School year FAQs: term dates, exam times and school holidays

School Calendar Dates

How many terms in a school year?

In England and Wales most schools have 3 main terms which are split again into half terms. Autumn Term runs from September to just before Christmas. Spring Term runs from January until late March / early April depending on the date of Easter. Summer Term runs from late April until mid / end July. In Scotland and Northern Ireland the half terms are shorter and the school year finishes at the end of June. 


How many weeks in a school year? 

All schools funded by the Local Authority are required to provide 190 days, 39 weeks, of education during the school year. This is usually split into morning and afternoon sessions.


How many hours is a school week? 

A recent report by the Department of Education showed that extending time in school can benefit pupils’ outcomes. Most schools already offer a school week of at least 32.5 hours. New guidance states that state-funded mainstream schools that don’t, should work towards increasing their hours to this amount by September 2023. Ofsted will report on whether schools are meeting these expectations and schools are required to publish their opening and closing times on their websites. 

The 32.5 hour minimum expectation is from the start of the school day to the end so includes registration time, breaks and lunch time as well as teaching time. It does not include optional before and after school provision. 


What are INSET days?

INSET stands for ‘In-Service Training’. On Inset days children don’t attend school and staff are given training. Often the training is in areas identified in the School Development Plan. Schools are required to have five INSET days a year and can decide on the dates themselves. 


How many weeks holiday do schools get?

Christmas and Easter holidays are usually about two weeks. Summer holidays are around about six weeks. The three half term holidays are a week long. The school year starts in the first week of September. This gives a total of about 13 weeks of school holidays a year. The numbers and spread of holidays differ slightly for Scotland and Northern Ireland. 


Where do I find school term dates and holiday dates? 

In England and Wales, term and holiday dates may differ between areas and schools so do check with your local authority (each school page on School Guide has local authority contact details) or school website but the majority follow this general pattern:

  • Autumn half-term - 1 week at end of October 
  • Christmas holidays - 2 weeks in December / early January 
  • Winter half-term - 1 week in February 
  • Easter holidays - 2 weeks in April 
  • Spring half-term - 1 week at end of May
  • Summer holidays - 6 weeks from mid July to start of September 

Dates vary in Scotland, especially around the summer holidays: 

  • Summer holidays – end of June until mid August 

In Northern Ireland, the school holidays are standard across all local authorities and schools. They run in a similar pattern to schools in England and Wales. 

Pupils will also have bank holidays off in all countries. 


school starting ages


What age do children start school? 

Most children start school full time in a Reception Class in the September after their fourth birthday. They turn five during their first year at school.  

If you don’t think your child is ready to start school full time in the September they can start:

  • part time
  • part way through the year
  • in the next school year – the September after they turn five

However they must be in school full time by their compulsory school starting age, which is the start of the term after their fifth birthday. 

This means that children born September to December should start full time education at the start of the Spring Term (January). Children with January to March birthdays should go at the start of the Summer Term (April). Children with later birthdays need to have started full time by the beginning of the next Autumn Term (September). 

Even if you want your child to start school after the usual September start date you still need to apply for a school place at the same time as everyone else and request the later start.  

If your child starts the September after they turn 5 they will usually join Year One instead of Reception. If you want them to start in Reception you can request it, but the school doesn’t have to agree. When making the decision the individual child’s needs and abilities must be taken into account and the decision must be made in their best interests. 

To see when your child will start primary school, secondary school and take their exams use our handy Growing Up Calculator.


When do Year 11 finish school?

Legally, in England and Wales Year 11 children can leave school on the last Friday in June as long as they will be 16 by the end of the summer holidays. Northern Ireland is similar with a 30th June leaving date for children who are 16 before 1st July. In Scotland children who are 16 by 30th September can leave after the end of May. 

GCSE exams are usually finished by mid to late June. However a lot of schools will want children to attend sixth form taster days or leavers days and proms after those dates. 

What happens after Year 11? 

Students must do one of the following until they turn 18: 

  • stay in full time education, usually at school or college
  • start an apprenticeship or traineeship 
  • spend 20 hours or more a week working or volunteering, while in part-time education or training

dates for school assessments and exams

When are Primary School Assessments in England?

Reception Baseline Assessments – these should be completed in the first six weeks after a child enters Reception.

Key Stage 1 Tests – During May

Key Stage 2 Tests (SATS) – During May 


How do I find out which exam board my child’s school uses? 

Details of exam boards will usually be given in information leaflets given to pupils and parents when they make their GCSEs, AS and A Levels choices. The exam boards used for each subject should also be on school websites. 

The three main examining boards are AQA, Edexcel and OCR. Schools and colleges have a choice of which exam board they use for each subject. Decisions might be based on the number of exam papers, the ratio of written exams to non-exam assessment or the specific content covered by the course. The examining boards will have detailed information about each of their qualifications on their websites. 


What are the arrangements for exams this summer?

GCSE, AS and A Level exams will return to normal this summer. 

Generally students won’t be provided with advanced information on the focus of exams. However, in GCSE maths, physics and combined sciences courses students will still be provided with formulae and equation sheets. 

There will be a return to pre-pandemic grading as announced by Ofqual. 

Timetables for this summer will preserve some of the spacing between first and last exams in the same subject. Although this was introduced for Covid it was found to be helpful in stopping students missing all of the exams in one subject due to any illness or other circumstances, so it will be continued.  


When are GCSE and A level results days?

AS and A Levels results day will be on 15th August 2024. GCSE results day will be on 22nd August 2024.