Giving you the confidence to choose the right qualification

An overview of the different types of learning provider offered in the UK

Compulsory education up to 16

The Education Act of 2008 made education compulsory until the age of 18, although this does not come into full effect until 2015. The main phases of compulsory education can be defined as follows. Primary Schools across the UK are for 4 to 11 years olds. Primary education is typically divided into two phases; Infants which covers the ages of 4 to 7 and Juniors, which cover the ages of 7 to 11. In Scotland there is not this subdivision and primary education caters for 5-12 year olds. Secondary education caters for 11 to 16 year olds in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, in Scotland secondary education runs for four compulsory years until the age of 15/16. It should be noted that, while uncommon, some parts of the UK still operate a three tier system involving Middle School, for pupils from the ages of 9 to 13. Finally a very small but growing number of parents decide to home school their pupils.

There are lots of different types of schools in the UK; these types of school differ in how they are funded, how they are managed and how they select pupils. Some of the main types of schools are outlined below.

Comprehensive (state) schools: Over 90% pupils in the UK go to schools which are funded by the state. These schools are free to attend. There are many types of comprehensive school; one of the important differences is the relationship between the school and the local authority in relation to setting and managing budgets and recruiting teachers.

Academies: Academies are a type of comprehensive school. An academy has greater independence than a typical state school in both how it spends its money and in what subjects it teaches.

Free schools: These schools have been set up by a voluntary group, such as group of parents, teachers or faith groups. They are still state funded but that funding is managed by that voluntary organisation.

Faith schools: These schools promote a particular religion in the ethos of the school and typically require learners to subscribe to that religion.

Grammar schools: These schools select all or most of their pupils on the basis of academic ability.

Independent or private schools: These schools are funded by private organisations and charge pupils to attend. It should be noted that the term 'private school' is commonly used in the UK qualification system and describes provision for learners of all ages.

Specialist school: A specialist school is given additional funding by the government to focus on specific subjects such as sport or music. Most comprehensive schools in the UK have gained a specialist status in a particular subject area.

Special schools: These schools cater for both young people and adults with special educational needs (SEN) who because of these needs are unable to attend a mainstream school.

Pupil referral units: These are schools maintained by the local authority for young people who have been excluded from mainstream schools or have a condition which prevents participating in mainstream education. Exclusions are used by schools to remove poorly performing students on either a temporary or permanent basis.

Post 16 education

The post 16 phase of education in the UK encompasses sixth form provision at schools, sixth form centres and also the wider provision offered by further education colleges .The term further education is typically used to encompass the qualifications taken by 16 to 19 year olds and adults. The main types of learning provider in this area are highlighted below.

Sixth Form Centre/College: A sixth form centre specifically caters for 16-19 year olds and focuses on providing qualifications supporting entry to university. Unlike a further education college, the sixth form centre does not typically provide vocational courses for adult learners.

School Sixth Forms: School sixth forms generally focus on qualifications supporting entry to university and are typically much smaller than further education colleges. They are connected to a particular school and offer familiarity to learners who have just completed examinations at the age of 16.

Further Education (FE) colleges: FE colleges cater for 16-19 year olds and adults. The range of qualifications offered can vary depending on what else is offered locally. If most local schools have sixth forms, or there are local sixth form centres, the FE college may specialise in vocational subjects which help develop the skills needed for different jobs. These could include subjects such as plumbing, agriculture or information technology, many of which can lead to university entry. In areas where the FE college is the only, or the main option after 16, they will offer everything you could get in a school sixth form or sixth form centre.

Higher Education and adult learning

Higher Education: typically refers to the degrees and other high level qualifications provided by Universities and other Higher Education Institutes. Adult learning or life long learning is provided by a much wider range of learning providers.

Higher Education Institutes: This is broad term which includes universities, higher education colleges and other specialist providers who deliver higher level qualifications. In recent years a significant number of colleges (in particular FE Colleges) have been give degree awarding powers. These organisations often working in partnership with a local university have been approved to develop and deliver qualifications, such as foundation degrees.

Universities: Universities come under the oversight of the education authorities in the UK and are largely financed through the Higher Education Funding Council. However as institutions they have a strong degree of autonomy. It is up to the management of a particular university as to what degrees and other qualifications they will offer, and which learners they will accept to study their qualifications.

Employers: 1000s employers across the UK, often working with awarding organisations, provide an environment in which you can learn the skills and competencies needed to qualify for a profession or further develop your career. Many employers specifically support and sponsor taking a relevant qualification, this is often defined as work based learning (WBL).

Local Test Centres: These are variety local test centres including colleges, Jobcentre Plus centres and even driving test centres in most towns and cities in the UK. These test centres are geared towards the adult learner and provide walk in test facilities for national recognised IT, Literacy and Numeracy qualifications.

Prisons: The prison system across the UK retains a strong commitment to promoting lifelong learning. There is a strong emphasis on developing literacy, numeracy and IT skills and also developing a range of vocational skills. Prisoners are typically able to take a wide range of qualifications in these areas.

Distance and online learning providers: There are many specialist learning providers who provide qualifications through the internet or paper based correspondence. Typically learning is conducted through self study, via the internet or through postal correspondence. Assessed work is often sent to a network of tutors by e-mail or by post. This type of learning is also described as home study or correspondence learning. The provision of internet based qualifications in the UK is one of the most dynamic and fast growing sectors of the qualification industry. These types of qualifications offer the flexibility to study for a qualification in your own time and in the comfort of your own home.

Other private providers

There is a great diversity of private learning providers operating across the UK. For example there are many hundreds of language schools specialising in teaching English as foreign language to international students. What defines private providers is that they do not offer qualifications which are publicly funded in some form by the education authorities in the UK.