British Vs US Schools
Colleges and Universities
How different are British schools from American schools?
[Please keep in mind that Im comparing good British schools to good American schools – I did not attend a high school in inner city New York, for example, and those experiences will be different.]
In primary/elementary school, I found that the level of learning at British schools was substantially higher. Ive found this with my younger cousins as well – despite being in higher level classes for their respective age groups, they are either just at, or quite far behind, the level that I remember being at at their age. This is especially true for maths, for some reason.
However, it seems to me that the American system picks up pace as you go through (American students are as capable as their British counterparts), and I think the workload just increases at a faster rate until by high school, theyre evenly matched. Please correct me if you believe Im wrong.
High school (first two years)
British kids do GCSEs – these are standardised exams that are done in chosen subjects. I did 10. My school made us do the three sciences, maths, English language, English literature, a foreign language (plus pick one from three different categories – humanities, and two others I dont remember now).
In some ways its more fair that the American system, and less grade-based. Why do I say this? Well, because there is a curve, but the "curve" is based on the entire worlds scores. So since its the whole world, the grading is always fair. Theres also less competitiveness, and if a teacher hates you, who cares. It wont affect your grade one bit.
It also means that little things like pop quizzes and unit tests that Americans care a lot about, dont matter so much. You can fail and learn without worrying about a GPA or class rank or any other such high school nonsense ;).
(To give you an example of biased teachers, one of my friends in American school had a final in English in grade 10 – the teacher made them do a 10 minute presentation of whatever they wanted. She chose ASL. She got an A. This would be unheard of in the British system.)
High school (last two years)
So now both systems have standardised exams – Americans have AP and IB, and the British have A-levels and IB.
The American regular high school system (without AP or IB) has the same drawbacks I mentioned above. Since America as a country has no system in place, they have to have the SAT for college admissions. The SAT is single-handedly one of the most ridiculous tests I have ever taken in my life, but thats another story.
Anyway, so APs last a year, I think. I did IB, which lasts two years. Its a lot of work, but again, you have the same benefits: compared against the world, two year course so theres only pressure at the end (I graduated with high grades, but if I got a level 4 [out of 7] in a topic test, I didnt care. Its more of a learning experience than trying to keep your GPA up for college).
APs would have the same benefits, I assume but if the school calculates GPA and stuff based on all quizzes, its back to the same thing – learning/memorising for tests, rather than learning to understand.
British kids choose their subjects before Grade 9/Year 10, and then are stuck with those ~10 for the next 2 years. (Some kids take more, some less). If you didnt choose Economics, but want to try it out, tough. You have to wait until you get to choose your subjects for Grade 11/Year 12.
But then theres another problem. If youre taking A-levels, you have to specialise at that point. (A-levels are another 2 year course taken in the last two years of high school). You typically choose 4 subjects, and drop one of them your second year (receiving 3 A-levels and 1 AS level. The AS is basically half the course).
At this point, you cant really decide to take Economics because you want to try it. If you want to be a doctor, you take the sciences, you take maths. If you want to get into an art program, you take arts. If you have room in your schedule and you really want to try Economics because you think you want to go into business, only then is it smart to take Economics.
American kids, on the other hand, take what they want right till they end. In fact, they can even apply to college undeclared!
Because British kids get their exam scores in the middle of the summer (since everyone will do either A-levels or IB), the universities are used to giving offers based on predicted grades.
Almost every offer is conditional, so British seniors are working to meet an offer of admission – this is kind of stressful.
The American system, on the other hand, is used to admitting based on GPAs, SAT scores and such. So they give unconditional offers. This means that an IB kid in the US whos predicted 45 points (the highest), can totally slack of after getting an offer. As long as they dont get toooo far below, or completely fail, theyre basically guaranteed a place. British seniors have to keep their grades up to the end, and sometimes it sucks. My friend, who had great grades, didnt meet her offer of admission because she just faltered during exam season. Your future (being dramatic here) depends on how you perform in a short period of time. Youre given the offer based on your performance in the last 4 years, but you cinch the offer by doing well in your final exams.
Kind of on a tangent, but its relevant. So the US college admissions process is very "holistic" which seems to be code for do-everything-be-everything-live-like-you-want-to-go-to-harvard. The British system is not. If you want to go to Oxford for maths, it might be good to have some great extracurriculars, but primarily theyre looking at your scores. At the interview, theyre not trying to get a feel for the "real you", theyre going to ask you about maths. You also had to have taken A-level or IB maths (which means generally, British kids are counselled on career planning well before their American counterparts).
Harvard, however, will be looking at everything. Try getting into Harvard with just good grades – not going to happen.
British kids are also only allowed to apply to 5 universities, which means acceptance rates for even top universities are substantially higher (one person need like two reaches, one safety, two middle schools. They cant apply to a bunch of great schools just to see if theyll get in, so that keeps application rates, and consequently admissions rates, down).
Also, the program you apply to seriously matters in the admissions process in the UK. For example, it would be way easier to get into Oxford for a farming degree (?) than for medicine.
US top universities are not legally allowed to take course/major into account when selecting candidates. So theres another difference.
Because British kids specialise early, they apply directly to programs. Want to be a doctor – take Science and Maths at A-levels, then apply directly to medical programs. Same goes for law school, but with English and History or something. Not really sure of the exact subjects.
This is different to the American system, where the specific 4-year degree you got basically doesnt matter when applying to law/med schools, even business schools.
Phew, thats all I can think of for now. Im writing this late at night so Ill come back tomorrow and edit for rambling and coherence.
Hope this was a good answer for you!
Cant say much about schools – but I can tell a bit about colleges.
First of all – college admissions in UK are made mostly on the basis of marks you obtained on A levels and in GCSEs if you are applying to Oxbridge and equivalent universities. All things considered – I think its a fair and non biased way of selecting students – UK colleges are more concerned about selecting students who would do well aacdemically. In the UK, if you have had excellent GCSE and A levels – you can be sure you will get admission to at least one of the top colleges – Oxbridge, LSE, UCL, Russell Group Unis. Whereas in the US – not even the perfect GPA and SAT score can get you into a top 50 university – never mind the Ivy Leagues. US colleges care about holistic evaluation – especially ahem… if you are …..cough cough Asian. You need to have perfect grades, standardized test scores, exceptional extra curriculars – by that I mean if you are one of the those who have made it to 20 Under 20 Forbes List, won Olympic games, are running for Mayor at tender age of 16, have been nominated for Grammies etc – then you have a good chance of getting an admit to an elite college.
Another thing which is not discussed much – US education is very much partial to URMs ( Unrepresented Minority) and Legacy admits. If you are a URM or a Legacy kid ( your parents studied at said college) you have a very good shot at being accepted in said colleges with above average academics and SAT scores. Whereas in UK – as far as I know – no URM or Legacy kid will ever stand a chance in hell at getting admitted to Oxbridge with BBB A levels.
As for college – in US you study more – there college education consists of Gen Eds ( General Education not related to your major) and then your major/degree. Gen eds is the headache of many students who have no interest or aptitude in those subjects. To add insult to injury Gen eds scores will make up significant part of your GPA – if you score poorly on GE not even straight As in your major will salvage your GPA. In the US GPA is cumulative . You pay for every C, D you ever make. No second chances.
In UK unless you are majoring in more than one subject – you dont have to study anything other than your honours/major. If you are a Physics major – you dont have to go through Psychology/Lit classes. Moreover UK grading system gives you much chances at improvment – in most UK colleges – first year do not count. Your degree classifications rest mostly on final year scores. There are many students who have had thirds in first year – 2:2s and 2:1s in second year and obtained a 1
/2:1 in their final year and graduated with a First or 2:1. In US such students would have had to graduate without honours/low GPA.
One advantage US have is that employers care only about your UGPA and can care less about your school grades. Whereas in UK most reputable employers would look at your degree classification, your A Level results and in some extreme cases even your GCSEs. So the success stories of the kid who failed out of school but managed to get a 3.8 in college and is now happily employed at a top company wont be applicable in the UK.
, Lives in the UK. I likwould to give advice.
