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The Education System Explained

The education system in England and Wales isn't the easiest thing to get your head around - don't worry though, we'll explain the bits you'll need to know. Nowadays, Key Stages are the big thing. Key Stages are sets of school years with an assessment at the end. For example, Key Stage 4 is the two years in which students aged 14-16 study for their GCSEs.

This chart shows the Key Stages as well as students' ages and the exams they take. The 'buzz words' are all explained at the bottom.

The Education System

Key Stage Children's Age (years) School Year What exams do they take? Who sets the exams?
KS1 5-7 1-2 SATS
(not used in every school)
KS2 7-11 3-6 SATS QCA
KS3 11-14 7-9 No Current Exam N/A
14-16 10-11 GCSE AQA
16-18 12-13 AS-Level

What exams do they take?

  • SATS - These are the national tests taken by every state school pupil at age 7 and 11. They used to also take place at age 14, but these tests were cancelled in October 2008
  • GCSE - These are the exams students take when they're 16. They usually take around 8 or 9 different subjects. The exams for most GCSEs are at the end of the course in May and June of Year 11. (Some GCSEs are "modular" - that means they're tested in chunks, with an exam a few times each year.)
  • A-Level: AS-Level & A2-Level - These are the courses most students do between the ages of 16 and 18. If students complete both an AS and an A2-Level in the same subject they get a full A-Level qualification.

Who sets the exams?

  • QCA - This is the 'Qualifications and Curriculum Authority' - a government organisation that monitors all exam standards and sets the SATS for everybody at age 7 and 11.
  • AQA / OCR / Edexcel / WJEC / CCEA - These are the exam boards for GCSE and A-level. They set their own courses and exams which tend to differ slightly from each other. Schools can choose which board's courses they offer. All CGP books are suitable for all exam boards unless the cover says otherwise.