British vs American Education Systems

I was engaging in some friendly Internet banter on Gawker the other day and ended up (after being asked to do so) explaining the American education system to some Brits.  There is a lot of confusion on both sides, partially because the systems are really different.  I can’t say I think one is superior to the other, but they both have strengths and weaknesses.  Thought it might be helpful to provide a real breakdown of how they differ.  I can’t guarantee I’ll get everything right, but I think this should be mostly accurate. I’m going to deal with lower education first, and discuss universities later.  Otherwise this will be a very long post.

First, the British System

the_inbetweenersMost importantly, you’ll notice the uniforms.  Uniforms are, I think, a government mandate.  Blergh.  So glad I didn’t have to deal with that.  On the other hand, I think I wore a black Old Navy fleece pullover for about 6 months straight in high school, so maybe it wouldn’t have been so different.  Still, I got to choose the black fleece pullover.  An illusion of freedom is helpful for those under 18, who have no actual freedom under the law. I think there are a few schools in the UK without uniforms, but probably over 90% require uniforms.

The British system starts out similar to the US System.  You have the option to attend something called Nursery School, which is similar to our Preschool, until you’re 4.  After that, you go to Primary School from ~4/5 years old through ~11 years old.    The first year is called ‘reception’, similar to our kindergarten. After that, you start with year 1, then year 2, etc., etc., very similar to our 1st grade, 2nd grade.  Things don’t really become vastly different until you’re nearing adulthood.

When Brit kids are in year 6, they sit an exam called the Sats (in no way related to the US SATs), which helps determine what classes they can/should take going forward.  This is, I imagine, similar to our basic standardized tests in elementary/middle school, when it comes to format and material.  The big difference is that it makes a difference in what classes you can take going forward.  More of a placement test.

After year 6, if you don’t get your Hogwarts letter, you go to Secondary School.  Instead of having a Middle and High school as we do, you go to Secondary school from about 11/12 y.o. to 16 y.o., from year 7-year 11.  Somewhere in there you take another Sats test to help with future class placement.  But the first big deal stressful test you need to take in your young life is the O.W.L.s….no, that’s not right.  The GCSEs (stands for General Certificate of Secondary Education). I think you study the subjects for year 10 and 11 and then take the tests in year 11, but I could be wrong on that.  According to Wikipedia, the grading goes like this:

The pass grades, from highest to lowest, are: A* (pronounced ‘A-star’), A, B, C, D, E, F and G. Grade U (ungraded/unclassified) is issued when students have not achieved the minimum standard to achieve a pass grade; the subject is then not included on their final certificate.

The GSCEs help you determine where you go next.  Government mandated education in the UK stops at 16, not 18 as it does here.  So if you want to be done with school and go work at your uncle’s garage, go for it.  If you want to go to University, you need to continue with school.  You have two options; you can go to ‘College’, or you can stay on at your Secondary School in something called ‘Sixth Form’. Both options prepare you to take your NEWTs A-levels.  From what I understand, being accepted to Sixth Form is more competitive and difficult than going to a College, and there don’t tend to be a lot of other students with you.  This video talks about the differences, and the guy mentions that out of his entire Secondary School, there were only 30 classmates in his Sixth Form.

Note to Americans–if you’re in the UK and you say College, people do not think you mean University.  They only call it University.

You take your A-levels at 17 or 18 years old, and primarily they determine what Universities you can attend.  People generally take 3 or 4 A-levels (usually you study 2 per year, I think). I believe the closest equivalent we have in the US is AP tests.  They seem to offer A-levels in everything, though I don’t think each of these subjects is offered universally.  I feel sorry for anyone who, at 15, decides Accounting is the subject for them, but I am jealous that so many different languages are offered. Passing grades are A*, A, B, C, D and E.  Everyone stresses about their results, and I think these tests are the main qualification that universities look at before they consider you for admission. For Oxbridge, you need all As, at least.  That’s the minimum requirement.  For reference, if an American wants to apply to Oxbridge, they expect 3 AP tests with grades of 5, so they are fairly equivalent in the eyes of their Admissions Offices.  King’s College London, which is where I went (briefly), requires you to ‘pass 3 A-levels’, but if you look at their more prestigious programs (Law, Medicine), they require AAA or A*AA to be admitted.  An A* is like an A+; I think you have to get over 90% on the exam, but I’m a little unclear on that because a 90% on an American exam is usually an A- and an A+ is over ~98%.  A more average university, like the University of Surrey, requires 3 passes at A-level, but also looks at your GSCEs.  You need a C or better at Math and English, regardless of your A level scores.