Quite honestly I can only say from a British view. I myself have been to 5 maybe 7 school In the UK. Most of which where special schools. I attended school in London, Milton Keynes and Retford which is in Notighamshire. Now also cause I have behaviour issues/ADHD/Autism I find it hard to control my emotions. I myself have been restrained many times, I have been in many detention and also isolation. Now one thing I must say though here in the UK public schools are thery good. The lot more support and all of that. Also i think one of the main difference between British and American Schools is we use better more intelligent English grammar; to us it 2nd nature. To USA Citezen not so much. Also of what I have heard that In America the less support for Special Needs and all state run schools are considered far worse then private Schools. Now one probably of the most obvious differences is School uniform. In America I would say that maybe 1/10 schools have uninform where as here in the UK 9/10 schools have uniform. So thats a foundermental difference between the UK and America.
So here are my personal main difference between the UK Schools and America!
1st special school: here in the UK we have a highly trained state funded special school which offer great support to students with special needs and Special Requirements.
2nd State run schools: once again here in the UK most if not all schools are public rather than private. Most of these public school are state run with a decent budget for a decent education.
3rd School uniform: here in the UK 9/10 schools have uniform and every school has some sort of uniform policy. In America maybe 1/10 schools have uniform but I would say that most of the Schools have a Dress code i.e Dress smart.
4th punishment: in the UK I would say that punishment in schools is far more lenient. I have no Doubt if I was the same in America I would probably ended up in JDC or Juvenile Detention Centre or on TAG.
And Finally English Grammar. Here in the UK i would like to say that we use more vibrant and better English grammar and words where as Americans use a more American twist of English.
‘What are the differences between British vs American schools?’ is a question I receive often because I have written several advice posts on American expat life in London. For this reason, I thought it might be fun to highlight some of the biggest differences here on the blog.
While you might think a school is a school, I’ve definitely
learnt learned that’s not the case when comparing across the pond. And, yes, that strikethrough is there because it represents how British people spell the word, as opposed to American. That’s just the surface of the differences between British vs American schools, Sunny friends. Take a look…
British vs American Schools- Who has more Class?
When Americans belt out Alice Cooper’s ‘School’s out for summer!’, they really have a reason to celebrate. In America, schools generally give students around 10-12 weeks of vacation. They can release students anywhere from the end of May to mid August, or mid-June to the beginning of September.
British schools are quite different. They generally end their academic year in mid-July and begin the first week of September. This gives students about 6 weeks of a summer holiday.
However, British students receive much more time away from school during the academic year, in comparison to American students. Nearly all British schools have a half-term, one week break in October, February and May. They also receive at least two weeks holiday over both Christmas and Easter holidays.
British vs American Schools- Off to Gryffindor
I giggle every time I pass British kids on their way to or from school in London.
I always feel like the kids are spawns of wizards or muggles on their way to Hogwarts in their colourful uniforms. However, I keep my chuckles to myself, in the event one of them actually pulls out a wand and aims it in my general direction.
American kids can wear what they want to school. I remember days in Florida when I wore a bathing suit top under my t-shirt so I could fast track it to the beach when the last bell rang.
The British school uniform nearly always consists of a: blazer,
jumper sweater, dress shirt, trousers (with the option of a skirt for girls). Most schools have pupils students wear a tie, regardless of gender. Students must ask a teacher’s permission if they want to remove their blazer during class if they are too hot.
Uniforms are made in the school’s designated colors. Mr. Sunny’s uniform at Hill House School was gold, rust and grey. Prince Charles also attended this school, albeit much earlier than my British husband. Here’s a picture of the school and a very old picture of Mr Sunny in his uniform.
Mr. Sunny also went to the Parkside School, and at this boarding school the uniform was grey and purple.
British vs American Schools- Where’s the Bus?
There are no school buses in London. Students rely on public transportation or a ride from their parents each day. In London, they refer to this as the ‘school run.’ It’s definitely a time you want to avoid being on the road or on a London bus.
In America, our school bus system is fairly standard. Every student who attends a public school has the opportunity to take ‘the cheese’ to and from school. And guess who had the chance to hop on a bus for this ‘luxury’ valet service once…
(I know my outfit matches the seats. Hey, if you’re taking the bus, you at least have to look the part, right?)
The big yellow buses chauffeur kids to and from their educational destination each and every day that school is in session. Most kids work part time jobs in an effort to buy a car so that they can transport themselves to school and other places.
British vs American Schools- What’s the plan?
British students spend ages 5-10 in primary schools. Secondary schools have students ages 11-18. There are no middle schools, unlike America. Until recently, British schools were compulsory for kids until they were only sixteen years old.
In America, we say students are in ‘Seventh Grade.’ British students of the same age are in ‘Year 8’. They are labeled a higher number in comparison to the US because we call the first formal year of school ‘Kindergarten’, which is the equivalent to ‘Year 1’ in England.
British school years are further broken in to groups called Key Stages. For example, Years 7-9 are classified as Key Stage 3. Students ages 16-18 are in Key Stage 5, which is called Sixth Form.
When looking at study plans as differences between British and American schools, there is more unity in the British course of study. Schools (unless they are independent) must follow the National Curriculum. American school teachers experience a substantial amount of freedom in comparison to what they can teach and when against their British counterparts.
Instruction for British secondary students focuses on the GCSE subject exams and the A Levels. In America, the SAT and ACT are the only real standardized tests that students take at a national level.
The SAT is most popular and is taken on a Saturday morning, usually at the beginning of a student’s junior year. It is quite honestly- dreadful. It features three sections: math, critical reading and writing. For nearly four hours, students struggle to answer questions that seem to have no reflection on what they study in school each day. However, the results of this test have a substantial effect on a student’s ability to apply for a university.
Most American expat students in London tend to receive their education at International Baccalaureate schools because the work is transferable in all countries and universities.
At the end of a class period, British students must stand at their desks and wait for a teacher to say they are dismissed. In America, when the bell rings, you run. The end.
British vs American Schools- Food for Thought
I can’t tell you how many times British people have asked me to explain a ‘tater tot’. They find that food wildly entertaining. This is comical to me because every American associates a tater tot with a school cafeteria lunch. Tater tots are small, deep-fried grated potatoes and they’re always included on a cafeteria lunch tray, with chocolate milk, of course.
American school cafeterias are not pleasant places. For lunch, kids wait in a line to be served a piece of soggy cardboard with two thick slices of pseudo-pepperoni, a thick red paste and chewy cheese that was probably manufactured from particles in the bottom of a bin in a science class weeks before. Next to their pizza is a watery, dull yellow substance called ‘Apple sauce.’ Finally, there’s a scoop of fruit salad. It’s usually hard to tell what fruits are featured because they’re all a greenish grey color and are very squishy.
British students call their lunchroom a ‘Canteen’. A random week at a British boarding school features Main Course lunch selections such as:
– Ratatouille with Mediterranean Herb Couscous
– Vegetable Moussaka
– Vegetarian Sausage Cassoulet
– Asparagus, Sunblush Tomato and Mozzarella Risotto
– Pea and Asparagus Girasole with a Cream and Chive Sauce with Fresh Parmesan Flakes
School children in England are absolutely forbidden to eat food in class. They are also only allowed to drink fruit juices or water. A
fizzy drink soda is banned from a classroom. American kids enjoy Red Bull or Mountain Dew with a hefty bag of Cheetos for breakfast in a first period class.
British vs American Schools- Who gets more?
Extra-curricular activities take place on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. However, in America, we tower above what the British offer. American students can choose from an array of sports like football, soccer, la crosse, hockey, swimming, tennis, track and field, baseball and basketball.
We also have events like pep rallies, where the entire school gathers in the sports gym instead of going to class. This is for the purpose of seeing the football players, basketball players, cheerleaders, dance team, majorettes and band display school spirit in support of a big upcoming game.
Further, students can belong to clubs like Art, Science Olympiad, Photography, DECA, FFA (Future Farmers of America), National Honor Society, Marching Band, Chemistry Club, Chess Club, Frisbee Club, French Club, Latin Club, Interact, Model UN, Debate Club, Ping Pong Club, Video Gaming Club, and Shrimp Club.
Ok. That last ‘club’ was an Ode to Forest Gump joke. I think. But…you never know. 😉
In America, if kids can convince the school that their club idea is worthy, there’s room in the extra-curricular budget, and they have a faculty advisor, then they can form their group. I guess it’s likely that there could be a group of marine biology students in Florida who start a Shrimp Club, right?
