Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Guest Post: Education in the UK

Guest Post: The Bookette 
The Bookette Answers All of My Questions Concerning Education in the UK

I am beyond excited for this post!  Becky from The Bookette (if you haven't checked out her fabulous blog already, you need to!) has agreed to be interviewed concerning all my questions about education in the UK.  As you know, I am a teacher and I find this to be extremely fascinating.  If you ever wanted to know what schools are like for young adults in the UK, be sure to read her responses to my questions.  I think I may share them with my students since most of our prior knowledge concerning UK education is taken from Harry Potter!  In return, I answered some of Becky's pressing questions about schooling in the US.  Be sure to check out her blog for my responses.  The idea of guest posting is Becky's brilliant idea and I'm so appreciative that she included me.  Without further ado, here's the guest post/interview:

Me: How are your schools organized? Elementary? Secondary?
Becky's response: As a general rule, English schools are organised into Primary and Seconday Schools. (I will keep these answers to England because I think things are different in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland).  Primary Schools are sometimes separated into two parts: Infant and Junior.  The Infant school takes children into the Nursery at 3 years old. Then the next year is called Reception.   Traditional teaching starts in Year 1 when pupils are 5. So Infant schools teach Nursery, Reception and Years 1 to 2.  Then the Junior School teaches Years 3 up to Years 6. Children leaving Primary school will be aged 10 - 11.
Our Secondary schools take pupils at age 11 and this is our new Year 7. They go from being top of the school in the Primary to the bottom of the school in Secondary. They are the babies all over again. 
There are very few Middle Schools left in the UK. My school is in some ways one of them but because it is a Private school, it has its own unique system. 

Me:  How much do your schools cost?
Becky's response: State schools are free and every child in the UK is entitled to a free education. Some parents opt to put their children into the private system for many different reasons. Private school places are fiercely competitive and there is a huge demand. School fees for a private school start at around £9000 per year but they can go up to around £27000 which is roughly what Eton charges. Eton is the most pretigious private boys' school in England. This is where our Princes William and Harry studied. If you're interested in Eton, you can view there website here

Me: What's a typical class size and how many students in a building?  (At least where you live....)
Becky's response: Class sizes are fairly large in state schools. They may be anything from about 25 right up to 33. (I taught a class of 33 in my training days and it was NOT a fun experience. It was tough.) In Private schools the class sizes are much smaller. At my school the maximum is 22 and the smallest is 17.  Some private schools have even smaller groups. I think that must be heaven for the teachers and librarians.
School sizes again vary. State Secondary schools take from around 800 - 1200 students. Some even take up to 1500. They are certainly not the norm though.
Primary Schools are much much smaller. I would say a third of the size of the Secondary schools.

Me: Do you have state testing?
Becky's response: We have these things called SATs. They are the bane of every teacher and headteachers' life. The success of our schools is often measured against the performance of children in SATs. The government introduced them to ensure an equality of education across the country, to raise levels of achievement in Science, Maths and English.  Children used to sit this testing in Years 2, 6 and 9. The Year 9 SATs are being phased out to the great relief of many teachers.

Me: What's this National Curriculum I've heard about?
Becky's response:  The National Curriculum is a standard to which all pupils are taught. It lists key objectives and areas that students must be competent in during any one point in their education. On the one hand, it ensures that all pupils are covering the same amount of learning and experiencing an equality of education. On the other hand, teachers find it too target-driven. Their teaching is restricted to what is on the syllabus. Many people in education argue that the Curriculum stifles the creativity of both teachers and pupils. Others say it is the only way to ensure that all pupils receive a good standard of education.

Me: I assume you don't have GPAs. So, what do you guys have?
Becky's Response: So in Primary Schools, students get their SAT exam marks which show what level that are learning at. These go from Level 1 - Level 8. At the end of Primary school, all pupils in theory should be a Level 3, 4 or 5. If students get Level 5, this is good news indeed.

In Senior school students sit GCSEs for all the subjects that they study. GCSEs are qualifications which are recognised by employers and further education colleges. Usually their marks are made up of coursework and exams. The highest mark you can get is an A*. The lowest is a G. The government regards C or above as good. When I was in school, we took 9 GCSEs. Now students can take up to 15 GCSES I believe, which to me sounds crazy. Colleges require 5 Cs or above to get onto A Level courses.

