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.
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.
|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|
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.