‘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.
Also, there are quite a few differences between the way teachers are hired so if you’re looking to teach in the uk then you might want to look into what qualifications you need in order to get a teaching job here. It’s not just different for the kids but also for the teachers!
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 and these schools accept students based on their school catchment areas. 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!
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.
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.
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.
Suze The Luxury Columnist says
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 par
Sunny London says
Thanks Suze. It’s a very interesting perspective. Having grown up not wearing them, it’s so intriguing that kids here prefer it.
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 all
Having been a student in British schools, I can say that most children hate their uniforms or at least one aspect of it. In my time it was the awful blazers that you had to ask to take off. But generally – in a girls school – we would roll up our skirts and our trouser legs and pray the headteacher would not yell at us for skinny trousers. I remember getting severely told off for wearing a coat indoors, and in P.E you got a detention if you didn’t have white socks! Rolling up blazer sleeves also seemed to be a crime!
Sorry to say but in terms of school buses, I know that not one school in my town has one, nor have I seen one other than coaches to get the village kids in due to ‘special catchment areas’. Again, every secondary school in the area has a blaser and tie. The food? Again, most school have the same. We can get some sandwiches, a light meal or a cooked meal. Not sure for other schools, but my school had drama, band, choir and some DT things.
Damon and Jo says
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!
Sunny London says
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. 🙂
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.
While I understand that Americana schools seem to have many clubs this article only seems to represent one type of school. At least at our we have 80+ clubs ranging from kayaking to Latin, history and cactus club. The meals are more re to those described in the article and at British schools there is a lot more bullying but it’s more banter, cliques are just popular or not.
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. 🙂
Sunny London says
Very interesting. I have only been to US schools, but I have worked in several schools in both countries.
I also have been to both since I am british, i think british schools are better
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.
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 🙂
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.
Sunny London says
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.
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.
I’m an American who just started teaching in a private British school. Still trying to wrap my head around it!
William Parrott says
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 pond
Grayson Atkins says
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!
Grayson Atkins says
We also have school buses but only if you live far away or if you arr in 6th form
Big Philly Stylee says
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.
Sunny London says
Yes, this is an excellent point. I would even say the education could vary from classroom to classroom within a school grade in America.
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. .
Sharon Walker says
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.
Sunny London says
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.
Bill Whited says
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…
First of all, I enjoyed your blog! I have to give a college research presentation on the topic of how to ‘improve education’ this had a lot of valid points and things you reminded me of. I also lived in Florida and then later moved to the UK. t’s funny I did choose my flat close to a school zone to be allowed to go to a good primary for my oldest son. I feel I am in a good position to share my opinion because lived in both areas. I think their education is somewhat better than ours, however, we are trying to catch up. Let’s see, first grade a six-year-old I found is still relearning all the same spelling words they already learned in Kindergarten. Pointless. In the UK they have a substantial amount of spelling words like 20 words as oppose to10 of spelling words each week and which they are tested on. In the UK they are designed in an appropriate way to make it easier for a young mind to grasp, it is in a list that rhymes. What a genius idea. It is wonderful that they are taught by the National curriculum that would help explain why this is seen in both city schools and country schools; rather than teachers teaching what they like or feel, they have to stick to some guideline. I loved attending college in the UK because I was allowed to study subjects that I was interested in. If you are interested you are more likely to learn. In Florida, you have to take an exam to be assessed to be placed in classes that you did not want to take and were even boring classes. In the UK learning Psychology, and about Europe changed my views of what education was. A funny story is they couldn’t even believe I had a high school diploma, considering, I could not write a good essay using proper grammar, for instance, can’t/ can not. My professor laughed at me. Education should be improved everywhere. I think starting education younger at the age of 3-4 like my counterparty is a brilliant way to embrace education counting, learning baby words. I like the idea of time tables which are different subjects on different days. So if you hated math, like me, thank God it was only on Tuesday and Thursday. Schools in Florida currently give way too much HW. Please do it at school, don’t send it home for me to have more to do. Over the pond, the school is released later and is given much less HW. The schools are improving here in Florida. I just think the First grade is a repeat of Kindergarten. Currently, I feel they still read baby books in 5th grade, Instead of more challenging text- like our famous American Literature, that should be read in school. I read Shakespeare in 5th grade when I went to private school. I also think time tables/ multiplication and joined-up writing/ cursive should all be included and taught by the age of 6. Here they sadly stop teaching kids cursive! There goes writing fast- I can not believe it. Thanks to cursive that I learned back in 3rd grade. I can write as fast as someone talks. Another thing I noticed there is a lot of computer type of learning which I don’t personally like kids doing, I would prefer more active learning. I think school should try to remain challenging. Include more diverse reading to younger ages, maybe, even Harry potter. Just to make young people love reading, a lot of parents are busy so the child will suffer if they are not able to read up to a certain standard. The more fluent you read the more likely you will even transition or even attend University. Brainwash your children to read, the world is way too competitive now. Maybe, I failed to mention school is a lot of fun here too. American schools have great clubs, activities, sports and class parties, with a lot of junky food, In contrast, I think the UK they are not allowed too much junk food in their school parties but were allowed to eat crisps/chips. That is due to allergies. The school is really fun here. I noticed that most kids are happy and well rounded here lol. Rest assured these are only my perspectives too. All schools do vary. Great Blog and comments!!!!