Me: Do you have religious education? We don't unless you go after school or to a private religious school....very curious about this one.
Becky's response: Religious edcuation is part of the National Curriculum. It is usually studied up to Year 9 (when pupils are 14). It covers a whole wealth of religions and they learn the traditions and ceremonies of each one. If parents do not want their children to study RE, then they can ask for their child to be opted out of those lessons. Some of our schools are religious schools or what we describe as "faith" schools. Even they have religious education, I believe. My mum works in a Church of England school and they celebrate festivals from a host of religions, Sikh, Muslim, Judiasm. Part of our Curriculum teaches citizenship and this is about celebrating diversity as much as anything else.

Me: At what age do the students start learning a foreign language?
Becky's Response: This varies depending on the type of school. In Private schools like mine pupils begin learning French in Year 3. But even in Years 1 and 2 they explore many different languages. In state schools students are not required to learn a language until they are in Year 7. Although, there is a new Curriculum being implemented which means they will start learning French in Primary schools. I'm not quite sure which year they will be taught that in though. It used to be a requirement that students studied a foreign language for their GCSEs but now it is no longer statutory. They can choose.

Me: What's this specialist school I've read about?
Becky's Response: Specialist schools are those which have an extra emphasis on one or more subjects. They may have better facilities in this chosen area and they get extra government money for it. The specialism can be: Performing Arts, Sports, Design and Techonlogy, Maths, Science. I'm sure there must be many more too. These schools although they sound "special" are actually quite common now in England.

We also have new schools called "Academies". These are a key policy of our current government. Failing schools which do not meet the required standard get taken over by an Academy. The exisiting building often gets a complete refurb or it gets kncoked down and they start again. The Academy schools are decked out with all the latest equipment and facilities. The students get smaller class sizes up to about 25 and they are meant to produce better results. So far the evidence of their success is mixed. Oh, and the Academy schools are part-funded by private money from companies. I have worked in one and even I don't exactly understand how it all works.

Me: Do you have a lot of boarding schools like Hogwarts?  I'm sorry; I couldn't resist. Do you wear uniforms?
Becky's Response: We do have boarding schools in the UK. They are mostly private schools. There is the occasional state boarding school which will often take children whose parents in the Armed forces. Are they like Hogwarts? I can't say I know the answer. I have never worked at a boarding school. I have visited one which was Dulwich college. A very prestigious and high achieving school. I guess it looked very Hogwarty from the outside but sadly I didn't see any students studied leviation or chanting "Wingardium Leviosa" :-)

Yes, uniforms are quite the norm here in Secondary Schools and at nearly every Private school. In Primary Schools it is not always the case but evn then quite often. Students hate them with a passion!

Me: What's this sixth form? What does that mean?
Becky's Response: Some of our Secondary schools take pupils until they are aged 18. We call the part of the school that takes pupils from 16 - 18 the "Sixth form". Here students study for A Levels. These are what they need to get into a UK university. Many students do not stay on for Sixth Form but instead go to a Further Education College to take their A Levels. Colleges are a much more relaxed learning environment and give more freedom to the students. Thus, students need to be excellent independent learners to achieve their potential at college. They do not get the nagging from the teachers to motivate them!

Me: What extra curricular activities are popular?
Becky's Response: This depends very much on what is offered at the school. Sports are popular. At my current school the pupils sign up for football (or as you know it soccer), cricket, rugby and netball. There are many other cultural options open to them at Private schools. We offer Army Cadets, Calligraphy Club, Ballet, Drama, Music, Choir, Book Group, Chess Club, General Knowledge Club (run by the headmaster). There are so many more. At my last school they had a huge basketball emphasis, as well as Street Dance, a Student Magazine and even an Archeology Club. There is something for everyone.

