What has been especially hard is that I do not really understand the American system, it just baffles me. I don’t understand why it starts so late, or that there is so much variation in curricula, that foreign languages are an afterthought, and that schools can actually be allowed to edit text books and teach that creationism is fact and evolution a ‘theory”
I am very aware that I am viewing my education through a distance of more years than I care to document, and that my memories of my education are mostly positive. England has gone through remarkable changes since I left school at 18. Just like in the USA there is a huge government focus on testing and assessment, and on schools being graded in relation to their test scores. The system I went through has changed as to pretty unrecognizable to me today. There are academies that have received much of the same criticism regarding “privatization by the back door.”More recently the much reviled (and rightly so) coalition government, and in particular Michael Gove have permitted the establishment of so-called “free schools” which are very similar to US charter schools, however in England many requests to open “free schools” have come from faith based organizations, and while Michael Gove has said that no extremist groups will be permitted to open a school, this remains a very genuine concern with England. There are many unhappy teachers in the UK as curricula seem to be ever changing, and teacher performance has been tied to student performance. This all being said however, I find the detail and knowledge required in the UK exams to be far more rigorous than I have seen in US public schools.
I am a summer baby so I started school when I just 4. Yes you read that correctly I was just 4 when I started full time “infants” school. I have fond memories of the reading scheme, of times tables, of learning to write stories, of the dress up box and play houses. My headmistress was Miss Gent; she seemed very old and very stern. After infants it was “junior school” from 7 to 11, where I remember classroom plays, finishing the reading scheme, moths (I was not very good at moths so I am sure if any of my teachers saw me plowing through all these stats now they would be amazed), writing stories, lessons in penmanship (imagine that – we wrote with fountain pens), music lessons, choir, orchestra. I remember history going as far back as the Greeks and Romans. There was art and PE. I remember Mr. Clarke and Mr. Barber, and our head teacher Mr. Jardine. And then I was off to the “big school”
From 11 through 16 I went to “seniors” and shit got real. Moths, English language and literature, French, World Studies, Science, PE, music, art, graphics and even RE. In second year I added German, and at some point World Studies became History and geography and Science became Biology, Physics and Chemistry. I flirted with the saxophone and double bass, and was in every conceivable school play. I followed this path until my 3rd year when we sat our “options” the exams we take to help decide what subjects we would take for the final 2 years. We had to write short essays on these exams, there was not that much multiple choice as I remember. For my final two years I took French, German, Latin, English Language, English Literature, History, Moths, Chemistry and Biology. And oh my those exams….we had to be able to sight translate, we read Ovid in Latin, we read Shakespeare, the World War 1 poets and Thomas Hardy in literature, we dissected things, we may have blown a few things up, we wrote essays on the French Revolution and innumerous wars. We still took PE by the way – there was no escape from cross country runs in the rain and field hockey!
After “seniors” it was off to Sixth Form College for 2 years and further specialization with “A” levels. This is where things become pretty specialized, and you tend to select your “A” levels based on your “O” level results and what you plan to do after college. I was blessed in that since I knew I wanted to be a nurse I only had to repeat my biology to get my grade up, so the “A” levels I selected were for interest only. So there were 2 more years of French, and English lit, plus some “general studies” and a random “O” level in Home Economics.
I did try to attach some links to some “O” and “A” level exam papers so that you can take a look but in my novice blogger status i am having ahard time with the links…If you are interested I recommend checking out the following website: