Perhaps you fancy studying at Cambridge. Or perhaps you read the Harry Potter series and are now thinking of applying for a place at Hogwarts — this article will provide you with a brief overview of the UK education system.
Education in the UK starts from the age of 4 or 5. School students in the UK are able to attend both state and private (also known as 'independent') schools. Around 7% of children are privately educated.
Numerous prestigious private schools in the UK are confusingly referred to as 'public schools' — this peculiar quirk stems from the fact that 'public' schools were the first schools in the UK to accept children of any religious denomination and thus are open to the fee-paying public. Examples of 'public' schools include world renowned names such as Eton, Harrow, St. Paul's and Westminster.
Most UK students attend what is known as a state or comprehensive school, however there are various types of state school in the UK, including academies, faith schools, free schools, grammar schools (which are highly selective and require students to pass an entrance exam) and special schools (for special educational needs students).
The UK education system can be broken down into the following stages: primary, secondary, further and higher education.
Primary education spans from the ages of 4/5 to 11 and is often divided between infant primary education (ages 5 to 7) and junior primary education (ages 7 to 11). The aim of primary education is for students to achieve an elementary foundation in literacy and numeracy.
Secondary education begins at the age of 11 and is completed at the age of 16. Students in secondary education take a range of subjects including English language and literature, mathematics, science (biology, chemistry and physics), history, geography, modern foreign languages, ICT (information and communication technology), design and technology, art and design, music and PE (physical education). Upon completing secondary education, students who pass their courses and exams are awarded with GCSE certificates (General Certificate of Secondary Education) in their chosen subjects.
After secondary education students are able to choose between pursuing vocational or academic subjects. Unlike most countries, UK students over the age of 16 are often able to specialise in subjects of personal interest. Students who choose the academic route usually sit A-level exams (Advanced level), which usually consist of 3 or 4 subjects. Some schools offer the IB (International Baccalaureate) program, which is less specialised and covers a wider range of subjects. Scotland has its own system whereby students are awarded with Scottish Highers certificates. Students who wish to pursue vocational subjects can work for BTEC diplomas (Business and Technology Education Council).
As for being admitted to a British university (informally referred to as 'uni'), one must apply for university courses via the UCAS (University and Colleges Admissions Service) online portal - here prospective university students may choose up to five different courses at universities of their choice and one must submit a personal statement (essentially being a cover letter) along with their applications. Most courses have their own respective minimum A-level (or equivalent) grade requirements that a prospective student must achieve in order to be accepted. Oxford and Cambridge, being regarded as the most prestigious universities in the country (if not the world), have a separate application process whereby prospective students must sit an entrance exam and pass numerous interviews with professors.
Universities offer both undergraduate and postgraduate courses. Most undergraduate courses last either 3 or 4 years and most students who successfully graduate are awarded with a Bachelor's degree. The university grading system has the following tiers for pass grades: First class honours, Upper-Second class honours, Lower-Second class honours and Third class honours. Graduates can further pursue their university education on a post-graduate course and achieve a Master's degree and/or a Doctorate's degree (PhD).
How does the UK education system compare to that of your own country? Do you feel that it is better for students over the age of 16 to only study subjects of personal interest? Or do you feel that students over the age of 16 should have to study 'core' subjects (such as mathematics, science and literature)? Let us know your thoughts.
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