Category Archives: uk

Expat: Schools UK vs USA

In the early nineties I attended a local primary school in England in lieu of attending the American school on base. For two years I got to experience the British school system before going back to the American DODDS schools.  There are particular differences that I remember now between both education systems.  Having moved back to England in 2011 and putting my sons in the education system here I have realized there are way more differences than my expectations had led me to believe.  Especially as my sons get older and into the higher levels of schooling it gets a little more complicated.  To be fair I have had the school system in Britain explained to me many times and I still have questions about it.
The break down by years (UK/USA)
The school systems are not exact to be compared year by year.  For example children attend nursery and Reception before starting Year 1 which is the equivalent of Kindergarden in regards to age. The US high school years differ in the way the education is set up in the UK.  While students in the USA start Grade 11, students in the UK no longer have compulsory education.  They have the option at sixteen to continue their education into college for what would be Grade 11 and 12.  After those two years they would go on to attend university.  
Preschool = Nursery School
Primary School = Elementary School
Secondary School = Jr. High and High School
6th Form College = High School 
Broken down in Key Stages for the UK education system
Key Stage 1 =  5-7 yrs in Year 1-2 (1st-2nd form infants)
Key Stage 2 = 7-11 yrs in Year 3-6 (1st-4th form juniors)
Key Stage 3 = 11-14 yrs in Year 7-9 (1st-3rd form secondary)
Key Stage 4 = 14-16 yrs in Year 10-11 (4th-5th form secondary)
Key Stage 5 = 16-18 yrs in Year 12-13 (6th form secondary, also known as College)
Comparing UK vs USA Education by Year
3-4 yrs = Nursery / Preschool 
4-5 yrs = Reception / Preshool
5-6 yrs = Year 1 / Kindergarten
6-7 yrs = Year 2 (end of Key Stage 1) / 1st Grade
7-8 yrs = Year 3 (start of Key Stage 2) / 2nd Grade
8-9 yrs = Year 4 / 3rd Grade
9-10 yrs = Year 5 / 4th Grade
10-11 yrs = Year 6 (end of Key Stage 2 and final year of primary school) / 5th Grade
11-12 yrs = Year 7 (first year of secondary school, start of Key Stage 3)  / 6th Grade
12-13 yrs = Year 8 / 7th Grade
13-14 yrs = Year 9 / 8th Grade
14-15 yrs = Year 10 / 9th Grade Freshman Year
15-16 yrs = Year 11 (last year of compulsory schooling in UK) / 10th Grade Sophomore Year
16-17 yrs = Year 12 (first year of 6th Form College) / 11th Grade Junior Year
17-18 yrs = Year 13 (end of Key Stage 5 and final year of College) / 12th Grade Senior Year
School Testing
Students in the UK start studying in Year 10 for their GSCE exams which they take in various subjects at the end of Year 11.  GCSEs stand for General Certificate of Secondary Education.  After a successful completion of GCSE courses, students go on to take their A-Levels, which stand for Advanced Level, at college.  A-Levels are generally a two-year course, with AS levels begin obtained within the first year. Basically students can choose whether they continue their education after turning sixteen years of age by taking their A levels at 6th Form College, also known as a technical college. 
  • Final Exams for Key Stage 4 are GCSEs
  • Final Exams for Key Stage 5 are A-Levels, AS-Levels, NVQs, and National Diplomas

