Saturday, September 6, 2008

Public schools? Not really.

Schools and schooling are a little different in the UK than in the U.S. 

For example (as has been stated before in other posts) what the U.S. would call "private schools" are in the UK public schools. This rather odd situation came about long ago when the private schools there were mostly run by religious organizations. Later, anyone who could afford the tuition fees were allowed to go to school there, even if not affiliated with that particular religion. That is, the "public" could now attend. The school was still private.

Speaking of religion, in the "true" (by the American definition) public schools, there is not in the UK  separation of church and state: Religious things - including actual prayer - are allowed in the classroom there. At least this is what I read. I am depending on my readers to correct this if wrong. This has not been allowed in U.S. since the 1950s of course. So elevated is our thinking.

If this situation has changed, or is changing, in the UK, I would appreciate your input.

In the U.S., the trend is now toward private schools (in the true sense of the word "private") and to home-schooling of children. This has been the case for many years now. Public schools are still by far the most prevalent. Private schools are mostly run by religious organizations. Prayer and religious teaching are allowed in private schools (and of course in home schools.) Prayer and religious instruction (other than the teaching of comparative religions as an actual class) is not allowed in the U.S. in public schools any more.

Many changes have been effected in public schools in the U.S. in the past decade. Uniforms are becoming more and more the norm in many high schools. This to fight gang "colors" mainly, but also is an attempt to instill a little pride in the students, by being dressed neatly and non-competitively. In all public schools one will usually find official rules against bringing drugs (even aspirin) to school, or weapons of any kind. Inner city schools will find metal detectors and city police patrolling the hallways commonplace. Certain constitutional rights have been suspended for students in public schools, primarily search and seizure and privacy of personal papers and belongings.

In the U.S., high schools are often referred to as prep schools, meaning preparation for college after high school graduation. But in the UK, I believe prep refers to a more elementary school level.


  1. No there is no separation of church and state in the UK. There are many non fee-paying religious schools in the state system. In the past these have mainly been either Church of England or Catholic, plus a few Jewish. Nowadays this has been extended to other faiths. Personally I wonder at the wisdom of having religious schools because it seems to me to encourage separatism, but if they aren't in the state system they will no doubt set up privately. In fact many in the state system were originally private. Therefore it follows that religious lessons and prayer are allowed at school. In many schools, especially larger ones, morning assembly has all but died out, and has become less and less based around religion, or if at all spiritual is nevertheless not any one specific religion. Religious studies is available as an examination subject both at GCSE and A level, and can be comparative religions or much more specifically one religion.

    Uniforms are the norm here. It has surprised me to hear that US schools are starting to wear

    In France there is no religion taught at state schools at all. And no uniforms that I've ever seen. The British School in Paris used to insist on a uniform, still does I think, much to the amusement of the locals.

    Prep schools are very specifically in the private system, preparation for our public schools originally but now any independent school. Once only for boys. For boys the age range would be roughly 5 up to to 13, because the old public school system starts at age 13 up to 18. For girls' prep schools 5 - 11, with girls senior schools taking from age 11 -18. There is a very strict definition of what is a public school. Not all independent private schools are public schools.

    I still don't really understand what a college is in the US. Is it another name for university, or something in between school and university? And do you sometimes say school when you mean university? 'Tis much more confusing to my simple mind than our public school system.

  2. Thank you for the info and corrections, a. That's a lot of good information there.

    I don't know if a comment is the proper place to try and respond to your question about colleges, or if another post might serve the answer better. Let me TRY to give you an overview here in a comment, though. Bear in mind I am hardly the final word on this, but the following is what the words have come to mean to me and many other Americans.

    In the U.S., the word "college" is used loosely to simply refer to a post-secondary education. I suppose even that may be somewhat confusing, so let me back up even one more step. In the U.S., one has "primary education", then "secondary education" (4 years of high school). Any education beyond the high school diploma is called "post-secondary" education. Meaning college or University.

    Obviously, the word "college" (at least in the U.S.) when correctly used, refers to a smaller, self-contained 4-year-degree educational institution. A university, of course, consists of many colleges on the same campus. One might attend the University of Michigan and study, say, engineering, and his actual schooling will take place at "The University of Michigan's College of Engineering." (For example.) Although his actual degree would say University of Michigan on it.

    So a college is a place that you go after high school which offers an accredited 4-year degree (bachelors degree) in some discipline. And if you attend a University, then you will still be attending one of it's colleges. They are simply (mostly) on the same large campus.

