Once your family has relocated to the UK, you will be faced with the decision of where to send your children to school. To help make this process a bit easier, we've compared the government school system in South Africa to the one in the UK so you can make the most informed decision possible.

Comparing government schools in the UK and South Africa

If you’re moving to the UK with children, the government school system is likely to be a very attractive option. However, the British school system is quite different from the one they (and you) are accustomed to. It can be difficult to comprehend a brand new way of learning in a foreign country. That’s why we break down the most important factors worth considering, to ensure nothing comes as a surprise when your children first make the big switch.

A guide to understanding the differences between schools in the UK and SA

1. Age and year groups

In the UK, Children go into reception (kindergarten) at age four and begin their first official year of school at age five. In South Africa, your young ones will have probably begun school at age six.

2. The school system

Schools in the UK are classified as state-funded and fee-paying. Government-funded schools are free of charge and are typically referred to as primary and secondary schools. Grammar schools are also government-funded secondary schools with specific admission criteria – requiring all applicants to take a common entrance examination. Fee-paying private schools are generally called preparatory or senior schools.

Currently, the state-funded system is divided into three phases:

  • Primary: Children aged five to 11
  • Secondary: Children aged 11 to 16
  • Further: Children aged 16+ taking A-Levels, GNVQs, BTECs and other qualifications

All children in the UK are to attend school in the primary and secondary phases, while further education is purely optional.

3. The academic year

The school year looks very different between the UK and South Africa. While South African schools follow the calendar (i.e. begin in January and end in December), in the UK they start in September and end in July. Schools in the UK are also split into three terms, compared to the four terms standard in South Africa.

4. Examinations and qualifications

In England, there are two school qualifications that students receive during senior school, GCSEs (or International GCSEs) and A-Levels. These are then used to apply for college or university.

In years 10 and 11, students take their GCSE or International GCSE courses. 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 standalone qualifications, or as part of the two-year A-level course. However, to receive full A-Level qualifications, students will need to complete both Year 12 (AS) and Year 13 (second year of overall A-Levels). 

In South Africa, a National Senior Certificate (NSC) is afforded to all students who complete grade 12. This is often spoken of as an equivalent to an A-Level certificate, and is required for entry into university. However, it should be noted that A-Levels are a bit more advanced than the National Senior Certificate in South Africa. Students who want to study in the UK should make sure their NSC will be accepted at the school they are applying for. Some South African schools also offer advanced certificates such as IGCSE, AS and A-Levels.

Your way into the UK

As an international team, we know what it’s like to move to a new country – we’ve done it ourselves, several times over. Our unrivalled experience has helped us create relocation packages catered towards families with children of school-going age and are planning to migrate to the UK. We’re here to make every aspect of your move more convenient. 

Are you looking to start your life in the UK? Get in touch with one of our consultants to find out what the options are for you and your family, email us at 1stcontact@sableinternational.com or call us on +44 (0) 20 7759 7536.

We are a professional services company that specialises in cross-border financial and immigration advice and solutions.

Our teams in the UK, South Africa and Australia can ensure that when you decide to move overseas, invest offshore or expand your business internationally, you'll do so with the backing of experienced local experts.