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All You Need to Know about UK Primary, Secondary and Higher Education

British people take pride in their primary, secondary and higher education. The United Kingdom, with its numerous schools, colleges, and universities, has a centuries-old and well-developed education system that sets international education standards. 

UK primary, secondary and higher education can guarantee a prosperous future for your children. It has the following advantages:

  1. Both British nationals and foreign students with different levels of training can study in the UK. 
  2. A British diploma is internationally recognised. It is a big plus if you decide to continue your education or if you want to get a well-paid job.
  3. The UK is a global financial hub that consistently ranks among the top ten strongest economies of the world. British companies often offer internships to talented students and good jobs afterwards.
  4. British education is renowned for its quality. It successfully combines centuries-old traditions and modern education methods. Equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills, graduates have an easier start in their careers and succeed in their jobs.
  5. UK graduates have access not only to high-quality education but also to a network of people. Many of them remain friends post-graduation and sometimes even organise professional unions that dominate particular fields.

The British Empire was so vast that they said that the sun never set on it. And this could be one of the factors attributing to the current popularity of British education among foreign students. Back then, wealthy colonial residents sent their children to the British Isles to give them an education and a ticket to a prosperous future.

Children were first sent to boarding schools after which they enrolled in universities. Colonial heritage is not, of course, the only driver for foreign students coming to the UK. More than 100 British colleges and universities offer quality and modern education programs for foreigners. There is even a special classification of UK higher educational institutions.

  • Ancient universities are English and Scottish universities that date centuries back and are famous worldwide. They include the University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford;
  • Red brick universities were established during the industrial revolution in major industrial cities like Manchester, Birmingham and London, where red brick factories were constructed, to satisfy the growing demand for university-level degrees in subject areas like engineering, mathematics, architecture, technology and chemistry; 
  • Plate glass universities got their name because of their architectural style; they were built after the Second World War;
  • New universities are 33 British universities that were established after 1992.

UK Primary and Secondary Education

Primary and secondary education in the UK is compulsory. There are free state schools and tuition-based independent schools. There are also schools with a certain angle: sport, military-patriotic, musical, linguistic and arts.

Every child in the UK must go to school at the age of five. However, parents send their children to school even earlier – at three or four years old. Usually, they graduate at the age of 16–18.

Even education in British state schools is of high quality. British students impress foreigners with their knowledge and background.

What Do I Need to Know About School Education in the United Kingdom?

Enrolment requirements and important aspects of education in UK schools

How to Enrol a Child in a UK State School?

Education in British state schools is free for children whose parent stays in the country on a long-term visa and has added them as dependents to their visa application.

You can apply for a place in a state school only after relocating to the UK. Upon arrival, you contact the corresponding local authorities. As a rule, parents submit an application with several schools ranking them according to their preference. They will try to give a child a place in a school of their choice provided there is one available. If the preferred school is full, the next option on the list is considered.

Imperial & Legal advisors strongly recommend visiting the schools in the area personally to compare the options. British state schools always eagerly welcome new pupils and students and tell parents about the education process in detail.

How to Enrol a Child in a UK Independent School?

To study in a UK independent school, you must pay a fee that grows together with your child. Nevertheless, private education is worth it as it gives more chances to get enrolled in a university or college.

Most independent schools have sponsorship licences that allow foreign students to come to the UK alone or with a guardian (for children from four to eleven years old) on a UK Child Student visa.

The fee depends on the type of boarding: day, flexi or full boarding. The minimum annual fee for full boarding amounts to:

  • At least £12,000 – for a primary independent school
  • At least £35,000 – for a secondary independent school.

Independent schools require not only tuition fees, but also entrance exams in English and Maths. Some of them also test children’s logic and knowledge of science. An interview is another mandatory part that assesses children’s background and communication skills. Independent schools care a great deal about their students’ academic achievements since they affect the school’s reputation and rating.

Flexi and full boarding means that a student spends most of the time at school and visits parents only on weekends, bank holidays and vacations. This works for parents who, for some reason, cannot stay in the UK for long. Boarding is available for children above 13 years old. Only a few independent schools offer boarding programs for children above seven years old.

If your child is too small and does not speak good English, they will learn the language and start speaking to their English-speaking peers much quicker than an adult. UK students take their first exam at the age of 14–16. It is called GCSE (General Certificate of Standard Education) and tests general knowledge of six obligatory subjects, including English and literature, as well as some optional disciplines. Children prepare for this exam for two years. To pass it, a foreign student must speak good English by the age of 16. To develop the language skills of foreign students, most independent schools offer additional English classes.