British vs American Schools- To Level or not to Level?
American schools offer classes that are usually either general or advanced. That’s it. Students mostly pick which type of class they’d like to take. Those that want the higher level need a teacher’s recommendation to register.
This is not the case in British schools. Students are separated in to numerous ability levels and can be changed and regrouped throughout the year. Therefore, it is clear to everyone what type of progress a student is or is not making.
British vs American Schools- Time and Tables
An educator’s schedule in a secondary British school is referred to as a ‘Timetable.’ Some schools offer them by one week, some by two weeks. They change daily and it’s rare for them to see the same class at the same time each day. British teachers could teach English to Year 7, Year 8, Year 9, Year 10 and Year 11 within a five day week.
In comparison, American schools basically have kids take the same classes in the same order nearly every day of the week, with the exception of gym. Teachers call their workload ‘Preps’ and rarely have more than three a year. For example, a teacher with three preps would teach 9th Grade English, 10th Grade English, and 11th Grade English. That’s it.
Teachers in America must apply for teaching certification in every state they wish to work. The requirements and process for each state is complicated and long. It also costs money for each certificate. They often need to be renewed every several years.
British teachers apply for Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) after they have trained and worked for a period of time. This enables them to teach any subject for which a school feels they are suited. Therefore, a teacher could teach English, Dance, Geography or Maths while working in one position at a school. However, it’s highly unlikely that would occur.
British vs American Schools- It’s no Musical!
Finally, British kids have the perception that American schools are like those they have seen in High School Musical and Mean Girls .
Thanks to Hollywood, American students are perceived to be very segregated by popularity groups like cheerleaders, football players and band geeks. So, I have to ask my American friends, do you think this is the case in American schools?
What other differences between British vs American schools can you add?
UPDATE: February 2, 2017
* After more time in London, and regular interest from readers, I created a YouTube video addressing many more differences between the school systems. Please add your comments/questions there too and share it on your social networks as well!
You can read more about the expat experience on the blog. If you’re American, don’t miss the Sunny tips for Harry Potter Things to Do in London, afternoon tea etiquette , and riding the Underground on YouTube!
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The school I went to was very stuck-up and segregated with little cliques (goths, jocks, preps, nerds, bullies, band, popular, etc). I didn’t fit in to any of them. The lack of a dress code makes it more obvious what group you are in. I was bullied a lot. I am glad not to have to endure those days again and I don’t have fond memories of school days. Oh, I did well academically and the teachers liked me, but the social aspect was what was wrong. I think if we’d had a dress code, I may not have endured so much as my family didn’t have a lot and I never wanted/asked for the expensive popular clothes and styles. But I just went to a very cliquey school, which was quite known as such from the neighbouring schools.Reply
Nice article! Only problem is that it only compares American schools with one very specific type of British school – boarding schools in London, which the vast majority of the UK population don’t attend. Outside of big cities most schools have a school bus, we don’t all wear blazers or ties (mainly upmarket schools!), most have after-school clubs that cover the activities you mention (I was in a debating society, sign language club and trampoline soc), and I have literally never seen moussaka offered on any British school menu! Times have changed recently, with Jamie Oliver promoting healthy eating in schools, but my canteen meals usually consisted of chips and choc ice. Maybe a chicken dipper if you were lucky! Also everyone tends to just leave when the bell rings at the end of class, unless they’re shouted at to sit still.
I also went to a middle school, though I think that’s peculiar to the county I grew up in, most places have primary, secondary, then college or sixth form depending. Of course, if you live in Scotland everything’s different again! It’s designed to confuse us all 😉
Lots of things I didn’t know about US schools though. Sounds like becoming a teacher is quite tricky, wonder if many are put off… 12 week Summer holidays sounds amazing though. Could deal with that.Reply
I live in north wales. The majority of schools within my area have changed their uniforms recently to blazers with shirts and ties. The food still needs a bit of work, but yes, ‘decent’ meals are offered.
I have also used the Harry potter books to explain British school years. the 1st book is Year 7, books 4 and 5 are years 10 and 11, the GCSE years, and A levels are done in 6th form (books 6 and 7) though they are technically Years 12 and 13, everyone still calls them lower and upper 6th. Which is weird and confusing.Reply
An interesting comparison, Melanie. I’ve had to wear some horrid school uniforms in my time but in a way it’s better as it puts all children on a parReply
Thanks Suze. It’s a very interesting perspective. Having grown up not wearing them, it’s so intriguing that kids here prefer it.Reply
I don’t think we enjoy a uniform but it does have it good reasons for keeping us all fairly equal in the clothing department. Mufti days are looked forward to by allReply
Yeah I’ve always felt grateful for growing up in American schools when I remind myself of all the extra-curriculars and elective options we were given compared to my foreign friends! As for your question about different school groups, it was most definitely the case in my high school and I graduated in 2010. There was a lunch table for each group of friends, which tended to be the cool kids, goths, football players, etc. There wasn’t any animosity toward other groups like they portray in movies, but there was a clear-cut divide between who was who when you entered in the lunch room. I guess in American high school, people tend to cling to their clichés, but again, there was never any bullying and most people got along. Anywho, it’s all super interesting to see how others grew up in their school systems!Reply
Thank you for reading and commenting! Glad to see you agree that we have tons and tons of extra options for kids in America. And yes, lunch tables really can be divided, but hopefully there is no animosity like you indicated too. 🙂Reply
I live in England and go to a public British School. We don’t really have separate groups like goths nerds ect. Just popular and unpopular. We actually have a lot of extra activities at my school like circus club, gardening club writing club and tech club.Reply
Not bad! I’ve actually gone to school in both systems (well, my time in a US school was a military one which is different again) and I would say there are a few discrepancies but you’ve also picked up a lot of memories I have from my time in both systems. 🙂Reply
Very interesting. I have only been to US schools, but I have worked in several schools in both countries.Reply
overall this is pretty good, although it really depends on which British school you go to, the area they are in, how big the school is and how well its funded, particularly for the clubs. My Upper School was pretty big for UK sizes, and we had football, climbing, athletics, chess, various bands, drama club etc which is more than some. Also, there are still some middle schools around (I went to one!!!), although they are less common now, and are sometimes separated into Infant, Junior and Senior schools. And I’ve never been in a school (public or state) where we had to stand behind our desks before we were allowed to leave, but we did have a bell – not bad on the other sections though and as I said, it changes depending on the school you’re in.Reply
Teachers in the UK can normally only teach the subject(s) that they have a degree in. At primary schools however then one teacher teaches all subjects to the same age group 🙂Reply
I go to a free, comprehensive, bog-standard Secondary school in England and it’s not quite as described, as you live in London you probably do see a lot of posh kids on their way to private school. The comprehensives are very far from ‘prim and proper’ as we don’t really have the whole ideal of a nice, obedient kid that visits Granny and won’t wear makeup over here (you sort of seem to have this in the USA but I’m no expert). On Mondays, a lot of kids are hungover or spend the morning throwing up in the loos. There is a big drug problem over here too, don’t know if it’s the same over there. I mean, I’m pretty well behaved and generally seen as a bit of a geek but I know exactly who to go to for drugs. Girls are getting pregnant left right and centre and I swear like half of us have a criminal record, in my school anyway. But we have fun.Reply
Thank you for reading. Having spent time in about 10 schools in London and nearly the same in the US, it’s interesting to see different views from readers. Sadly, the issue of drugs seems to be something on both sides of the pond. I don’t see it as much in the UK, but I don’t have the same type of role here that I did in America, so that could be the difference in my perspective.Reply
You didn’t mention anything about the two major differences I see. In the UK: 1) starting full-time ed up to two years early, and a massive push on reading and ‘joined-up’ writing and math in the very early years, when there is still very much developmental variance. 2) The extreme narrowing of the curriculum in later years. 3) No such thing as GPA in high school – only test-based ability assessment, nothing based on performance.Reply
I’m an American who just started teaching in a private British school. Still trying to wrap my head around it!Reply
