Saturday, August 2, 2008

Educational differences

One large (I think) cultural difference between the U.S. and the UK is the educational systems. It occurs to me that, although I have heard you speak of differences in your various comments, I have never really delved into it that deeply. Maybe someone can clarify. Don't worry about comparisons right now - I just want an over view of the British general system. Let me give you an overview of the U.S. system, as I know it anyway, and someone can then do the same thing with the British system.

In the U.S. (and here I am talking about the public schools, not private schools) a child goes through 12 "grades", one per year. Often the school year is 9 months long, with summers off. I think this is a throwback to days when children were needed to do farm work in the summertime. Many school systems also offer Kindergarten, frequently only half days. In that case, the child would begin school at age 5 rather than age 6. Of course, there is also "pre-school" in some communities as well. But, basically, before University, one is talking about a 12-grade/12-year course of instruction.

Generally, the children attend different schools, depending on how old they are. For example, grades 1-6 are most often called "Elementary School." Some cities (notably New York) call them "Primary schools" and name their school buildings simply "PS #23", etc. Elsewhere, it is common to name the Elementary school after some important person's name, often a U.S. President, for example. A child begins to learn how to read immediately, in first grade or even before. Parents are, of course, encouraged to teach the child letters and letter sounds before he enters school.

Probably this is would be similar to your schools, but perhaps you don't call them Elementary Schools. And perhaps you don't number the grades, or even call them grades.

Since this is a pretty large area I want to try to learn about, I'm going to stop right here for the first post, and get whatever feedback and descriptions you care to give. After Elemenatry School (or "Grade School") the child advances to Junior High School and then on to High School. Sometimes Junior High School is replaced by something called a "Middle School" where grades 6, 7, and 8 are taught (rather than simply grades 7 and 8 as in a traditional Junior High School.) After High School comes University or a trade school or nothing more.

Of course I also seek comments from Americans and others as well. You may enlarge upon what I have said about the American system. But please, if you are British, tell me about your school system, starting with the younger children. Thanks.


  1. Really very different in .. I'll say England. Scotland is different again. I don't want to stick my neck out and say the system in Wales is the same as England because I'm not altogether sure.

    In England a child must start school (again we're talking state school, not private) in the term after their fifth birthday, but often schools will take them younger. Nursery schools and other pre-schools will take them from 2.5.

    They remain in what we call primary education until the age of 11. If it is a large school, it may be divided into infants (5 - 7) and juniors (8 - 11). Each year is called a year group and normally progression is each year in September. Relatively recently key stages have been introduced, and these are the ages at which the poor children have to take standard assessment tests, SATS, at 7 and 11 for primary schools.

    Secondary school starts at 11 and goes through at least until 16 when compulsory education finishes and they normally take GCSE examinations at that point. They then progress to college/sixth form college to take AS levels and then A levels.

    Then, if they aren't totally sick of it all, they go on to university, which has become almost the norm recently.

    There are a number of ifs and buts - we have middle schools too, though they seem to be being phased out, and then we have the Public School system which is a law unto itself.

    This really is an overview. There are many variations on the theme.

  2. A., thank you. An overview is what I am looking for at first. Then I will have more specific questions. Maybe we'll here from Catherine about Wales. I am assuming she has computer problems of some kind right now. There may not be much difference from the system in England.

    Home schooling in recent years has become popular here; not much trust in the Public Schools in many places. Is that done where you are? Or even permitted? They still have to follow a prescribed curriculum in most states to do that. (As with many other things, education is controlled by the states except for a national standardized test at various points.

  3. I've gathered home schooling is very popular in the US just from reading blogs. It's very much permitted here in the UK, but relatively rare in comparison with you. They do have to follow a curriculum ,and they have to be inspected to make sure they are doing a reasonable job. As an aside, it's far, far more difficult, though not impossible, to home school in France. But that's a whole other subject.

  4. To A: You see a lot of Home School blogs, but it isn't the "norm". Most people, IMO, have their children educated in public school. Not that we want to, necessarily, but I don't have the patience/discipline for home schooling or the money for private school.

    ONCE, when I took my son to Russell Cave National whateverit'scalled, I met a father who home schooled his kids. But he's the only one I've come across in real life (as opposed to on the internet).

