What’s the difference between the UK and the US education system ?

Nine out of ten children in the UK attend state schools which are funded by the government. All state schools are required to follow the National Curriculum.

Education departments in England, Scotland and Wales fund schools through a Local Education Authority. In Northern Ireland, schools are largely financed by public funds from five Education and Library Boards.

The differences in comparison to the US education system are extensive. The main differences come in terms; the terminology used to describe grade years and the methods of assessment of pupils and students. Before studying for a degree, students in the UK must gain GCSE’s and A-Levels where as in the US students must gain a diploma.

education system

Students from the UK can move to the US to study a degree provided they have A-Levels, and are able to pass an American SAT test to be accepted into American universities. Fees for universities in the US can be extremely expensive, costing upwards of $30,000 which is equivalent to £19000.

There are four stages to the education system in the UK

#1. Primary School

Children attend here from the age of four until 11. These schools are usually mixed gender but some schools do have a religion based intake.

#2. Secondary School

Pupils transfer to secondary schools once they have finished primary school at the age of 11. Most secondary schools in England are comprehensive and do not operate a selective entrance system.

However, in some parts of England, a grammar school system also operates and pupils are usually required to pass an entrance examination based on their ability.

When a child reaches Year 9 (aged 13-14) during secondary school, they are required to choose which subjects they wish to study over the next two years until Year 11 (aged 15-16) for their GCSE exams. Maths, Science, English, PE and a foreign language such as French, plus many other subjects can be studied at GCSE Level.

#3. Further Education

This is for children between the age of 16 and 19 who wish to gain further qualifications after secondary school. Students usually study between three and four subjects for their A-Level exams. Subjects can include; English, Psychology, Physical Education and Media Studies plus many more.

Legislation passed in 2011 meant all young people are required to continue with some kind of education or training until 18. Young people aged 16 or 17 may be employed if they enter apprenticeship.

#4. Higher Education

This is for those pupils who wish to gain a degree or diploma in a specific subject area which they go on to study at university.

In the UK there are also private schools, which parents have to pay expensive fee’s to send their children to. Famous private school, Eton, currently charges £10,689 per term. There are three terms in a year. These schools have their own individual entrance criteria, with many having tough entrance exams in order to maintain high standards.

Teachers at private schools do not have to follow the National Curriculum, although many do, and the majority of students take GCSEs and A-Levels

The education system of the United States is very different to that in the UK

#1. Primary School

US children enter the schooling system at age five. The first year at school is called Kindergarten. It is required of all American children enrolled in the American education system. The second year at school is considered the first year of primary school and is referred to as first grade.


#2. Secondary School

Upon completion of fifth grade (the last year of primary school at age 10-11), American children then advance to secondary school.

Secondary school most commonly consists of a total of seven years, referred to as sixth through twelfth grades. The ninth, through twelfth grades, are most commonly referred to as high school.

Upon completion of twelfth grade (aged 17-18), American students are awarded a certificate called the high school diploma. In the American education system, students must obtain a high school diploma before they are admitted into college or university.


#3. Undergraduate school

Students who have completed high school and would like to attend college or university must attend what is referred to as an undergraduate school.

These are schools that offer either a two-year degree (called an associate degree) or a four-year degree (called a bachelor degree) in a specific area of study.

That area of study is called the major. All students who are studying for a four year degree are required to select (or declare) a major by their second year at school. Students who complete an associate degree can continue their education at a four-year school and eventually complete a bachelor degree.


#4. Graduate school

Students who have obtained a bachelors degree can continue their education by pursuing one of two types of degrees.

The first is a master’s degree. This is usually a two-year degree that is highly specialized in a specific field.

As you can see the differences between the two systems are evident. Although not complex the differences must be noted for those students who do wish to go and study in the US or vice versa.

This article was written by Jonny Bridge on behalf of Lord Wandsworth. For more information about a higher education establishment in the UK, visit the site today.

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