i feel like my British school is very different from what you described, whilst my school does say no eating in class there is not one c;ass were there inst some kid with some food and if long as you dont spill you drink the teachers dont care i also feel that brits are made to be very posh mainly due to harry potter but the reality is that every weekend students in years 9 up are out drinking doing weed etc. in my school my timetable is set for that year and we do offer school buses since not ll students live in London were every were you look there is a bus. But i would like to say that despite the fact that schools should have healthy meals to day i had a pizza burger and a coke. most schools do wear a uniform and in mine if the bell goes you should stay but the fact is that he teachers cant do anything if you leave. i am sorry for any spellings/ language barriers between are friends over the pondReply
I go to a school in England (A comprehensive academy) and we only really sell pizza chips pasta and fruit (as well as drinks) we have so many clubs, (football,rugby,tennis,badminton,languages, drama, music, choirs and more) and At my school boys and girls have seperate uniforms (stupif i know) they boys have a white shirt and tie and the girls have a blue blouse and check blue kilt. And yes we wear blazer haha. I actually didnt go to a primary school I went to an infant school (age 4-7) and a junior school ( ages 7-11). Our time table is for two weeks and i think its good as we get a wider range of subjects each week (although you get to choose your option in year 9 for arts and tech and year 10 for geog and history) I would love a longer summer and no uniform tho!Reply
We also have school buses but only if you live far away or if you arr in 6th formReply
The lack of standardized testing in America is its biggest problem. The quality of Education from one school district to another and indeed one teacher to another is very varied.Reply
Yes, this is an excellent point. I would even say the education could vary from classroom to classroom within a school grade in America.Reply
We have standardized testing in Ohio for every grade and to graduate high school. The SAT and ACT are used as college placement tests. Our schools have dress codes in the US, however maybe not as strict as other places. .Reply
Sunny, your perspective on British schools is bias and uniformed. There is far more to British schools, unlike schools in Florida which embrace eating, dressing up, playing sports, joining clicks and memorizing rather than understanding tons of useless information.Reply
Hi Sharon. My perspective is based on several years of work in British schools. I have experience in academies, independent schools and faith based schools in London. I find your comment about Florida schools offensive. The high school from which I graduated in Florida is an IB school. The school district in which I worked in New York was ranked #1 in the region consistently for several years. This blog post is based on years of work in both systems. I have over 15 years of experience in education and two Master of a Science degrees. One is in English Education. The other is in Educational Leadership. I’d say I have a pretty strong foundation on which to base my ideas.Reply
First off, great blog! I really enjoy your observations and everybody else’s comments. We have been having a massive debate in this country lately over “Common Core” which is a successorto “No Child Left Behind”. Both programs were an attempt by the federal government to introduce some sort of rational curriculum to the nation as a whole. In the state of Illinois, we have been using a number of standardized tests to try and measure where our students and how well they are doing. Because of the way schools are funded here, and how they affect local property values, public education tends to be a high stakes and your ranking means a lot! The result has been that instead of educating people, the teachers teach to the test which involves reading and math. Schools that do well get high grades, schools that do poorly become pariahs. The good news: everybody can read and count. The bad news: They have no clue about anything else…Reply
Interesting. I certainly learned a great deal about the US education system. I do think however it is somewhat limited in its comparison. My comprehensive school was nothing like anything described here. And I wonder how much that has changed. It’s a long time since I was at school but working with Americans nowadays, I need to know more. I read a nice overview of the UK vs US education system on Assignmentmasters and it certainly shows I know very little , so thank you for educating me further.Reply
I’m a 17-year-old, so I’m still in school (about to start Year 13), and there were quite a few things that neither applied to my school nor a lot of other schools I’m familiar with – and I live in London. I understand that you’ve worked in the UK for some time but, having been born and raised here and now soon to leave school, most of the conclusions you’ve drawn are based on British public and private schools. Unlike in the US I imagine, there’s a lot more variety when it comes to the features of British schools.
Very few schools make students ask their teacher’s permission to remove their blazer.
There are school buses in London – my school has one, for example. Some even have official numbers which are recognized by Transport for London. They alight at bus stops just like normal buses.
I have never heard of students standing by their desks until they are dismissed. We get up and leave too.
Every single club you mentioned for American schools is available or has run at my school, with the exception of FFA (and Shrimp Club, obviously.)
“They change daily and it’s rare for them to see the same class at the same time each day.” – our timetables are fixed, and stay the same for the entire year.
As for our perceptions of American high school, I think that the High School Musical & Mean Girls image faded about five years ago. Although homecoming and pep rallies do come to mind, we also tend to think of jocks, those weird desks that are attached to the seats, massive student bodies and, unfortunately, those shooting incidents. The last one especially because that wouldn’t happen here.
I must say though that I’ve noticed that, when comparing the US to the UK in general, Americans do tend to enjoy putting the UK down…Reply
I currently in Year 8 in a school in the north west of England and what you described is similar to my school, uniform wise. However the School dinners mainly consist of Fish and Chips or a chicken wrap. Most people in my area started Primary school at the age of 4. The curriculum is completely different. Though I did find your article very enlightening on how the American school system is in comparison to the British one.Reply
Hello Maisie! It’s so nice of take time to read my article and write a response. Your writing is also very impressive! If I can personally answer any questions you have about American schools, please let me know! I have to say- the students in both countries are always the same- curious about the ‘other side’ and fun!Reply
I do have one question: Do American schools have a school uniform? Or just rules that their clothes have to abide by??Reply
Hi Maisie. No they don’t in general. However, I do hear over the past few years since I left that some are moving slightly toward it- but it’s not like the UK at all.Reply
We are an American family who relocated to the UK. my daughter is in year 10 here. There is a possibility we may have to move back before this school year is finished. Please no negative comments on how awful this is for her. We already know 🙁 what I am wondering is how will her classes work? Will they accept classes she’s taken here? Thank you for any help!Reply
We are in the same situation. My daughter is in S3 in Scotland (just moved this year) and we want to move back next summer. She will go into 10th grade and is so worried that some classes might not count. Not even sure what her grades are? They are so far behind in Maths (except Geometry). They are going over things she learned in 7th grade.
Thank you for your time.Reply
This is actually really interesting, as a British school girl I get on public transport to get to school (aka a bus) but the bus is almost ‘reserved’ for the students of my school who live in the area of the route to school, no one else can get on. However, my school also five buses, two of them gp to villages in my town and through the twin whilst the others are coaches and go to an island town about 10 mins away. Anyway, not every school has blazers, we have a purple jumper with the school logo, a shirt, tie and trousers or skirts. I don’t know if this just happened in my town, but every school got a nickname, my school having a poor Ofsted rating (at least until this year) and our old building gave us the name of the Chav school of Colchester (my town)! Another nickname of my school is TLA which is the initials of the school name, but it spawned the nickname Total Losers Academy!Reply
Hi Beatrice! Thank you for reading and commenting. I’ve never heard of schools receiving nicknames here so that’s a great one to add for readers who visit after today! Cheers!Reply
Look up the purposeful *dumbing down of America* or *Agenda 21* which some places are disinformation you can find the truth of the higher agenda of what they are trying to push and have been since the 1940s actually.
Dad has actually seen the teaching methods be dumbed down in the 1960s and on his last year of high school is when math was totally changed and went to a more stupid format but was considered more *accessable* to retarded students.
In fact what he was taught was more dumbed down then students of the 1930s.
They want to make it so if you have a A but Johnny gets a C then your grade gets bumped down to a B and Johnny’s grade raised up so you and him will both be *equal* so it’s *fair and tolerant*.
Despite the fact you worked a lot harder then Johnny who just partied and got loose with women not giving a flying ass (to keep it more friendly) about education you have to be *fair* to him.
I have a few choice words I would say about it but I won’t since this is an education blog.Reply
In fact students of the 1930s were more dumbed down then the 1910s but not by a large margin as the 1960s vs 1990s. It was just a few baby steps then.Reply
I feel like some of this information was wrong. You said that in the UK you have to go to secondary school from the ages 11-18 when really its 11-16, and college is from 16-18.Reply
Good article, however some of what is written makes it seem like British schools are posh and strict. E.g. I don’t remember ever being told to stand behind my desk and wait, although the teachers would try we would mostly run off haha. As for lunches, my school used to serve sandwiches, paninis etc and then it had a section for hot food and it would serve, baked potato with beans and cheese or you could get pasta and tomato or something like that. But I normally used to take my own packed lunch into school.