A note about graduation–they don’t have one in the UK.  Because some students leave at 16, some at 17, the rest at 18, there is no one moment of ‘thank god that’s done’ as there is in the US.  They have something called a Leaving Day, I believe, but it’s not on the scale of a high school graduation.

Okay…so that’s most of what I know about the UK Education System.  If any of my UK readers would like to correct me, I’d love to know what I got wrong or left out.  Also, if any of you readers from the UK (or elsewhere) are confused about the US system, this bit’s for you!

graduationIt’s far simpler to explain. First and most important: very few schools have uniforms.

First, you can go to preschool or daycare when you’re very young.  Then, when you turn 4 or 5, you will go to Elementary school. This starts with kindergarten, and goes through 5th grade (in most places).  So you start at 5 years old and leave at 11, very similar to the UK.

Here’s where it starts to be different.  After Elementary school you go to Middle School.  This is from grades 6-8, so ages 12-14(ish).

After 8th grade, you move on to High School.  TV shows should give you a good indication of what it’s like. You go to High School from 9th-12th grade.  There are other words for your status during each year: In 9th grade you are a freshman, 10th grade you are a sophomore, 11th grade you are a junior, and 12th grade you are a senior.  No one really says ‘I’m in 9th grade’, they would say ‘I’m a freshman’. You study a variety of subjects, but everyone has to study things like Math, Science, History, English.  Usually people study a language, and most places require you to take gym.  The popular kids torture the less popular kids, but really everyone is incredibly miserable.

Pressure to prepare for college starts, in my experience, as a Sophomore.  You take some standardized tests to give you a hint of what your future hell will be like when you are taking them for real.  You can start taking AP classes, if they are offered at your school.  AP classes are similar to GSCE classes, I believe. You study a subject for (usually) a year, and then take a test at the end.  Grades for the tests are 1-5, with 5 as the highest.  3-5 are the passing grades.  You can take as many as you want, or take none.  They’re not required, but if you want to go to Harvard, they’re going to expect you to take whichever advanced classes your school offers.

In your Junior year, you take the SATs and/or ACTs for real.  These tests are measured differently, but they test very similar things.  A very good score on the SATs would be anything above 2000/2400.  A good score on the ACTs would be anything over 31 out of 36.  Again, if you want to go to an Ivy League school, you need to have nearly perfect test scores.

The thing to understand about American universities is that they look at you as a whole person.  There are your test scores (AP, SAT, ACT), but also your GPA (more on that in a minute), your extra-curricular activities like clubs or sports, and your personal statement.  Some do interviews, but it’s rarely a requirement.  Most schools have a huge amount of students apply, so they use things like GPA and test scores as a first step to weed out the least suitable candidate.  Then they start to look at the other materials. Just keep that in mind when I continue to describe all the shit you have to do to have a chance at a good university in the US.

So, GPA.  This is a confusing subject for everyone outside the UK, from my experience.  Your courses are graded with letter grades, but each letter grade has a corresponding numerical value out of 4.0 (usually).

  • A = 4.00
  • A- = 3.67
  • B+ = 3.33
  • B = 3.00
  • B- = 2.67

etc., etc for grades A, B, C, D (the passing grades).  We only have one failing grade, F.  For more info, this is a Wiki page that goes into specifics. I’m not going to attempt to explain grading on a curve to you in this blog.

So, your GPA is just your average.  If you have all Bs, you have a GPA of 3.00.  If you have 2 As, an A-, and a B+, your GPA would be 3.75   [(4.0+4.0+3.67+3.33)/4 classes=3.75].

