All you need to know about Senior School in the UK



The United Kingdom ( consisting of England, Wales, and Northern Ireland) runs a state education program that is divided into six key stages. We’ll briefly mention each stage however we’re only going to discuss the two stages related to senior schools.


  1. Key Stage 0 – This is for children between the ages of 3 and 4. It lasts 2 years and it’s for Nursery & Reception.
  2. Key Stage 1 – This is for children between the ages of 5 and 6. It also lasts 2 years. At this stage, the classes are called Year 1 and Year 2.
  3. Key Stage 2 – This is for children between the ages of 7 and 10. It lasts 4 years and the classes are Year 3 to Year 6.
  4. Key Stage 3 – This is for children between the ages of 11 and 13. This lasts 3 years and the classes are Year 7 to 9.
  5. Key Stage 4 – This is for children between the ages of 14 and 15. This lasts 2 years and the classes are Year 10-11. This is the stage where GCSEs are written.
  6. Key Stage 5 – This is for children between the ages of 16 and 17. This lasts two years and the classes are Year 12-13. This is the stage where they pursue A-Levels, AS-Levels, NVQs, National Diplomas, or the International Baccalaureate.





Senior school or secondary school is the term used to describe an educational institution that provides secondary education to pupils. Secondary schools may consist of Key Stages 3, 4, and 5 or only Key Stages 3 and 4. If the secondary school has a sixth form then it will include Key stages 3,4 and 5 but if it doesn’t students will go to a college for 2 years (Key Stage 5) before writing their A-Levels. In this article, we’ll be discussing the secondary school in terms of Key Stage 3 and Key Stage 4. Senior schools last 5 years. From Year 7 to Year 11 when the students sit for their GCSE exams.


  1. Key Stage 3 – Key stage 3 is the term used to refer to the first 3 years of senior school. These are Year 7, Year 8, and Year 9. During this stage, students are between the ages of 11 and 14. In Key Stage 3 the National Curriculum states that students should be educated in these fields of study. They are; Art and Design, Career Education, Citizenship, Computing, Design and Technology, English, Geography, History, Mathematics, Modern Foreign Language (Spanish, Italian, French, German, etc), Music, Physical Education, Science, and Sex Education. In Wales, students are expected to also study Welsh. If you’re interested in viewing an actual school syllabus you can check out this one from Portland Place School in Central London.
  2. Key Stage 4 – In Key stage 4, you have two years of education which is marked by writing GCSEs at the end of the two years. In this stage, students are between the ages of 14 and 15. The classes in Key Stage 4 are Year 10 and 11. At this stage, students start preparing for career-related degrees and their GCSE. They have fewer subjects to study because they start to form career paths for themselves. Some may choose not to by pursuing an EBacc. An EBacc is a concept that proposes the idea of taking particular subjects at GCSE level to prepare them for a variety of career options. These subjects are;


  • Geography or History
  • A modern foreign language or an Ancient foreign language
  • English language as well as English literature
  • Mathematics
  • Combined Science (which is usually two subjects) or selecting three of the following (Chemistry, Biology, Physics and Computer Science)


Taking these subjects doesn’t provide an official qualification, rather it is meant to give the students a broad enough chance to select from several career fields.


After GCSEs are taken, students can then move onto sixth form (Year 12 and Year 13) for the A-Levels or other options they may wish to explore.


In Key Stage 4, students are expected to study the following subjects according to the National Curriculum.

  • The Arts (optional)
  • Citizenship
  • Careers Education
  • Design and Technology (optional)
  • English
  • The Humanities and Healthcare (optional)
  • Information and Communication Technology (this is required in only England)
  • Mathematics
  • Modern Foreign Languages (optional- you need a clearer detail of what this entails you can click here for Portland Place School’s syllabus on Modern Foreign Languages)
  • Physical Education
  • Religious Education (Parents can ask that their children be excused from these classes)
  • Science
  • Welsh (required in Wales alone)
  • Work-related learning



These are the 2 key stages of senior school. They end once the student writes their GCSE, National Vocational Qualifications, or whichever qualification exam they select. Traditionally, sixth form follows GCSE however, more and more students are exploring other routes outside A-Levels.




These are some tips that will help you enjoy senior school and make more informed decisions concerning your qualification exams and more importantly, life after that.


  1. Pick GCSE subjects for your career –  The EBacc is not for everyone and it shouldn’t be. If you’re already set on a career path it’s an absolute waste of time to write GCSE subjects that will not help you in any way, shape, or form. In Year 9, schools begin to teach the GCSE science curriculum and at the end of Year 9 students are expected to select four optional subjects for their GCSE. Your required subjects are English (Language and Literature), Mathematics, and Combined science subjects or Individual sciences (Biology, Physics, Chemistry). Then you have the chance to pick 4 optional subjects which you can select from the subjects we outlined under Key Stage 4.
  2. You don’t have to do 8 or 9 GCSE subjects – If your mental health cannot handle the strain of sitting for 8/9 GSCEs drop a subject. Most colleges and universities will only ask for 5 or 6 subjects with a minimum of Grade 4 or 5. You don’t have to sit for 9 subjects if you can’t handle it.
  3. A-Levels are not the only route – Earlier we mentioned that there were several qualification exams after GSCEs. Here’s a comprehensive list by Portland Place school. There are many options and routes you can take after GSCEs. You can find the list here
  4. Know the A-Levels you’re going for – Do as much research as possible concerning your A-Levels. Consider the fields you’re interested in and pick A-Levels that will give you easy access into those fields.
  5. Enjoy Your Friendships And Time – This is such a cliche thing to say but it is completely true. Enjoy your time in senior school. Try to have fun and make friends with different people. A great way to make friends is to join school clubs. If you don’t know what clubs are even available you can take a look at this list of clubs from Portland Place School to have an idea of clubs offered in senior schools. You can find the list here. Don’t be scared to join a club. You have nothing to lose.
  6. Life Doesn’t Peak At Senior School – Now, perhaps you’re not having as much fun as you envisioned. That’s completely okay too. School is taxing and it takes quite a bit of work to stay afloat and excel academically. If you don’t have many friends or your senior school life doesn’t look like the movies, that’s okay too. Life doesn’t peak at secondary school. You literally have your whole life ahead of you. Chin up!
  7. Try Not To Procrastinate  – This is a great study and life tip. Try not to procrastinate with homework, classwork, and school requirements. Procrastination only makes you panic and worry anyways so it truly doesn’t help in any way. Besides practicing with mock exams and studying weeks or months ahead of time, this is the most important study tip you’re ever going to receive. These are just a handful of study tips, here are a few more revision tips from two Year 8 students at Portland Place school. You can watch the video here.
  8. Ask for help if you need it – Life does get overwhelming so it’s important to reach out and ask for help when you need it. Reach out to your friends, your teachers, your school counselor if and when you need help. There’s no shame in needing help. Whether you’re struggling with coursework or feeling overwhelmed in general it is important to reach out to people who can help you or assist you in seeking help.
  9. Learning is a constant process – The true joy of education is in learning. Learning happens in and out of the classroom. It’s not always formal and it’s not always restricted to the subjects taught into the classroom. Check out this exciting video of Madoc from Portland Place school in Central London as he explores the same streets Jack the Ripper prowled. You can watch that video here.