Education in Great Britain is provided by the Local Education Authority (LEA) in each county. Until recently, each LEA was free to decide how to organize education in its own area. However, in 1988 the "National Curriculum" was introduced. It means that there is greater government control over what is taught in schools now.
Children under five don't have to go to school, but there is some free nursery-school education before that age. The places are usually given to families in special circumstances, for example families with one parent only. That's why in many areas parents have formed play groups where children under five years can go for a morning or afternoon a couple of times a week.
At the age of five children go to primary schools, first to infant schools for pupils aged from 5 to 7 and then to junior schools for pupils from 8 to 11 years.
Some parents choose to pay for private education though there are free state schools. The preparatory schools are for pupils aged up to 13, and the public schools are for 13 to 18 year-olds. These schools are very expensive and they are attended only by about 5 per cent of the schoolchildren.
Free secondary education has been available to all children in Britain since 1944. Children must go to school until the age of 16, and pupils may stay on for one or two years more if they wish.
Over 80 per cent of schoolchildren go to comprehensive schools at the age of 11. These schools are not selective - you don't have to pass an exam to go there. But before 1965 all children took an exam at the age of 11 called the "11+". The top 20 per cent were chosen to go to the academic grammar schools. Those who failed the "11+" went to secondary modern schools. A lot of people thought that this system of selection at the age of 11 was unfair on many children. So comprehensive schools were introduced to offer education for pupils of all abilities. There are a few LEAs who still keep the old system, but most LEAs have now changed over completely to non-selective education in comprehensive schools.
Comprehensive schools want to develop the talents of each individual child. So they offer a wide choice of subjects, from art and craft, woodwork and domestic science to the sciences, modern languages, computer studies, etc. All these subjects are enjoyed by both girls and boys. All pupils move to the next class automatically at the end of the year.
At the age of 14 or 15 pupils begin to choose their exam subjects. In 1988 a new public examination - the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) - was introduced for 16 year-olds. This examination assesses pupils on the work they do in the 4th and 5th year at secondary school. For University entrance pupils have to take "A" Level (Advanced Level) GCE exam.
Many people decide to leave school at the age of 16 and go to a Further Education (FE) College for practical vocational training, for example in engineering, typing, cooking or hairdressing.