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Education in England

Pencil pot - Education in EnglandRemember when you started secondary school? If you are as old as me, you would have started in the first year, and taken your exams in your fifth year? Well, the year group labels are just one of the many things which have changed since then.

Before school, many children attend pre-schools, day nurseries, nursery schools or nursery classes attached to primary or infant schools. Children in England are expected to begin full-time education in the term following their fifth birthday. In practice, most schools take children earlier. Many schools have only one intake, in September, and all children who will turn five during the school year will start together. This means that if your child is born in August, they will be just four when they start school, while a child with a September birthday will be almost five.

The first year of full-time school for four to five year olds is called Reception. After a year (or less with staggered intakes) in Reception, children move into Year 1, then move up a year group each year. What can get confusing for parents is that many schools have different class numbers as well. Each child moves up a year group every year, as this is a standard national system. Schools can arrange classes in any way they want, and many, especially smaller schools, will have mixed age classes, so that a child can move up a year group in September, but stay in the same class for another year.

The final year of junior or primary school for most children is Year 6, and the first year of secondary school Year 7. Most will take GCSEs or similar qualifications in Year 11, at the age of sixteen. Strangely enough, the sixth form is still called the sixth form, even though the students will be in Year 12 and Year 13.

In a few areas in England, instead of infant (4 to 7 year olds) and junior (7 to 11) or primary (4 to 11), followed by secondary school (11 to 16/18), there is a system of lower, middle and upper schools. Lower schools are usually for 4/5 to 9 year olds, middle schools for 9 to 13 year olds and upper schools for 13 to 18 year olds.

In addition to year groups, schooling is divided up into key stages. The table below should help you to find out which key stage your child is in.

Ages and stages


Child's Age

Year Groups


Early Years Foundation Stage

0 to 5

Reception for age 4-5

Pre-School, Day Nursery, Nursery School, Infant or Primary

Key Stage 1

5 to 7

Year 1 and 2

Infant or Primary

Key Stage 2

7 to 11

Year 3, 4, 5 and 6

Junior or Primary

Key Stage 3

11 to 14

Year 7, 8 and 9


Key Stage 4

14 to 16

Year 10 and 11


Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland

The education system in Wales and Northern Ireland is broadly similar to England. In Wales, all schools teach Welsh and about 25% of schools teach in the Welsh language. In Scotland, education is organised quite differently, with a more flexible curriculum and different qualifications. Some schools teach using Gaelic. Click for more information on education in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.

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