Education system in the UK
Secondary Education in England, Wales and Northern Ireland
Schools in England, Wales and Northern Ireland tend to emphasise depth in a few chosen subjects.
- Year 7 to 11 (Year 8 - 12 in N. Ireland), typically for students aged 12 to 16.
- Some secondary schools offer a non-compulsory sixth form department, Year 12 and 13
- After the successful completion of Year 10 and 11 a General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) is awarded, usually in five to ten different subjects.
Secondary Education in Scotland
Scottish education tends to focus on more breadth across subjects than in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
- Year 1 to 4, typically for students from the age of 12/13 to 15/16.
- Scottish Qualification Certificate is awarded after successful completion of Standard - Grade courses taken during Secondary 3 and 4, usually in seven to nine subjects.
- Optional upper secondary education: Secondary 5 and 6 is available, typically from the age of 16/17 to 17/18.
Post-16 Education in the UK
A-Levels (England, Wales, Northern Ireland)
The most common form of post-16 education is the study of A-levels (General Certificate of Education in Advanced Level certificates), which are used as a form of preparation for admission into university. Students generally study three or four subjects to A-level relevant to their chosen degree subject.
- Year 12 and 13, commonly called Sixth Form, typically for students from the age of 16/17 to 17/18.
- A-Levels can be studied at a secondary school, sixth form college or further education college.
Find out more about the Kaplan International Colleges A-level program
Generally, students take Highers, a Scottish Qualification certificate offered by the Scottish Qualifications Authority, after Secondary 4. Highers are a university entrance qualification and are offered in a wide range of subjects. Though students can typically enter university at the end of Secondary 5, most remain through Secondary 6 to take more Highers courses or progress to the Advanced Highers level.
- Secondary 5 and 6, typically for students from the age of 16/17 to 17/18.
- Highers take place at secondary school.
- Requires the completion of Standard Grade exams
Higher Education in the UK
Bachelor’s Degree (England, Wales, Northern Ireland)
Students apply to UK universities, through the University and College Admissions Service (UCAS), a central government agency that coordinates applications for every university. Students may make 5 choices on their UCAS form. Wide ranges of degree courses are available, which provide skills for a variety of jobs or further study.
- A Bachelor’s degree is usually a 3 year program at a university or higher education college.
- Universities evaluate students’ predicted A-level scores (or equivalent), among other criteria, during the admissions process
- Students must choose course as part of the university application
- Types of degrees include: Bachelor of Arts (BA), Bachelor of Science (BSc)
- Some degree programs are for 4 years and include a ‘sandwich’ year when students gain relevant work experience for 1 year.
- In countries where students have fewer than 13 years education, it is likely that students will need to study a year-long Foundation Certificate program before starting a Bachelor's degree.
Prepare for your UK Bachelor’s Degree with our International Foundation Certificate, Pre-Sessional and A-Level programs.
Bachelor’s Degree (Scotland)
Wide ranges of degree courses are available at Scottish universities, which tend to emphasise breadth across subjects and students typically do not specialise subjects until the third year.
- A Bachelor’s degree is a 4 year program at university.
- During the admissions process universities evaluate the students’ Highers results among other criteria.
- Students may take a sandwich course, a year of study abroad or work before courses are completed
- Traditionally, Scottish universities award a Master of Arts (MA) degree, which is equivalent to a Bachelor’s degree
- The Honours degree is awarded after an additional year of research at the university.
A Master's degree in the UK may be research based, a taught course or a combination of the two and will prepare students for a particular career or for a doctorate qualification, and are offered in a variety of fields.
- Requires the successful completion of an undergraduate degree.
- Typically a 12 month program
- Taught master's qualifications include: Master of Arts (MA), Master of Science (MSc) and Master of Business Administration (MBA)
- Research master's qualifications include: Master of Research (MRes), Master of Philosophy (MPhil)
The key to successful study at this level is good preparation for your course through our Pre-MBA and Pre-Master's programs.
Doctorate programs require students to undertake an original piece of research.
- Generally requires a Bachelor’s or Master's degree
- Minimum length of three years at a university
- Typically students work on a single research project or dissertation
- Types of degrees: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD or DPhil)
To study in the UK, international students whose English is not their first language must provide evidence of English language proficiency. Most universities in the UK prefer the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) certificate. IELTS 6.0+ is the usual level required for undergraduate study and IELTS 6.5+ for postgraduate.
In addition to proving English proficiency, international students must also check that their qualifications meet the school’s entry requirements, and UK NARIC provides information and advice on international qualifications. International Foundation Certificate courses are available for students that have not met required qualifications.
International students may be required to take a Pre-master’s program if their English language and study skills and qualifications do not meet the requirements to begin a Master’s degree.
If it is your aim to get a degree from a UK university, the Kaplan International Colleges University Placement Service (UPS) will help you gain entry. Student using this service will benefit from our extensive network of partner institutions and our long experience of guiding students through the admission process.
For more information, please email Rachel.Kimber@kaplan.com
or visit the British Council,
Qualifications and Curriculum Authority
or the UK NARIC
For more information on education in Scotland, visit SQA
Scottish Government Education and Training
View a diagram of the routes to university or college in the UK.