I would say GPA is the number one thing universities look for.  An Ivy League school would probably not consider anyone with below a 3.5, unless they were a celebrity, Olympian, legacy, sports star, or had something else to offer the university. The majority of people accepted to an Ivy probably a 3.8 or above.  For your middling state schools, anything above a 3.0 is fine.

The good thing about a GPA is that it’s an average, and it covers all 4 years of high school.  For UK students who get nervous taking their A level tests, this must sound wonderful.  After all, if you bomb one test in the US, it’s not going to hurt you in the long run.  On the other hand, the GPA is a bit unforgiving.  If you have a bad year in your freshman or sophomore year, it’s really difficult to ever get your GPA back up to a respectable level.  To judge people for university based in part by their performance at 14 years old seems harsh.  So, there are pros and cons.

Generally, people take the SAT and/or ACT once more in their Senior year in an attempt to get a better score.  People apply to college (university) in the fall of their Senior years and usually hear back in the spring. You get in and you celebrate, or you don’t and you cry.

Two big events end the high school experience for most students.  Prom and Graduation.  These have been covered in countless shows and movies, so I doubt I need to explain them.  A prom is just a formal dance, the biggest one of your young life.  Graduation is the formal celebration of your being finished with school.  Since the leaving age in the US is 18, this is a big deal.  Celebrating together the end of this collective experience.  You have a ceremony and a boring speech, you wear robes, you get a fake diploma, your family takes lots of pictures.  Usually you have a party afterward. If you’re wealthy or lucky, your family buys you a car and/or a laptop.  If you are me, your family buys you a dictionary.  You are an adult and can now do what you want (in theory).

Next time, university!

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161 responses to “British vs American Education Systems

  1. Scotland is Different

    The information you gave on the USA was great thanks but there is a key point you should note. Not every country in Britian/the UK is the same. For example you explained the English education system and due to British/UK politics Scotland has a different education system and the same may even be true for Wales and Northern Ireland. But I’m not 100% sure on that.

  2. Good information.I was always confused about this as I come from Pakistan.

  3. My son has passed his GCES with very high marks in all subjects in school in Wales uk so that why american children are thick

    • Your son doing well means American children are stupid? Nice logic. You are an idiot.

    • This is an incredibly rediculous comment. Regardless of your personal grammatical errors, the comment itself is pointless. If one person passing exams denotes that an entire country contained little other then stupid people i could claim that i have just completed my honours degree in england and thats why entire country is filled with foul mouthed imbeciles such as yourself… No?

  4. Like Another User Has Pointed Out, Scotland Has A Completely Different System From England. For Starters, I’ve Never Heard Of SATs Except When Watching American TV As I Never Sat One. Also, We Don’t Sit GCSE’s, We Sit Standard Grade. The Grading System Is Done Differently, Standard Grades Are Graded Using Credit Level, General Level And Foundation Level. When Taking A Standard Grade Exam, A Student Takes Two Exams, Either The General And Credit Level Exams (Mid And High Level) Or The Foundation and General Level Exams (Low and Mid Level). If Taking The General And Credit Exams, The Highest Grade A Student Can Get Is A Credit 1 (Which Is Equal To About 85-90%+ Correct I Believe) The Second Highest Would Be Credit 2 (Which Is Equal To 75%+ Correct I Believe) The Second Lowest Grade Achievable Without Failing Is General 3 (Which I Think Is Equal To 60%+ Correct) And The Lowest Non-Failing Grade Is General 4 (Which I Think Is Equal To 50%+ Correct) Anything Lower Than General 4 And A Student Fails The General/Credit Exam. If A Student Takes The Foundation/General Exam, It’s A Bit Easier And Graded Fairly Similarly With General 3 And 4 Taking The Credit 1 And 2 Markings From The Previous Exams (General 3 Needing 85-90%+ Correct And General 4 Needing 75%+ Correct) And Foundation 5 And 6 Taking The General 3 And 4 Markings From The Previous Exam (Foundation 5 Being The Second Lowest Non-Failing Grade At 60%+ Correct And Foundation 6 Being The Lowest Non-Failing Grade At 50%+ Correct) If A Student Were To Get A Foundation 7 (<50% Complete) During The Foundation/General Exam, They Fail the Exam. Also, I'm Not Sure About England, But Public School Is Government Funded And Thus Is Free To Attend In Scotland. I Also Don't Know About The Uniforms In England, But I'm Fairly Sure That In Public School, Uniforms Are Not Required In Scotland (I Cannot Speak For Every Scottish School, But The Ones I Went To Had No Uniforms)