National Vocational Qualifications are work based awards in the UK that are achieved through assessment and training. I have become more familiar with these having trained and licensed as a Cosmetologist in Hawaii and wanting to transfer that to be able to work in England.  In the USA your training and license is determined by the state where you work and each has its own regulations.  In England there is not an equivalent governing and licensing board for cosmetology.  You train and take exams for different NVQ levels depending on the field of study. My cosmology license in Hawaii is roughly a NVQ level III in Hairdressing and a NVQ level III in Beauty Therapy with one exception.  Beauty Therapists in this NVQ level would also be trained in body massage which in the USA would require going to massage school and getting a separate license.  So although I have most of the skills required of a NVQ level III I can only get a job who will except a Beauty Therapist with a NVQ level II until I obtain the massage training.  I have explained all that to further explain the difference in education from country to country.  
The School Calendar
The school year calendar varies between country in the UK but contain around 39 weeks of education with 13 weeks of break. The breaks include two weeks at Christmas, two weeks at Easter, six weeks in the Summer, and then 3 one week half-term holidays. The school year in England is broken into three terms.  September to New Years holidays, January to Easter holidays, and Easter holidays to July. 
University Requirements
Every school may have its own requirements but there are general requirements that are looked at for admission into Universities in the UK. For the Universities I have looked into they expect applicants to have completed three A-Level exams in one sitting. If applicants re-sit or retake A Levels they may still be considered unless they are in the Medicine or Veterinary Medicine field.  Since many degree programs expect you to have studied specific subjects at GSCEs and A-Levels, students need to know early on which field they want to study.  In highly competitive subject areas this means the number of As achieved in GCSEs will be taken into account.  That means a 16 year old in the UK will need to already be focused to what job they will want to have as an adult, especially if they want to be in the field of medicine.  While in the US there are students in their twenties taking general education courses without a chosen major.  
What Expat parents should know about schools in England
These are the top three things we have experienced with having children in schools in the UK that I feel other expats would benefit from knowing before they move to the UK. 
1. Which School? 
The school your child/ren will attend is based off of many factors and can vary due to circumstances.  You can put them in the state schools (free), prep and public schools (cost fees and require entrance exams), or you can home educate.  To clarify public schools in England are what private schools are in the US. If you choose the free education, which school your child will go to is determined by the catchment area.  The closer you live to a school the better chances of getting into that school.  There are many different types of schools in this category which can be church schools, single sex or mixed schools.  However, the schools will have cap sizes on how many students they let in for certain years.  We live right next to the school in our town, but due to class sizes they were both accepted into different schools.  I have one son in a school in the next town over and my other son in a school much further away.  There are no school buses like there are in the USA.  As we do not have a car the school system was able to set up taxi services to get both my boys to their appointed schools and put them on waiting lists for the closer schools in the area.  You should also know that you have the right to appeal the school selection process.
2. Uniforms.
As far as I am aware, all schools have some sort of uniform required.  Depending on if you choose the state school or the prep school will determine how extensive their uniform needs will be per school. Typically for both schools there will be a Autumn/Winter uniform for the colder months and a Spring/Summer uniform for the warmer months.  For boys this may mean the difference of trousers and shorts and sleeve lengths in shirts.  For girls many schools require a summer dress that is usually in a gingham fabric.  The prep school my sons attended required specific hats for both seasons that were required to be worn to and from school along with their school blazer.  Extra items like these that may have only been worn for mere minutes before and after school ended up bringing the cost up when looking at the total items needed to stay in uniform regulations. They also required a sports kit for physical activities and sports, a book bag with the school crest, and specific items to which ‘house’ they belonged too.  If you are familiar with the Harry Potter series, this is equivalent to being sorted into a house and the same colours of red, blue, yellow, and green are normally used.  I will say that despite the cost I love uniforms.  It makes getting my kids ready for school in the morning that much easier and that it takes off the importance of what clothes a child wears to school in regard to their peers. 
3. Classwork and Homework.
I have experienced three different schools in the US with my boys and two different schools in the UK.  While my sons are still in primary school, I can say that so far the differences have really varied between schools and not so much between the USA and the UK.  My sons did extensive daily homework that included accelerated maths with their charter school in the US, nightly homework at their prep school in the UK, and weekly homework at their state school in the UK.  As far as I can tell so far there are minor differences like math in the US is called maths in the UK.  While you learn cursive in the USA, you learn joined up writing in the UK.  While it is similar, the two forms of writing are not exactly the same.  Of course while in the US your students will learn the pledge of allegiance an US History, in the UK they will learn the words to ‘God Save the Queen’ and the history of the United Kingdom.  I think the quality of the education can be found varying by school and by how involved the parents are with their children. The schools seem more competitive in regard to class system in the UK especially as students get into the secondary stage of their education. 
I know that I have a lot more to research and understand when it comes to the education of my sons.  If anything I am now more stressed out by my research than I was when I was ignorant to the complicated nature of education in England.  I hope this look into the education system in England is helpful and can help other parents when planing a move with their family to the UK.
This is a link up with Rachel & Chelsea

