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Education in the United Kingdom is a devolved matter with each of the countries of the United Kingdom having separate systems under separate governments: the UK Government is responsible for England; the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government and the Northern Ireland Executive are responsible for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, respectively.
For details of education in each country, see:
In each country there are five stages of education: early years, primary, secondary, Further Education (FE) and Higher Education (HE). Education is compulsory for all children between the ages of 5 (4 in Northern Ireland) and 16; before this children can be educated at nursery. FE is non-compulsory, and covers non-advanced education which can be taken at further (including tertiary) education colleges and HE institutions (HEIs). The fifth stage, HE, is study beyond GCE A levels (and their equivalent) which, for most full-time students, takes place in universities and other HEIs and colleges.
The "National Curriculum", established in 1988, provides a framework for education in England and Wales between the ages of 5 and 18; in Scotland the nearest equivalent is the 5-14 programme, and in Northern Ireland there is something known as the common curriculum. The Scottish qualifications the Standard Grades, Highers and Advanced Highers are highly similar to the English Advanced Subsidiary (AS) and Advanced Level (A2) courses.
Traditionally a high-performing country in international rankings of education, the UK has stagnated in recent years in such rankings as the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests; in 2013, for reading and maths the country as a whole stood in the middle-rankings, a position that was broadly similar to three years before. Within the UK, Scotland performed marginally better than England; both were slightly ahead of Northern Ireland, and markedly ahead of Wales.