English School Uniform: Age and Form Class Levels

Table 1.--England. Age and form levels in state schools
…………………...Modern (2003) …...Classic (1930s-50s)*
    ………………Infants School**
  • 4-5 ….....…….... Reception ………….....NA
  • 5-6 ….....…….... Year 1 …………........ Class 1
  • 6-7 ….....…….... Year 2 …………........ Class 2
    ………………Primary School**
  • 7-8 ….....…….... Year 3 …………........ Class 3
  • 8-9 ….....…….... Year 4.…………........ Class 4
  • 9-10 …....……... Year 5 …………........ Class 5
  • 10-11 …...…….. Year 6*** ………….. Class 6****

    … ------ Move to Secondary School ------

  • 11-12 …...…….. Year 7 …………........ I Form*****
  • 12-13 …...…….. Year 8 …………........ II Form
  • 13-14 …...…….. Year 9 …………........ III Form
  • 14-15 …...…….. Year 10…………....... IV Form
  • 15-16 …...…….. Year 11…………....... V Form
  • 16-17 …...…….. Year 12…………....... Lower VI Form
  • 17-18 …...…….. Year 13…………....... Upper VI Form
NA - Not available
* Until after World War II (1939-45), most children attended full-term primaries to about age 14 and did not go on to secondary schools.
** Modern primary education is generally divided into an infants and primary school, different schools at separate locations. Until after World war II, all the primry years were spent at full-term primaries.
*** This year was also called the upper and lower sixth.
**** After year 6 the academically taleted and the more affluent children would move to a grammar school or other secondary school. Most children would remain in their full-term primaries for another 2-3 years.
***** State secondary schools, especially the academically selective grammar schools, used the Public Schools (private secondary schools) as their model which is why the term "form" ws used.
Source: HBC English Readers.

One difficulty foreign readers have in following some English books in the different names used the various class "forms" or grades as Americans tend to refer to grades. Not only are different terms used, but their are also futher complications such as "the upper fifth". These complications are further compounded by the fact that the different clssess used at parimary schools are repated for secondary schools. Thus a boy might be in the 6th form at his prep school, but the next year begin the 1st form at his Public School.


The terms used in the state and private sector vary. For years the state secondary schools used the old form system adopted from the Public Schools. This has now been replaced with the new nomencalture at most state secondary schools.

State sector

The terms for the different forms have also changed as there have been very significant educational reforms in Britain since World War II, especially the Educational Reform Act of 1944. These reforms have changed many of the class terms, especially in the state sector. An English reader has provided us with a handy reference to understand the form names and the changes in terminology which have ocurred since 1944. The nomenclature for state schools is seen here (table 1). While the terms shown here were the most common, the system was by no means as uniform as the United States. A HBC reader notes, "Just to be contrary, at my (state) junior school (late 1950s) the oldest boys were in class one. I moved there after 2 years at infants school, entering class four of the junior school."

Private (independent) sector

Private schools tend to use the old system, using forms in both preparatory and secondary levels. Actually many private (public and preparatory) schools often had their own system, especially before the introduction of the National Curriculum in the late 1980s. This can be seen by looking at a copy of the Public and Preparatory Schools Year Book. Even so the standard Form 1-6 was the most common.


There have been major changes in English education that have fundamentally changed the focus of the system and not the terms discussed here.

Inter-war years (1918-44)

After World Wat I (1914-18) school was only compulsory until the age of 14. Most British boys only attended primary school which went up tp age 14. Only a small minority went on to secondary school. And for those that did, there were school fees. A reader reports, "I believe that before the advent of the 1944 Education Act some grammar schools requested a sum of money to be paid if the pupil was withdrawn before they reached the age of 16." Thus only the most clever boy from working clas families could persue their education pass primary school. State primary schools in the inter-war era did not require uniforms. Mpst private prep and Public Schools did require uniforms, often quite elaborate ones.

Post-war years (1945-70)

After the Education Act of 1944, every child had to attend until the age of 15. A Labour Government was elected in 1945 which placed graet emphasis on expanding educational opportunities. The old full-term primary schools were changed to schools offering 6 years of school. This change took many years to accomplish. Many of the new primary schools began requiring uniforms, especially bu the 1960s. Children then went to new secondary schools. Clever boys doing well on their 11-plus exams went to grammar schools. Less academically emclined boys went to secondary modern schools. The leaving age was raised to the current milestone of 16 in the 1960s. One HBC reader reports, "My father, who attended a secondary modern school (aimed at the less academic) left at the age of 15 in 1965.

Late 20th Century (1970-2000)

Many British secondary schools by the 1970s had become comprehensives as educational reformers sought to make the system less selective. Most of the state schools also became coeducational like the primary schools. Further changes followed with the new National Curriculum of the 1980s. During this period uniformsd became more cassual. Many English primary schools and most secondary schools, however, still require uniforms.

School Organization

The organization of schools has changed over time and of course is affected by the type of school. The English state system is complicated, but until after world war II, most children attended full-term primary schools to aboutvage 14 years and did not go on to secondary school. After World war II more children attended secondary schools. Thus the full term primaries were phased out. Normally there would be an infants school covering the first few years up to ages 7-8, then primary school covering the ages up to 10-11 years. Children first took a test called the "11 plus" determining what kind of secondary school they would attend, usually either an academically selective grammar school or a secondary modern. England by the 1970s was phasing out academically selecticve schools and moving toward comprehensive education, rather like an American highschool. The system was different at private schools. Here the children would attend some kind of early school, now called a pre prep until about age 7 years. Ptrp schools would cover their education from about age 7/8-13 years. (The girls preo schools often went to only age 11 years.) Then they would attend a public school from about 11/13-18 years.


