The Systems of Education in the UK – Scottish & NI Year Groups

Having previously looked at the structure of the school years within England and Wales the following article covers the equivalent structures across both Scotland and Northern Ireland with each following their own systems.

Northern Ireland

The school year system in Northern Ireland broadly follows the same core structure as the English/Welsh system and therefore is not as distinct as that of the Scots, although there are still few features which set it apart.

Each of the UK’s systems have a cut off date at which the child’s age determines the year group in which they are to join. Across the Irish Sea this date is 1 September, the start of the school year, however in Northern Ireland it is 1st July (c.f. 1 March in Scotland). Although the Northern Irish school year also begins in practice on 1 September, it effectively runs from July to July with the summer holidays covering the months of July and August.

Primary school years are referred to as Primary 1 through to Primary 7 (rather than using the English terminology incorporating Reception) and therefore year numbering is comparatively one ahead of the English system, with, for example Year 7 in England being equivalent to Year 8 in Northern Ireland. In many secondary schools, however, the colloquial ‘form’ naming convention is still used to refer to the year groups with the ‘first’ to ‘fifth forms’ and ‘lower’ and ‘upper sixth’.

  • Primary School/Education
    • Ages 4/5 to 10/11
    • Primary 1 to 7
  • Secondary School/Education
    • Ages 11/12 to 17/18
    • Years 8 to 14


The primary and secondary stages are again split into Key Stages which are broadly consistent with the English system although the Foundation Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 stages both start a year behind their English equivalents.

  • Foundation Stages – Primary 1 & 2 (ages 4 to 6)
  • Key Stage 1 – Primary 3 & 4 (ages 6 to 8)
  • Key Stage 2 – Primary 5 to 7 (ages 8 to 11)
  • Key Stage 3 – Years 8 to 10 (ages 11 to 14)
  • Key Stage 4 – Years 11 & 12 (ages 14…

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