  5. With the A-Level system in the UK, A-Levels are currently split into two sections (this is soon to be changed by our government though). The two sections are AS and A2. People usually sit 4 AS subjects then drop a subject and complete the other 3 subjects at A2. This results in 3 full A-Levels and half an A-level. This is shown using Uppercase and Lowercase letters e.g. AABb (upper case is the full A-Level and lowercase being the AS). Also the maximum grade you can get at AS is an A.

    Also Oxbridge usually require A*A*A*a in the more prestigious courses (Law and Medicine etc…). And also the grade boundary for A* depends on the exam and the exam board that set the paper.

    We also have a thing called UCAS points which some of the less prestigious Universities use. At A-Level for every grade you get points (e.g. A* is 140 points and a B is 100 etc…). These are then added up. Some Universities require a minimum amount of UCAS points to even apply for the course.

  6. MidnightRoses888

    I’m wondering if anyone who knows about the current English education system could answer my following question?

    Do Pupils still get National Record of Achievement books?

    Everyone in Year 11 got one at my school. We were told to show them to college tutors, training mentors/staff and future employers. I hated carrying the book around, it was so heavy! It was a medium-big hardback book with a smooth leather-like cover. All pages have a plastic pocket/wallet that can be used to hold stuff like GCSE results etc.

    I’m looking through the book at this moment.

    First Page shows personal details (includes which primary school I attended and what year I started Middle/Secondary)

    Second Page shows Qualifications & Credits (a summary of all subjects taken for GCSE, A Levels, NVQs or GNVQs)

    Third Page shows Personal Statement (My own personal statement highlighting my achievements in school as well qualities and character)

    Four Page shows Achievements & Experiences (written by the Headmistress or Headmaster of the school – using the same headings as the page above)

    Fifth Page is blank

    Sixth Page holds a report of the work experience I did whilst in the last year of school. The form is called Careers Action Plan. It has a personal statement written by me and then the manager I worked with gave her report/review about how I got on.

    Seventh Page shows Attendance Rate in Secondary School

    And then five strong plastic wallets for all of the certificates got in school. I also put my college certificates in there.

    I can’t remember when but at some point I stopped carrying it around. And transferred all of the information onto a CV. What a relief!

  7. Sats in the UK are actually more about the schools teaching rather than the children. Well at least I think that’s right… (I’m british and just did my GCSEs) but correct me if I’m wrong. Then in year 7 we have CATs tests (we pronounced it cats as in the animal but it has nothing to do with that), which gives the school an idea about your current learning level etc, etc. Then you are put into learning sets based on the information of your CATs tests and results of any general class tests/exams. Apart from that, really useful information, really helped with my Sociology summer work! Thanks! :))

  8. I’m English and most of this imformation was correct but some was a bit off. Not everyone takes the SATS I think it depends on if you go to a state or privet school, but I’m not sure. I did not take the SATS, but I took entrance exams set by the schools I was applying to. And you study all of your A-levels at once not two per year.

  9. Karimah Firdaws

    They got rid of SATs

  10. Oxbridge isn’t a university. You are thinking of Oxford, and that’s not the only one you need high grades for. They ask for high grades in Cambridge as well. Both are near London.

  11. The US system is really confusing and I keep struggling to wrap my head around it.

  12. In the UK you do your A Levels between 16-18 and you usually study 4 subjects in your first year and most people drop one for the second year, where you apply for uni! 🙂

  13. Also – we obviously have graduation ceremonies at University, but at A-Levels and GCSEs we do just have ‘Leavers Days’

  14. Some of the British things are wrong. We don’t take Sats in secondary and we sixth form instead of high school . Plus every school in England has uniform. We also do Cats in year 7 and Sats has nothing to do with placement it’s just to see how well the school is teaching you

    • Not every school has uniforms. It is up to the school- not a legal requirement, but most schools just choose to have them. Probably just tradition.