  5. Don't forget the International Baccalaureate Program, available in many high schools and middle schools now. I have even heard of elementary levels being created. This program allows a student to transfer credits to schools around the world as the standards are the same. Upon graduation of the high school level there are IB credits that apply world wide for college credit, not to be confused with Advanced Placement (or AP) credits.

  6. All I know is that when I was in 1st grade I could write cursive and recite the multiplication tables up to 12. The teacher was NOT happy with me and made me write in print and I was not allowed to recite math.
    American teachers suck.

    Sorry I know you were trying to be serious, but as you can see, this is a sore spot for me. I blame her for the cutting of school I did.

  7. I get the impression that an English education is far superior to an American one. The headmaster is to be feared and respected, unlike our American principals who just showed up for all-school assemblies twice a year.

    It also seems that the British students take their studies far more seriously, as is par for the course for the culture. The impression I get is while American students try out out-cool each other and avoid at all costs to show how smart one is, in Britain it's just the opposite with students trying to out-clever one another. Or maybe I've watched "The History Boys" one too many times.

    But why else would Americans start pulling their kids out of schools in droves in favor of home-schooling? For a time I wish I had been home schooled, I felt failed by the public school system and the overall school environment didn't lend itself to a good proper learning.

    Ok so maybe I ranted there a little, but that's how I see it. There's more to it than that, but I'll let someone else share before I chime in again.

  8. Debbie, yes we increasingly find the IB being offered in schools here, not to be confused with the Bac in France which is offered with an International Option, or the European Baccalaureate. They have been trying out a Welsh Bac too, but it doesn't seem to have caught on. I may be wrong.

    The advantage of the IB over the A level system is mainly the broader range of subjects studied. For the IB the student studies a minimum of 6 subjects, 3 at a standard level and 3 higher. For an A (advanced) level in the UK the student may have studied only 3 subjects to a high level, with another one at a lower level (AS Advanced supplementary). These are generalisations of course.

    The Scottish system is more like the IB, with a broader range of subjects. English universities are not inclined to move away from accepting A levels as entry requirements because the broader curriculum will often mean the students will arrive knowing less about their specialist subjects, needing therefore a 4 year university course instead of the standard 3 years.

    The Irish system is like the IB too. I survived three different systems, admittedly a long time ago, international, English, and finishing up in Ireland, before returning to England for university. I have ended up with the opinion that the system doesn't matter much in the end.

  9. At the risk of monopolising Max's post (sorry Max), I'll just reply to Redbeard.

    I think you get good and bad everywhere. For instance in England many people hold French education in awe. Well I could tell you quite a few horror stories from France. There are more failing schools in England than you might think. In certain very academic schools and also public schools (which are private in England), yes, they do strive for academic success, but for the vast majority the students can't be seen to work too or they feel they'll end up with no friends. And that's even the potential high achievers.

  10. You're probably right A., we do suffer from a romanticized view of "grass is greener on the other side", when typically Americans view British education with such names as Oxford, Cambridge and Eton. People tend to forget the inner-city troubled schools of Hackney and Manchester, for example. I suppose you'll have underachievers anywhere you go, even at l'Ecole de Paris.

  11. Angelika - How delightful to see you here (and on Yummy). Of course I am a little afraid to answer your comments, you being my idol and all. :) Actually, I am becoming less in awe of you and more finding myself wanting to get to know you better. Stand by for major stalking on your blogs. :)

    I went through the public school system and survived. In fact, I never knew I was deprived at all. Some schools are horrid, though, I know. But, in the end, it will be up to the parents and the child to get the education one needs. I'm assuming Evan is in public school. But then, look at the advantages he has everyday, coming home to you. And I am not joking. What an advantage!

    Thanks so much for following my blogs lately, K?

  12. a. - I also have some experience with relatives home schooling. I will share that with you later. Thanks.

  13. Debbie, I am not familiar with that. I will have to get you and a. to go into it for me. Although my main goal here (right now, at least - I may change my goal!) is to compare U.S. vs. UK systems, education in general is interesting to me. Tell me more about that, Deb, K?

