Educational Terms and Jargon Buster for Schools

We understand that as parents you may often come across many unfamiliar – and perhaps confusing – terms when considering schools, and then throughout your child’s education. We have  put together a glossary of key terms you might come across, sharing insights on everything from the different ages of Year Groups and Key Stages, to the different types of school education available in the UK.

School Stages and Ages

What ages do children start school in the UK?

In the UK, children must legally attend school from the age of five until they are 16. Most children start in education before they are five years old, attending Nursery and then Reception, which is the first year of primary school. In England, the law requires that young people continue in education, employment or training from the age of 16 until the age of 18, whether in full-time, formal education, work-based learning (for example through an apprenticeship or traineeship) or in part-time education or accredited training (spending at least 20 hours a week working or volunteering after the age of 16).

Find out more about what age children start school.

What are the different school Year Groups?

The school system is in general made-up of four distinct stages:

  • Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) including Pre-School, Nursery and Reception classes
  • Junior School/ Primary School which may also be known as Pre-Prep or Prep School
  • Senior School which may also be known as Secondary School or High School
  • Sixth Form or Sixth Form College.

Often, Pre-School, Nursery and Reception are integrated into a Junior School or Pre-Prep School. Pre-Prep schools are independent schools (also referred to as Private Schools) for children before they begin a Prep School, in Years 3 or 4 (age 7 and 8). Often Pre-Prep and Prep schools are integrated into schools that are “all through” – as are most GDST schools –  running right from Nursery until Sixth Form, or dedicated to a specific school stage – for example, Senior School only.

Find out more about the school year groups and key stages in the UK.

What is the national curriculum? What are the different Key Stages in education?

Key Stages refer to the different learning and assessment stages which make up the UK National Curriculum. The National Curriculum covers the subjects and content that children and students learn, for consistency of approach. The educational Key Stages are as follows:

Early Years Foundation Stage: 3 – 5 years

  •   Key Stage 1: 5 – 7 years
  •   Key Stage 2: 7 – 11 years
  •   Key Stage 3: 11 – 14 years
  •   Key Stage 4: 14 – 16 years
  •   Key Stage 5: 16-18 years

The table below outlines the different year groups, ages of these year groups and the corresponding Key Stage in education.

Year Group
AgesKey Stage
NURSERY3 - 4 yearsEarly Years Foundation Stage
RECEPTION4 -5 yearsEarly Years Foundation Stage
Year 15 - 6 yearsKey Stage 1
Year 26 - 7 yearsKey Stage 1
Year 37 - 8 yearsKey Stage 2
Year 48 - 9 yearsKey Stage 2
Year 59 - 10 yearsKey Stage 2
Year 610 - 11 yearsKey Stage 2
Year 711 - 12 yearsKey Stage 3
Year 812 - 13 yearsKey Stage 3
Year 913 - 14 yearsKey Stage 3
Year 1014 - 15 yearsKey Stage 4
GCSE study years - exams taken at the end of Year 11
Year 1115 - 16 yearsKey Stage 4
GCSE study years - exams taken at the end of Year 11
Year 12 (also Lower VI)
16 - 17 yearsA Level study years - exams taken at the end of Year 13
Year 13 (also Upper VI)

17 - 18 yearsA Level study years - exams taken at the end of Year 13

Examinations – GCSEs and A-Levels

Students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland study for their GCSE and A-level qualifications at age 16 and age 18 respectively.

What are SATS?

SATs (Standard Assessment Tests) measure children’s educational achievement in Years 2 and 6, with the ultimate aim of measuring children’s educational attainment and progress. SATs are government-set national assessments which are compulsory in maintained schools but optional in the independent sector.

What is wraparound care?

Wraparound care is childcare support provided by schools to parents outside of school classroom hours, for example before and after school. This may include Breakfast Club or After School Club in a Junior or Primary School, or Summer Camps for students of different ages during the summer holidays. Find out more about wraparound care for children.


Common Questions about School Types

What is a State school?

All children in England between the ages of 5 and 18 years are entitled to a free place at a state school. State schools are funded directly from the government or their local authority. There are different types of state schools, including:

  • Local Authority Maintained Schools (sometimes known as Community Schools) – do not have an influence from business or faith communities. They also follow the National Curriculum.
  • Foundation schools and Voluntary Aided schools – are funded by the local authority and have more freedom in how they operate. They may also be supported by faith communities in some cases.
  • Academies and Free schools – these are run by not-for-profit academy trusts but are independent from the local authority. This gives them more freedom to adapt the school’s management systems, and in some cases, the curriculum. They are not fee-paying schools (see below for more detail).
  • Grammar Schools these schools can be run by the local authority, a foundation body or an academy trust. They are academically selective state schools, meaning that they select their pupils based on academic ability. As a rule, pupils are required to sit an entrance test, the outcome of which determines whether or not an offer of a place at the school is made.

What are single-sex and mixed schools?

Children in the UK are educated in either single-sex or co-educational, ‘mixed’ schools.

Single-sex – These schools are either all boys or all girls schools.