  15. Also we do have graduation and you can drop out of school at 16 as long as your in education until your 18 so for example working or going sixth form. Your GCSEs determine which sixth form you go to and if you don’t get a C or above in Maths and English, then you pretty much will never get a good job

  16. This article is not entirely correct. If you look up the equivalents between UK and US you would find that Reception is our Pre-K. Year 1 is Kindergarten. The UK numbers are one off of our grade levels as they now end in year 13. They have recently changed the age level that one my finish school. In 2013 it was changed to 17 and then last year it changed to 18.

  17. One user pointed out about Standard Grade for Scotland however it’s not anymore. It’s now Curriculm for Excellence which involves sitting exams at either National 5, Higher or Advanced Higher. You sit your first exams at the end of fourth year so roughly age 15/16. National 4 is also a qualification however you do not sit an exam and it is merely a pass or fail- I wouldn’t say it counted for much. I would personally say you sit National 5 age 15/16, Higher 16/17 and then many choose to not to Advanced as it isn’t really required. The grading system is ABC for a pass, D is also counted as a pass but I’m pretty sure the pass mark is like 45%. If you fail the exam you will simply be awarded N/A- which means no award. Exams are sat at the end of every school year in 4th, 5th and 6th year.

  18. Haha I love the way you put Harry Potter stuff in it

  19. England & Wales:
    You start Year R or ‘reception’ at the age of 4, most students having attended either nursery or pre-school (both exist in the UK and are different to each other, nursery focusing more on social skills, pre-school allowing one to develop academically with simple spelling and maths). You sit Sats in Year 6 but they do not determine anything for the student whatsoever, they show what level you are currently working at but won’t alter your entry to different secondary schools or the subjects you take. Some people claim you don’t take them and although it is being discussed whether they should be removed or not, all students sat them but often were not told as they are meant to reflect intellect separate from revision. In Year 6 students can take the ’11+’ if they live in the county of Kent (and a few towns elsewhere in the country) and on passing they can go to a Grammar School, which work at a higher ability/pace than ordinary Secondary Schools.

    In Year 7 you sit Cats or Sats depends what your school calls them, and they are for the school to track your progress. All Sats from Years 6/7 are not subject based and are based on purely maths, verbal, non-verbal and sometimes a general science paper. Then it gets more confusing.
    Each school start their students choosing their GCSEs at different times and different subjects can be taken at different schools. For example, my Grammar School allowed us to pick the subjects we wished to take (we had to choose 4 subjects from at least 1 language, at least 1 humanities and the option of various arts/creative subjects, whilst having to sit English Literature, English Language, Maths, either Double or Triple Science (Triple being 9 units split into 3 Biology, 3 Chemistry and 3 Physics whilst Double was the lower 6 units of all 3 sciences), Religious Studies and ICT) in Year 9, and we started during the last 6 weeks of Year 9. My brother’s Grammar School however picked in Year 8 and are completing their GCSEs over 3 years rather than the traditional 2. My friends at Secondary Schools take them just for Years 10 and 11. All subjects have exams at the end of the course and most contain coursework. Additionally, GCSEs can be of either a foundation or higher level; foundation papers have a maximum grade of a C, whilst higher an A*. Your ability determines where you are placed. At GCSE, a G is a pass, however most sixth forms only accept people achieving C averages or above. GCSEs also have the grade point average like American SATs do, however they are totalled together. E.g. my brother has to get a 46.5 point average (mainly Bs) to return to sixth form.

    Then we move to either college or sixth form at the age of 16 after Year 11. Legally, ALL people must be in full-time education until the age of 18 as of about 4 years ago, however if your parents fill out some official documents putting you into an apprenticeship or declaring health issues due to school, individuals can be granted to leave. Different schools will either partake in A-Levels, BTEC Diplomas or the IB (International Baccalaureate). You do not have to stay at the Secondary School you were previously at and people move, e.g. my Girls Grammar allowed boys in the sixths form due to movement.

