Moving to the UK? Which Year is My Child In?

Before you apply to a school in the UK, find out when your child should start Reception or which academic year group they should be in at primary or secondary...
Moving to the UK? Which Year is My Child In?
By Carli Allan
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Planning a move to the UK from overseas? To help you navigate the school admissions process, here's a breakdown of when children start school, what year group they should be in according to their age, and how to defer or accelerate their entry to primary or secondary school.

Is the education system the same in every UK school?

There are differences when it comes to teaching – all state schools in the UK follow a national curriculum, while independent schools can create and follow their own curriculum.

However, there are fundamental similarities in the UK's education system when it comes to admissions. All students must attend full-time education from the age of five until 16 years, and all students are enrolled into the same year groups at the same age (see table below), with only very few exceptions.

When does my child start school in the UK?

Most children start school full-time in the September after their fourth birthday, and will turn five during their first school year. They start in Reception class. For example, in England, if your child’s fourth birthday is between 1 September 2021 and 31 August 2022 they will usually start school in September 2022.

There are slightly different criteria for school starting ages in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. 

What is the age criteria for each year group in the UK''s primary and secondary schools?

England and Wales Scotland Northern Ireland Age Requirement for Starting in September 
Reception Nursery Primary 1 4 years old by Aug 31
Year 1 Primary 1 Primary 2 5 years old by Aug 31
Year 2 P2 Primary 3 6 years old by Aug 31
Year 3 P3 Primary 4 7 years old by Aug 31
Year 4 P4 Primary 5 8 years old by Aug 31
Year 5 P5 Primary 6 9 years old by Aug 31
Year 6 P6 Primary 7 10 years old by Aug 31
Year 7 P7 Year 8 11 years old by Aug 31
Year 8 Secondary 1 Year 9 12 years old by Aug 31
Year 9 S2 Year 10 13 years old by Aug 31
Year 10 S3 Year 11 14 years old by Aug 31
Year 11 S4 Year 12 15 years old by Aug 31
Year 12 S5 Year 13 16 years old by Aug 31
Year 13 S6 Year 14 17 years old by Aug 31

Can I defer the start of school for my child?

Summer babies – children who are born between April 1 and August 31 – can defer entry to Reception if their parents don't think they're ready to start school in the term after they turn four. Children with an Education, Health and Care (EHC) Plan or a Statement of Special Educational Needs (SEN) may also be considered for deferment if it is in their best interests.

There is no national guidance covering 'education outside of chronological age group’, and each local authority will publish their own guidance on this subject. Depending on the school and local authority, children can start Reception a year late, or miss the whole Reception year and go straight into Year 1 with their normal age group.

A formal request for deferred entry should be made to your local authority's admissions department in the autumn term of the year before the child is due to start school.

Can I accelerate my child's entry to primary or secondary school?

In some cases, children can be considered for accelerated entry, where they are educated in the year group above their chronological year group. For example, a child is educated in Year 5 but their age means that they should be taught in Year 4.

Parents usually request for their child to be accelerated based on their academic ability.

Once again, there is no nationwide ruling on this, and local authorities are responsible for making the decision. It is unusual for a child to be accelerated as it means that they will be learning with peers of a different age and social skills. Instead, parents should look for a school that can adapt and differentiate their curriculum to meet the varying needs of academic ability.

When will my child start secondary school in the UK?

In the UK's state schools, secondary education starts at Year 7/Secondary 1 and runs through to Year 13/S6. In some independent schools, Years 7 and 8 are included in their Junior or Prep School, and students start Senior School in Year 9 (aged 13 years).

How long will my child attend school for?

The general rule is that students can leave school aged 16, but the criteria for this (based on when their birthday is) depends on where you live in the UK. The school leaving age for England is 16; you can leave school on the last Friday in June if you turn 16 by the end of the summer holidays.

Can my child repeat a year at a UK school?

While repeating a year can be common for students in countries including the US, Spain, France and Germany, it is very rare in the UK. However, as part of the govenment's Covid-19 catch-up programme for children in England, Year 13 students will be given an option to repeat their final school year if they have been badly affected by the virus.

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