If your child is above 14 years old and their English is not so good, you can enrol them in a private international school. It enables foreign students to get accustomed to British education through intensive English courses and GCSE preparation.

UK Higher Education

Higher education in the UK lasts for at least three or four years. Some university courses, such as architecture, medicine and veterinary, may take from five to seven years.

At first, students get a bachelor’s degree. Many graduates stop at this point and start working. Some take a two or three-year break to work and decide whether they want to continue their education. Master’s courses usually last for one or two years.

International students can come to the UK on a UK Student visa that is valid for the whole period of study and can be extended. To get this visa, a student must get a certificate of sponsorship from their university or college.

How to Get Higher Education in the UK?

Main things to consider when enrolling in and studying at UK universities

How to Enrol in a UK Higher Educational Institution?

You do not need to pass any entrance exams. All that is needed are your school grades and a few documents. You can submit your application through UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service). It is time- and cost-efficient since you do not need to visit the college or university you apply for. However, if you want to study at one of the ancient universities, for example, the University of Cambridge or the University of Oxford, you must attend an interview there.

You can apply to five different schools either at the same university or different ones. Usually, the applications are accepted until the middle of January. It can be extended to international students.

Apart from the application and documents, you must submit a sort of a CV. It is not a classical resume but rather a personal statement. It must showcase your strengths and provide answers to the following questions:

  1. Why do you want to do this degree?
  2. What hobbies and achievements do you have?
  3. Do you take part in any community work, volunteering, etc.?
  4. What makes you the best candidate for the course?

You must also pass an English test to prove your language skills.

UK primary and secondary education is the foundation for UK university courses. That’s why foreign students who went to school in their home countries are offered a year-long foundation course. During this pre-university year, they improve their English skills and start studying major subjects. Course completion grants automatic enrolment in the corresponding university.

We are not going to give you tuition fees for education in UK colleges and universities since they depend on an educational institution, period of study and student’s immigration status.

We will focus on the latter in more detail. Fees for British nationals are less than for foreign students. If a student stays in the UK for 10 years, they can apply for an indefinite leave to remain and then for UK citizenship. If a child has been studying in the UK since primary school as a dependant of their parents, it is better in their case to obtain British citizenship first and then apply to a university.

To issue a UK Student visa, the Home Office must be sure that the applicant can support themselves without applying for public funds. Average maintenance costs currently amount to:

  • £1,300 – in London;
  • £1,000 – outside London.

By accepting millions of foreign students, the UK gets an opportunity to diversify its demographics and with people who learn about British traditions, culture and language. That’s why the UK is happy to offer quality education to international students with minimum immigration requirements. However, even though there are a lot of benefits for foreign students, the existing requirements must be met. To avoid mistakes and enrol in a chosen educational institution, you may need professional legal assistance.

Imperial & Legal immigration advisors can assist you with the following:

  1. Finding the nearest school and communicating with local authorities
  2. Providing the best option of an educational institution: independent school, college or university
  3. Getting a certificate of sponsorship and applying for a UK Child Student visa, UK Parent of a Child Student visa and UK Student visa
  4. Obtaining the necessary visa and arranging a visit to the UK for an internship or professional development
  5. Applying for a UK Graduate visa to extend your stay in the UK after graduation.

Contact us and we will be able to make your journey smoother and save your money. We understand that each case is unique, so we adopt a complex approach to consider all of your circumstances and possibilities.

FAQ about UK primary, secondary and higher education

Is there a different admissions deadline for ancient universities?

Yes, there is. The deadline differs significantly. To get admitted to the University of Cambridge or the University of Oxford, for example, an application must be submitted almost a year before the beginning of the course since the admissions period lasts only till the end of October.

Are there any incentives for foreign students applying for UK higher education?

The UK offers incentives for higher education to nationals of some Commonwealth countries. Such incentives apply only to several British colleges and universities. To benefit from it, you can get your passport through one of the Caribbean citizenship by investment programs. It does not matter whether you have Caribbean citizenship by birth or by investment. Even if you have never been to your second home country, you will still be treated differently than other international students.

To learn more about Caribbean citizenship by investment programs, contact Imperial & Legal advisors.

Can both parents get a UK Parent of a Child Student visa?

No, they cannot. Unfortunately, only one parent can apply for a UK Parent of a Child Student visa. The other parent stays in their home country and can visit their family on a short-term UK Standard Visitor visa.

Can a foreign student, who attends an independent school, work in the UK?

With a UK Child Student visa, you can start working when you turn 16. However, your working time, especially during the school term, will be limited to less than ten hours a week. Your education plan can also include work, but again, working hours cannot exceed half of your theoretical studies.

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