All children in the UK must undertake full-time education between the ages of five and sixteen. From 2013 children will have to stay in some form of education until the age of eighteen.
Responsibilities of Parents in the UK
Parents of children in the UK are responsible for ensuring that their children attend full-time education. For most children this will mean going to school although a small percentage of children are taught in the home, usually by their parents.
School Education for Five to Sixteen Year Olds
Children must start full-time education, at the latest, in the school term after the child’s fifth birthday and currently must stay at school until the June after they turn 16. Local councils are responsible for providing free education at state schools in their area. Until the age of 10 or 11 children attend primary school after which they move on to secondary school.
Children at state schools follow a national curriculum and are regularly tested throughout their time at school to monitor their progress. Around the age of 16 children take GCSE examinations which provide nationally recognised qualifications. From September 2008 a number of schools and colleges have also offered a range of diplomas to children aged 14 to 19 which have a more vocational emphasis than the GCSE qualifications.
Parents can apply for places at local schools using an application form provided by the local authority. Whilst parents can place schools in order of preference there is no guarantee that children will secure a place at their first-choice school. In most areas there will be at least one school which is over-subscribed.
Children in England aged between three and four are currently entitled to 12 ½ hours of free nursery or pre-school per week.
School Education for Children Aged Sixteen and Over
At the age of sixteen children may currently choose to leave full-time education or progress to a college or sixth form where they may study for ‘A’ Levels or another form of higher school qualification. Children who stay in school after the age of 16 may be entitled to receive up to £30 each week in the form of an Education Maintenance Allowance provided by the state.
Children with Special Needs
Under the laws of the UK children with “special needs” have exactly the same right to have a full-time education as any other child. A child may be deemed to have a special need for a number of reasons – these could range from a serious physical disability to a mild learning difficulty. By law, schools cannot discriminate against a child because it has special needs and, therefore, must ensure that provision is made to accommodate these children. Many children with special needs now go to ordinary schools where they are fully included in everyday life.
Some state schools are classified as faith schools because religion forms an important part of that school’s identity. Whilst these schools are essentially run in the same way as all state schools they may have different admissions criteria or policies to other, secular, schools.
In addition to free, state schools there are a number of private fee-paying schools throughout the UK. The type and standard of education offered by these schools can vary considerably – as can the fees that they charge.
At the age of 18 or 19 a growing number of young people now choose to go on to higher education at a college or university. Applications for most higher-education courses are made via a centralised system known as UCAS.
Children who live in the UK may apply for a student loan provided by a company which is overseen by the government. Loans are at a preferential interest rate and do not have to be re-paid until the borrower is earning a minimal yearly amount – currently £15,000. Students on a low income, or whose parents are on a low income, may also be entitled to a maintenance grant from the government. If a student qualifies for such a grant it does not have to be re-paid.
Students should also check whether any bursaries, grants or scholarships are provided by the college or university they will be attending, or by any associated professional association.