Education in the United Kingdom

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Education in the United Kingdom is a devolved matter with each of the countries of the United Kingdom having separate systems under separate governments: the UK Government is directly responsible for England; whilst the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government and the Northern Ireland Executive are responsible for Scotland,[1] Wales[2] and Northern Ireland, respectively. In England and Wales, the EYFS (Early Years Foundation Stage) is applicable to children aged 5 and below, and the national curriculum is applicable to children aged 5+.

For details of education in each country, see:


In each country there are five stages of education: early years, primary, secondary, further education (FE) and higher education (HE).[3] The law states that full time education is compulsory for all children between the ages of 5 (4 in Northern Ireland) and 16, the compulsory school age (CSA).[3] In England, compulsory education or training has been extended to 18 for those born on or after 1 September 1997. This full-time education does not need to be at a school and a number of parents choose to home educate.[4] Before they reach compulsory school age, children can be educated at nursery if parents wish though there is only limited government funding for such places.[5] Further Education is non-compulsory, and covers non-advanced education which can be taken at further (including tertiary) education colleges and Higher Education institutions (HEIs). The fifth stage, Higher Education, is study beyond A levels or BTECs (and their equivalent) which, for most full-time students, takes place in universities and other Higher Education institutions and colleges.

The National Curriculum (NC), established in 1988, provides a framework for education in England and Wales between the ages of 5 and 18. Though the National Curriculum is not compulsory it is followed by most state schools, but some private schools, academies, free schools and home educators design their own curricula.[6] In Scotland the nearest equivalent is the Curriculum for Excellence programme, and in Northern Ireland there is something known as the common curriculum.[5] The Scottish qualifications the National 4/5s, Highers and Advanced Highers are highly similar to the English Advanced Subsidiary (AS) and Advanced Level (A2) courses.[7]


Traditionally a high-performing country in international rankings of education, the UK has stagnated in recent years in such rankings as the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests; in 2013 for reading and maths the country as a whole stood in the middle-rankings, a position broadly similar to three years before.[8] Within the UK Scotland performed marginally better than England; both were slightly ahead of Northern Ireland and markedly ahead of Wales.[9] However these results contradict those of the education and publishing firm Pearson published in 2014, which placed the UK in second place across European countries and sixth worldwide; these rankings took account of higher-education graduate rates, which may have accounted for the higher ranking than in PISA.[10]


Funding for UK schools will change to a national formula in 2018, with some schools likely to gain from the new formula and some likely to lose.[11] Secretary of State for Education, Justine Greening claims funding will depend less on the postcode lottery. The National Audit Office (NAO) claims funding will be cut by 8%. Opponents fear class sizes will increase, schools will be less able to buy basic equipment and children's life chances will be damaged. Liberal Democrat education spokesman John Pugh accused the government of having, "completely the wrong priorities." adding, "It is a disgrace that while schools face a severe funding crisis, £240m is being spent on expanding grammars."[12][13]

Head teachers in Sussex have been writing letters complaining about lack of funds. The heads previously petitioned Downing Street and complain that, "no matter how clearly we state our position or how reasonable our approach is, no improvements are made to either the financial or associated staffing crises". They describe the national funding formula as "giving with one hand whilst taking away with two". The heads ask whether they should, reduce staff, increase class sizes further, reduce books, equipment and IT, change school hours, stop counselling and pastoral services.[14] Reduced counselling can reduce children's performance in school.[15]

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