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Education in the United Kingdom

Education in the United Kingdom is compulsory for everyone between the ages of five and sixteen, and is provided by two kinds of schools: state-funded schools and independent (fee-charging) schools. The United Kingdom has two distinct systems of courses and qualifications: one for England , Wales and Northern Ireland , and one for Scotland , each compatible with the other.

Children education

Pre-school or pre-preparatory education: pre-school education is available in both the independent and the state systems. Many children start their education at the age of three or four at a nursery school or in the nursery class at a primary school.

Preparatory education: in the independent system, preparatory (or primary) education is available for children aged five to thirteen. Many international students enter at the age of seven, often as boarders, and then transfer to a secondary school in the independent system when they are either eleven or thirteen.

Primary education: most children in the United Kingdom enter the state education system when they go to primary school at the age of five and generally move to secondary school or college at the age of eleven.

Secondary education (including the General Certificate of Secondary Education and equivalents)

Most pupils enter independent boarding schools at the age of 7, 11, 13 or 16. To gain admission at 11 or 13, some pupils sit an exam called the Common Entrance Examination. At 16, they enter the school to study in its sixth form (for A-levels and equivalent qualifications).

Many schools are very flexible and will consider admitting international students outside their normal entry points. Pupils are usually asked to sit an entrance examination in mathematics and the English language.

All UK secondary schools, both state and independent, teach pupils at least until the age of sixteen and prepare them for the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) or equivalent qualifications. Significant numbers of international students enter the UK secondary education system when they are either eleven or thirteen. Many attend independent boarding schools.

The General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE), International GCSE (IGCSE) or GCSEs in vocational subjects are normally taken at the age of 16. Following these, students can do one further year of academic study before taking Advanced Supplementary examinations (AS-levels). After another year of study, they can take Advanced level examinations (A-levels) or, in some cases, the International Baccalaureate (IB).

Alternatively, there are career-based qualifications, such as General National Vocational Qualifications (GNVQs) or vocational A-levels, which can be taken after one or two years of study. All these courses give access to university or further study.

Students usually study from 8 to 12 GCSE subjects over two years. Most students study a core of statutory subjects and choose additional subjects from a list.

Core subjects include English, Mathematics, Design and Technology, a modern language, a science, Information and Communications Technology (ICT), physical education and (from August 2002) Citizenship. Optional subjects include Art and Design, Business Studies, Drama, Economics, Engineering, Health and Social Care, Leisure and Tourism, Music, Physics, and religious education. Students may take GCSEs in core and optional subjects.

Other subjects are also available at individual schools and colleges, depending on the expertise and qualifications of the teachers. For mature students, GCSE pathway courses are available at some colleges. Students complete a number of GCSEs in one year, which could lead on to an access course, a career-based course, AS-levels, A-levels or a career.

On any GCSE course, you receive formal tuition in the classroom and laboratory but are also encouraged to work independently and undertake research for projects, often outside school hours. Educational visits, either on your own or as part of a small group, are often part of the timetable. Some subjects take account of the work you do throughout the year, while others are assessed entirely by examination. Examinations are independently marked and graded. GCSE grades range from A (the highest) to G.

New GCSEs in vocational subjects are a career-based version of the GCSE. Eight subjects are available: Art and Design, Business, Engineering, Health and Social Care, Information and Communications Technology (ICT), Leisure and Tourism, Manufacturing, and Science. One vocational GCSE is equivalent to two conventional GCSEs. As with other GCSEs, grades range from A (the highest) to G.

Post-sixteen education (including A-levels and equivalents)

After completing compulsory education at the age of sixteen, students may legally leave school and start work. Most, however, study A-levels or equivalent qualifications as sixth-form students in a school, sixth-form college or college of further education. International students often enter the education system at this point, e.g. taking an A-level course in preparation for further or higher education in the United Kingom.

