A Brief Explanation Of English Schools

8 May
Cover of "School Daze"

Cover of School Daze

I wrote a post, School Daze, about Spud’s last days at school (until he goes back for two more years in September).  It was understandably a little confusing for non-Brits, as Janie pointed out, so here’s a brief explanation:

Children start school the year they turn five, in Reception, presumably named because it is the first time they are received into school.  I think it is the equivalent of the American kindergarten, but many schools don’t even have gartens, kinder or otherwise, especially in the inner cities.

Next come Years One and Two, ages six to seven, known as the Infants.

Years Three to Six – eight to eleven – are known as the Juniors.

We have infant schools and junior schools and infant and junior schools, which are known as Primary Schools.

High School follows at eleven, turning twelve, starting in Year Seven, to Year Eleven at sixteen.

It is legal to leave school at sixteen and go out to work or on to College or Sixth Form.  College is not varsity, it is for further studies aged seventeen-eighteen. Colleges – also known as Sixth Form Colleges – are separate institutions which only teach that age group.

Some high schools have sixth forms, but most state schools in Stockport do not have a sixth form.  State schools are public schools, not to be confused with schools known as public schools, which are private schools.

Private schools and grammar schools – which are fee-paying high schools, apart from those grammar schools which are not fee-paying high schools – usually do have a sixth form.

The term, Sixth Form comes from the days when high schools were known as Secondary Schools and had First Year to Fifth Year instead of Year Seven to Year Eleven.

Secondary schools were known at one time as Secondary Moderns or Comprehensive Schools.  Secondary Moderns were not comprehensive in their teaching and Comprehensives were ultra-modern until pupils trashed them.

We now also have Academies, which are privately sponsored state schools, but I don’t want to confuse you so forget about them.  Everyone else does.

Sixth Forms consist of Lower Sixth and Upper Sixth.  Despite there being seven years of secondary schooling (two optional), there is no Seventh form – not even when there was no Year Seven.

The Scots have a different system – and probably the Welsh and Northern Irish, as well.

An important point to remember: the Northern Irish are British as well as Irish, and not just Irish like the Irish.  The English are British and the Welsh are sometimes Welsh and sometimes Welsh and British.  The Scots are a law unto themselves and tend not to worry about British law, preferring Scots law, because we – the English, who are British like the Scots – will never take away their freedom.

I hope this helps.



58 Responses to “A Brief Explanation Of English Schools”

  1. jmgoyder May 8, 2012 at 10:37 #

    We have the same kind of differences from state to state here in Australia.


  2. roughseasinthemed May 8, 2012 at 11:18 #

    Nice summary. I get lost with all the different names and changes. Are there no middle schools any more or whatever they were called? Anyway more importantly my school had a Kindergarten, and various other quirky names for all classes, nothing so banal as Year whatever. We had a lot of uppers and lowers. In fact more years than not were uppers/lowers.

    All of which was perfectly clear at the time. What I need is a guide to the American system…. which like most things American, leaves me extremely confused.


    • vivinfrance May 8, 2012 at 12:16 #

      In my convent days (a very very long time ago, they used the Montessori method and names: Kindergarten 1, Kindergarten 2, Transition, Prep I, Prep II and Prep III. Senior schools were a law unto themselves.


    • Tilly Bud May 8, 2012 at 15:02 #

      I believe some schools have middle schools, but I don’t know of any in Stockport.


  3. sanstorm May 8, 2012 at 12:04 #

    As crystal, Tilly.


  4. xtrekki May 8, 2012 at 12:11 #

    The Home Office should employ you to decipher their dickats!!!! I won’t, at this point, go on to discuss the Northern Irish Education system, because that will certainly require more time patience and understanding than most ordinary mortals possess!!!


    • Tilly Bud May 8, 2012 at 15:07 #

      I swear that governments confuse us with this stuff to keep the population under control. We spend so much time trying to figure things out, there’s no time to complain about what they’re doing.


    • grannymar May 8, 2012 at 19:49 #

      The South of Ireland (ROI) is different again!


  5. vivinfrance May 8, 2012 at 12:19 #

    Tilly, this is a genius post. If they weren’t confused before, they surely are by now! Incidentally, you left out Middle School: My grandson started Middle School this year, aged 10, and I think he stays there for 3 years before going to some kind of senior school, with whatever name the politicians will have dreamed up by then.


    • Tilly Bud May 8, 2012 at 15:09 #

      I don’t know of any middle schools, though I’ve heard they exist.


  6. Pseu May 8, 2012 at 12:26 #

    Clear as mud.


    • Pseu May 8, 2012 at 12:34 #

      I went to a girls grammar school, prior to the abolition of (most) grammar schools. On the way to school we had to dodge the comprehensive lot (Harry Chessire-ites) who’d see our berets as objects for target practice, or nickable – because our grammar school had delusions of being an upper crust place we had to wear these objects of derision. If we were caught walking to school (nearly three miles) without beret in situ we’d get a detention, so the challenge was how far across town could we get to avoid the Harry Chessire lot and avoid being caught by a teacher.

