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Could someone explain the British education system to me? - love like me ・ 日記
non solum memento mori, memento vivere sed etiam
Could someone explain the British education system to me?
気持: confused
UKers are always tossing out terminology like O-level, A-level, GCSE, and talking about having to take exams in order to know what kind of degree they're getting from university, and I'm fed up with not understanding what they're talking about. Not that it severely impedes my understanding of anything, but it's weird and I'd like to know what's going on (like, I've gathered that having some of these things is better than having others, but I've only got a vague idea which is which and what any of it means)...so if anyone's bored enough and/or patient enough to explain (or at least point me to a place I can get this sort of information), I'd be grateful for having the extra information that will probably never actually be of use to me. ^_~
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fahran From: fahran Date: Friday 13th June 2003 00.47 (UTC) (Link)
I'd like to understand it too. I found a basic overview, which also compares the British system to teh US system) at http://www2.essex.ac.uk/international/British_Education.htm
ang_grrr From: ang_grrr Date: Friday 13th June 2003 01.30 (UTC) (Link)
Until 1988 there were two exams, O level and CSE (ordinary level and certificate of secondary education). These were taken at the age of 15/16 and marked the end of secondary education (primary education is between 5-11). An O level was graded A-E (iirc) and a "pass" was grade C. CSE grade 1 was equivalent to a C at O level. You study for 2 years in 9 or more subjects.

GCSE (general certificate of education) replaced the old system. It was designed to no longer pigeon hole students and give them a wider opportunity to achieve. They are graded as O levels

5 GCSE's at grades C or above mean that you can take advanced level (A level) exams. They are two year courses(there is also a one year equivalent called AS level). Graded A - F, each grade has a point score (with an AS level having half the score). Universities admit based on these point scores. You can take any number of A levels you like (the usual number is three plus general studies) but your point score is based on your top three, and often general studies is discluded.

There are other exams (highers, for instance, the scottish equivalent of A levels) that are rarer. Most degree courses have a degree conferred based on finals. You get a percentage point which determines the class of degree. I think it goes.

  • above 70%. First class
  • 60-69%. Second class, division one (2:i)
  • 50-59%. Second class, division two (2:ii)
  • 40-49%. Third class
  • 35-39%. Pass without honours
  • Below 35% Fail

      You normally need a 2:i or above to go onto further study such as a PhD or Masters course.
valamelmeo From: valamelmeo Date: Friday 13th June 2003 02.03 (UTC) (Link)
Wow, that's...complicated. Even more complicated than I expected.

The US education system in general is a lot simpler than that, but each state has its own requirements for graduation from high school (many require a passing grade on some sort of standardized exam), although most public universities are generally alike (though we don't classify degrees based on performance on a final).

Thanks. *saves this for future reference*
ang_grrr From: ang_grrr Date: Friday 13th June 2003 02.06 (UTC) (Link)
Not only that, i think I made up a word. Does discluded exist?
valamelmeo From: valamelmeo Date: Friday 13th June 2003 02.50 (UTC) (Link)
It must exist, if you used it.
electric_monk From: electric_monk Date: Friday 13th June 2003 06.10 (UTC) (Link)
Indeed, Standard Grades~=O levels and Highers~=A levels, although (at least when I was there) you didn't need a minimum number of Standard Grades to do Highers (although that may be the case and it's just that nobody told me), you just needed a good Standard Grade pass in the subject that you wanted to do the Higher in. If you did well in the Higher you could then progress to Sixth Year Studies, some of which there were multiple different versions of for one overall subject (such as the million different SYS Mathematics courses), although these days I believe they call them Advanced Highers. The layout of High School based on age here is 1st/2nd year is basic courses on everything, then you pick your standard grades I think, which are done over 3rd/4th year, and at the end of 4th year you may leave (if you're 16. If not, you must wait until Christmas when you should become 16), otherwise you pick your highers for 5th year (or do "modules", like GSVQs (which I think are Scottish equivalents of GNVQs. I had some modules like that, which I selected mainly to avoid doing any work.), which can allow you to proceed to trying the Higher in 6th year or using 'stand-alone' or somesuch), then you pick what other highers you want to do (or repeat) for 6th year. I also seem to recall some stuff like "Standard grades and Highers are easier than O-levels and A-levels, but SYSs are harder", but I forget. And at University I got a 2.2 because I failed an exam.

