Giving you the confidence to choose the right qualification

A short summary of the UK Qualification’s system

While there are variations across the UK, one can divide the UK education system into distinct stages and sectors defined in part by age. Primary education caters for young children below the age of 11. Secondary education caters for young people between 11 and 16 and ends with compulsory examinations, such as GCSEs, A levels and Scottish Qualification Certificates (at standard or intermediate grade). Since 1992, young people up until 16, have followed the national curriculum, which outlines a broad framework of subjects. The national curriculum is compulsory in publicly funded schools often referred to as state or comprehensive schools. It should be noted there is a strong private sector in both primary and secondary education which offers qualifications both in and outside of the national curriculum.

The education system in the UK is subject to frequent changes as new governments look to address perceived failings

Education up until the age of 19 is publicly funded through local education authorities in England and Wales, education authorities in Scotland and through five Education and Library Boards in Northern Ireland. A growing number of state schools are applying for academy status; this gives the school control over their own budget.

The Education Act of 2008 made education compulsory until the age of 18, although this does not come into full effect until 2015. At 16 young people have a range of options including taking general qualifications which are designed for entry into university or a wide variety of vocational qualifications focused on developing and applying the skills needed for the workplace. Young people typically take their final examinations for qualifications such as A levels, the Welsh Baccalaureate and Scottish Highers at the age of 17 or 18. Some young people, particularly in private schools, also take the International Baccalaureate and Cambridge Pre U at this age.

Many schools provide sixth forms for 16-18 year olds, but Further Education (FE) colleges and a range of other learning providers, also offer qualifications for this age group. In terms of funding, young people are fully funded up until the age of 19. Many of the qualifications offered to the 16-19 age group are also offered to adults and this provision is often described as Further Education.

The education system in the UK is subject to frequent changes as new governments look to address perceived failings. The type of qualifications offered to our young people between the ages of 14-19 is a particularly controversial issue. A recent report by Alison Wolf criticised the tendency of many schools to offer 'low quality' vocational qualifications to their less able students. She argued that this was partly motivated by the desire to increase performance points achieved by that school. Her recommendations centred on the need to ensure learners did not leave school without achieving qualification in the core skills of maths and English. She also advocated that schools, working with colleges, should focus on a smaller number of high quality vocational qualifications such as Apprenticeships.

Higher Education typically refers to the Bachelor's degrees, Master degrees and other Post-Graduate qualifications provided by Universities and other Higher-Education Institutes. Full-time Bachelor degrees last three to four years in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and are always four years in Scotland. Full-time Masters degrees last between one and two years depending on the nature of the subject.

Adult education or lifelong learning describes the diverse range of qualifications available for adults at any age. A wide range of learning providers including FE colleges, employers, private colleges, internet learning providers and prisons offer qualifications to adult learners. There is also great flexibility in how you can learn, from taking an evening course at your college to learning in your own time over the internet. Because of this diversity we often use the term qualification delivery rather than teaching to highlight the variety of ways you can study a qualification and the variety of different places in which learning can take place.