  14. Petra, I know you don't mean that. But YOUR American teacher sure sucked. On the other hand, look how you turned out. :) It goes to show, as I have said, that it is up to the student to take advantage of what is offered, and to go out and get the rest. But, I am guessing there were one or two GOOD American teachers in your life as well. I know this because you have slipped up and talked to me about things other than zombies. You are very interesting and intelligent. For an American-schooled person, I mean. :)

  15. Redbird, you may be right. That was certainly evidenced in the movie "To Sir With Love." I was amazed at how the students in that movie respected their teachers and yearned for an education. Heh.

    Of course you have come to love things British. I know that, and I forgive your generalizations.

    And I REALLY thank you for your contributions to my blogs lately. Don't think it has gone unnoticed or unappreciated. Thanks. :)

    Btw, I didn't get to go inside Fenway. Well, I guess I could have taken the tour, but it was hot. So. But I hope you liked the exterior shots. Who is that statue of again? At first I thought it was Ted. But no. (Forgive me - growing up in Michigan I was hardly a Red Sox fan... )

  16. Redbeard-please forgive me for calling you Redbird. A mere Freudian slip I assure you - I was, of course, thinking of the Cardinals when I was responding to your comment. I hope you won't hold that against me. Nor the fact that I get my annual dose of disappointment each year from the Cubbies rather than Boston. I know you understand. :)

  17. Redbeard, I can see why you would view Oxford and Cambridge as examples of great educational institutes - much, I suppose, as we view Harvard and Yale :)

  18. Pre-school- meant to socialize your child and get them used to the environment of school, I translate that into a waste of time really, it's unimportant to me, seeing how I could do all that from home and save money too.

    Kindergarten-5th grade are the elementary grades and everything else you said about it was accurate.

    I think that everyone hit the nails on their heads in the comments, said things I would have said as well.

    One thing I will mention is that, I hate the discrimination one gets when not having a high school diploma or a GED. You just can't get a worthy enough job without one. There were so many jobs I'd be ace at, if only they looked past the fact that I don't have a diploma. At that time I got into the long story of why I don't have one, but really there isn't an excuse that I don't have one now.

    I'd love to home school my kids, but they do need those important social skills that I couldn't give them at home. I am afraid of what the school system can do to my kids, between the bullying/hazing/violence in general.

    Before I write a book, I'll stop. Just in a writing mood this a.m.

  19. Come to think of it, I was home-schooled for a time. At least a year when I was 11. I have almost no recollection of it whatsoever, apart from John Masefield's poem, Cargoes:
    Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack,
    Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,
    With a cargo of Tyne coal,
    Road-rails, pig-lead,
    Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.

    I suspect I may have been a difficult pupil. My poor mother.

    NB Max. Tyne coal. Newcastle.

  20. It seems that the Chicago school system is a little different than the rest of the country... at least when I was growing up. We had "grade school" or "grammar school," which was kindergarten through 8th grade (sometimes called "elementary school" but I never heard it referred to as "primary school"). Then we went to High School (9th-12th grades). Not that we called them "grades" once we got to high school. No, we were too cool for that. High school mimics the college naming convention... freshman, sophomore, junior, senior.

  21. Redbird, funny... no harm no foul. Thanks for the show of appreciation, duly noted.

  22. C'mon A., what about:
    Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir,
    Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,
    With a cargo of ivory,
    And apes and peacocks,
    Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.

    Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus,
    Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores,
    With a cargo of diamonds,
    Emeralds, amethysts,
    Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.

    Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack,
    Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,
    With a cargo of Tyne coal,
    Road-rails, pig-lead,
    Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.

    I remember we used to sing the poem along to the BBC's schools music programme, whatever it was called.
    I always loved the images in it, and I've had a love of ships and the sea forever, it seems, i remember seeing little salt-stained, rust streaked coasters in the docks of Grimsby, Hull, Grangemouth, and wonder what they carried, through what mysterious seas, to which unimagineable ports.
    Particularly exciting, when I was a kid, was seeing two bright red painted ships loading at Grangemouth, Kista Dan, and Magga Dan, these were supply ships for the antarctic bases, ice strengthened, it felt like an adventure just to see them, to imagine where they had been....

