The British School System - How it works
The British School System - How it works

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The UK School System

This website is concerned only with independent, fee-paying schools which educate around 10% of children in the UK, so the explanation below refers to the various school types and curriculum stages within the independent, or private, sector. 

Private Education in the UK

A traditional British education is renowned the world over for its rigour and depth. The UK's independent schools strive to provide the best possible foundation for each child to succeed, not only academically but also in terms of their overall development. The curriculum followed by most private schools is based on the UK National Curriculum, which must be taught in state-maintained schools, but generally goes far beyond this in terms of additional subjects and a vast range of extra-curricular opportunities such as sport, art, music, performing arts, engineering, and many more. 

The Academic Year

The school year begins in September and ends in July. There are three terms, each lasting 10-12 weeks. The exact term dates vary from school to school but all follow the pattern below:

Autumn Term (sometimes known as Michaelmas Term)  - September - December

Christmas Holiday (3-4 weeks)

Spring Term (sometimes known as Hilary Term)  - January - March

Easter Holiday (3-4 weeks)

Summer Term (sometimes known as Trinity Term) -  April - July

Within each school term there is a half term break of 1 or 2 weeks, during which time schools are closed.

School Years

The year (sometimes internationally known as their "grade") a child is in is determined by their date of birth on 1 September of the year of entry. Thus a child with a September birthday will be among the oldest in that class. It is quite common for children moving into the UK from a different school system to be placed below their actual cohort age to allow time to adapt to the UK curriculum, particularly if English is their second language. Unlike in many other countries, students are rarely required to repeat a year. 

School Stages

Pre-Prep School (age 3-7)

These cater for children from 2 or 3 years old, up to age 7 (up to Year 2). Most pre-prep schools are attached to prep schools so that children progress smoothly to the next stage.

Prep School (age 7-13)

'Prep' is short for 'preparatory' and prep schools specialise in preparing children for senior school. However, a good prep school is much more than this. The curriculum offered is usually very broad, encompassing a wide range of subjects and extending way beyond the curriculum limits which state schools must adhere to.

Children stay at prep school until the age of 11 or 13. Depending on the school's location, children may be prepared for the '11+ exam'  and leave at 11 to join academically selective state 'grammar' schools or senior independent schools that have an intake into Year 7. There are also a number of prep schools which are very successful in helping children win places at the UK's most prestigious senior schools at 13+. These prep schools are very experienced in preparing boys and girls to sit entrance assessments, including pre-tests, interviews, and examinations. You can see our table of top preps on our dedicated prep schools website.

Senior School  (age 11 - 16)

Independent senior schools start either at Year 7 (11+) or Year 9 (13+) and may be either day schools, boarding schools, or both. Students study a broad range of subjects until the end of Year 9, after which they continue with a core of English, Maths and Science plus a number of additional subjects which they can choose to study for their GCSE/IGCSE exams, which are taken at the end of Year 11. 

6th Form (age 16-18)

6th form (Years 12 and 13) is the final stage of school education.  Most students study either A-LevelsBTECs or the IB Diploma programme, culminating in exams at the end of year 13. These qualifications enable them to apply to university. The 6th form can be either in a school or in a separate private 6th form college. 

Further details for each educational stage can be found on the corresponding pages.

To discuss your requirements or ask questions about the UK Private School system, please complete an enquiry form or speak to us

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