    A-Levels: This only applies until July 2016; a new system has been introduced (spoken below). As I’ve seen other people mention, generally 4 AS subjects are taken and then one is dropped and 3 A2s are completed. However again this depends on a) the school and b) the student. More promising students can take up to 5 AS subjects or even A2s. My current school requires 4 subjects are on the timetable except in special circumstances. I also know a student who has 4 subjects on the timetable and he is completing an extra two separately off his own back. Students sit exams at the end of their AS year and at the end of the A2 year. Coursework is only a part of certain subjects and exam boards. AS exams are sent to UCAS and your universities (up to 5) that you apply for see these results and offer you placements if you meet their requirements (along with having read and liked your Personal Statement). Some schools refuse to accept you on an A2 course if you get below a certain grade on your AS, and at AS an E is a pass. However any decent university will only accept people achieving Cs or above.
    As of 2015/2016 academic year: the A-Level system has changed so that all subjects are a two-year course and exams are taken at the end of Year 13. UCAS are sent information based off of internal examinations and regular assessments to base university and apprenticeship offers on.

    IB: I believe available in most countries, the IB consists of students taking 3 standard and 3 higher subjects but all exams are sat at the end of the two year period. Coursework is involved.

    BTECs: Taken in a larger variety of subjects including sports and many activities such as ‘Hair & Beauty’ that are not offered as A-Levels, these are more recreational based courses with a lot more “hands on” work. These are better suited to students who struggle on long written assessments associated with A-Levels. GCSE alternatives of BTECs also exist.

    No school in the UK really behaves in the same way. For example, my school chose certain students to take their GCSE French or Spanish early so they sat the exams in Year 9, ALL students completed their ICT in Year 10 and those who studied the GCSE languages early could take on the A-Level of that subject early. Some schools offer BTECs, some offer GCSEs and A-Levels. Some offer all 3.

    A huge flaw you have stated however; most sixth forms are in fact larger than the previous year groups. Especially in Kent, I only know one sixth form that contains around 100 people whilst all others contain over 200, compared to the normal year group size of 180 people. In areas of low-education attainment the sixth forms are often smaller, but that does not apply to most schools. Additionally, sixth form dress codes vary. None are in offical uniform in Kent, however some in other areas of the country might be. We have some schools with casual clothing and others with “smart dress” where you have to wear blazers and office-appropriate clothing. All schools have a rule of shoulders and stomaches being covered and most will not accept short skirts or shorts being worn. Hair colour restrictions are often also in place. However it is down to the Governors of individual schools to decide this.

    It is now becoming traditional for UK schools to have two proms, one after exams in Year 11 as many people are leaving the school for other educational routes, and the second after exams in Year 13, however they are not as important as American proms and are not taken as seriously.

    Finally, the grade boundaries change per exam. They are national rather than internal like the US ones, so change based on student averages the year before for GCSEs, with the rough boundaries being:
    A* – 80%
    A – 70%
    B – 60%
    Etc etc. Yet for A-Levels they change based on the results that year. The top percentage of exam entries SHOULD be awarded an A* at A2 (including the grades earned at AS that make part of the A2 grade). Usually in Geography by the examboard Pearsons (or Edexcel) the A* grade is given to the top 7% of students, whilst in AQA computing it is as little as 3%. A D** is always awarded to those achieving ~50% in the paper/subject when averaged out with coursework.

    ** Note that the new A-Level two year system is going to be graded from 1 to 9 just to confuse everybody.

    • Very comprehensive reply. However all English-based students don’t have to stay in full time education or apprenticeship to age 18. From the summer following their 16th birthday, English under 18’s can get also a full-time job and supplement it with part time education or training (at least 280 hours of guided learning per year – eg a supervised 30 point OU course or 6 hours a week on the job training). They can also ignore the whole thing and just sip martinis on their yacht if they have the equivalent of a couple of A-levels, and a yacht, and an indulgent parent to mix martinis. (Okay, the law only mentions the A-levels bit).

