Confused about the UK education system? Unsure about what year groups and key stages actually are? Do not worry, we are here to help!

In many countries across the world, pupils of different ages are grouped in what are termed ‘grades’. In the UK, these are called ‘year groups’, starting from ‘Reception’ (children aged 4-5) and ending with ‘Year 6’ (children aged 10-11) in Primary Schools, and starting at ‘Year 7’ (pupils aged 11-12) and ending with ‘Year 11’ (pupils aged 15-16) in Secondary Schools. Some secondary schools may also teach years 12 and 13 (ages 16-17 and 17-18 respectively).

Below is a list of each school type and the year groups and corresponding ages that they cover:

Primary School:

Reception – Ages 4-5

Year 1 – Ages 5-6

Year 2 – Ages 6-7

Year 3 – Ages 7-8

Year 4 – Ages 8-9

Year 5 – Ages 9-10

Year 6 – Ages 10-11

Secondary School:

Year 7 – Ages 11-12

Year 8 – Ages 12-13

Year 9 – Ages 13-14

Year 10 – Ages 14-15

Year 11 – Ages 15-16

Sixth Form/College:

Year 12 – Ages 16-17

Year 13 – Ages 17-18

These year groups are each placed in to separate ‘Key Stages’, with a key stage encompassing multiple year groups. At the end of each Key Stage, the performance of each pupil will usually be assessed by their schools and teachers, with these assessments taking different forms depending on age.

The following list provides information on each Key Stage and the years it covers, alongside the assessments and learning typically undertaken by pupils at the end of each Key Stage.

Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS):


At this stage, children will be taught mostly through games and play, whilst their starting points in language, communication, literacy and mathematics will be observed and assessed by teachers.

Key Stage 1 (KS1)

Year 1

Year 2

In Key Stage 1, there will be a phonics screening check in Year 1, and national tests in English reading and Mathematics in Year 2.

Key Stage 2 (KS2)

Year 3

Year 4

Year 5

Year 6

In Key Stage 2, there will be a multiplication tables check in year 4, and national tests known as SATs (Standard Assessment Tests) in year 6. SATs are taken at the end of Primary School. They are designed to test a pupil’s abilities in English (including reading, grammar, punctuation and spelling) and Mathematics before they move on to Secondary School.

Key Stage 3 (KS3)

Year 7

Year 8

Year 9

Key Stage 3 is the first Secondary School Key Stage. In Key Stage 3 there are no national or external assessments, but there will be on-going teacher assessments for each pupil in each of these three year groups.

Key Stage 4 (KS4)

Year 10

Year 11

In Year 11, at the end of Key Stage 4 and Secondary education, students sit GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education) examinations. These qualifications are intended to be a foundation for further education and employment opportunities. They can be taken in various subjects, with students selecting several ‘option’ subjects according to their strengths and interests. However, English (Language and Literature), Mathematics and Science are compulsory. Some students may take some GCSEs in Year 10.

More About GCSEs

  • GCSE examinations are graded on a scale of 9-1, with 9 being the highest grade possible, and 1 the lowest. Anything at a grade 4 and above is considered a ‘pass’.
  • Many schools measure the number of students achieving at least 5 GCSE pass grades (4 and above). Many students will achieve more than this, and some less. Some students will be entered for GCSE examinations in many more subjects than 5.
  • As aforementioned, Mathematics, English Language and Literature, and Science are all compulsory GCSE subjects. Science can be taken ether as a combined ‘Double’ Science, where two Science GCSEs will be awarded, or ‘Triple Science’, after which a student will receive three separate GCSEs in Biology, Chemistry and Physics. This can depend on a students ability or personal choice.
  • Students can choose to study a variety of subjects as their ‘option’ choices, from arts subjects such as fine art and photography, humanities subjects such as history and geography, languages such as French and Spanish, and practical subjects such as PE or Food Technology. The subjects available to choose depends on what each pupil’s school offers.
  • Some GCSE examinations are divided into ‘foundation’ or ‘higher’ tiers. Students will be placed in to either of these categories depending on their abilities.
  • Some GCSE subjects have a coursework element, in which a percentage of the grade will be made up by one or more pieces of work produced outside of the exam. However, in most cases, more emphasis is placed on examinations.
  • There are different exam boards, including AQA, Edexcel, OCR and WJEC. Which exam boards are used will, again, depend on the school and subject. Each one has different specifications.
  • Many sixth forms and colleges require students to attain a pass grade in Mathematics and English. Often, these GCSE re-takes can happen at the sixth form or college alongside the student’s A-Level or other further education courses.

Key Stage 5 (KS5)

Year 12

Year 13

Not all secondary schools will have provisions for post-16 students. Some, however, will have a sixth form or college which covers the ages of 16-18. Typically, A-Level (Advanced-Level) examinations will be taken, but there are other qualifications or exam types that can be taken in this Key Stage. A-Levels are graded from A*-E, with A* being the highest, and E the lowest. A-Levels are typically used by universities as an indicator of whether they can admit a student to their courses. Typically, a wider range of subjects are offered at A-Level than GCSE, which, again, depends on the school.

It is important for international teachers looking to teach in the UK to familiarize themselves with the UK Key Stages and the assessments undertaken at the end of each one. Though the differences between ages and year groups between countries may seem confusing, researching and gaining clarity on this will not only help you in potential job interviews with UK schools, but provide an excellent footing for your first UK teaching position.