The subject of English year levels is complicated. There is considerable differences as to the various year levels. The terms for the different year levels has changed over time. This has resulted from the many different types of schools and the lack of a national educational system for many years.

One Assessment

In General the British secondary system is as follows. There are exceptions of course. If its a public school or a prep school they can be quite different. If it's a non Brit school thay can be very different. I've come across 1 that starts at year 0 (zero).

Yr8 or Yr1 or 3rd Form: Age 12 years

Yr9 or Yr2 or Lower 4th: Age 13 years

Yr10 or Yr3 or Upper 4th: Age 14 years

Yr11 or Yr4 or Lower 5th: Age 15 years

Yr12 or Yr5 or Upper 5th: Age 16 years

6th form or college L&U 6th:

Another view

Sorry, but I have to disagree. For British Secondary schools, Year 7 (Modern) is equivalent to First Year (1970s) and Third Form (1950s). All of these starting at age 11 in September.

Year 7 = first year = third form: Age 11

Year 8 = second year = lower fourth: Age 12

Year 9 = third year = upper fourth: Age 13

Year10 = fourth year = lower fifth: Age 14

year11 = fifth year = upper fifth: Age 15

Year12 = sixth form = lower sixth (end of compulsory school): Age 16

Year13 = sixth form = upper sixth: Age 17

Strictly speaking, the 1950's boys could leave during the lower fifth, that is when they had reached age 15. They could leave on their birthday. Later, kids had to complete the school year.

In case you are wondering, the origins of the lower and upper forms are from Rugby school, where the children would sit in assembly either side of a hall. The children sat facing each other, like the seats in the houses of Parliament, or a choir in a church. The forms were benches or long chairs. The smallest children sat in the front rows, so that they could see (or be seen) and the bigger ones sat behind. The lower and upper reflected whether your 'form' was beyond the centre aisle, or not. Originally, upper third were age 11, lower third age 10, upper second age 9, lower second age 8, upper first age 7, and lower first age 6. Yes, kids as young as 6 were sent away to school in the 16th century. Sadly, some of them were seriously injured or even died whilst at school, as diseases raged and there was a great deal of bullying. This terminology was copied by many other (fee-paying) Grammar schools, and then in Victorian times the names were adopted by a number of state schools.

After the Education Reform Act 1944, all Grammar schools ceased to take pupils below the age of 11 (prior to that, quite a few did) and so the upper third became simply 'third'. A reader reports, "It took about 20 years to modernise some schools, including mine. My older brother was a 4 for three years, having been third, lower 4, upper 4, then fourth year! Incidentally, he was one of the last sixth-formers to be caned, getting six cuts for smoking in a corridor when aged 17 (summer of his lower sixth year). He and another boy chose to stroll along, as an act of defiance. That night the headmaster telephoned my dad, who gave his consent for the beating the next day. I remember the debate at home, as brother argued that it was wrong to cane him, as he was beyond school-leaving age."

It is true that other systems have been used in various parts of the country. It largely depended on the age at which the children changed school. In some places, they stay in their middle schools until age 12, or even 13. The modern system is designed to eliminate confusion. The year indicates how many years the child hac completed. So a year 7 child has already finished seven years of education, and is now in his 8th one.

Another View

Another observer replies, "That bears no resemblance to any UK schools to my knowledge: Its more likely to be:

Year 7: age 11-12 formerly 1st Form and still often known as first years, due to this being the most often age that they changed schools from primary.

Year 8 age 12-13 formerly 2nd form

Year 9 age 13-14

Year 10 age 14-15

Year 11 age 15-16 formerly 5th form

Years 12 and 13 ages 16-17 and 17-18 Sixth Form or formerly Lower and Upper Sixth respectively.

Further comments

Thanks for pointing out my error, and I agree that yr8 should read year7 and that the middle and right sections are correct. As regards the ages, surely we are both saying the same thing ie you've moved to secondary school after your 11th birthday, therefore you are in your 12th year. In the second year you will have had your 12th birthday in the 1st year, so you are in your 13th year etc. My old school still starts at III form, LIV, UIV, LV, UV etc, they have no intention of changing the system, it is considered traditional, making it a selling point for a private school. There being increased competition, they use all the marketing tricks they can to sell their product. In the next 5 yrs, 50 new private schools are due to open, though some of those will be takeovers or buyouts of failing schools.

If UK Government plans, for children in long-term care go ahead, they will find themselves taken out of LA and private children's homes and sent to private boarding schools. That is approximately 25,000 children.

Some British parents are finding it cheaper to send their Children to schools in Australia, New zealand, and South Africa. It can cost them, the price of 2 terms as a day pupil here, to send their kids as full boarders abroad. The New Zealand Goverment recognizes, private schools as a major source of export income. (State schools are also using foreign students as a source of income.) It's now significant enough, that if it disappeared in a short space of time, it would have an adverse effect on the National economy, not just at a local level. Most of this increase has come from SE Asia, and UK. There has been a trickle, from USA, whether that grows or not we will have to see.

There is no scholarship scheme, after 6th Form, as such. You have the option of going to University to take a degree. How this is funded, is in a state of flux, and varies between Scotland and England+Wales. It is a matter of Great Public Debate for those affected.


The terms for the various grade levels (forms) was fairly consistent throughout England. These commonly used terms are detailed here (figure 1). There was, however, no uniformly accepted term as was the case in the Inited states with its grades 1-12. We note several different ways of labeling grade levels. Some private schools had their own grade level systems. While this was most common at individual schools, especially private schools, we notice some communities had state schools with detinctive grade system. While not common, these destibctive grade lavel systems did exist.


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Created: January 8, 2002
Last updated: 10:18 PM 10/26/2005