  20. There is no such thing as a ‘British’ system. There is an education system for England and Wales, a system for Scotland and a separate system in Ireland. There is no uniform UK system – a lot of people are commenting ‘in the UK’, it is simply not correct.

  21. Hello, i was just reading your post and most part for the UK I Agree. However, when I Was at sixth form, it was mandatory to study at least 3 subjects at any one time. I believe that it was a maximum of 4 subjects plus a session per week called study skills which prepared you for university which was like a subject on its own as there was course work involved. When choosing certain subjects such as spanish and french you had to have a minium GCSE of grade C in those fields, But for subjects such as Classical civilisation it wasnt such a problem if you didnt have history as a GCSE. Also my sixth form wasnt part of my school at all it was a branch from the college itself.

  22. Daniel Taylor

    Interesting but I think this only touches on the differences. I was reading an article about differences between uk and us education system on assignmentmasters and while that, and this and many other articles are interesting, I think the major issues is not a comparison but does either system work for the nation? Does the system deliver students who take the country forward in the future? And also, does either the UK or US education system deliver what its needed for a global world?

  23. Is it true English students do better in American SATs

    • Ileana Dominguez-Urban

      Tiana, it’s quite possible that English students, or indeed, students from any other country, do better on average on SAT/ACT exams than Americans do. However, that doesn’t mean anything about either educational system because the two groups are apples and oranges. Students in the US who take these tests come from a wide spectrum of educational backgrounds and abilities. Probably the students who don’t have a very low GPA don’t take them, but other than that you get students from private schools, public schools, homeschool, rural areas, very urban areas, rich, poor, middle class, and of every color under the rainbow.

      On the other hand, English students who take the (US) SAT or ACT are probably from the higher end of the economic scale. For the students or their parents to be able to come to college/university in the UK, they have to be able to afford the travel costs, pay out of state tuition, as well as do without federal grants and loans. English students who don’t come from well-off backgrounds but receive some scholarship for study abroad are likely to be highly motivated and to have done pretty well academically.

  24. Where I am, 6th form is called 6th form college and I’m pretty sure it’s just the same thing as college. I’ve never heard of someone going to 6th form or college. I think some people just call it different things. Does anyone know why the lockers in USA are so big? The ones at my school are tiny.

    • Ileana Dominguez-Urban

      School lockers in the US. Some schools have tall lockers (single tier) that are around 1 foot wide, 6 feet high and 12 inches deep. 30 X 30 X 183 cm. Others have double tier lockers that are the same width, but about half as high and a little deeper – 18 inches. 30 X 45 X 91 cm.
      Up north especially, lockers are bigger probably because students use them not just so they don’t have to carry around all their heavy textbooks and other materials all day, but also to store heavy coats, scarves, boots, etc. in the winter. In addition, Physical Education is required for almost all students throughout the country, so they have to be able to keep a change of clothing, deodorant, etc. Moreover, many students are involved in extracurricular activities. Those in sports, need a place to keep not just their sports uniform & shoes (or cleats) but also some of their sports equipment. Some equipment is held in common by the coaches, but athletes sometimes have or prefer to bring their own (ice skates, gloves). Although there are probably also lockers in the gym, at the beginning, and end of the day/week these probably travel via the main locker to and from home. [I was never on a school sports team, so I’m speculating somewhat. My spouse says he mostly just kept that stuff in his gym locker.] They also are used to hold library books, food & drink, personal stuff and electronics.
      How big are your lockers? What do you put in them?

  25. Most of this is correct however I have a little to add.

    GCSE’s :
    Depending on ability, judged by a mixture of the Sats tests and yearly tests, the amount and type of GCSEs you take can vary. People of lesser ability tend to take less GCSE’s, around 7 or 8, and these usually involve some BTEC subjects. For those of higher ability, 10-12 GCSE’s are the normal amount to be taken. — Though this all does depend on the school you go to and the resources they have available.