  23. Kelly - That's the first time I have heard that. Always it was K-6 (or K-5 with mid-school). Are you saying everybody went to the same school K-8? Really? What a disparity. But, when you think about it, they used to have one room country schools that had all the grades in one room, up to graduation age. Of course these were mostly farm children and there weren't more than 30 (if that) in the class any given year. I don't suppose the British ever had those rural one-room schools for all the grades. But we sure did. Before the time of busses. As Bill Cosby once said in a routine (wasn't Bill fro Chicago?) "We had to walk 6 miles to school each way, through 6 feet of snow each way, uphill each way...".

    I don't know. Thank you for your comment, Kelly.

  24. Kelly - I didn't mean to imply that Chicago only had one school building. :) I meant to ask if each neighborhood elementary school has students in it together, K-8.

  25. Soubriquet - I have never heard that one until today. I am curious if it was so popular and so prevalently taught that you still remember all that from memory, or if you had to look it up? Well, even if you had to look it up to verify the words, it is still impressive, I say. Thanks for sharing.

    PS-A. knew all the verses too. Plus two more that you left out. :)

  26. Wow. Maybe I will make serious posts more often. Thank you all for your input. I am still confused, but I am learning. And I hope to learn more over the next few days about the differences in the two systems.

    Chica - I know where you are coming from. I graduated from high school but put off going to college at first. Then things happened and one thing led to another and I found myself without a degree. Much of the problem was I hated sitting in a classroom listening to lectures. I would almost vomit from the boredom and total waste of time. I would read the textbook over and over until I could teach the subject (in about 2 weeks) but you don't get a diploma because you know the info. I tried to CLEP out, but every university I tried to make do its job stonewalled me. I wrote letters to the U.S. Department of Education, but never got answers. (CLEP is a federal law: they MUST test you to see if you can pass their final. But they refuse. So MANY job I could do, but didn't have the credentials. Some I bluffed my way into and DID do the job - once for two years before I was terminated. In the end, my solution was self-employment. I ended up making more than the University presidents and probably the Secretary of Education. Chica, fuck them. You are smart. I know everything went against you. But you are special. You can do it. Don't play their games. Set up your own business if you want. You would succeed.

  27. "I don't suppose the British ever had those rural one-room schools for all the grades."

    They still do in remote places, in some parts of Scotland, but more especially for the very young children. At least in Hampshire, and very likely in other places, they didn't like making the little ones travel far to school. Even where you don't get the whole school together, you do have many places that teach an age range rather than a year group.

  28. Well when all my critters get in school, I'm going to get my GED, then get some other schooling under my belt that will be beneficial to me in whatever career path I choose. If it doesn't happen that way, I'll still thrive at what I can get without one. I got the knowledge I need and pretty much nothing more then that. Thanks.

  29. Just realised you may have meant up to school leaving age. At least I think so - all this K-6, K-8 - has me confused. There would have been country schools once covering the full range when the school leaving age was 14. That was raised to 15 in 1944, to 16 in 1972. They are talking of raising it to 18.

  30. a. - Interesting. I just assumed that your schools would all have been in villages and not far out in the countryside. Sorry.

    Our country schools offered education up through 12th grade sometimes, in the early times. Usually they went up to the 8th grade and then those students who wanted more came into the city school systems for their High School. The advent of school busses saw the demise of these rural schools where all grades were taught by one teacher. Also, as you say, the students only went through the 8th grade, obtaining only a basic education.

    In the U.S. (as with so many things) the several states determine the ages when a student can drop out of school. Usually, attendance is mandated until age 16 in most states.

    @Chica - Good for you. You are awesome. And very smart. I am rooting for you, you know. :)

