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South African vs UK education systems: age and year groups

South African vs UK education systems: age and year groups

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Are you a family thinking of moving to the UK from South Africa? If you have school-aged children, there are some key differences between the South African and UK education systems that you'll need to be aware of. But don't worry - we're here to help. In this blog, we compare both systems, from age groups and academic years to exams, qualifications and enrolment.

South African vs UK education systems: age and year groups

One issue that will come up when transitioning from the South African to the UK education system is what year group your child goes into. In England, children go in to reception at age 4, and begin their first official year of school at age 5. In South Africa, your young ones will have probably begun school at age 6, having done reception the year before. Have a look at the table below for a full comparison of the two year group systems:

Age England ("Year") South Africa ("Grade")
4-5 Reception  
5-6 1 Reception
6-7 2 1
7-8 3 2
8-9 4 3
9-10 5 4
10-11 6 5
11-12 7 (first year of secondary school) 6
12-13 8 7
13-14 9 8 (first year of high school)
14-15 10 9
15-16 11 10
16-17 12 11
17-18 13 12

South African coast

The Academic Year

Being on other sides of the equator means the school year looks a bit different between the UK and South Africa. While in SA schools usually follow the calendar year (i.e. begin in January and end in December), in England they typically start in September and end in July. Schools in England are also split in to three terms, compared with the four terms of South African school.

This is something to take into special consideration, particularly when it comes to finding the right time to enrol. If you have a teenager between ages 14 and 18, things can get a bit more complicated due to these being crucial exam years. More on this in the section below!

Exams and Qualifications

In the UK, there are two important rounds of school qualifications that pupils receive during senior school - GCSES (or International GCSEs) and A-Levels. These can be used to apply for college or university, and many employers may look for these qualifications (or their equivalents) as well.

In Years 10 & 11, they take part in their GCSE or International GCSE courses, with exams taking place at the end of Year 11. If they choose to progress on to further education, they will begin their AS or A-Level courses in Year 12. The AS courses, which are studied in Year 12, can be taken as stand-alone qualifications, or as part of the two-year A-Level course. However, to receive full A-Level qualifications your child will need to complete both Year 12 (AS) and Year 13 (2nd year of overall A-Levels). A-Levels are equivalent to the National Senior Certificate (NTC) in South Africa, and are required for entry in to university.

Enrolling mid-course

Because the GCSEs and International GCSEs are a two-year course, the majority of English Curriculum schools in the UK will not allow you to enrol your child in the middle of the two - even if your child's age corresponds with Year 11. This is because they will have missed important course content from Year 10 which will be assessed in the final exams in Year 11. This is also likely to be the case in Years 12 and 13. So, although potentially frustrating, be prepared for your child to enrol in a year below their age group if they are moving to an English school in their senior years.

Online Schooling

If you are in South Africa and planning a move to the UK in future, you'll probably want to prepare ahead. Luckily, there are ways to assimilate your child with the English curriculum before you leave SA.

My Online Schooling is an online learning platform that offers a flexible, full-time English Curriculum-led education to children all over the world. We support pupils by providing live online lessons following a set syllabus that can be accessed from home or wherever you have a stable internet connection.

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