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The structure of the English school system

06/03/2008 Joanna

In England children must attend school from the age of 5 to 16 and many extend their education to 18 before entering university or college. From the age of 5 to 11, children attend primary schools and at 11 they then transfer to secondary schools.  The structure of the education system in the UK has changed considerably over the last few years, reflecting the Government's aims to improve quality, increase diversity and make institutions more accountable to students, parents, employers and taxpayers.


Pre-school education is available for ages two to four/five through playgroups and nursery schools. The emphasis is on group work, creative activity and guided play. Compulsory education begins at five in England and Wales. At primary level, there is little or no specialist subject teaching and there is great emphasis on Literacy (English) and Numeracy.


Compulsory education ends at age sixteen, though many pupils stay on beyond the minimum leaving age.

The majority of state secondary school pupils in England and Wales attend comprehensive schools. These provide a wide range of secondary education for most children of all abilities from a particular district, in the eleven to eighteen age ranges. 

At secondary school, teachers teach specialist subjects in addition to many cross curricular subjects such as Literacy, Numeracy, Citizenship, ICT and Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE).


Schools in England and Wales 

Working hours in schools are from approximately 8.30am to 4pm, with an average of at least one hour for after-school meetings per week. These hours do not include time for lesson preparation and marking.

School Categories

Nursery Schools, 3-4 year olds

Infant Schools, Reception classes for 4-5 year olds, Infant classes for 5-7 year olds (KS1).  Most Infant schools also have a Nursery class

Junior Schools, Junior classes for 8-11 year olds (KS2)

Primary Schools, Infant and Junior classes within the one school

Secondary Schools, 11-16 year olds (can cater for up to 18 years old) (KS3 / KS4)

Sixth Form Colleges, 16-18 year olds

Special Schools, Pupils who have special educational needs

PRU, Pupil Referral Units for excluded pupils


Structure of the school year

Most schools operate on a 39 week school year broken into three terms starting in September and finishing in July. Each term is made up of approximately 13 teaching weeks with a ‘half term’ break of one week after 6 weeks.


Autumn Term: First week in September to third week in December

Spring Term: First week of January until Easter

Summer Term: Two weeks after Easter until third week in July.


The usual pattern for school holidays is two weeks at Christmas, two weeks at Easter and six weeks in the summer.


Structure of the school day

Primary School

All schools have control over the structure of their own school day although most will finish at 3.30pm.  The statutory Literacy Hour and Numeracy Hour will be a feature of all school timetables.  The example below illustrates what you will typically find in a primary school. Teaching Personnel consultants will be able to provide you with further details of the exact timetable in your assigned school for long term placements.

9.00am                        Registration

9.10am                        School Assembly

9.30am                        Literacy Hour

10.30am                      Breaktime

10.45am                      Numeracy Hour

11.45am                      Subject class

12.15pm                      Lunch

13.30pm                      Afternoon Registration

13.35pm                      Classes

14.45pm                      Breaktime

15.00pm                      Classes

15.30pm                      End of school day


Secondary School

A typical day is shown below.  However, there is much variation within secondary schools and you will need to speak to your consultant to obtain timetable information for schools.  Some secondary schools operate a two-week timetable, which means that if you are in the school for more than one week you may not be teaching the same class at the same period each week.

09.00am                                Registration

09.20am                                  Period 1

10.00am                                  Period 2

10.40am                                  Break

11.00am                                  Period 3

11.40am                                  Period 4

12.20pm                                  Lunch

13.20pm                                  Registration

13.40pm                                  Period 5

14.20pm                                  Period 6

15.00pm                                  Period 7

15.40pm                                  School ends


To find out more about Teaching in England, talk to one of our dedicated International Recruitment Consultants by registering on or emailling



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