    But the word "college" is VERY loosely used to simply mean "education after high school." If a student's mother were speaking to one of her friends, the friend might ask, "Where is Susie?" And the mother would say, "She's off to college." And the friend would ask, "Really? Where?" And the mother might say, "Susie is going to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor." Well. The U of M on their web site lists 20 "schools, colleges, and departments" on their main Ann Arbor campus alone. And they have two other large campuses in the state. Over 40,000 students are enrolled, and over 6000 faculty work there. Like most state Universities, it is huge. But the friend would be satisfied with the answer, "Susie is going to college." And she would then probably simply say, "What is she studying?" In an American's mind, a University is simply an overgrown college. Not true of course, but you wanted to know how we used the word.

    School? Also used in a very general sense. Mostly "school" would refer to education before university - elementary school or high school - but, yes it also is loosely used for higher education: "Susie is off to school at the University of Michigan." That is said and fully understood by the listener. And the college student at a large university might tell a friend, "Yes, I'm going to school at U of M now. 2 more years."

    Here - and you have no idea how I hate to do this - I must introduce to you the words "Community College", "Junior College", "University Branch College" and "Technical-Vocational Institute."

    Oh, lord. Perhaps another post IS in order after all. Never mind. :)

  3. Max is right. We have so many words for schooling here. It is confusing for us too.(although not to Tom)

  4. Yes, perhaps another post :) Then I can tell you what college means to me....

  5. Nah. I've already moved on. Food. I want to talk about food again. And France. Rivers in France. Love the French.

  6. In my school days, I went to a state secondary school, i.e, state-funded, non fee-paying.
    My parents considered sending me to the grammar school in the city centre, fee-paying, like my sister's school. But the grammar school 11 minutes walk away had an educational record which was if anything better, so i went there. Assembly in the morning was religious, in fact, our right hand pocket in our school uniform blazer was to hold our school issue hymnbook at all times other than when we were singing hymns.
    I undestand the paranoia about not indoctrinating children, but i'm a good example of it not necessarilr working.
    I would say I try to live my life by a code of ethics ingrained upon me in my early years, which were to some extent decreed by that religious teaching, but.... I do not go to church. I do not believe in god.
    Nevertheless, I love old churches, and i respect the beliefs of those who built them, and use them.

    That's another subject entirely though. And if anyone reading this thinks I am damned forever, I'd like to point out that god and I discussed the matter long ago and resolved it thus. If god does not exist, then what harm am i doing by not believing? If god does exist, then we agree that he gave me free will, and that i can hardly be punished for following the free will he gave me.
    In the meantime, when cast overboard in icy waters, I shall still cry out to him, and feel not a bit hypocritical.
    College vs university, yes, i too get confused by american usage of these terms, but ours too are confusing. Our oldest universities were formed by the amalgamation of separate colleges, and still in many, you consider yourself first as a student of, say Oxford university, but you would be at, say, Baliol College...
    So here too, a student may be at a University, but study at a college or school within it.

    But also we have less academic levels of college, students may describe themself as going to college when in fact they are studying the same courses their school taught, and they are trying to pass the examinations they failed, or never took in school.
    Also, there are vocational colleges, which combine academia and practicality, offering qualifications in all manner of trades.
    There's extra kudos if that college applies to, and is accepted into the demesne of a university. for some reason its bits of paper are seen as being more potent.

    In reality, the borders are blurring. Universities teach more courses that would once have been laughed out as not being university material, and smaller colleges teach serious in-depth studies once the dominion of the ivory towers.

  7. Balliol - 3 ls please M. Soubriquet ;)

    Yes, or no, the religious education thing didn't seem to work for me either.

    Yes, yes, I was saving all that about the Oxbridge colleges for the next post. But I would take issue with you over the modern use of college in the UK. The word is customarily used for what I might have called a sixth form college, replacing the final two years of schooling ie any 16 - 18 separate from any younger age group, or FE (further education) colleges.

    And schools within a university are something else again - School of Engineering within the Faculty of Engineering and Science for example, or School of Medicine with the Faculty of Medical and Biological Studies. All sorts of scope there.

    We could also discuss the differing use of the word professor. More scope there.

    I think M. Max is otherwise engaged at the moment. Yes !! Wreak havoc etc :)

  8. Ok, M. a. - Max is back. And he has eaten so he is no longer interested in food (or France-so you can drop the M. as well, young lady.) :) :)

    I talked off the top of my head in my first comment and then you sit there in front of your Google machine and act all smarty pants. Well, maybe you ARE also talking only from experience and personal knowledge. I know you have enough packed between your ears to do so if you want. I feel sure that is the case with Soubriquet too.