We dont just have sixth form, my school didn’t have one so I went to college for two years 1st year is called AS then 2nd year is called A2 (that’s obviously if you’re doing a levels, you can study BTECs aswell which basically means no exams!)
As for uniforms when I started high school years 7-9 would wear green jumpers and 10-11 had black jumpers and we wore polo shirts. Then when I was in year 10 we got new uniforms and had to start wearing a tie and blazer.
Finally, although we weren’t allowed, we always are in class. I used to eat my sandwiches while the teacher wasn’t looking.Reply
A very interesting article, that raises a lot of good points. However, I feel that you perhaps have a very site-specific knowledge of schools in the U.K. It is a great bugbear of mine whenever I read pieces like these, referring to ‘British’ schools which really only refer to schools in England (and I think Wales, as I’m pretty sure their education systems are similar, but I may be incorrect). I live in Scotland, which is most definitely still in Britain, and our school system is ENTIRELY different to the English one.
Our school always finished near the end of June and we returned in mid-August, so we got our six weeks just a little earlier than our English counterparts. I think the whole public transport issue was dependent on which local authority you were in, and even then, it could change from school to school. My school (which is the poorest in our local authority) couldn’t afford to pay for any transportation for pupils, so we all had to rely on the erratic public transport. However, the Catholic school just up the road from us provided a free door to door bus service for pupils who lived more than two miles away from the school. In the wealthier parts of our authority (which are said to contain three of the best state schools in Scotland), free bus services were provided for almost every pupil. For holidays, we would get a long weekend (basically a Friday off and occasionally a Monday too) in September, February and May as well as one week off in October and two weeks off at Christmas and Easter. Some of my friends at private schools did get more time off than this though (which is a bit ironic when you think that their parents actually paid for them to get less time in school than the rest of us). Our uniforms are pretty similar to the rest of the UK, although my school did not introduce blazers until I was in S4/Fourth Year, because the local authority felt we were letting them down.
Our age for starting and finishing school is different from England too. For example, to be in the equivalent of my year in England, you would have had to be born between September 1st 1997 – August 31st 1998. In Scotland, however, our cut-off date is later and people in my year were born between 1st March 1998 – 28th February 1999. Most people born before March 1998 were in the year above me but those with birthdays close to the cut off point (basically January and February birthdays) were given the option of staying behind a year and being in my year instead. I have a December 1998 birthday, so if I lived in England I would still be in high school, studying for my final exams, whereas, because I live in Scotland, I am now halfway through my first year of university. Pupils attend school from ages 4-17 or 5-18, but can choose to leave after they turn 16.
We start at Primary school aged 4-5 and complete 7 years there: Primary 1 – Primary 7 (P1-P7). We then move on to High School/Secondary School, where we can complete up to six years: First Year – Sixth Year (S1-S6). Sixth form does not exist in Scotland, and every single high school is required to offer the full six years of education. Most pupils do choose to complete all six years, but only the first four are compulsory. In the majority of schools (though there are several exceptions), S1-S2 are general years, with no formal exams, and pupils are taught every single subject. At the end of S2 (though some schools do it differently), you pick which subjects you wish to take for the next two years and which you will sit your first exams in. In my local authority, most pupils take 8-9 subjects, depending on whether they’re taking PE at exam level or just doing Core (this basically means going to a PE class because it is the law for under 16s to do so, but you aren’t examined and won’t get a qualification for it). You then spend two years studying for these qualifications and sit exams in each of them at the end of S4, although if an exam requires a practical element, that will take place in school earlier in the year. My year were the last year to sit the Intermediate 1/ Intermediate 2 qualifications in 4th year, and pupils in Scotland now sit National 4s or 5s at the end of 4th year. Access 3 courses (very basic courses) were also offered at my school in English, Maths and the three sciences. Intermediate 1/National 4 is a lower level Course than Intermediate 2/National 5. In my school, our S1/S2 teachers decided what level class they thought we should be in and we started S3 in that class, but pupils could be moved up or down levels as was felt appropriate. Pupils in my school were not allowed to sit these exams early.
At the end of fourth year, pupils are permitted to leave school to start work or go to college. This is NOT the same as a sixth form college in England, as people who go to college can be of any age and are taught vocational courses where they will obtain HNC/D type qualifications rather than high school qualifications (some colleges do offer evening classes in Highers though for people of any age who need to obtain qualifications that they didn’t/can’t get at school in order to get into uni). Those who choose to stay in school can continue to study up to 5 of their subjects at Int 1 (if they did Access 3 in S4), Int 2 (if they did Int 1 in S4), or Higher (if they did Int 2 in S4). Any combination of Int1/2s and Highers can be taken and pupils do not need to sit all their exams at the same level. Pupils are also given the option to ‘crash’ highers/Int 1s and 2s, which means that they pick up subjects which they have not studied previously. Personally, I did 8 Int 2s in fourth year, and took 3 of those subjects on to Higher, whilst also ‘crashing’ two other higher courses, one of which was not taught at my school at any level other than Higher, which was good because it meant that the entire class was ‘crashing’ it. Pupils generally have one year (S5) in which to complete these exams.
At the end of S5, pupils again have the option to leave school to attend work/college or go to university, provided they met the conditions of their offers in their exam results. In sixth year pupils can continue to study up to three of their higher subjects at Advanced Higher level (provided their school offers the Course) or can pick some more ‘crash’ highers in any other subject area. They have the opportunity to go to colleges for certain parts of the week to do condensed college Courses in areas that interest them. The variety and breadth of the Scottish system, and the way that it can be tailored to suit any pupil’s needs really is why I love it so much. For example, I have a friend who is still in sixth year at the moment, who is studying Nat 5 maths (she did Nat 4 in 4th year and didn’t do it at all in 5th year), Higher Biology (she ‘crashed’ a Nat 5 in it last year), Advanced Higher English (she completed Higher last year) and is doing a Childcare Course at college, which is equivalent to another Higher in its SCQF level. For her to be able to sit a Nat 5, Higher, Advanced Higher and College Course in one place at the same time really is wonderful and is why the Scottish system works so well.
The system is also wonderful, as it means that pupils have two opportunities to apply for university and have two attempts to get good enough exam results to get in. We are not entirely reliant on our 5th year Highers, and if we mess them up, we are still in with a chance of getting a conditional offer and can try again in 6th year. I was lucky enough to receive an Unconditional offer into a Russell Group university based on my 5th year exam results, which really did make my sixth year a breeze and a lot more fun than it would otherwise have been as I didn’t have any pressure on me to get good results.
I’m really sorry for how long and messy this comment has been, but I thought you might be interested to learn a little bit about the Scottish school system, and how it compares to the English/Welsh(?) and American ones. I did find your article fascinating (plus it explained to me what an SAT was which I had never understood before :’) ) and I must admit, I had never really realised just how different all our education systems are. On this side of the ocean, we certainly seem to be more exam focused, whereas in America, more attention is put into the far broader array of extracurricular activities. I wish we were able to find the perfect balance of both!Reply
I’ve read through all of your comment and it’s really good. I live in Scotland and I would agree that the education system here is quite good. I’m in S3 right now.
My school has buses but none of them come to the village that I live in since almost all the people in high school here go to a completely different one in a different town even though my village is a part of the town that my high school is in. I take a school taxi. My Brother, on the other hand, goes to the high school that everyone else goes to but their buses are crap. They receive many complaints about them being unsafe and stuff. They sometimes break down, the time they arrive here at varies and one time there was a hole in the floor of the bus. They have other problems too.
The school that I go to has an ASN (Additional Support Needs) department that I’m in since I have autism except I go to the mainstream classes.
In my school, everyone wears a white shirt, black blazer, black (or grey) trousers (skirt option for girls), black shoes, a black, grey and red striped tie, and an optional black jumper. Though I have seen some people wearing white T-Shirts and/or black jeans. We sometimes have a non-uniform day which is usually on Friday.
I got to pick certain subjects going into Second Year. I had to pick two out the 3 expressive arts (Drama/Music/Art) and two out of the three sciences (Physics/Biology/Chemistry). I chose Drama, Music, Physics, and chemistry.
