Education in the United Kingdom is a devolved matter with each of the countries of the United Kingdom having separate systems under separate governments: the UK Government is responsible for England; whilst the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government and the Northern Ireland Executive are responsible for Scotland,Wales and Northern Ireland, respectively.
The Programme for International Student Assessment coordinated by the OECD currently ranks the overall knowledge and skills of British 15-year-olds as 23rd in the world in reading literacy, mathematics, and science with the average British student scoring 499.6, compared with the OECD average of 493. In 2014, the country spent 6.6 percent of its GDP on all levels of education – 1.4 percentage points above the OECD average of 5.2 percent. In 2017, 45.7 percent of British aged 25 to 64 attained some form of post-secondary education. 22.6 percent of British aged 25 to 64 attained a bachelor's degree or higher. 52 percent of British aged 25 to 34 attained some form of tertiary education, about 4 percent above the OECD average of 44 percent.
In each country there are five stages of education: early years, primary, secondary, further education (FE) and higher education (HE). The law states that full time education is compulsory for all children between the ages of 5 (4 in Northern Ireland) and 16, the compulsory school age (CSA). In England, compulsory education or training has been extended to 18 for those born on or after 1 September 1997. This full-time education does not need to be at a school and some parents choose to home educate. Before they reach compulsory school age, children can be educated at nursery if parents wish though there is only limited government funding for such places. Further Education is non-compulsory, and covers non-advanced education which can be taken at further (including tertiary) education colleges and Higher Education institutions (HEIs). The fifth stage, Higher Education, is study beyond A levels or BTECs (and their equivalent) which, for most full-time students, takes place in universities and other Higher Education institutions and colleges.
The National Curriculum (NC), established in 1988, provides a framework for education in England and Wales between the ages of 5 and 18. Though the National Curriculum is not compulsory it is followed by most state schools, but some private schools, academies, free schools and home educators design their own curricula. In Scotland the nearest equivalent is the Curriculum for Excellence programme, and in Northern Ireland there is something known as the common curriculum. The Scottish qualifications the National 4/5s, Highers and Advanced Highers are highly similar to the English Advanced Subsidiary (AS) and Advanced Level (A2) courses.
Research by Education Support Partnership suggests that 75% of school teachers and college lecturers suffer from work related stress. Increased work pressure from marking and exam targets lead some teachers to work 12 hours a day. Many are leaving the profession due to stress. The government has missed its targets for recruiting secondary school teachers seven years in a row. Notably too few maths, science, physics, chemistry, computing and foreign language teachers were recruited. Department of Education figures show in 2019 there were 85% of the secondary school teachers required. Schools recruited 43% of the physics teachers needed in 2019 after 47% in 2018, 64% of maths teachers needed were recruited in 2019 after 71% in 2018. 29,580 postgraduate trainees were recruited in England in 2019, a rise of only 365 further teachers though secondary-school pupils will increase rapidly over the coming few years. The DfE expects a rise of almost 15% in secondary school pupils by 2027, adding roughly 400,000 pupils in English state secondary schools. Kevin Courtney of the National Education Union said, “Pupil numbers in state-funded secondary schools have already risen by almost 150,000 since 2014 and will rise by a further third of a million pupils over the next five years. Even where trainee targets have been met, recruitment to initial teacher training courses is just the very start. New teachers need dedicated support to help them develop into competent professionals. Once we have invested in their skills, we must not lose their passion and experience.” Courtney maintains not enough is done to retain newly recruited teachers and a third leave the profession within five years.
Successful schools tend to choose pupils from high–achieving backgrounds. Pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, and challenging pupils, tend to be concentrated in schools that do less well in inspections. Children from prosperous backgrounds are more likely to be in good or outstanding schools while disadvantaged children are more likely to be in inadequate schools. Children with special needs who in theory have a statutory right to have their needs met, are frequently excluded from school and denied their statutory rights.