Good Food & Film

The boys and I rewarded ourselves with cleaning at home to get outside at the park today.  Ronan brought his camera and was a little photographer and I think this got Maddox a little jealous that he did not have his own camera to use.  Good thing he has a birthday coming up!  Tonight after the boys went to bed I decided to watch one of my all time favourite films with Audrey Hepburn called Roman Holiday.  If you have not seen this film yet, I recommend watching it tonight!

PALEO: Spicy stir fry with ginger beef, cayenne peppered shrimp, carrots, spinach and zucchini.

April Fools.

Let me start this by saying that I really wanted to play a good practical joke on my boys.  However I could not really find any good ideas worthy of the effort, so instead I posted a simple photo on my facebook page.  The picture is a sonogram photo from when I was pregnant with my youngest son.  I immediately got a lot of congratulations until finally a few smart individuals realized that it was from 2007, not 2012. It is hard to believe that next month my little man will be 5 years old! Where does the time go?

The boys and I caught the neighbours cat sun bathing outside.  We usually see the cat waiting to be let back into the apartment building near ours, or jumping down from the balcony to the ground.  It is a very pretty black cat who did not mind having its photograph taking today.

This evening I introduced my boys to the comedy of Buster Keaton.  We watched his silent film, The General, and my boys laughed so hard.  It was really fun getting them to not only appreciate silent films at an early age, but to love it with the full belly laughs as well.  I look forward to watching more from Buster’s collection.

The neighbours cat enjoying the sunshine outside. 
Salmon with lemon next to a bed of spinach topped with tomatoes and mozzarella for Dinner. 
I love playing the Draw Something game on my phone! Do you play? 
Tonight I introduce my boys to my love for Buster Keaton in ‘The General’. #ilovesilentfilms #busterkeaton

Setting the Clocks Back

We set our clocks forward today and it is going to take some use to being woken up by the sun before my alarm goes off.  The boys cleaned their room so I took them outside for Adventure. Ronan dressed as Indiana Jones. Love the sun as we walk.  The flowers were out in bloom.  We enjoyed a picnic lunch in the park to take use of all the warm sun before we go back to cold weather. 

On another note: When I was stateside, I got so addicted to soda. I would go to the McDonalds drive through in Tucson just to get a large diet doctor pepper no ice, because it was cheaper than getting a small bottle or can. When we got to England we had a few coca colas and fantas, because the recipe here is much different (way fizzier too) and ive always preferred it. But then we just stopped buying it and onlydrinking just spring water, carbonated water, and tea. I broke down recently and bought a soda because i was very thirsty after work and there were no bottle waters left in the machine. I had two sips and threw the bottle out because it was so sweet to me. I’m glad I finally got the caffeine/sugary drinks out of my system and broke the addiction. Now if I can just finalize my addiction to carbs and I can really go all out on Paleo.

Ronan with his lunch in the park. 
Maddox with his lunch in the park. 
Playing at the playground. 
Fun angles with cell phone cameras. 😉 

Setting clocks forward. Not so excited about missing an hour of sleep. Miss Hawaii…we didn’t have to worry about this in summerland.
@the_bonnierose on Twitte · via Twitter

Costa barista gave me Raspberry tea instead of plain ice tea. Tastes like candy. Due to my accent, I don’t feel pressing the issue. Gross.