There were more choices for going into S3. We had to pick one social study (History/Geography/Modern Studies), one science, one expressive art, one language (French/German/Latin), one out of Home Economics, Admin, Computing Science, Business, Design & Manufacture and Graphic Communication, and one extra out of the ones mentioned above. Maths, English, RME and PSE were mandatory.
I haven’t received the options sheet yet for S3-S4 so I don’t know what the choices are like but I know that we can only pick 4 subjects (with Maths, English, and RME being the 3 other ones, making it 7 subjects).
I like how if I drop a subject I can pick it back up again. When going into S3 I chose Music, but after a month or so I decided that I wanted to possibly be a voice actor (or any kind of actor) so they tried to see if they could switch me from Music to Drama since the Drama classes took place during the same time as Music. I never got anything back from the school until a couple months later and they said that I couldn’t change since it was too late and apparently both the Drama classes were full. I was quite pissed off but I felt a bit relieved after they told me that I could pick it back up next year. Also, there is a Drama catch-up club that I can take in S4 so that would help.
I’m not used to writing things like these and I’m not very good with paragraphing but I hope it easy to read.Reply
Your article is very interesting as I know not a lot about the American school system. My husband has the opportunity to work and live in Orange County and take us with him but we still have a Y6 son who is in the process of starting work towards his common entrance exams into Harrow School and a daughter in lower sixth form, Y12. Both doing really well!
It seems like extremes to me….. they are at small independent boarding schools just outside London and wear uniforms (even our daughter wears suits, which to me is still uniformed) and have great chefs cooking for them as they don’t eat junk food at all, it’s just not promoted as very healthy for them!
The extra activities seem much the same as the schools they are in but do the US have exam result tables? Would we necessarily have to put them in an independent school? Would we need to wait another academic year and not even put our daughter into a school?
Sorry for all the questions but I’m trying to weigh up if a move to LA would benefit the whole family…Reply
Hi Deborah. Thank you for reading. I currently work in an independent school in London comparable to Harrow. It will be very tough to find something equivalent in California. However, I know Florida and New York schools the best, as it’s where I lived and worked. I don’t know of any exam results tables in the U.S., but you can search top U.S. schools. In New York we have a school report card system. I have no idea what California does, as every state is different. My best suggestion is to target an IB school in Orange County but it will likely be public. ‘Private’ school is the equivalent term to independent school in America. There is no way any of them will equal what is offered in terms of food to which your children know in London. Even more difficult to match is the idea of Sixth Form, as you know it. Sorry to write this, but the move just before her last year could efface much that she’s worked for and a lot for which you’ve paid. If I could make a dream suggestion- it would be to wait a year and have your daughter apply to Stanford or another top ranked university in California. THAT would be worth the wait! Happy to answer more direct questions via email if that’s useful. 🙂Reply
good article. although im in school and we have a set time table, week A and week B. its the same every other week! It doesn’t change really. Also the food you mentioned is quite posh as i’d say, my school just has normal things – wraps, pizzas, pasta, paninis. it’s all nice, something you’d buy in a cafe.Reply
This post illustrates very clearly and the information is easy to chew. I’m from Asia which has no direct relation to these two systems even though we also have international schools for both systems. I spent an academic year in the US and was just looking for the differences in British and American systems. So, I’m very grateful for this.Reply
Thank you for reading and glad you enjoyed it. There are many more differences I have learned since reading it and will publish another update soon 🙂 I hope you enjoyed your time in the US!Reply
Not the best article, based on the fact London is the only place in the uk and we only have boarding schools….. Very american as you would expect….Reply
Hi Pascoe. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. I haven’t worked in any boarding schools in London. In fact, nearly all of my experiences have been state schools.Reply
Hi. I enjoyed reading your article – it was very interesting. However, I feel that your description of schools in England is a lot more formal than they actually are, and would agree with the majority of posts that it sounds much like a description of a boarding school.
Having worked in non-private secondary and primary schools in the North of England (currently in primary), while I have no doubt that our schooling system is very different and more formal than in the US, it is more relaxed than most Americans picture.
In the area that I work and live primary school children (4-11) tend to wear polo t-shirts, trousers/skirts and a jumper with a logo on it. The majority, but not all secondary school kids (11-16) tend to wear a shirt, trousers/skirt and a blazer.
The school dinners are certainly not like the menu you have described. School meals are certainly much more healthy these days since Jamie Oliver campaign but not overly. A typical week’s menu consists of curry and rice with vegetables, Roast Dinner, salads, wraps, spaghetti bolognese, fish and chips with peas….
You are correct that children wait to be dismissed at the end of the day. And unfortunately you are also right that children are taught content from the National Curriculum to pass tests/exams, instead of what may interest the children or what they would benefit from learning (a fact that weighs heavy on most teachers hearts ).
We do have extra curricular activities here in the uk in the former of after school clubs, such as cricket, drama, football, choir, art etc but I have a feeling it is nowhere near the array of activities available to kids in the US.
Finally, I wish our schools were like Hogwarts!! My working week would be much more fun!
Thank you for the information you have provided on American schools – I enjoyed reading your article very much.Reply
Do British schools get snow days like a lot of American’s or is it an American obsession?Reply
I haven’t experienced one here in four years. Mostly that’s because it rarely snows!Reply
Where I live, Scotland (which is in Britain), there are snow days. Especially lately since it has been snowing a lot the past few weeks. Calmed down though. I have a terrible memory so I don’t know how often snow days are but they usually only happen if there are tons and tons of snow to the point of driving on the roads being seen as dangerous.Reply
As I am moving to the America this article has been very helpful. Thank youReply
Hi John. Thank you for reading. If you have any questions about the American system specifically, please let me know. I taught in Florida and New York and was an assistant principal in New York for 7 years. 🙂Reply
Hi Sunny London,
Thank you so much for this post! I am a science teacher from England and I’m about to start my first job in an American Middle School in CA. I’m excited but nervous about how different things are going to be, compared to a London classroom! Do you have any tips?!
Thanks, A xxReply
Hi there. Thank you for reading! I am not familiar with California’s curriculum, so I can’t give specific feedback. You’ll find the organisation of the school to be much stronger there. However, it will feel like a a chaotic mess when it comes to curriculum and who teaches what and when. The lack of uniforms also sets a completely different tone in American schools, so you will find it to be much more casual. Kids also seem to regard authority in London with a higher respect. I will be curious to hear from you once you start and wish you all the best!Reply
Most children in the UK actually start school aged 4, as they are required to start in the year in which they turn 5, so they would be 4 unless their birthday is in September. I could already read before I started school, I learnt when I was 3, and remember an American friend being amazed when I told her as she didn’t start school until she was 6 and it took her until she was 7 to learn!Reply
I am currently in Year 8 of a Secondary School in the South of England and quite honestly it really does depend on where you live over here and what type of school you attend. My school isn’t exactly great due to the fact that my area isn’t rich. We have basic things like pizza and wraps and sandwiches in the cantine for break and beans, pasta and fish for lunch. We have no public transport designed for the school run as basically no buses or trains run during the school run only from other cities. Every pupil has to rely on their parents or simply walking. My school is about a mile away and I walk everyday as my father is unable to take me and my Mother is not around anymore.
Our lessons are given to us on a week timetable at the beginning of the year and it is the same every week for the year. We choose our GCSE subjects upon entering Year 9, but it is different in other schools. We are able to take 3 subjects for our GCSE course, but as I said, it is different for other schools. We have English, Maths, Science and either French or German. (you are assigned a language in Year 6, before joining the school) as compulsory subjects, Spanish, if you speak both French and German. Other subjects are Art, Design and Technology, Drama, Music, PE, Religious Studies, ICT or Computer Science. You are allowed to pick 2 of those subjects and your third choice must be either Geography or History. (With some exceptions.)
We are given anywhere from 5-7 weeks during our summer holidays, depending on the school. We have 2 weeks holiday in December for Christmas and another 2 for Easter. We also have a week off or a ‘half-term’ in October, for Halloween usually, February and May. We also have the same school days (5 days, Monday to Friday.) Just thought I’d mention that as other countries have different school days.
Touching on the movie section, American movies or series involving schools show that students seem to have a disregard for punctuality and absence. They seem to always show up late to lessons and skip school all the time. I was wondering if it’s actually like that or whether it’s just portrayed like that so that characters aren’t always in school and other things can happen.Reply
I found your blog real,y interesting but I did think of posh, private school with some of the things you included there.
