What are the Different School Year Groups in the UK?

There are a maximum of 15 school year groups that your child will go through before they finish compulsory education. Following this, your child has the choice to proceed with further education, or to take another option.

Until that point, the school system has four distinct phases (not to be confused with key stages which we will come to later):

  • 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. (Alternative options include BTEC National Diplomas, apprenticeships, traineeships, or a hybrids of work and education)

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.

In this article, we’ll look at the different year groups and key stages your child will go through in more detail. 


UK School Year Groups by Year

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


Nursery & Reception

Nursery and reception is for children aged three to five years old. This is where your child starts their education journey. The main goal of nursery is to help children learn and develop through play and education.

Your child will begin to learn letters and sounds and build their literacy and communication skills through simple, fun exercises like show and tell and role play.


Primary School

Primary education is for children aged 5 to 11 years old and will take the child through years 1 to 6, as they complete Key Stage 1 and 2. 

In this stage children will develop a foundation in a variety of subjects, like Science, Maths and English. This is where the child will also develop important social and emotional skills like teamwork, communication and problem-solving. 

At the end of primary school, the child will take SATs, which will help to decide the support they need in secondary school.


Secondary School

Secondary school, also called high school or senior school, is for children between the ages of 11-16, and will take the student through year 7 to 11, as they complete Key Stage 3 and 4. 

The purpose of secondary schools is to continue the education that the students developed in primary school, preparing students for higher education or the workforce. During high school, students will get a more advanced and specialised education in a variety of subjects, like Maths, Science, History, English, Foreign Languages, Geography. The student will also develop important life skills in secondary school, like time management, critical thinking and decision-making. 

At the end of Year 11 the student will sit their GCSEs.


Sixth Form

Sixth Form is for teenage students between the age of 16 to 18, as they pass through year 12 and 13, completing key stage 5. 

At the end of Sixth Form, in Year 13, students will sit their A- levels or an equivalent qualification, including vocational options  

The students can go straight into the workforce after sixth form, or seek higher education — for example, going to university. The qualifications that the student gets from sixth form are considered as part of a university application.


What is a Key Stage?

We hear the term key stage a lot, but what exactly does it mean? A key stage is the fixed stages of the national curriculum that your child will pass through. 

As they go through the year groups, they will pass through five key stages, or four if they choose an alternative to sixth form. At the end of each stage, a standardised test is carried out.


Key Stage 1

Key Stage 1 is from ages 5 to 7, and during year groups 1 and 2. Pupils take national curriculum tests in Maths and English. Students may also do a Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar test along with this (SPaG). 

Whilst it is classed as a Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT), they are usually done in a relaxed way so that your child doesn’t feel worry or pressure.


Key Stage 2

Key Stage 2 is from ages 7-11, and is during year groups 3-6. At the end of this key stage your child will take the Key Stage 2 Scholastic Assessment Test, more commonly known as the SATs. 

The SATs will test your child’s skills in English reading, grammar, punctuation, and spelling as well as Maths. These tests are primarily used to make sure pupils have the support they need as they move into secondary school.

The results are also used to measure the performance of the school.

The SATs are likely the most stressful test environment that your child will have experienced up until this point. This helps to give exposure to the students in a test environment, so they are more prepared in the future. Not all UK independent schools request that their students takers SATs


Key Stage 3

Key Stage 3 is from ages 11-14, and is during the first three years of secondary school years 7 to 9. The child will be tested on English, Maths and Science, as well as other subjects that your child may be studying at secondary school, for example, French, Sociology, Drama, ICT to list a few.

These results are then primarily used to help show the student’s strengths and weaknesses, which can help them base their decisions for the subjects they’ll pick as their options in years 10 and 11.


Key Stage 4

Key Stage 4 is from ages 14-16 during years 10 and 11. At the end of this key stage, your child will complete GCSE’s (General Certificate of Secondary Education), on the subjects that they picked as their options in year 9. 

This will be a mixture of tests and coursework depending on the subjects that your child’s picked.

Your child can leave school from the last Friday in June if they’ll be 16 by the end of the holidays, however, they must do one of the following until they’re 18:

  • stay in full-time education, for example at a college
  • start an apprenticeship or traineeship
  • spend 20 hours or more a week working or volunteering, while in part-time education or training


Key Stage 5

Key stage 5 is during the two years of education from 16-18 (year 12 and 13) that your child will go through after finishing year 11, commonly known as college or sixth form. 

The tests will be different depending on the route that your child is taking, for example if they go to sixth form they’ll be taking A levels. If your child is at college then it could be a mixture of course work and tests.


Understand other Educational Terms

This article is a part of our Jargon Buster collection. To find out everything you need to know about the UK school system, visit our Educational Terms and Jargon Buster for Schools.