Like a lot of things in Britain, the school system is difficult to explain because it’s been around for so long, and has consequently been through a variety of different forms, some aspects of which have disappeared whilst many still remain. This means you wind up with problems like the fact that so-called ‘public’ schools are actually private schools; we generally call state-funded schools ‘comprehensives’, but this doesn’t mean that private schools don’t offer a ‘comprehensive’ education. It seems like a bit of clarification is in order.


The British Government offers funded education from the age of 3. This takes the form of nurseries and playgroups up to the age of 5, followed by attendance at Primary School until the age of 11, and finally a further stage at Secondary School up to age 16. Students will usually achieve their General Certificates of Education (GCSEs) at this point. The ‘usual’ path then leads to the Sixth Form for two years to gain Advanced Levels (A-Levels), and then on to university to do a bachelor’s degree. Most bachelor degree courses in England are three years long (in Scotland they are usually four). After obtaining an undergraduate degree, students can go on to do a master’s degree, which usually takes one or two years, and then a doctorate, which typically takes another three years to complete.


But this is far from the only option in the system. Students can leave after gaining GCSEs and go on to do Foundation-Level courses at various technical colleges. This is well-suited for people that want to go onto more hands-on careers, like plumbing, engineering, or even painting. These routes can lead to university degrees just as easily as their A-Level counterparts, or can be used to gain apprenticeships in their chosen field.


There are also major differences between the schools one can attend. State-funded education can take place in the comprehensive schools already mentioned (the most common variety), in so-called ‘academies’ or ‘free schools’ (which are often aimed at lower income areas and usually have a specialised subject), or in voluntary schools (which are usually run by religious organisations but funded by the government). There is a long history of fee-paying schools in Britain as well, although today only 7% of the student population attends such a school. These are alternatively called public, private, or independent schools, but most of these terms refer to the same style of school and there is not much to differentiate them.不同类型的学校差别很大。公立学校一般包括上文提到的综合学校(也是最常见的种类),所谓的“专科学校”或“免费学校”(一般设立在低收入地区,通常设有特定的专业),或者民办学校(通常由宗教组织运行,但由政府资助)。英国的私立学校历史也很悠久,不过目前英国仅有7%的学生上私立学校。私立学校一般被称为公学、私立学校或独立学校,不过大部分其实指的都是同一种形式的学校,并没有什么区别。


There is a continued debate over the ethics of private schools, especially considering the vast inequalities in how many students (especially from famous private schools like Eton and Harrow) go on to the best universities in the country (read: Oxford and Cambridge), even if they have the same grades as their state school equivalents. It is also perfectly legal for parents to home-school their children; they do not have to be qualified teachers, nor do they need to conform to the government’s National Curriculum, which is taught in all comprehensive schools.

Hopefully this has helped to explain something of the British education system, gargantuan though it may seem. The perceived difference between state-run and private schools is not as important as the media betrays; at university level and beyond, certainly, it is only a very small minority that really care which route your education took.