Sunny London says
Thank you for such a thorough comment! It’s really great to hear from people who have had experiences in both systems. While I wrote that several years ago, I have certainly gained more information about the UK educational system. But, in fairness, having been out of the US for 7 years, I probably know much less about it because so much has changed.
steven green says
I would like to point out some mistakes: Students only attend secondary school until they are 16 (GCSE – general certificate of secondary education.) Students then decide to go to a technical college or to an academic college. Students who finish academic college (referred to as A levels) after 2 years go on to study at university for a varying amount of time depending on the degree being pursued. English schools vary greatly in choices/subjects/academic clubs/sports club depending on the funding made available to them by their local council.
Daniel Taylor says
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.
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…
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.
Sunny London says
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!
I do have one question: Do American schools have a school uniform? Or just rules that their clothes have to abide by??
Sunny London says
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.
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!
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.
Beatrice Goodchild says
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!
Sunny London says
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Dilan Mcevoy says
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.
Wow. Not so sure why I wrote all I had written considering you wrote most of what I had and had added a lot more to it as well. XD Could not have explained it better myself.
Though, I have to say, we do have plenty of extra-curricular activities in my humble opinion – possibly because I was never a fan of them, since sports never took my fancy and I never had the confidence face-to-face to attend a debate club or to run a creative writing club – and that it really depends on the school’s budget and fundings, as well as staff that are willing to do it… or students. If you wanted to create a new club, it was possible to ask and then run it, or even ask a teacher to help run it, especially if there were a lot of members. We had a creative writing club ran by a single senior student every… Wednesday, I think it was…? Oh, I don’t know, but it was a blast despite the fact that I wasn’t a social butterfly. Might have been helped by the fact there was only a handful of us in the club. We also had a drama club, debate club, movie club, board and card game club (that also sometimes allowed video games), hockey club, rugby club, football club, badminton club, dance club… and so many more others.It also included the reading club, study club, girls club (designed for girls with few friends and issues with shyness and/or disabilities that could affect one’s ability to socialise that ran after schools) and the numerous volunteering opportunities you had, as well as fundraisers you could start up, or trips you could go to provided you found money for it somehow. Then of course there’s baking, cooking, art and sports competitions and typically sports day, open to everyone and anyone. Prefect duties, choir practice, band practice were all recommended extra-curricular activities to put on one’s university application (though I didn’t do either of these, because I can’t sing, can’t play and well, I can’t handle teenagers either).
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…
Sunny London says
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. 🙂
Safa S says
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.
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.
Sunny London says
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!
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….
Sunny London says
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.
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.
Do British schools get snow days like a lot of American’s or is it an American obsession?
Sunny London says
I haven’t experienced one here in four years. Mostly that’s because it rarely snows!
Dilan Mcevoy says
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.
As I am moving to the America this article has been very helpful. Thank you
Sunny London says
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. 🙂
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 xx
Sunny London says
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
Danielle S says
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.
Sunny London says
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.
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?
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. lol
I really want to move to a American school do you still wear your own clothes and are divided in the same groups?
Ukaku Chiamaka Sonia (@sonia2raph) says
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?
Sacharissa M says
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)
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!
J. Emery says
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.
Rory Follin says
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 y1
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.
Instead of British, this mostly refers to English and Welsh schools, as Scottish schools are quite a bit different.
This article is not really a fair comparison. It is hard to compare the schools in different countries. But, I am originally from the UK, attended Primary School and High School for 2 years before moving over the USA and attending Middle School and High School. I myself can speak from experience. I can’t say ALL experiences will be like this, but I imagine there are many who would have had an experience like mine as I have made LOTS of British friends since moving to the US and we all similar stories.
I attended one of “the best” public school district in Texas. On my first day I saw drugs, bullying and found that I was learning concepts I’dl learned in a standard public British school 2 years prior. The kids in the US (or at least my school) were, funnily enough, segregated like Mean Girls. I can only assume the person writing this either attended a school where it didn’t happen OR is an American that can’t see the segregation that exists. I used to hide in the theatre room because I didn’t know where to sit at lunch. Black people sat all together, Asians all on one row, then you also had a mix of band “geeks” sitting in one area, skaters and of course.. the popular preppy kids. Additionally, I found buses in the US to be awful. I was bullied for my accent and felt trapped unable to get off and find other transport home when (in the UK) I’d been treated as an adult. Thats the other major difference for me, the US tends to treat their students like simple children that are not responsible. I think this low expectation caused kids to act younger than they were. Lots of behavioral issues and kids are shuffled from class to “break” – at which time we are told to stay in a designated area. In the UK I had a 20 minute break in the mornings where (like an adult in college would) I could get a snack, walk the grounds, go to the library.. you name it. Again, in the US, I was treated more like a prisoner. That’s probably a bit extreme but it did feel like being caught anywhere out of the cafeteria was breaking the law! God forbid you be treated with respect.