      When I reached sixth form all the grammar schools in the area amalgamated – and from then on had an unselected intake, as we had become a comprehensive school! Da-nah!
      The biggest effect for me was that suddenly we had those unknown creatures, the male of the species, in class with us. Crikey.


  7. Janie Jones May 8, 2012 at 12:42 #

    LOL! Thanks for making very thing clear… Clear as mud that is. The American system, while it has it’s quirks between government funded (public school, which is paid for by taxes and the government and generally “free”) and privately funded (private school, which is privately funded and paid for by parents of students) is pretty straight forward. You start with Kindergarten, generally when you turn 5, and progress through grades 1-8. In most places kindergarten through 6th grade is called grade school, elementary school, or grammar school. 7th and 8th is generally known as junior high (sometimes the first 9 years together are called primary school, grade school or elementary school, but typically the students themselves prefer to elevate themselves to “junior high schoolers” to point out they are way more grown up than mere elementary school kids). All students are expected to attend 13 years of required education, and therefore, the last 4 years are most commonly called high school (or occasionally senior high school or more rarely secondary school) and the grades are labeled, freshman year, sophomore year, junior year and senior year (if you progress on to college the “undergraduate years are labeled the same way). Most kids graduate at age 18 however, once you are 16 you can withdraw from school if you choose, but it is frowned upon. I’ve never known anyone to do it, although I guess it does happen.

    That’s the pretty straight forward part. However, depending on the population of your local area, the actual school itself may divide the students by year in various ways. Back in my day, in the “free” public schools, kindergarten through 6th were generally all in one building and junior high and high school each in separate buildings, although a few elementary schools were kindergarten through 5th with junior high schools being 6th-8th and then senior high schools being freshman-senior years. Over the years as I’ve moved around the States I’ve seen different communities do things a little differently. Up here in the Great White North we’ve got a very weird system. Kindergarten through 2nd go to one school, 3rd-6th go to another school and everyone else, 7th through seniors go to high school. I’m not even going to get into private pay schools, as I don’t know a whole lot about them, except to say, individual grades are labeled the same, kindergarten through senior year, but sometimes, depending on the school might do all 13 grades in one building or any combination of splitting them up.

    Colleges here, whether privately funded or publicly funded, must be paid for by the student some how whether by loans, grants, scholarships, or good old fashioned cash. To attend college you must apply, be accepted, and have a high school diploma, or have completed a general education diploma (which is essentially the same thing as a high school diploma but is for people who didn’t actually go to high school for 4 full years and/or pass senior high school). Your undergraduate is generally 4 years (depending on how motivated you are) and each year is labeled freshman, sophomore, junior, or senior. If you pass and graduate you generally earn some form of Bachelor’s Degree. We have some “Junior Colleges” or “Community/Technical Colleges” which offer certifications and 2 year degrees as well. If you complete a Bachelor’s degree and continue on with college you might apply to a Master’s program and then a Doctorate program but, that’s a different can of beans at that point and progress is dependent on the type of program.

    So, the long and the short of it here is we generally keep track of our kids by the year, because no matter what kind of school you attend, the year is always the same. My spud, being aged 7 is about to complete the first grade. And, it seems like your spud would be the equivalent of our “junior” year in high school.


    • Tilly Bud May 8, 2012 at 15:12 #

      University here is usually three years, and you must have several A Levels (taken at 17 & 18), unless you are amature student.

      It used to be free to go to uni, but not now, and fees are going up all the time.


  8. Al May 8, 2012 at 13:06 #

    I understand perfectly, although I did have just one question. Could you clarify the part after “children start school…..”


  9. laurieanichols May 8, 2012 at 15:44 #

    You should write all their school brochures, Tilly. In France generally, kids get sent to private school either because they aren’t doing well academically, for religious purposes or their parents are rich, generally the public schools are very good. Is it the same in England? Here in the U.S property taxes fund the public schools, so the better schools are where the property values are higher which if you can imagine, leads to a certain vicious cycle generally speaking.


    • Tilly Bud May 9, 2012 at 10:16 #

      No, the public (state) schools are not so good; not terrible, but they could be better. There’s a lot of competition to get into private schools on scolarships.


  10. gigihawaii May 8, 2012 at 19:02 #

    Hawaii schools follow the norm on mainland USA.

    Kindergarten: age 5
    First to 5th grades: ages 6-10 (elementary school)
    6th to 8th grades: 11-13 (middle or intermediate school)
    9th to 12 grades: 14-17 (high school)

    college or university for Bachelor’s Degree

    graduate school, medical school, law school, etc for adanced degrees.


  11. thefreshmanexperience May 8, 2012 at 19:07 #

    Well explained. Now if we could just get the governments out of the schools …


    • Tilly Bud May 9, 2012 at 10:15 #

      Ah, you live in a fantasy world, don’t you? 😀


  12. sonofwalt May 8, 2012 at 19:26 #

    This was delightful. Even the commentary in comments! I always had a hard time following the Northern Irish system. I’m from Pennsylvania where some of us are still hoping certain southern states would succeed again, but that’s another story. One of my best friends in the world, my brother Vincent lives in Northern Ireland where his son, same age as my oldest, went to school. We always had one bugger of a time understanding each other on schooling. I think we eventually just nodded and poured another Bailey’s to distract from the fact that we were totally lost.