    I'm having a good time. Don't know about you, dear a. Suspect you are.

    No, not going to get another post. You made me write a book here in comments, so you can address "college" here as well.

    I suppose I should have looked some things up before I made my comment, but I think most of what I said is true. To an American, going to college is simply an act of pursuing an advanced education.

    My American dictionary describes a college as an educational institution or establishment (is there a difference?) which provides higher education or specialized professional or vocational training. Then, as a separate definition, or "sub" definition, it says the word is also used to describe "a school within a university" offering a general liberal arts curriculum leading only to a bachelor's degree.

    Didn't know that. Or didn't think about that. Where then does one go for a masters degree or doctorate? To university, to be sure, but surely also to a department within that university, no? More investigation needed here by me.

    But, BUT! my little American dictionary then presumes to continue with a British definition of college. Shall I share? I shall.

    • (in Britain) any of a number of independent institutions within certain universities, each having its own teaching staff, students, and buildings.
    • Brit. a private secondary school : i.e., Eton College.

    So. Not really seeing huge distinctions here. Except the Eton one. Major difference there. Perhaps the three of us SHOULD write a separate book. In fact, with only a few more comments of this size, the book will be half done already. :)

    Ettarose: thank you for your comment. Did I tell you today how much I appreciate your constant support of my humble efforts around the blogosphere? I do. :) And you are wise to note that I know most everything conceivable. Or know how to speak as if I do. Thanks again. :)

    a., Soubriquet, - This may be getting out of hand. Hope not. Am I clouding the issue more than I am clarifying it? And can I take a moment to talk about those other colleges I mentioned at the end of my first long comment? Of course I may.

    Community colleges. These are becoming ever more and more popular and more and more utilized in the U.S. Except in rare instances, you won't get a bachelor degree at one of these. Two year (Associate Degree) is the rule here. But they serve a HUGE purpose.

    Community colleges (earlier called "Junior Colleges" because they only offered an Associate degree) used to be mainly for the purpose of adults going to school at night in their own communities to gain more education to advance in their job. Or to obtain a high school diploma they never finished if they dropped out of high school.

    But today, they run full steam in the daytime too. It costs a lot of money for a young person to attend university. You have to pay for a place to live and buy food to eat in addition to your tuition. But you can attend a Community College in your home town or a nearby neighboring town, and still live at home and still keep your job. Then, after this head start, you transfer your credits to a university and finish your degree there. Of course, one makes sure the credits are transferable and acceptable to the desired end university.

    And what if you want to enter university, but find your math(s) skills (for example) are not acceptable to that university? Most universities will allow you to take another basic course at a nearby community college and still let you attend university for the rest of your courses. After you show proof of completing the basic competency math(s) course, most univerisites will then let you take the math course you weren't allowed to take at first. So they can work hand in hand.

    Also, Community Colleges very often work hand-in-hand with technical schools and vocational schools (which teach trades and help place you in jobs) and let you attend the Community College for your English and Maths and writing, etc. courses that you need to know as well as how to fix a car.

    So. I think these probably meet the same needs as some of the other British schools that Soubriquet mentioned.

    Finally, financing. Education is hugely expensive in the U.S. Probably in the UK as well. Community colleges are often subsidized by local tax issues, so that helps, but university is sky-high. In the U.S. almost anyone at all can obtain a student loan (a loan made by bank, but guaranteed by the government). And poor but gifted young people can often get much of their costs waived entirely. So can certain minority or "disadvantaged" people. Of course there are also countless scholarships an industrious student can qualify for as well. Student loans can be huge and take many years to repay, but the assumption is by that time they have a degree and a good job. Not always a valid assumption, by the way.

    I wonder what the student loan situation is in the UK? How does one finance his education?

    And, my dear a., please DO talk about what the word "collage" means to you. I really want to know. Thanks.

  9. Not "collage", "college. Damn French anyway. :)

  10. Well now, that's taken me 45 minutes to read all that. Are you certain you don't want to start a new post?

    College to me means one of four things (mostly)

    1. A school whose name is "something" College as you say Eton College and another example would be Winchester College. It means nothing apart from being the name of the establishment.

    2. Community Colleges are frequently 11-16 and usually specialist colleges as in technology, sports, languages, engineering, etc. As far as I can tell it means very little. We have a Community Prison nearby - what exactly does that mean? To muddy the water, some FE (further education) colleges also call themselves community colleges.

