Guide to UK education system

    Updated on: 20 Mar 2023

    The education system in the United Kingdom is comprehensive, consisting of four main stages: primary education, secondary education, further education, and higher education. Each stage is designed to provide students with the necessary skills and knowledge to progress to the next level of education or enter the workforce.

    The UK education system has undergone significant reforms over the years, with changes to the curriculum, assessment methods, and funding models. Overall, the UK education system is highly regarded for its quality and diversity, providing students with a range of opportunities to develop their skills and knowledge.

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    Different stages in UK education system

    The education system in the UK is divided into four key stages: primary, secondary, further education, and higher education. 

    An overview of the stages of UK education system is as follows:

    • Primary education - this begins from the age of 5 years and continues till the age of 11 years. Basic knowledge in subjects such as English, Mathematics, Physical Education, Science, and Geography is taught.
    • Secondary education - this phase of education begins at the age of 11 years and continues till the age of 16 years. This is the most important stage of education because it allows students to choose a future path for themselves. At the end of this phase, every student has to appear for a General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) exam or any other national qualification.  
    • Further education - it begins once the student has given their GCSE exams. At this stage, a student can either choose to explore work opportunities or they can pursue further education through academic prospects or vocational prospects.    
    • Higher education - many top institutes are available for students to choose from. A student can pursue a bachelor’s, master’s, and a Ph.D. degrees in the same order.

    Suggested Read: Compare UK vs Canada to study abroad

    Basic education system in UK

    Children in the United Kingdom enter the education system at the age of five and are required by law to attend school until they reach the age of sixteen.

    The table below showcases a general breakdown of the basic UK education system.


    Age in years

    Key Stage 1

    5 to 7 Years

    Key Stage 2

    7 to 11 Years

    Key Stage 3

    11 to 14 Years

    Key Stage 4

    14 to 16 Years

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    Higher education system in UK

    Higher education institutes in the UK offer bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, doctoral degrees, and diplomas/certifications. The below table shows the duration and estimated cost for these degrees.



    Bachelor’s Degree

    6 months to 4 years

    Masters Degree

    9 months to 2 years

    Doctoral Degree

    2 to 3 years

    Diplomas and Certifications

    1 to 2 years

    Must know Application deadlines for UK universities

    Bachelor’s degree in UK

    Generally, a bachelor's degree in the UK takes up to 3 years to complete but in some cases, it can go up to 4 years where a year of professional experience is required. Additionally, the states like England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales offer bachelor's degrees with a duration of 4 years. 

    Popular bachelor courses for students in UK

    There are many bachelor's courses available in the UK for international students to choose from. A few of the most popular ones are listed below. 

    • Bachelor of Arts (BA)
    • Bachelor of Science (BSc)
    • Bachelor of Law (LLB)
    • Bachelor of Education (B.Ed) 
    • Bachelor of Engineering (B.E.)
    • Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA)

    Know Best courses to study in UK for international students

    Master's degree in UK

    MS in UK is generally a one-year course but can be extended to a two-year course by adding work placement opportunities to the course. The UK also provides opportunities for students to pursue an integrated master's degree that are eager to do this degree right after their schooling. It is 4 to 5 years of course including both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in an integrated manner.

    There are 2 classifications for master’s degrees with respect to the UK education system.

    1. Masters by coursework - in this type of degree, students have regular classes in the first half and research work in the second half. 
    2. Masters by research - this is a degree whose tenure is around 1 to 2 years in which the students are expected to do research on an independent project and then submit a thesis at the end of the course.

    Popular master’s courses for students in UK

    There are a plethora of master’s courses in the UK to choose from. Some of the most popular master’s courses are:

    • Master of Laws (LLM)
    • Master of Engineering (MEng)
    • Masters of Science (MSc)
    • Master of Philosophy (MPhil)
    • Master in Business Administration (MBA)
    • Master in Engineering (MEng)

    Read All you need to know to apply for MS in UK

    Doctorate degree in UK

    This is a degree that can be pursued by the student once they have completed their master's degree in a selected field. Apart from it, they have to choose an original research topic on which they have to do research that needs to be submitted through a thesis. It generally takes 3 to 4 years to receive a doctorate degree in the UK.

