain relevant work experience for 1 year.
  • In countries where students have fewer than 13 years education, it is likely that students will need to study a year-long Foundation program before starting a Bachelor’s degree.
Master’s Degree

A Master’s degree in the UK may be research based, a taught course or a combination of the two and will prepare students for a particular career or for a doctorate qualification, and are offered in a variety of fields.

  • Requires the successful completion of an undergraduate degree.
  • Typically a 12 month program
  • Taught master’s qualifications include: Master of Arts (MA), Master of Science (MSc) and Master of Business Administration (MBA)
  • Research master’s qualifications include: Master of Research (MRes), Master of Philosophy (MPhil)


Doctorate programs require students to undertake an original piece of research.

  • Generally requires a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree
  • Minimum length of three years at a university
  • Typically students work on a single research project or dissertation
  • Types of degrees: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD or DPhil)
International Students

To study in the UK, international students whose English is not their first language must provide evidence of English language proficiency. Most universities in the UK prefer the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) certificate. IELTS 6.0+ is the usual level required for undergraduate study and IELTS 6.5+ for postgraduate.

In addition to proving English proficiency, international students must also check that their qualifications meet the school’s entry requirements and meet the requirements for a student visa.

If it is your aim to get a degree at a UK university, International Education Specialists will help you gain entry, organize your on-campus accommodation and process your student visa. Students using this service will benefit from our extensive network of partner institutions and our long experience of guiding students through the admission process.


UK Education Matrix

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