I go to a Catholic all girls school in south east London and I’ll be going into year 10 next year. My uniform is actually so ugly it’s a creamy/yellow shirt that is practically see through, a brown jumper, a brown criss crossed kilt that is not meant to be worn below the knee or rolled up but everyone rolls theirs so it’s at least on their knees. We have a brown blazer that has our logo on and cream knee socks (if your skirt is not rolled and your socks go above your Keira you look really stupid – basically everyone in year 7). We don’t have a school bus nor have I ever heard of a school with a bus but there is a TfL school bus route specifically for school children but anyone can get on one.
Our timetable is given to us at the start of the year and it’s a one week timetable different every day but the week is the same throughout the whole year. Our periods are 45 mins. Our school day is starting at 8:30 although we have to be in school earlier. We have 15 min form time which is regestration. Our forms are not ability based and stay the same from year 7-11. Then we have periods 1-3. At 11:00 we have a 20 break and then periods 4-5 which are from 11:20-12:50. Then lunch hitch finishes at 1:45. Then periods 6-7 and the school day finishes at 3:15. On Wednesdays after lunch we have form time which is from 1:45 until 2:45 when we finish school. Obviously this is just my school but other schools around me finish early on one day, most commonly Friday.
We have a huge range if extra curricular spa which are at lunch and after school although they are not as important as America I reckon. Although netball and football (or soccer) are taken very seriously and we have competitions with other schools in the borough.
Our holidays are: one week halfterm, normally around Halloween or end of October but a few schools have two weeks here, two weeks at Christmas/new year, one week halfterm around 4-6 weeks later, two weeks around Easter (some schools are different but as mine is catholic holidays are always at Easter, another half term around may and then 6-7 weeks summer holiday starting around 15-20th July and starting up again in the first week of September. We also have inset days which are teacher training days but holidays for us. They are normally out on the end or start of holidays to prolong them – my school generally puts them at the very end of the year so our holiday is longer.
Although we have uniforms we have mufti days when we can wear what we want to school. We probably have 2-3 a year and tend to have themes although they are ignored. We also have to pay £1 to take part, and the money goes to charity.
The last week of school is enrichment activities week or just activites week where we do no lessons but go on trips and have special days.
I don’t have to ask to take my blazer off, although in year 7 my Spanish teacher made us ask in Spanish (for the purpose of practising the language). We have 7 sets – three bottom sets, 2 middle and 2 top sets. Each class has a max of 32 students but the lower sets have a bit less. The top two sets do French and Spanish u til year 8. It used to be year 9 too but the new GCSEs starting are a lot harder so we rocous on one language for longer. I chose french in the end. There are two bottom french sets and one spnqish, and one french and Spanish set in the middle.
At the end of a lesson when the bell rings, we start packing our bags even though we are not meant to (especially if it’s the lesson before break or lunch). ‘The bell is a reminder for me, not a signal for you’ is a phrase that I have learned and I stg hate it so much.
In years 7-9 we have 4 periods a week of English, maths, languages and science, three of re (religious education), two geography and history. These can be taken as doubles so the amount of times a week you go to the lesson vary. For example I had 3 lessons of English – 2 singles and a double but it just depends on timetableing. Art, dt, music and pe are a double lesson a week. Dt consists of food tech, textiles and product design which is basically woodwork and electronics, and electronics as a separate dt in year 7. We do these on a rota spending roughly a term on each. We have one period a week of drama and computing.
In year 9 we chose our gcse subjects. The compulsory in my school are English, maths, science, and re. My options are geography, French, drama and music. A humanity (George and history, or co outing) are compulsory as is a language, unless your do a btechs which are basically easy you don’t need to do them. From next year I will drop the subjects I haven’t chosen.
Our canteen sells very good food which we buy using our finger prints, which our parents put money onto. They have hot food and cold every day, and always an option of 3-5 pasta sauces and lots of sandwiches. We also have a box in the quad outside which sells food. They have a theme country everyday. They also sell food at break.
We are quite formal in our greetings. We have assembly once a week with our head of year. They would say good morning year 9, for example. We rep,y good morning teacher name. Sat the end they say the same thing and we reply with good morning teachers name and thank you. They is the same before and after lessons. We normally go startight into our classrooms but with most teachers after break or lunch we have to line up outside and wait for them. Some make us rand up straight away, some let us sit down, unpack our bags before greeting us when we are expected to stand. Most don’t actually greet us and are less formally. At the end when they say we can pack up we normal,y finish standing behind our chairs, say goodbye and then leave.
We have a sixth form in our school but you don’t have to stay on. They have a different uniform which is slightly smarter and have more privileges. For example, going into the reception, only teachers, sixth formrers and guests can go up the main stairs. The rest of us must go through the side. Also they have the green room where they can study or talk to their friends during free periods and eat there at break and lunch. They also have the red room for quite study. They are allowed their phones out. We can have them but are not allowed to take them out. I got a one hour detention with the assistent head teacher for being caught on my phone whoops. They are also allowed minimal makeup, we are not meant to wear any. I normally put on some concealer and just snape my eye brows with gel, but don’t fill them in. Some of my friends put on mascara too. But the ‘popular’ kids who are actually chavs properly wear make up though. The teachers don’t really care that much tbh. Just slt(senior leadership team).
Also with the extra curricular, my school and another school have the chance to ballgirl for queens cup tennis. Although it’s not Wimbledon (which schools in the borough next to us can do), you get to see almost all the top men players and interact with them more. Also there is a higher chance of getting in although the standard is just as high, especially on centre court.
My primary school had a different unjform for key stage 1 and 2. We also had a nursery which most people went to but I didn’t. I went to the nursery which is literally behind my house but for proper education my parents sent me to catholic schools. I think this was the Right choice because most of the secondary non religious or non grammar, non private schools around have a reputation for being bad. There is only one school that is a normal school that has high standards that u know of. With the catholic schools this does not necessarily mean clever but more well behaved. Our gcse and a level grades are often similar, but obviously slightly lower, than the grammar schools.
I think English and American school systems are very different but to be completely honest I did think school in America was like mean girls. We don’t have catetgories, only popular and not popular although really the popular ones are hated by everyone else and are just loud and usually rich. I’d also say we have an lgbt group and although no one in my school is against pride or anything, we actual,y support is a lot, the LGBT group tends to be from the bottom end of unpopularity for some reason. Idk this is just what my schools like and probably very different to others in England but that’s mine.Reply
We will be moving to London in May. My son will be going into 9th grade and my daughter 5th grade. Do you have any information on the differences between London American Schools ( basically private ) compared to just regular English schools. I am hearing the ACL schools are extremely expensive and just wondering if it is needed. We are thinking more for our son because he thinks he will want to go to a US college and just want to make sure it will all be comparable. any information and guidance would be great.Reply
Children in this country actually start at age 4, my Daughter has an August birthday and so literally turned 4 a week before she started. The curriculum is very intense here but the kids seem to cope well with it and could both read by the time they started. We have alot of extra curricular activities here too. We are relocating to Charleston, SC next May and i’m nervous for my children to have to transition to such a different type of schooling as i really like the British schooling system. Amy the states schools over here are very good (depending on the area, i live in an affluent area and my childrens school is outstanding).
They will have no problem getting into a US university with the grading system here prodividing that they do get the grades.Reply
Hi there. Most independent or ‘private’ schools in London are quite pricey and very competitive. Usually students have to take entrance exams as well, but they can be taken overseas. You might want to look at IB schools as an option to guarantee it is comparable. Your son would be entering at the GCSE level and it’s VERY different from US curriculum and expectations.Reply
Hi Amy – The curriculum is very different in GCSE (year 10 – 9th grade, where your son will be), and VASTLY different at A-levels (11th and 12th grade, if you will be here that long). They start narrowing the curriculum at GSCE which last 2 years, and for A-levels they narrow down to only 3 subjects. Both sections are graded by one exam at the end of the 2 year period, so yes, grades are very different and not that easily transferrable to US universities. Yes, Brit kids go to US universities all the time, but it isn’t a straightforward thing. And if you want his education to be broad, then you will be disappointed. Brits argue that their version is more rigorous and advanced – which, sure, when you are only taking 3 subjects you get deeper, but you stop studying things that are very important like math, history, english, whatever they drop in order to progress in their chosen 3. All at the age of 16.
