Parents sending their children to UK private schools are often bewildered by the choice of curriculum and which is the best for their child. We describe them in some detail in the remaining pages of this section. Because the most complex choices of curriculum are at the senior end, we will give a briefer explanation here of the options for 16+ years of age and then work backwards to younger children.
The most common senior curriculum is the A Level, which is commonly taken over a 2 year period. There are well over 40 possible A Level subjects, but most private schools offer between 20 and 25 subject choices – but it does not matter what you want to study, we will find you somewhere which offers it!
Over the last 10 years there has been a dramatic increase in the number of UK schools offering the IB Diploma Program, because (a) it is a global qualification highly rated by UCAS and (b) it is transferrable because you can move from one country to another on the same syllabus. It again applies to a 2 year period from age 16, but the key difference is that you must take one subject from each of 6 groups, which means that you will as a minimum take Maths, a Modern Language and a Science.
In recent years, some of the elite UK private schools became disenchanted with the way A Level grades were inflated, leading to the accusation they had become “dumbed down”. However, they were reluctant to move to the IB, because it was too general – thus, they worked with Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) to devise a new syllabus called the Pre-U Diploma Program. The key difference to the IB DP is that the Pre-U still has total freedom of choice with your subjects, just like A Levels.
Scotland has its own system of Highers and Advanced Highers, which are roughly equivalent to AS and A2 Levels. They are equally valid for entry to University. Indeed you can get into many Universities just with Highers alone. Additionally, some schools in Scotland allow pupils to take a mixture of Highers and A Levels. Note that Highers are accepted by all UK Universities, such that there is no reason to disregard them.
These are post age 17 programmes offered by Private Sixth Form Colleges or Universities themselves. Typically they offer a fast track entry into University over 12 or 18 months. However, beware that generally they are not as academically robust as the preceding curriculums, such that many of the Top 30 Universities may not accept them. They are marketed heavily to international students as a guaranteed entry to a UK University of lower standing. These comments do not apply to Art Foundation Programmes which are open to British and International students.
From 14 to 16 – GCSE or the IB Middle Years Program (MYP)
The vast majority of UK private schools teach the GCSE curriculum for a 2 year period between age 14 and 16. However, grade inflation in normal GCSEs have persuaded most private schools to switch to iGCSEs, the international version which has a more robust curriculum. The International Baccalaureate offers the MYP but there are only about 10 UK schools teaching this curriculum. We advise most parents of 11 to 15 year olds seeking an IB school to start with a GCSE school and switch to the IB DP at 16.
Curriculum for Under 14s
The UK Government establishes The National Curriculum for all UK State Schools. Private schools are not bound to follow the National Curriculum but in general they do, supplementing it with other areas of study as they see fit.
A really important consideration for parents of children of preparatory school age is how well that school will prepare them for the Common Entrance Examinations at ages 11, 12 or 13 to enable them to successfully enter their senior school of choice.
In this page, we can only scratch the surface of the various curriculums in the UK, but we give much more detail in the corresponding sections. We are more than happy to offer detailed consultancy advice on not just the right curriculum for your child, but also how to find the right school. It is often very difficult to transfer a child in the “mid years of 15 or 17” because of the necessity to match their existing exam boards, but we invariably find a solution.
Please contact us on +44 (0) 1622 813870 or fill in an enquiry form