Mixed or Co-educational These schools are for both boys and girls.

The GDST’s Director of Innovation and Learning, Dr. Kevin Stannard, discusses why, as all girls schools, the GDST provides the best education for your daughter, in an environment where she will thrive.

What is an Independent School or Private School? How are independent schools governed?

Independent schools, also referred to as private schools, are fee-paying schools.

Independent schools offer innovative and unique educational experiences with the underlying focus on providing students with exceptional learning. Independent schools are commonly governed by an elected board of governors, which allows the curriculum to be tailored towards the specific needs and interests of students.

Independent schools are also permitted to adhere to varying regulations, making them independent from certain regulations that apply to state-funded schools. This reinforces their ability to create a bespoke curriculum and educational experience for their students.

The GDST is governed by a group of Trustees who form the GDST Council. More about the Girls’ Day School Trust.

Why do independent/private schools have charitable status?

Most independent schools are registered charities. This is because the schools are not operating for profit and are creating a public benefit.

Independent Schools cannot automatically claim charitable status. Schools with charitable status have to adhere to guidelines for educational charities and inform how they are benefitting the public in order to maintain their charitable status.

The GDST and our schools provide a wide-reaching education bursaries schemes

What is an Academy school?

Academy schools are funded directly from the government; however, they are run by an Academy Trust, and therefore have more freedom in how they operate than other state schools. Academies are free-entry schools and do not charge fees.

The GDST have two high-achieving Academies that are part of the GDST family, The Belvedere Academy in Liverpool and Birkenhead High School in Merseyside

What is an entrance exam?

An entrance exam will usually be required by academically selective independent schools and also by some grammar schools (academically selective state-funded schools).

What is ‘pastoral care’ in schools?

At its simplest, pastoral care is the provision a school makes to ensure the physical and emotional welfare of pupils. It is the essential foundation upon which learning can take place.

At the GDST, your daughter’s wellbeing is at the heart of all that we do and as such we offer a well-rounded education, designed to enable girls to thrive. We believe that academic excellence goes hand in hand with outstanding pastoral care and support.  Read about the pastoral care offered across the GDST.


Other Types of Schools

What are Faith schools?

These are schools with a specific religious leaning and often therefore, may have specific selection criteria. Faith schools have to follow the National Curriculum, but they can choose what to teach in Religious Studies  lessons.

What are Boarding schools?

Boarding schools are where students ‘live in’ during term time, with accommodation for students on the school site. Often boarding schools also welcome ‘day students’, who do not board (live in) at school.

Many boarding schools in the UK are also independent/private schools meaning a fee has to be paid for the child to attend the school.

Boarding school options may include:

  • Full boarding: seven days a week
  • Weekly boarding: five days a week
  • Flexi boarding: selected days, usually up to three nights a week
  • Day students: many boarding schools will also include students who attend during the day only, and who do not board

The GDST family includes one all girls’ boarding school, Royal High School Bath, a day and boarding school for girls aged 3 – 18 years. 

What are Special/Specialist schools?

Special or Specialist Schools are for students offer extra learning support with with SEND (Special Educational Needs/Disablities). They often specialise in one of the following areas of special educational needs:

  •     Communication and interaction
  •     Cognition and learning
  •     Social, emotional and mental health
  •     Sensory and physical needs

Special or Specialist Schools may also specialise further within these areas, to cater for particular needs.

These schools cater for children with dedicated needs, beyond SEND support provided within schools. 

More Educational Terms


Curriculum – This term refers to the subjects and disciplines that together form the course of study in a school or college.

National Curriculum – The National Curriculum for England is taught in all local-authority-maintained schools and details the programmes of study and learning targets for all subjects across all Key Stages 1 – 4 of education, and includes Primary Curriculum and Secondary Curriculum. 

Active Learning – Active learning is a method of teaching that focuses on challenging a students’ thinking by focusing on how the child is learning as opposed to only what they are being taught.

Blended Learning – Blended learning is another form of education that unifies online educational materials with traditional classroom methods.

SEND –  Acronym of Special Educational Needs and Disability.

SENCO – Acronym of Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Coordinator. The role of a SENDCO teacher is to support children with special educational needs.

GDST publish education research and guides investigating the different learning styles of children to create an enhanced learning environment across our independent schools

Education and Children Legislation

Which significant educational legislation are schools required to follow?

Key legislation and policies govern education, safeguarding of children and learning in the UK. These focus on various areas such as equality, diversity, safeguarding, education and teaching methods, assessment methods and more. Below are examples of the key education legislation and others that are relevant in schools.

  • The Children’s Act 2004Outlining safeguarding, responsibilities for the protection of children and more.
  • The Education (Non-Maintained Special Schools) (England) Regulations 2011 – A set of rules and regulations regarding education.
  • The Special Educational Needs and Disability Regulations 2014 Regarding the support and rights of those with disabilities or special educational needs.
  • The Education (Free School Lunches) (State Pension Credit) Order 2005 – Outlining the criteria for children eligible for free school lunches.
  • The Equality Act 2021 Discusses the overall rights to equality for all children, young people and adults.
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