    Some popular doctorate degree for students in the UK

    • Professional Doctorates
    • Higher Doctorates
    • Doctorate of Philosophy


    Do you know?

    UK has a Russell group of universities, which includes 24 reputed public universities, 4 out of which make it to the top 10 in various world university rankings!

    Educational quality frameworks in UK education system

    Below mentioned are the frameworks that are integrated into the UK education system to ensure quality education delivery to students. 

    1. Qualifications framework

    A qualification framework is a national principle that governs the education standards of a country. Two parallel frameworks run in higher education which includes

    • The Framework for Higher Education Qualifications of Degree Awarding Bodies in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland (FHEQ)
    • The Framework for Qualifications of Higher Education Institutions in Scotland (FQHEIS)
    1. Quality assurance system

    This is one of the most unique features of the UK education system as it helps to maintain the quality of education that is being provided to students. This is an independent body that regularly audits and reviews the universities so that they can assess and compare them. They also identify areas of improvement and recommend some advisable action so that the quality of education can be further increased.      

    Credit system used in UK education system

    Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS) is the credit system which is used by UK educational institutions to evaluate and record the performance of students in different programs. Every degree has a different credit requirement but generally, one credit is equal to 10 hours' worth of learning outcomes. The credit system for different degrees is as follows:

    • Bachelor’s degree - 300 credits
    • Bachelor (Hons.) degree - 360 credits
    • Masters degree - 180 credits
    • Integrated masters degree - 480 credits 
    • Professional Doctorate degree - 540 credits
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    Grading system used in UK education system

    In order to describe the student's academic accomplishments in an effective manner, the UK education system has a detailed grading system. UK universities use alphabetic letters from A to F to denote the students' performance in academics. In this grading system, A stands for outstanding performance while F stands for fail. A detailed grading system that is being used in UK universities is shown in the table below:

    Grade Letter


    Percentage Score


    Excellent to outstanding

    70% - 100%


    Good to very good

    60% - 69%



    50% - 59%



    40% - 49%



    30% - 39%



    0 - 29%

    The degrees can be further classified in different categories based on the academic scores. The classification is as follows:

    • First-class Degree/Honours: 70% and above
    • Second-class Degree/Honours: 50% - 70%
    • Third-class Degree/Honours: 40% - 50%

    Grading system in the UK differs from what is used in the Indian education system. To make sure you are eligible to apply to universities in the UK, use the grade converter tool for free

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    UK vs US education system

    The education systems in the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States (US) differ in many ways. Here are some of the key differences:

    1. Age range: In the UK, children start primary school at the age of four or five and finish secondary school at the age of 16 or 18. In the US, children start elementary school at the age of five or six and finish high school at the age of 17 or 18.
    2. Curriculum: The UK has a more standardized curriculum, with a national curriculum that sets out what students should be taught in each subject at each key stage. In the US, the curriculum can vary significantly between states and even between schools within the same state.
    3. Grading system: In the UK, students are typically graded on a scale of A* to G, with A* being the highest grade. In the US, students are typically graded on a scale of A to F, with A being the highest grade.
    4. University admissions: In the UK, university admissions are largely based on academic qualifications and grades, with students applying to specific courses and universities. In the US, university admissions are more holistic, with admissions officers considering a range of factors, including academic achievement, extracurricular activities, and personal qualities.
    5. Cost: Higher education is generally more expensive in the US than in the UK, with tuition fees and other costs often adding up to tens of thousands of dollars per year. In the UK, tuition fees are generally lower and are capped by the government.

    UK education system is developed in a manner that is able to provide the best quality education to the students no matter what stage of education they are in. The integration of qualification frameworks and a quality assurance system is what makes the education system of the UK unique.

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