Great Britain has three administrative systems of public education - one for England and Wales, one for Northern Ireland and one for Scotland. The three systems differ mainly in terms of the administration of charges, but the organisation of the education system is similar.
Education in Great Britain is compulsory and free for all children between the ages of five and 16. At the age of 16 about two thirds of pupils leave school and start working, with around 30 percent staying at school until the age of 18. There are around 30,000 state schools and 2,000 private schools, with about 93 percent of all children attending state schools and the rest studying at private schools.
The main education system is divided into three main stages: primary, secondary and higher, as well as nursery schools or kindergartens which small children can attend; the entry age for nursery schools is three. Between the ages of five to 11 children start attending primary schools for six years. This level of education has two sub-stages: infant and junior school. Infant school is attended between the ages of five and seven, whilst junior school is between seven and 11. Children learn English, mathematics, science and technology, history, geography and religious knowledge and take standards tests at seven, 11 and 14. Children transfer from the primary school at the age of 11 with Secondary education taking either five or seven years.
Around 8 percent of all pupils attend private schools; with 4 percent not going to school at all. The legislation in Great Britain allows parents to educate their children at home if they can prove that have the ability to do it properly. The biggest share of pupils - around 88 percent - go to comprehensive schools and study the same National Curriculum. There are no vocational schools, or special art or music or technical schools in Britain.
The National Curriculum was introduced in the educational system of Great Britain in 1988 with the adoption of the Education Reform Act. It consists of 10 subjects: English, mathematics, science, history, geography, art, music, technology, physical education (P.E.) and a modern foreign language (usually French or German). Religious Education is required for pupils as part of the basic curriculum, although parents have a right to withdraw their children from religious classes.
Pupils' progress in subjects is measured by written and practical tests and at the age of 16, all pupils take the main state examinations, the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE), usually taking as many subjects as possible. The weaker students may only sit for three or four subjects with the better students taking five or six. The more ambitious pupils - around 66 percent - continue with the sixth form; they remain at school for two more years and take their A-level exams.
Most secondary schools have sixth form departments providing one or two year courses. Some students go to a designated sixth form college, where the atmosphere is less like at school and where they are treated as adults. At the sixth form stage students are highly specialised in three or four subjects, which aims to prepare them to enter the third level of education system – the higher education. In this level students can choose either to enter university, polytechnic or college of further education.
At the end of the sixth form students take much harder exams called A Levels (Advanced). Around 10 percent of all pupils take the A Levels exams in three subjects only. There are five grades of pass A, B, C, D and E. Most of the exams are written.
All students take the same exams on the same dates in May and June and the results are released in August. All universities require the A Level qualifications.
There are around 90 universities in Great Britain, including the Open University, Oxford and Cambridge –which were established in the 13th century. The 15 city technology colleges in England teach the national curriculum but with an emphasis on science, technology and mathematics. In addition to the universities, Great Britain has many colleges that specialise in art, business studies, teacher training and technical subjects.
All universities are autonomous institutions, particularly in matters relating to courses. They are empowered by a Royal Charter or an Act of Parliament. Most universities are divided into faculties which may be subdivided into departments. Non-university higher education institutions also provide degree courses, various non-degree courses and postgraduate qualifications.