    For example – At the end of year 9 every student was given the option pathways. I, being in the top set for most of my subjects, was expected to take the top pathway which included:

    Separate sciences (a GCSE awarded for Physics, Chemistry and Biology separately – as opposed to additional science, which is 2 GCSE’s awarded across Physics, Chemistry, and Biology because they contain only 2/3 of the content in separates)

    A language (I chose french)

    History or Geography (or both)

    Art or Music or Design Technology or Catering or textiles (these were only an option if you took either History or Geography – NOT both)

    English (2 GCSE’s – one for Language, the other for Literature)

    Maths (or ‘Math’ as you call it across the pond)

    Information Technology

    Religious Studies (only a short course though – 0.5 of a full GCSE)

    This leaves me with 10.5 GCSEs – weird right?!

    A Levels :
    A levels are either studied at college or at sixth form like you said – and sixth forms to tend to be more competitive. However they are essentially the same thing – although colleges tend to offer more types of subjects because of their substantial size difference – things like media and photography etc.

    Usually 4 or 5 A Levels are taken to begin with – at my sixth form you chose 4 and are forced to do General studies as a 5th A Level. These are all studied simultaneously across both years – pretty much the same way as GCSE’s. After the first year however, most schools expect you to drop one of your chosen A levels and continue with just the three (excluding general studies here – this was mediatory both years), leaving you with an AS level in that one subject (this is not the case as of 2016 – these AS levels are being phased out of existence)

    For example one of the most popular choice of subjects at my sixth form is Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Maths – where you usually drop the one you hate/are bad at – unless you are of very high capability and your school thinks you can get through all four A levels without damaging your grades. This is quite unusual though because the work load for each A level is huge.

    Other than that everything is pretty much there.

  26. Do you have snow days in Britain?

  27. Ileana Dominguez-Urban

    American schools – some variations
    We have 3 types of school systems: Public schools, that is government funded schools that are free to attend; private schools that require the payment of tuition (not all students have to pay full tuition), which varies depending on who runs the school and its prestige; and homeschooling, which is regulated by the state (I think).
    All students are guaranteed a free public education, regardless of ability, through high school. Thus some private schools receive some government funding.
    Many private schools are owned/run by a religious institution of any faith, with some minimal government regulation about curriculum.
    Not all school systems have a primary school (grades K-5) middle school (grades 6-8) and high school (9-12). The primary school I attended in Florida went through 6th grade. After that, I went to Junior High (grades 7-9) & then high school (10-12).
    Private schools can run K-8 and the 9-12.
    Pre-K is being added in many school systems, first as optional, eventually as mandatory.
    Some states allow students to stop attending school at age 16. If a student stops attending school before graduation he or she is said to have “dropped out.” Most jobs require a high school diploma or a technical/vocational certificate. A student who drops out can still get a high school diploma by taking an exam.
    Uniforms – When I went to school there were no uniforms at all in public schools. Most private schools have always required uniforms.
    Today, many public schools in Urban areas have started requiring some kind of uniform (e.g., navy blue or khaki slacks/skirt/shorts with a specific color of shirt).
    The basic goal of high school education is to prepare students for college or to an alternative vocational/tech program.

    • To complicate matters, in England, but not always in Scotland, “public schools” refers to private or independent schools where the sons of the rich get educated (these days a few daughters too, but some are still boys only). What you call public schools we normally call state schools.

  28. In the US we do not have to rush our kids off to school. It depends on the state, but usually it is not required until age 7 (first grade). Kindergarteners are usually closer to age 6 than 5. Two income families tend to want their kids in school sooner to lessen the cost burden of childcare. Children from populations that tend to do poorly in school seem to benefit from early enrollment. Children with an educated parent at home learn what they need to know without formalized schooling in the preschool years. We also have the issue of “red coating” where parents of summer born children decide to hold them back so they will be the oldest in their grade instead of the youngest. That’s somewhat controversial, but the kids do seem to benefit from being older. Elementary, Middle School, High School is probably the most common set up, but elementary, junior high, high school does exist. My school was K-6, 7-8 junior high, and 9-12 senior high, and junior and senior high was in the same school building. Recently I’ve even heard of them separating out 5th grade into it’s own building! Basically we have primary school, a transition period, and then high school. High school grades and coursework are important for getting into college (university). Our universities are made up of subject specific colleges, but there are tiny post-secondary schools that are simply termed colleges.

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