I was 11 when I started 1st year, and 17 when I started University, although I had a friend who was younger because he left to go to University after 5th year since he had enough Highers. All the English people were a year older than the Scottish people, which seemed to imply English schools last longer ;)

Well, that was entirely irrelevant, but I felt the Scottish system needed clarification, since it's part of the UK ;) Although I've probably not cleared it up that much, since the new Advanced Higher and such stuff is vague to me.
electric_monk From: electric_monk Date: Friday 13th June 2003 06.22 (UTC) (Link)
Also after looking at that Essex.ac.uk link I'll also add that Scottish High Schools don't separate 1st-4th year from 5th and 6th year in any way, like English schools seeming to have the "sixth form college" bit, which on occasion seems to be an entirely different building as well as different rules/etc. Also Scottish Universities seem to default to 4 years (3 years ordinary then 1 year for honours), since that appears to be indicating 3 years. And we already have standard grades by 16, that chart confuses me a bit there ;) But it does explain English people being a year older at University.
valamelmeo From: valamelmeo Date: Friday 13th June 2003 06.41 (UTC) (Link)
I had a lovely reply typed up before the friendly thunderstorm going on outside decided to cause a small power hiccup...Grrrr...

All that sounds even more complicated than the English system, or at least equally complicated.

Here, most people start school with kindergarten at age 5 and go on to elementary school (1st grade) at age 6. There are various systems followed for handling the organization of school between elementary and high school--if the district has something called a "middle school", that's generally for 6th-8th grade, or they could have a "junior high school" which is generally 7th-8th grade, usually used in combination with an "intermediate school" for 5th-6th grade. Traditionally, high school starts with 9th grade (though nowadays a few schools separate out the 9th-graders, either grouping them with the junior high kids or giving them their own dedicated campus); at 16 you should be in 10th grade, and most people graduate (finish 12th grade) at age 18.

Here school is compulsory until you're 16 (in Texas at least; other states may have different laws about that), at which point no one can arrest you for truancy. ^_~ And you're done with high school whenever you've passed all the courses your state requires for a high school diploma, although some public schools have been known to fudge grades just so they can promote students by age, and of course the criteria for "passing" varies by state and sometimes even by school district...

Most universities here work in a similar way to the high schools: your department outlines the courses you need to take, you pass all of them, you get your degree--for undergraduate stuff, anyway. Graduate school is something entirely different that I don't understand very well because I haven't done it yet. ^_^
electric_monk From: electric_monk Date: Friday 13th June 2003 07.00 (UTC) (Link)
Here you start at nursery, I think that lasts a year, then it's Primary 1 to Primary 7, and then 1st year to 6th year at University (assuming you stay for the last 2 years). I think it's around 4 years old that you start nursery, but I can't recall ;) I do remember nursery though, it was generally fun. Here you just finish High School when you (A) reach the end of 6th year, and they don't want to see you any more or (B) when you leave before that time of your own accord (I think you could also be kicked out if you were 16 or older, like if you kept not turning up). You can go to some colleges and do Highers or things resembling them if you suddenly decided University was a good idea after all (such courses often let you go straight into 2nd year at University), or just do a course at college specific to the job you want, otherwise (like for me) it was straight from High School to University. My friend did that from 5th year because he was sick of High School, and just wanted to get on with it ;) For University there was an array of courses we had to do each year, and in 1st year we could do some of our own choice too (I seem to recall seeing Japanese on that list, and I've long wondered if that was in the "learn" sense, and so if it'd have been possible for me to have taken it). The matriculation form we had to sign at the start of each year already had those courses printed on, so most people had the same timetable :)

It's also worth noting that for the first time our "finals" in 4th year at University weren't all at once, but were instead during the 1st week back after Christmas (for the courses on the autumn term, so you had Christmas to study) and the 1st week back after Easter (for the course that occurred between Christmas and Easter), and the last term was left free for dissertation work.