    3. College immediately after 11-16 education is mostly what anyone would mean if they ask where Johnny goes to college. It replaces what we used to call the sixth form at school and now known as years 12 and 13. They often cater purely for 16-18 year olds, but others also have older ages and even offer degree level subjects. Here we are into FE and things start becoming woolly round the edges.

    4. Colleges exist within very few universities , primarily Oxford and Cambridge, and Durham (Dunelm, almost a good as Salop). The colleges are small communities and you rarely hear anyone speak of the college rather than the university unless within the university itself. Using Soubriquet's example, people would usually say they were at Oxford rather than they were at Balliol except to another Oxford person. The University of London had a similar system except that the constituent colleges stand as separate universities. So you have Kings College London, Imperial, University College London (UCL), and so on, all totally separate and awarding their own degrees. Some accommodation remains inter-collegiate in London.

    I'll stop there and take breath, you'll be pleased to hear. Oh, apart from in France collège is specifically age 11 - 16 except that they make students repeat years so often that it's sometimes hard to tell. Because I know you hang on every word I say about France :)

  11. Financing. This has recently undergone several big changes.

    Once upon a time, mine, all tuition was free and a student could apply for a maintenance grant to cover costs. It was means tested but very generous. Mine wasn't the full grant but enabled me to live away from home perfectly comfortably, bearing in mind that nobody ran a car or a mobile phone in those days.

    Gradually maintenance grants became harder and harder to come by but tuition remained free, and free for anyone in the EU.

    Then the government decided to charge tuition fees, but it didn't get close to covering costs. Overseas, non-EU, students paid vastly more. These fees were payable up front and have been increased over the years.

    Then a few years ago it was decided that instead of paying the fees up front, students would pay the amount off after graduation, and only once their earnings reached a certain level.

    In the meantime, when the maintenance grants were reduced to such a level that very few people qualified, they introduced a student loan at a very low interest rate, again repayable after graduation. As a result some students can start their working lives with massive debts. When I was a student, we worked only during the holidays, very rarely during term time. Nowadays almost all students have a part-time job.

  12. Last one I promise.

    We have Foundation Degrees but I know very little about them, apart from being two-year courses. Our Higher National diplomas are comparable. They are more practical and less academic, but can be used as a pathway on to a more traditional degree course.

    Students who don't have the correct entrance requirements for university usually will take a Foundation Year, often at the university where they want to take the degree. Access courses are similar but are mainly for students over 21.

    Widening access for people who might not normally have attended university has become more and more important recently. For the first time this summer, medical students from 4 year, 5 year and 6 year courses all graduated together at the University of Southampton. The traditional medical degree takes 5 years. the 6 year course is for students who have non-standard entry qualifications, and the 4 year course is for graduates of other disciplines.

  13. A Digression:The picture at the post heading, by the way, says it's a british school student.
    It's the pic that was used on the album sleeve of Fatboy Slim's first (i think) album, and i recall Fatboy Slim, real name Norman Cook saying it was a pic taken in America.
    Because, at the time, people were thinking it was in fact him...

    Balliol, dammit a, the bloke himself couldn't make his mind up how to spell it eight hundred years ago, and it was one of several spelling errors i missed. typing errors, i hate this laptop keyboard, it is my enemy.

    In my home city, we have several colleges which do not, as a. implies, cater for the school age group, but in fact, more the age group shared by the universities. Such as the College of Music, and the college of Technology, and, let us not forget the teacher training colleges.
    We also have schools which are, in fact colleges, such as the Northern School of Contemporary Dance, and colleges which are in fact schools, such as Notre Dame Sixth Form College... oh the waters are so muddy, Some schools which call themselves 'college' are not fee paying, many colleges are not parts of universities, i think what it all proves, again, is how infuriatingly contradictory and hard to pin down english is.
    yes, I know, clumsy sentence, but it's almost two in the morning.

  14. Ex prime-minister Tony Blair's school days were spent at Fettes College, Edinburgh.

  15. Nevertheless, soubriquet, we're having to talk generalities here. If you have a form which asks an applicant to name school and college attended, you will get their 11-16 school followed by their 16-18 college, even sometimes when it's the same place. Believe me. The colleges of Music and dance are Higher Education institutes - they award degrees.

    Fettes College is of course another big public school like Eton and Winchester, but it reminds me that much of this does not apply to Scotland which has its own exams and school system with different year groups. I'm not even going to attempt that.

  16. We need to narrow this down. There are too many variations here. I am starting to lose both of you. I am going to do another post from a different angle. Thanks for all your information here.



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