  13. SchmidleysScribbling May 8, 2012 at 21:17 #

    The only thing that matters is if you know something when you emerge from this mess. Gosh, I never knew you needed a degree to figure out where you were in school. Dianne


    • Tilly Bud May 9, 2012 at 10:01 #

      You think that’s complicated? Try planning your degree. It took me six years and I’m still not sure what happened.


  14. bucketofdreams May 8, 2012 at 21:24 #

    Hehe, that was mind boggling! 😀 I went to an Indian CBSE based school in Saudi and we start Kinder early. Lower KG begins at age 3. And then we have upper KG, first standard, second and so on until the twelfth standard. And that will mark the end of your secondary education and you’ll be 17-18 by then. Straight-forward, isn’t it?



    • Tilly Bud May 9, 2012 at 09:58 #

      Hehe 🙂


      • Tilly Bud May 9, 2012 at 10:00 #

        Oops! Didn’t finish my thought.

        Yes, it is much simpler, so government is bound to tinker with it at some point. The first rule of government: If it ain’t broke, fix it till it is.


  15. justbetweencousins May 8, 2012 at 22:40 #

    I have nominated you for the Versatile Blogger Award. For all you do!
    Peach State


  16. Elaine May 8, 2012 at 23:04 #

    I could sense your hysteria as you got further down the explanation of schools! When you see it written out, it’s very confusing.

    I am Scottish but also consider myself British – and that was even before I came to live in England! (I’ve never written my nationality on a form as ‘Scottish’, I’ve always written British) 🙂 The Scots do have some laws of their own, but also have to follow laws which affect the whole of Britain.

    The Scottish state school system is similar to the English one, but simpler I think. You start school in Primary 1 when you are nearly 5 or already 5, depending when your birthday falls. You continue in Primary School for seven years, leaving after Primary 7. You then transfer to Secondary school (sometimes called a High School, and sometimes an Academy but that kind of Academy is nothing like the new English academies,). You start in First Year and leave either after Fifth Year (if you are old enough) or Sixth Year. There are only six years of Scottish secondary education. After that you may go on to University where it is normal to take 4 years for your degree, although occasionally some do it in 3 years, but then they get a lower classification for their degree, or sometimes it takes longer depending on what your degree is (medicine or dentistry for example). The private schools are very similar in that you transfer from Primary to Secondary after 7 years.


  17. viveka May 8, 2012 at 23:22 #

    You start school very early – over here we start the year we become 7. and we do 9 years in total – can’t get away from that. Today the Government has agreed on that immigrants will have a chance to stay in school longer if so needed, witch I think is a great idea. We have only 3 groups … primary – middle – high, after that collage and university. Interesting post again. Thanks


    • Tilly Bud May 9, 2012 at 09:57 #

      South African children also start at seven – but they go to pre-schools for a couple of years.


      • viveka May 9, 2012 at 10:08 #

        We don’t have pre-schools and more .. it was what they called the 3 first years in school before.


        • Tilly Bud May 9, 2012 at 10:17 #

          Pre-schools are like nurseries, but have to be paid for by the parents.


          • viveka May 9, 2012 at 10:22 #

            Okay .. same as here – but not something you have to send the kids to.


  18. slpmartin May 8, 2012 at 23:52 #

    Okay this reminded me of http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sShMA85pv8M .;-)


    • Tilly Bud May 9, 2012 at 09:56 #

      I love this! I remember Dustin Hoffman did it in Rainman.


  19. Gabrielle Bryden May 9, 2012 at 01:47 #

    Holy Moses that is complicated – haha – and very funny. Completely different from our system where we have primary and secondary (and some have middle school as well) and most kids do prep which starts about 3 to 4 years of age. I lived in Cambridge for 6 months when I was 13 and was trying to find the ‘Comprehensive’ that I went to on Google Earth – but couldn’t find it – now I know they don’t call them that anymore – doh! I found an academie but assumed that was some sort of University!


    • Tilly Bud May 9, 2012 at 07:59 #

      Schools are regularly renamed here – Tory Boy’s high school has had four names that I know of, and probably more.


  20. bluebee May 9, 2012 at 13:02 #

    Do they call it ‘varsity’ there? Or is that a throwback to SA? 🙂


    • Tilly Bud May 12, 2012 at 10:39 #

      Yes, it is a throwback 🙂 But it’s also what Americans call it, so I chose it deliberately.


  21. Perfecting Motherhood May 11, 2012 at 02:54 #

    Thanks for the explanation. Now would you mind explaining how Hogwarts work? 😉


  22. artjen1971 May 17, 2012 at 12:29 #

    Thanks for the clarity…hilarious!


  23. eof737 May 21, 2012 at 06:08 #

    Excellent job Tilly! We can add the nursery school to the mix… It’s the pre school for the under five set. 🙂


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