  31. Yes, the Masefield was popular, but my ability to remember it stems from having to write it out fifty times.
    Some petty infringement of school rules, I forget, like walking on the wrong side of the corridor...(left side only), or the particularly heinous sin of slouching, perhaps. Mr Londesborough set the task, "Bring it to me after morning assembly tomorrow, boy." His subject was Latin and ancient greek... Amo, Amas, Amat...Amamis? Amatis, Amunt...
    Cave Canem... I remember little more.
    I also had to write out the Law Of Constant Composition a hundred times for Mr Holdsworth, the chemistry teacher...
    He would point at me, intone "The boy....Carter-constant composition! Speak!" And I would stand, good little zombie, and recite... "When any two elements or compounds combine together in more than one proportion, the weights of one which combine with a fixed weight of the other, are in simple RATIO".
    (Ratio had to be emphasised....)
    I started school at the age of almost six. My birthday is in november, the school year began in september. I could have started a year earier, being classed as a "rising five" a child who would become five within the first term, or as you say, semester.
    The school was a two-room village school, where my father had recited his alphabet aeons before me.
    The head teacher there was Miss Crossland, and the other teacher was miss Pears. All the boys were in love with Miss Pears. Despite us all being under the age of eight in her class. Cruelly, she spurned us, and married a grown-up.
    Her replacement was Mrs Travis.
    Mrs Travis had been living in Canada, then South Africa, and she had two daughters. She put Susan, the younger one, to share a desk with me, because, as she said, i "spoke so nicely".
    Susan always smelled of rose scented soap. I fell in love with her, as Miss Pears seemed unlikely to return. We sang "Quinquireme of Nineveh....." holding the same song sheet. Held hands in morning assembly, and sang "Morning has broken, like the first morning, Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird". It seemed very apposite, in our little village, where my route to school took me through the fields, past tangles of wild roses, where each morning, we heard that blackbird speak.
    Anyway, that little village school started me on a love of poetry, books, words. I remember it with a smile. The later one, where i seemed always to be writing "impots" (impositions, written punishments of various kinds), I remember with not much of a smile. Its business seemed to be to drive out any love of poetry, shakespeare, etc, but somehow it failed. And it did have one or two inspirational teachers.
    "If I should die, think only this of me, that there's a corner of a foreign field that is forever England......." That one was 150 times too, Rupert Brooke, I think, I wrote it out, cursive/longhand, sitting at the back of the geography room, on three consecutive evenings, every time I handed a few sheets of paper in, the teacher in charge of after-school-detention would point out an error, or an ink blob, and score out an entire poem, saying "Do that one again" after the first three sessios I was allowed to complete the task in school break times, lunchtimes, and at home. No fewer than twenty renditions of the entire poem to be handed in by 9 a.m. each morning.
    I was regarded with awe by my classmates because I held the school record for being on detention in that year. I was a rebel. Sometimes I walked across the schoolyard with my hands in my pockets. I once wore a blue shirt, not white or grey, as stipulated. I was sent home to return properly dressed... I got caught walking UP the down-stair. Detentions were abundant.
    As you see, my school had rules that were quite strict. In fact, it was so daring to walk across the centre part of the corridor, past the hall, and the Head's study, rather than go outside and around, as all below the sixth form were required to do, that it never occured to us to stab our teachers, or gun down our

    That's it for now, I'm rambling again. Nurse will be round with my medication soon, that stuff that makes me compliant and docile....

  32. Soubriquet! Just not good enough. Another 50 times please:

    Did you go to the same school as I did? No, not possible, mine was all female, even down to the last teacher.

    As for the Law of Constant Composition - nasty memories of writing the wrong one (Conservation of Matter) for my O-levels and being certain for two months I'd failed the lot.

  33. 50 times?
    Mr Londesborough will be gnashing his teeth in the grave at my crumbling latin.

    My school was all boys...
    There was a neighbouring girl's school, we could see girls from a distance, out on the sports fields.
    But there was no-go zone between them, a vast no-man's land, reputed to be mined and under constant surveillance.

    My friend, Ted, went to a boarding school, the boys there were even more severely separated from girls. We saw a business opportunity there, and bought magazines with naked women in them from sleazy shops, and sold them at at least double the cover price.
    These mags were outrageously explicit... Um. well actually, no. All the girls were coyly posed, and nipples were airbrushed out. But the sight of naked females stirred the boarders into a frenzy, and our profits were huge until, inevitably, the school started an investigation into the source of the contraband images.
    Ted was threatened with expulsion, and our few months as 14 year old porn barons were ended.

  34. We had a neighbouring boys' school, in the same grounds. We were separated by the playing fields....

  35. Probably neighboring schools. (Neighbouring?)

    How very interesting.




Related Posts with Thumbnails