Learning in the UK

In this section:

General information

Most British children are educated in the state system from the age of four. The school leaving age is currently being raised from 17 to 18, but the final two years can be spent in college or work-related training.

Many pupils transfer to sixth form or further education college at 16 after taking GCSE or equivalent exams. Both state and private further education colleges are open to fee-paying overseas students. Some colleges will specialise in academic courses such as A Level or the International Baccalaureate (IB). Others run a full range of vocational courses.

Most British universities are public institutions, largely funded by the Government. They are increasingly popular with fee-paying overseas students as well as those from Britain. This is the only part of the state education sector for which UK students have to pay.

We also have a world-class high quality private education sector which is very popular with international students. This includes independent (public) schools, independent colleges, and private language schools. Language schools should be accredited under the Accreditation UK Scheme or on the Register of Sponsors. Private colleges should be accredited by the British Accreditation Council (BAC).

State-funded colleges and universities are officially inspected and regulated to ensure that they meet very high quality standards.

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About the different course providers

Every student has different needs, and English UK members - which range from universities to private colleges - can cater for all of them. Some English UK members specialise in short summer courses for teenagers, while other centres may concentrate on business English and the needs of different professionals.

Centres range from family-run operations where students live and work as a group, through the well-known private language centre chains, to departments in further education colleges and universities.

Private language schools usually offer a range of different English language courses. They may specialise, for instance in business English or English Plus leisure courses. They can usually accommodate all skills levels and offer part time or full time courses, with flexibility about length and start dates.

Independent schools and tutorial colleges offer a range of subjects and activities all taught in English. Some offer summer programmes.

Further Education Colleges usually offer courses for students at all levels as well as career-based training and academic courses in classes where other students will speak English as a first language.

Higher education institutions and universities are generally geared to students whose language skills are intermediate or better. Many specialise in teaching English for academic purposes or foundation courses.

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About the different courses

You can search the full range of courses and accredited providers using the course finder on the English UK website. For more information on course types, click here.

If there isn't a course to suit your student, there will be an English UK member willing to organise something to meet their needs.

If you have a special request from a client that you're having difficulty fulfilling, email info@englishuk.com and we'll circulate your message to our member centres. 

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Qualifications and careers prospects

Our members offer courses leading to internationally-recognised qualifications at all levels. An English language course is a great investment for the future, whether the student wants to improve their career prospects or is preparing for further study.

The UK also offers a wide range of professional and vocational qualifications, including vocational training and programmes for pre-university, degree, postgraduate and doctorate level learning.

More details on qualifications are available on the British Council website.

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Choosing an English language school

When choosing an English language school, students should consider:

  • Do they want to live and work in a city or a small town?
  • What part of the country would they like to live in?
  • Do they want to be in a good base for travelling around the UK, or have easy access to Europe?
  • Do they have special needs or requirements?

They should also consider what kind of centre would suit them best. Do they want to be immersed in studying with staff and students in a building which may be some distance from a town or village? Would they prefer a small school? Or would a large school be better for their needs?

Our course finder tool should then help them find courses which will meet their requirements. 

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Choosing where to stay - homestay versus residence

Most students coming to the UK are likely to have a choice of living with a family – homestay – or in a residence.

There are many advantages to living with a family for at least the early weeks in the UK. It is a good way to learn quickly about British culture and to speak English all the time. Homestay means living with an ordinary family, eating home-prepared food and getting first-hand experience of how people live.

Residences are becoming more popular options with some students – typically those in their 20s. Residences are likelier to be available in the major cities, usually shared flats in a purpose-built accommodation block. Students like these because they tend to be in the city centre, which makes it easy to go out for the night, and they don't have to worry about getting home late.

If a student wants to stay in a residence, it is a good idea to make sure that they are in a shared apartment with students from other countries. This will help ensure that they are not lonely, and will encourage them to speak English to each other. Many language centres will suggest spending at least the first few weeks in homestay accommodation.

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How much will it cost?

Students often worry that it can be expensive to study in the UK, but their fears are often based on out-of-date information and old exchange rates. For visa students, the funds they are required to have under the points-based system will cover their costs - £600 per month outside London and £800 per month in the inner London boroughs (Camden, City of London, Hackney, Hammersmith and Fulham, Haringey, Islington, Kensington and Chelsea, Lambeth, Newham, Southwark, Tower Hamlets, Wandsworth and Westminster).

Courses vary in cost between institutions and there may be special offers available at
certain times of the year.

It can also be cheaper to live outside London and the South of England. For more information, students can use the student calculator tool.

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Choosing where to study in the UK

It can be hard to decide which area of the UK to study in. In some ways it doesn't matter too much as the country is small enough for easy travelling. In many ways it can be more important to make the right choice between staying in a busy city or a quieter town. It's impossible to give extensive information on every region here, and it is important for potential students to research this for themselves.

To find out more, browse VisitBritain's (Britain's national tourist agency)

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