In addition, at high school level they teach science and math differently than in the US curriculum.
I’ve been here 9 years and have 4 kids. I always knew I was going to have a problem with the UK system when they got older, so I did pull my oldest out of a very good London Girls Catholic state high school, home schooled her for a year, then got her into the American School in London. Then I pulled my son from Wimbledon College (boys Jesuit) at 9th grade to go to ASL and will for the younger two when they get to that stage as well. I am over the moon with the quality of education and the chance for them to go both broad AND deep in their curricular choices.
VERY expensive. We are lucky – we qualified for financial aid and got it. Personally, I can’t imagine keeping my kids in the UK system for high school ( I am an education person and worked in universities for 20 years, so perhaps I think about this stuff way too much) and would homeschool if that was my only option. Narrowing education at such a young age seems obscene to me in this day and age.
This does not represent the majority of British schools, mainly the fancy schools in London made for rich people. What about Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland?Reply
Very interesting article! The American public education system leaves a lot to be desired. Both my husband and myself attended private schools, as did our son. There are cliques in the schools, but they are not as pronounced as has been depicted in the movies. My school required uniforms (skirt, blouse, blazer), my husband’s did not (although they were required to wear a collared shirt and tie). Our son’s school simply required that boys wear collared shirts and chino or dress pants. The girls at his school were allowed to wear dresses, skirts or nice pants. Jeans were forbidden. Now that our son is in college (Duke University) he is revelling in the freedom to wear T-shirt’s and jeans. lolReply
I really want to move to a American school do you still wear your own clothes and are divided in the same groups?Reply
Hello, please what is the difference between academic british curriculum and that of American?
British students take Junior WAEC after their junior secondary.
SSCE( Senior WAEC) thats after senior secondary. What do American Corriculum require?Reply
Interesting… My schools is quite like you’ve described actually- I attend an all girls grammar school in England and yes, we do have to be told to leave the classroom. Actually, up until sixth form we had to wait behind our desks and then only when the teacher had sat down could we also sit!!! One thing that is apparently strange about my school is that when our names are called on the register, we have to say ‘present’ to indicate that we’re here, as opposed to the common “here!” .
Fun fact, in all lessons we have to ask to remove our blazers, and in French we had to ask “Je peux enlever ma veste?” every lesson for permission to remove our blazers, and we’d get a verbal warning if we took them off without asking!
Also, most schools wear a tie and blazer, it is very standard. Yes, some students may not co-operate with this rule but they are a standardised uniform across the UK. My school wears cream and navy, and because we are all girls we wear blouses and thus we don’t wear ties. However, for upper and lower sixth it is ‘business wear’- e.g cigarette trousers, skirts, blouses, and formal jackets.
in terms of the housing system, we currently have 6 houses- Pegasus, Ursa, Delphinus, Pheonix, Aquila and Cygnus. We’re quite competitive too- im in Ursa and we have charity days to see who can raise the most money for our house charities, and we also have characteristics- ursa is courageous
true about the food too! We have all sorts of crazy things- falafel and feta wraps, tomato pesto and mozzerella paninis etc. What is rather disgusting is that they’ve started selling pizza and sausage rolls in the dining hall at breaktime which is obvs a recipe for disaster (who eats such greasy food at 10.10am???? absolutely rank if you ask me. in fact my form has started a petition to ban it haha)Reply
Only part you missed on that is British uniforms at the cheapest are £100 and that’s just the main uniform add a extra £60 for P.E!
Most schools require you to but a new one every single year for the next 5 years!
That’s £800 alone!Reply
An interesting article and series of comments, thank you.
I was searching for a fuller, explanation of GCSE’s, as I am watching “Educating Essex.”
Thank you for allowing me to share my humble, opinions, as well.
I think one point that cannot be emphasized enough is public (paid by property taxes) schools in the United States are NOT uniform in their curriculum, even within the same city..the quality of schools is based on the districts the schools are in. This is why one sees the school district included in housing listings. One may see such statements as, “This beautiful home is in the desirable, Marin County school district.”
I noticed that Los Angeles was mentioned. Los Angeles county contains some of the worst and best, public, schools in California. “Rich” communities, in general, have a far, different student body and schools, than do less-advantaged communities. Unfair, but, a general, reality.
I see the writer has worked in education in both countries, and I think the article was interesting and of course, well-intended, but it must be noted that the United States is REALLY big. There are thousands of schools in wildly, different sub-cultures across 50 states. ANY general, statement about “the American school system” or “the American, academic curriculum” is immediately, inaccurate due to its broad, scope.. Sub-cultures in America can be VERY different.
My hometown, San Francisco is NOT anything close in values, daily experiences, culture and history to the deep-south of Mississippi, or small-town Texas, the fishing towns of Maine, the farm towns of Missouri, or the logging towns of Oregon.
There are times I would find WAY more in common with the citizens of London than I do with the residents of some of these sub-cultures within my own country. Schools here reflect the communities they serve. It was planned that way, and seemed like a good idea at the time, I suppose.
The current criminal who is living in the White House has only served to make our once-cherished differences become deeper, divides filled with mistrust and animosity towards each other. It is a tragedy for those of us who remember a better time, when we were moving forward towards social progress.
So, to start any sentence with “America is..” or “Americans are..” is to be making a statement that is not narrow enough in its scope to provide trustworthy, information, and schools are no exception.
I have a friend who has taught for 30 years near, Seattle, WA. She works at a public, (free) high school that requires EVERY student to take at least one IB course as a requirement for graduation. The school sends students to Harvard, West Point, UC Berkeley, Princeton, Stanford, MIT, etc…every year. The school offers both AP and IB courses in every, discipline. She teaches Borges and Becket to 16 year old students. Yet, even within her school, there are teachers incapable of teaching Borges, or even teaching correct, literature analysis.
Washington State does test students via a required, standardized test, “Smarter Balanced” imposed by the state legislature, and common core requires that strict goals are met, documented, and observed. Teacher’s pay is tied to meeting these metrics. Further, if students do not pass the test, they do not graduate.
In contrast, I am currently living in the state of Arizona-one of the worst, school systems in the United States. Graduation rates at some schools are below 60%. Teachers are paid less than a fast-food restaurant manager, and cannot afford to live much above the poverty level.
Yet, another example is my experience. I wore a school uniform my whole school career, as I attended a private, elementary school with a class size of 12 until I left to an all-girls, college-preparatory, boarding school in Monterey, CA when I was 13 for my high school years.
California not only has the most, schools of any state in America, it also has some of the best, public and private schools in the country. The private schools are not inexpensive, but they are not out of reach for any, professional family to afford.
For those moving to America with school children, I think it is worth remembering that the school district in which you will reside is worth researching. US News and World Reports also releases its “Best of” public and private high schools every, year. Logic would dictate, I should think, that if the district has a high school included on this list, the primary schools in the same district may be likely to also be of high quality.
It is available online, and I would think it a valuable, tool for those who wish to send their children to public school, and have some flexibility in where they take up residence.Reply
This isn’t a true comparison as it’s only done by London schools, quite a lot of schools have no uniform and very few enforce wearing a tie, and with the years system, if, in America, it starts at kindergarten, do they start school at the age of 5 because in England we have reception and then y1Reply
I live in England. I wish I could go to school in America, it sound amazing! My school has ties and blazers a head teacher, tons of deputies, head of houses, head of years. It’s really annoying. We have no cliques. It’s just random friendship groups and really different people hanging out together. We have to wait for the teacher to let us go after the bell. It can take up to 10 minutes! I really envy America about that. Our holidays are crap because they’re so short, and I really wish we could eat in class. We’re not even allowed juice! We have to have water and we can’t even have that in science or computing! I wish we had pep rallies and more extracurriculars. We have assemblies weekly and the most random, and pointless topics in them. Sometimes 2 in a week! I’d do anything to go to school in America, but I’ll never get the chance as I’m already in year 11 (Sophomore Year). And my family would never move over there.Reply
Instead of British, this mostly refers to English and Welsh schools, as Scottish schools are quite a bit different.Reply
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