In the UK I had a ton of respect for my teachers and there was a general sense of pride in school where even the bad kids knew not to cross certain lines. I was learning German AND French in 6th and 7th grade in the UK. I came the US and started taking the French lessons I’d had in primary school in England.
One final point, the 3 years in Middle School I spent a year on Texas History, a year on US History (KILL ME NOW, some parts are interesting but a YEAR OF EACH???) and we spent a year on WORLD HISTORY??? And they wonder why we know nothing of other countries. I am embarrassed by my lack on knowledge. Of course i need to work to better myself and take responsibility but in ways I do wonder what “general knowledge” i would have, had i grown up in the UK.
Oh and i loved my uniform! I never had the coolest clothes. I wasn’t poor but it was a whole other pressure to keep up with the cool girls and their super expensive fashion. A pressure that is easily removed by a uniform and NO hahaha I did not feel “my personality and self expression was repressed”. Good lord, I felt that more by being treated as a moron by teachers and staff. I’d much prefer a uniform and be treated closer to an equal.
To me, its a clear win in the UK school I went to (again, very basic public school that didnt stand out against others). Oh, and my younger american sibblings were born in the US and they went over to live in the UK and feel exactly the same way as I do. They can’t believe how much better our schools were . vs Texas ones. But again, just my experience 🙂
This was fairly accurate BUT:
We aren’t aloud juice in class, and you have to have permission to drink your water,
Not everyone uses the gap year,
You have to be qualified to teach a subject, not just have the certificate,
You didn’t mention the SAT’s we took in primary ( year 2 and year 6)
2 of the 6 schools in my area girls don’t wear ties,
Our uniforms aren’t colourful, only primary schools are,
We have a tone of clubs,
We do have busses, they are just not bright yellow,
Your were fairly accurate on everything else
Charlie Wheat says
Can you make tweaks to this article for the age range primary school is 4-11 with nursery being 3-4 if kindergarten is 4-5 then that is equivalent to reception year. Please correct me and yourself.
Sunny London says
I am pretty sure you need to be 5 to enter kindergarten in the US.
I would like to know what they learn. Could we take a sample age such as 12 and compare the curriculum? I imagine that in american schools there is more project learning and writing,is it true? I found that in British schools there is more spelling, foreign languages and history. What about maths?
Michael Savege says
Hello there, at the moment I am in year 9 in London. I just wanted to say you got pretty much everything correct however you were wrong on the average meal. In England primary schools do have slightly worse meals than secondary schools but that is not to say they are good. From what I can see a lot of the material you are getting is from boarding schools like eton or Harrow. I regret to say they are not normally very nice texture wise or taste wise. Food almost always ends up being a soggy type of stew given a fancy name like lasagna or boulet. Although still a lot of the food section was specific to boarding schools which the vast majority of us do not attend. Thank you.
I thank you for the info. even if some of the commenters say your info is faulty. (I have to say not all your American school info matched “exactly” with my experience but the overall info was almost perfect.) Any way, the reason I was looking for the differences was I have been reading some stories from British Authors recently and some of the terms have been bugging me. So I decided to see if I could find the differences to better understand the stories. The information in the Blog and the Video have answered MOST of those questions, The only one I have at the moment is there seems to be a difference between college and university in England that is not in America. To me in America College is where you go after senior year of high school (if you decide to) and MOST of the college’s are called university Ex. Ohio State University ( GO!!! Buckeyes!!!!) even Boston College is a university. It seems College in Brittan is more a trade school, or community college (pre-university for a specific study) type of thing but I’m not for sure. Any way if you Find out its another difference you can add here. I’m off to see if I can find out myself. Thanks
In my children’s high school, the girls have to wear a crested blazer, white shirt, tie and tartan skirts with a red dragon on the waist band so that they can’t roll the skirts up to make them shorter! Only black ankle socks are allowed, only plain black or navy coats, only plain black or navy bags, they have a crested school PE kit with matching socks and jacket, and separate kits for rugby and cricket. No jewellery is allowed, no makeup (although the girls try bend this rule a bit but sometimes have to go wash their faces), and no unusual hair dye colours! They have houses, and award points, and go on school trips to the alps skiing and to lake garda with the choir. They also have punishments called consequences of different levels including detention, isolation, suspension and eventually expulsion for poor behaviour. Everyone has to take one language and everyone has to take at least 2 science subjects! There are school busses although they’re usually rammed!! The rules make it easier for children from disadvantaged backgrounds to feel comfortable, as there are grants that families can apply for to help with uniform costs, and the no short skirts and makeup is aimed at keeping children looking like children to keep them safe and also as an equaliser! This school is a public not private school and the children love it! Xx