AS-levels and A-levels

To study their AS-level and A-level, pupils are advised to choose subjects that will help their future career and/or university application. The vast choice of subjects on offer includes all the GCSE subjects listed previously plus Geology, Sports studies, Electronics, Photography, Theatre studies, Media studies and many others. For some subjects, such as Mathematics, you will need to have taken a GCSE in the same subject. Others require no specific prior knowledge of the subject.

AS-levels and A-levels take two years altogether. In the first year, you study four or five subjects at AS-level. An AS-level counts as the first half of an A-level in the same subject. In the second year, you choose two to four of those subjects (usually three) to study at A-level. Some subjects take account of the work you do throughout the year, while others are assessed entirely by examination. Examinations are independently marked and graded. A-level grades range from A (the highest) to E.

On both A-level and AS-level courses, you receive classroom and laboratory tuition but you are also encouraged to work independently and undertake research for topical projects, frequently outside school hours. Educational visits, either on your own or as part of a small group, may be part of the timetable.

Vocational A-levels, also called Advanced Vocational Certificate of Education (AVCE), can be taken alongside or instead of conventional A-levels. They are available in twelve-, six- and three-unit awards. The twelve-unit awards, also called 'double awards', are equivalent to two A-levels; the six-unit awards are equivalent to one A-level; the three-unit awards are equivalent to one AS-level. Vocational A-levels are offered in 14 subjects: Art and Design, Business, Engineering, Health and Social Care, Information and Communication Technology (ICT), Leisure and Tourism, Manufacturing, Construction and the Built Environment, Hospitality and Catering, Land and Environment, Media Communication and Production, Performing Arts, Retail and Distributive Services and Science.

International Baccalaureate

The International Baccalaureate was created as an international qualification for students aged between 16 and 18 at schools around the world. It is accepted as an entry qualification for higher education by most countries, including the United Kingdom. Three subjects must be offered at A-level equivalent standard and three at AS-level equivalent during this two-year course. Students must also complete an extended essay on one subject and take part in a course on the theory of knowledge, as well as extra-curricular activities. Award of the diploma depends on the student gaining at least 24 points from these subjects.

Post-eighteen education

Sixth-formers usually finish their secondary education at the age of eighteen with A-levels or equivalent qualifications, then go on to study at either further or higher education level.

Further education (FE)

This is the term used to describe education and training that takes place after the school-leaving age of sixteen. Over six hundred FE colleges, both state-funded and independent, offer a very wide range of programs, including English language courses, some GCSEs, A-levels and other equivalents, career based courses, access courses and some degree courses.

Career-based training in the United Kingdom often known as 'vocational training' is about teaching you the things you need to know to pursue the career you want to follow. It offers practical courses taught in a college environment, some leading to entry to university degree courses and others enjoying the status of professional qualifications in their own right.

The United Kingdom offers career-based qualifications in subjects such as Business studies, Computing, Engineering and Art and Design, not forgetting options such as Hotel and Catering, Tourism and Fashion Design. Examples include the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) diploma and qualifications offered by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA). You can study career-based courses at tutorial colleges, FE institutions and HE institutions.

Entrance requirements for career-based courses depend on the level of study. For example, National Diploma courses and vocational A-levels normally require four or five GCSEs or the equivalent, whereas a Higher National Diploma (HND) would require at least two A-levels or the equivalent. You may also be required to produce evidence of relevant skills or experience, e.g. a portfolio of drawing for an art and design course.

Higher education (HE)

This is the term used to describe the education and training that takes place at universities, colleges and institutes offering studies at degree level and higher. The United Kingdom has over ninety universities and more than fifty HE colleges offering a wide range of courses, most of which lead to degrees or equivalent qualifications, postgraduate qualifications or MBAs.

Degree courses

If you don't yet have the entrance requirements for undergraduate study, access and foundation courses will help you get there. You can study degree courses at FE institutions and HE institutions.

Most undergraduate degrees in England , Wales and Northern Ireland have a three year-duration (usually a four-year duration in Scotland).

