The Key Stage System (KS1-5) – Comprehensive Guide

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It can be difficult to remember how all the different stages of education fit together. You can group them by year group, the age of students, the qualifications they are sitting, what key stage they are part of, and the list goes on. This article will discuss the key stages used to classify progress through education, and how exactly this relates to the other information about children studying at that level.

Essentially, this table summarises how each school year in England matches up with key stages, as well as the age of students at that point in their education:

Key Stage School Year Age Group
KS1 1 – 2 5 – 7
KS2 3 – 6 7 – 11
KS3 7 – 9 11 – 14
KS4 10 – 11 14 – 16
KS5 12 – 13 16 – 18

Keep reading for more information on how school education is split into year groups and key stages, and how this varies across parts of the UK.

School year group ages in the UK

Education in England is compulsory from the age of 5, until you are 18 years old (although this is slightly different in other parts of the UK). This typically means your time at school is split into 13 or 14 years of full-time education.

For more information about when education is compulsory in the UK, check out this governmental guide as well as this governmental guide.

In each year group, students will all be of similar ages. Apart from exceptional circumstances, there will usually be no more than one year between the eldest and youngest member of a year group.

However, remember that the academic year starts in September, not January. Students born in August will likely be among the youngest of their year group. Students born a couple of weeks later than them in September will start school the following year and be among the oldest.

For more information on how your age and year group match up, have a look at this page of the Camden council government website.

What year is KS1?

Key stage 1 (usually abbreviated to KS1) is, as the name would suggest, the first main stage of education. This key stage encompasses Year 1 and Year 2 of school in England and Wales, where students are between 5 and 7 years old.

Although key stage 1 is made up of Years 1 and 2 in England and Wales, there are slightly different systems for year groups in Scotland and Northern Ireland. In Northern Ireland, the equivalent of this would be Years 2 and 3.

P1 to P3 can be considered as the rough equivalent for these year groups. However, the age of students tends to vary slightly, and the Scottish system of education usually does not use key stages.

For more information about year groups in these two countries, have a look at this page of the government website for Northern Ireland and this overview of the Scottish education system from

In key stage 1, the main focus tends to be on getting students used to learning in a school environment, as well as teaching basic skills like reading and writing. However, there will still be some progress checks.

The main form of assessment has previously been the national SATs taken by students near the end of Year 2. However, as of the academic year beginning in September 2023, these will be made optional.

Some schools may still give these tests to students, but others won’t – it’s best to check with individual schools for more information on their plans. Otherwise, check out this article from for general information about this change.

Can children be in education before KS1?

It is worth remembering that most children attend their first year of school before key stage 1, and the year is called Reception. Reception is not considered part of KS1, but instead given the acronym EYFS, which stands for Early Years Foundation Stage (or simply Foundation Stage in Wales).

One reason this is not included in key stage 1 is that not all students attend Reception for the full year. The legal starting age for school in England is 5 years old.

Parents with children who have birthdays late in the academic year (such as in August) may want to delay their child starting school by a term or two, depending on individual circumstances. For more information on this, check out this page of the official government website.

What year is KS2?

Key stage 2 in England and Wales makes up the rest of a student’s primary school education. This means that it is made up of Years 3, 4, 5 and 6. In this stage, students are typically between 7 and 11 years old.

Again, remember that the key stages are not perfectly matched, but this is approximately equal to Year 4 to Year 7 in Northern Ireland, and P3 to P6 in Scotland. For further clarification, have a look at this article from, which outlines how primary education is organised differently across the UK.

The main form of assessment during this key stage is national SATs, taken by students near the end of Year 6. These have not been affected by the changes to Year 2 SATs, so will still be taken by children across England.

These tests are designed to test general skills in English (including spelling, punctuation and grammar) and maths, which consolidates the students’ primary education. For more information about SATs, check out this Think Student article.

What year is KS3?

Key stage 3 marks the start of secondary school for most students. It is made up of the first 3 years, i.e., Years 7, 8 and 9, and children will be between the ages of 11 and 14. The rough equivalents are Years 8 to 10 in Northern Ireland, and P7, S1 and S2 in Scotland.

The transition to key stage 3 is often the one that students find most difficult. There is a new school environment to get used to as you start secondary school, as well as a range of unfamiliar subjects and routines. For plenty of tips as you start Year 7, check out this article from Think Student.

There are lots of major exams that take place in secondary school, but key stage 3 is mostly free of these! However, you will most likely still have smaller class tests and end of year exams, and some schools start teaching GCSE content in Year 9, in preparation for key stage 4.

For more information on assessments in key stage 3, have a look at this Think Student article.

What year is KS4?

Made up of Year 10 and Year 11 in England and Wales, key stage 4 is the point at which most students study for their GCSEs (or equivalent qualifications such as BTECs). They will usually sit these exams at the end of Year 11.

In Northern Ireland, this equates to Years 11 and 12, and S3 and S4 in Scotland, with students aged from 14 to 16 years old. This Think Student article has more information about the year groups that make up key stage 4.

What year is KS5?

After key stage 4, many students go on to a sixth form or college for the next phase of their education. This is known as key stage 5 and is made up of Year 12 and Year 13 in England and Wales. The rough equivalents are Years 13 and 14 in Northern Ireland and S5 and S6 in Scotland.

During these two years, they typically study for A-Level exams taken at the end of Year 13, or equivalent qualifications. Students in Scotland may instead take Highers. For more information about A-Levels and Highers, click on their respective links.

However, this is not the only option for students aged 16 to 18. Check out this article by Think Student for more post-16 options.

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