Main article: Higher education in the United Kingdom
In the United Kingdom, higher education is offered by universities and non-university institutions (colleges, institutes, schools and academies) and provide both research-oriented and higher professional education. Universities provide degree programmes that culminate to a degree (bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degree) and non-degree programmes that lead to a vocational qualification such as a certificate or diploma. British higher education is highly valued around the globe for its quality and rigorous academic standards. The prestige of British higher education emanates from the alumni of its world renowned institutions. Prominent people that have reached the apex in their respective fields have been products of British higher education. Britain is home to some of the world's most prominent institutions of higher learning and ranked among the top universities in the world. Institutions such as the University of Cambridge, Oxford University, Imperial College, London, and UCL consistently rank among the world's top ten universities.
Students that sit for the GCSE usually take five to ten examinations and they are free to choose the number of subjects and the kinds of subjects taken. Sitting at the exam culminates the end of 11 years of mandatory education. A General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) is awarded for each subject passed and World Education Services issues a high school diploma after the evaluation of a minimum of three GCSEs. Pre-university education in the United Kingdom is a two-year senior secondary programme that leads to a new round of examinations, the General Certificate of Education, Advanced Level (also known as GCE A-levels). As with the GCSE, students who sit for the exam choose the subjects and the number of examinations (the average number taken is three). WES awards undergraduate credit based on the nature and number of subjects passed. Each university has their own set of admission policies and the minimum entry requirements for each particular higher education programme that they offer. The General Certificate of EducationAdvanced Level (GCE "A Levels") is an entry qualification for universities in the United Kingdom and many other universities across the world. Students that are interested in pursuing higher education will usually enroll in pre-university and further education programmes. Pre-university education takes up to two years which culminates with a new set of examinations, the General Certificate of Education, Advanced Level (GCE A-levels). Similarly with the GCSE, students who take the exam choose their subjects of interest and the number of examinations. Most students take three subjects on average and the WES grants undergraduate credit based on the nature and number of subjects passed. Bachelor's degrees at the bare minimum typically require two to three GCE A Level passes, and a minimum number of GCSE passes with a grade C or above.
Technical and vocational education in the United Kingdom is introduced during the secondary school years and goes on until further and higher education. Secondary vocational education is also known as further education. It is separate from secondary education and doesn't belong to the category of higher education. Further education incorporates vocational oriented education as well as a combination of general secondary education. Students can also go on to a further education college to prepare themselves for the Vocational Certificate of Education (VCE), which is similar to the A-levels. Major provider of vocational qualifications in the United Kingdom include the City and Guilds of London Institute and Edexcel. Higher National Certificates and Higher National Diplomas typically require 1 and 2 years of full-time study and credit from either HNE or Diplomas can be transferred toward an undergraduate degree. Along with the HNC and HND, students who are interested in other vocational qualifications may pursue a Foundation degree, which is a qualification that trains people to be highly skilled technicians. The National Apprenticeship Service also offers vocational education where people at ages of 16 and older enter apprenticeships in order to learn a skilled trade. There are over 60 different certifications can be obtained through an apprenticeship, which typically lasts from 1 to 3 years. Trades apprentices receive paid wages during training and spend one day at school and the rest in the workplace to hone their skills.
In 2015/16, the UK spent £3.2 billion on under-5s education, £27.7 billion on primary education, £38.2 billion on secondary education and £5.9 billion on tertiary education. In total, the UK spent £83.4 billion on education (includes £8.4 billion on other categories).
Due to funding cuts many local authorities are unable to provide the specialist education that disabled children with special needs require. Education Secretary, Damian Hinds has been called on to provide funding for this.
Mental health problems among youngsters in UK schools are increasing; social media, pressure from schools, austerity and gender expectations are blamed. Teachers' leaders say they feel overwhelmed and cannot cope. Sarah Hannafin of the headteachers' union NAHT, said, "There is a crisis and children are under increasing amount of pressure … Schools have a key role to play and we are doing what we can, but we need more funding." Louise Regan of the National Education Union stated, "Teachers are overwhelmed by the sheer number of students showing signs of mental health problems." She added counsellor and pastoral support had been seriously reduced, though money for children's wellbeing was desperately needed, she said, "There is more focus on attainment measures rather than overall concern about the wellbeing of a child." Norman Lamb said the UK was in an "intolerable crisis", children had just one childhood and one education. "When it's gone, it's gone, and that will leave a lifetime of damage … We are failing an entire generation of young people." There were calls for a change in school culture with a switch of focus from exams to wellbeing.[30