Me: Do you have a "Homecoming-ish" activity at your schools?
Becky's Response: There is no such thing as Homecoming in the UK. There is no big sports event and the leavers do not come back for a celebration. Instead, just before the final exams in Year 11 students have their school prom. It is not a big affair like in the US and it is organised by the teaching staff rather than the students. They have to pay to go. It is definitely an important rite of passage but it isn't so commercial here, I think. Everything is done on a budget. It is often at a local venue rather than in the school hall or gym.

My Thoughts:  WOW! You would think as a teacher, I would be exposed to different countries and their educational systems, but sadly, I am not. This is truly interesting to me.  I think the idea of "Academies" sounds worthwhile.  What if we did that and actually refurbished failing schools and offered them new books, new technology, etc?  I think this is a revolutionary idea.  I want to learn more about this.  I also find the religious education to be compelling. I like that they cover all types of religions.  Sometimes I feel like my students are so sheltered and we lack diversity.  Sometimes I feel like everything has to be so politically correct in the US.  Also, I thank Becky for finally answering my question concerning "sixth form." I have heard the phrase "sixth form" for awhile now, but never understood it.  So, readers....what do you think of UK schooling? It sounds pretty awesome to me, but I'd love to hear what you think!  Lastly, thanks again to Becky at The Bookette for coming up with this idea and for putting up with my interrogation. :)  You're the best!  This is just yet another reason I love blogging and meeting fellow bloggers. 


  1. Fascinating interview! My parents always talk about the superiority of the English education system and they lamented the kind of education my sister and I received in the States.

    I didn't know much of the details of the education system there but it does sound fantastic in many ways. I was surprised to hear that students learn about other religions. I think it is good to learn about other cultures and their beliefs.

    Thanks for hosting this interview! Very enlightening.

  2. It sounds almost the same as in Holland. I love this post and the one at Becky's blog. This is so informative, so thank you for doing this.

    Also I love that the students have to wear uniforms. Not lots of bullying about brands. :)

  3. Hey Christina!!! I'm so glad we did this. Can't wait for our next endeavour (whatever that may be)!

    Chrsitina T, I have never heard the UK system described as superior before. Here we are in awe of the Finnish system.

    Nina, in theory uniforms should reduce bullying and in some ways they do. But sadly, children still get bullied if their uniforms don't get ironed, or their trousers are too short, or in PE they have cheap trainers, or they don't have the right coat. The list is infinite and although we try to reduce bullying there is always more we can do.

  4. I have to admit, trying to understand the UK education system makes my brain hurt!

  5. Wow, this was really cool! I've always been a little confused reading literature set in England, and it makes so much more sense now.

  6. I'm glad you guys enjoyed it. I think it's so interesting. Thanks again to Becky for answering all my questions! :)

  7. WOW awesome post. You are correct in that we are very sheltered in the states with regard to other countries educational systems. Thank you for both putting this Q&A format together, I look forward to more topics covered like this. One question, what is netball and how do you play?
    Christina, perhaps with your diverse readership (and with help from Becky) you could shed some light on the Finnish educational system. The British system sounds great, but if they are in awe of the Fins I would love to find out why.

  8. That is an awesome interview! Great idea to do that ~ if it's ok with you I'm going to share this interview with my sister-in-law who teaches gifted 3rd grade here in GA. Thanks for such an awesome and informative interview!

  9. I've loved both posts, so interesting and such a great idea!

    I have to agree with Becky Re: Uniform/Bullying. It still happens, only it's what school bag/lunch box/ shoes/hair style/where uniform was bought etc etc. As a parent of a 5 year old I am grateful for uniform simply because it takes the stress over what to put on her each morning! I detested it when I was at school though and felt it quashed my individuality (we wore disgusting brown blazers ugh)...although we had many creative ways to personalise them!

  10. Okay, so maybe we should try to put together a post on the Finnish system then? I shall research and then email you! x

    Mike, Netball is a game that mainly girls play. It is similar to basbetball but there is no dribbling. Anyway here is a link to help you:

  11. Stacy- I am glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks! Becky and I appreciate it.

    Rhiana and Becky- I swear- kids will find anything to bully or tease about. I think my students would still tease/bully each other even if we had uniforms.

    Becky- I am very intrigued by the Finnish system. I'm emb that I know NOTHING about it!

    Mike- You would ask about netball. (Mike is my husband)


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