Degree courses can be Bachelor's degrees (Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science), also called undergraduate or first degrees. In some disciplines, the first award can be a Master's degree (Master of Engineering, Master of Art…)

Entrance requirements usually are two or three A-levels in conjunction with AS-levels and GCSEs or equivalent plus an English language proficiency test.

Postgraduate foundation programs

A small but growing number of universities now offer access/foundation programs for postgraduate students. These are aimed at international students who did their first degree outside the United Kingdom and now wish to pursue a postgraduate course in there . They are most suited to students who require a substantial amount of English language tuition to bring them up to the level required for post-graduate studies. They might also be appropriate for students who did their first degree some time ago and need to refresh their study/research skills. These courses are six to nine months long. They include a large English language component along with training in study/research skills and a range of optional subjects.

Successful completion of a postgraduate foundation program should guarantee you entry to a master's program at the same university. Some programs are specifically designed to prepare you for entry to an MBA.

Postgraduate programs

A postgraduate degree is awarded after the successful completion of either a taught course or a period of research. Many taught master's programs involve in-depth study of a specialist subject already studied at undergraduate level or where relevant professional experience has been gained. Such programs can act as preparation for a research degree. Other master's programs give students the opportunity to switch from one subject discipline to another, and do not necessarily require prior specialist study of the subject area.

For entry to taught postgraduate courses (master's degrees, postgraduate diplomas and postgraduate certificates), you will need an undergraduate degree or equivalent from your country in a relevant area. For example, to study Chemistry at master's level, you would need to have a degree in Chemistry.

However, 'conversion' courses are designed to provide an intensive introduction to a subject. For these programs, any British undergraduate degree is sufficient, even one in an unrelated area. For example, you might have studied History for your first degree, but could use a conversion course to prepare for a Master of Science (MSc) degree in Computer Science.

For a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) program, you will need a UK master's degree or equivalent from your country. If you don't have a master's degree, you may be able to register initially for a Master of Philosophy (MPhil) or Master of Research (MRes) course and then transfer to the PhD program later if your progress has been good.

MBA programs

Master of Business Administration (MBA) courses usually require a British undergraduate degree or equivalent, or a professional qualification. Most MBA courses may also require two or three year-management experience.

The MBA is designed for well-qualified managers who wish to add to their practical experience by gaining an in-depth understanding of up-to-date approaches to management and its development.

There are well over 100 MBA schools in the United Kingdom, with more than 3,000 international and European Union students choosing to enroll on full-time programs in the United Kingdom every year. You can study for an MBA at HE institutions.

Distance learning

You can also choose to study many UK qualifications through distance and supported open learning. This approach can be ideal if you can't afford to take time out for full-time study. On distance and supported open learning programs, you work through the course at home in your own time with the help of printed study materials and also videos, CD-Roms, audio tapes and web-based resources. You communicate with your tutor and sometimes with other students by mail, email, web chat room and/or fax. On some courses, you may also need to attend some classes at a local educational institution in your own country or come to the United Kingdom for a brief period.

Short courses

Many UK institutions offer courses lasting up to one, three or nine months. These are usually specific career-based programs that allow students to develop a particular knowledge or skill in a short period of time (for example, in Marketing, Photography, Social Work or Tourism). They are also a good way of getting a taste of UK education and living in the United Kingdom as a student. Short courses are also offered at spring and summer schools as recreational courses.

Professional membership

Many professional careers, for example, Accountancy, Medicine, Law and Teaching, require specific professional qualifications and training. A number of undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications in the United Kingdom will give you what you need to be regarded as professionally qualified. Others will provide you with the necessary foundation from which to go on to take further professional qualifications after starting your career. It's important to check whether the qualification you gain in the United Kingdom will be recognized by employers and professional bodies in your own country. It's also worth checking to see if the course you wish to study is accredited by professional bodies in the United Kingdom.

Source: British Council


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