A GUIDE TO: ENGLAND: PART I: EDUCATION.
I threatened to make a guide to England yesterday. Then, I realised that fitting England all into one guide would make for a lot of reading so, I decided to do this in part. I am not an expert on this subject, this is based mostly on my experience and knowledge of the changes in law and some research on google. Without further ado, under the cut, you’ll find a detailed explanation of the English education system. If something doesn’t make sense or you have more questions / more to add, let me know.
- Education systems vary between Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland and England but this focuses on England specifically.
- Everyone in England is required to go to school between the ages of 5-18 ( it used to be 16 but the law changed in 2014 to extend the amount of time one should be in education ).
- Each school’s uniform varies, some require casual business clothes, others wear ties and blazers with the school emblem, polo shirts are generally available in the summer or all year around depending on the school you’re attending.
- Holidays between the ages of 3-18 remain the same. Some school’s will split up for half term a week later than others but generally, every school has to meet the 190 days standard. Term 1: Start of September - just before Christmas. Half term is around the end of October. 2 weeks off for Christmas / New Year. Term 2: After New Years - just before Easter. Half term is between the middle and end of February. Then, 2 weeks Easter Holiday. Term 3: After Easter - Mid/Late July. End of May for half term. Then six weeks Summer Holiday.
- For those children whose parents work, each child from the age 3 are entitled to 16 ( I believe ) hours of preschool but my mum chose to send me to nursery at the age of 3.
- Nursery: Ages 3-4 ( some children are sent to creche’s in the event that their parents work before this age ). Generally parents can choose if their children attends during the morning or the afternoon. You’re either picked up at 12 or you go in at 12.
- Reception / Infants: Ages: 4-7. This is known as year 1 and 2. Classes are generally sorted into animals or something like that ( I was a bumblebee, guys ). These years are generally your first full school days.
- Juniors: Ages: 7-11. Known as years 3-6. This is the last step before going onto secondary school.
In year 6, the final year of your primary education, you sit SATs. These cover your core subjects like English, Maths and Science. Depending on how good you are, you’ll either sit the standard exam ( level 3-5 ) or the advanced ( level 4-6 ). Though there aren’t exactly grades level 4 is the passing minimum. If you’re going to a public or comprehensive school, then your passing grade here isn’t terribly important but if you want to get into a private, grammar or all-girl school, then these results might impact you.
Grammar schools ( this also includes all girls / all boys schools ) are funded by the government but they’re very selective and generally have more applicants than they can accept. These are based on academic achievements and will sometimes, like some Universities, require an exam of their own. Extra ciricular activities, such as playing an instrument, can make your application stand out to these kinds of schools.
Before starting secondary school, parents generally get a letter about the secondary school’s in your area and you get to number them 1-3 on your most wanted. Then you’ll either get accepted, or you won’t.
- Secondary ( Lower ) : 11-14, known as year 7-9. In year 9, when I went to school, we sat tests just like we did in primary school. These tests were in the three core subjects and allowed your teachers to get a better grasp on your abilities. These test results were in the level of 4-6 and you wanted a five ( doing worse was a big no no ). Advanced students sat higher papers ( and if you got below 5, then you failed on these ), but this was done away with in 2009. So depending on your character’s age around that time, they may or may not have taken these exams. Year 7-9, my core subjects were: English, Maths, Science, Citizenship, Religious Education ( R.E ), French ( your school may offer German, Spanish etc ), I.C.T, Design Techology ( This was generally in a workshop, making stuff ), Food Technology ( Yup, we learned to cook stuff ), P.E, Art, Drama Music and Geography. At 14, you are given your first major choice as a student. This is the age you choose subjects to study at GCSE’s. These are the subjects you want to study and when you reach the next academic year, they will be included with the six core subjects you’ve already been studying over the years. Your chosen subjects can range from 4-6, this depends on your grades, the subjects your school offers and timetables.
The six core subjects include:
- English ( Some schools, like mine, made English Language and English Literature two separate modules and two separate exams ).
- Maths ( In some schools, kids older than me had maths coursework but that was done away with when I was 11 .)
- Science ( Biology, Chemistry and Physics are all taught as modules in Science but you don’t take them as separate papers at this level ).
- Physical Education ( P. E ).
- Information Communication Technology ( I. C. T ).
Optional choices include:
- Modern Foreign Language / Classical Language: This could be learning Mandarin Chinese or Latin ).
- Double Science: You go more in depth and take double the exams and get your grade twice. It’s a completely separate set of lessons from science.
- The Humanities: This was a category including History, Georgraphy, Sociology, Religious Education, Economics .
- The Arts: This was a category including Drama, Music, Dance, Art and Design, Photography etc.
- Design and Technology: This category included Digital Media, Woodwork, Graphic Design, Food Technology but probably includes more than when I was at school.
- I’ve found elsewhere that schools offer things at GCSE level mine didn’t such as Business studies, Health and Social Care, Law, Psychology and so forth so this might require a little bit of research depending on region and the type of school ( School’s in poorer areas have less funding, the equipment is generally battered as hell - or at least it was in my school and yes, I grew up in a shithole haha ).
- Secondary ( Higher ) : 14-16. Known as Years 10-11. This is when you take your GCSE’s on your core subjects and your chosen subjects. Note that your character’s parents will call GCSE’s O-Levels instead. In my school, Year 7-11 were organised into two groups STUDY and LEARN for form, which is where we registered for the day to prove we’d shown up in the morning/or at the end of the day. Each subject had sets 1-6. 6 was split into two, one class was for kids with learning disabilities and the other was for disruptive students. The rest depended on your skill set as a student, 1 was the highest and 5 was the lowest.
Examination Boards: In England, each subject comes from a different examination board, depending on the choices your school makes. In England there is AQA, OCR and Edexcel. If someone else is taking a test from a different exam board to you, they may have been taught different sub-topics, studied different books and so on. Edexcel, when I was in school, was popular for being easier in maths than AQA.
As for exams, A*-C is a passing grade, counted as a GCSE. You need five GCSE’s to go onto A-Levels. Again there are tiers: foundation papers are exams in which you can achieve a C-G but the C is the highest grade you can get. Higher papers mean you can achieve between a A*-D, after 2006 maths papers stopped having a three tier system ( which made it easier to pass ) but again, depending on your character’s age, the exam would have been different. In this day and age ( though again, not when I was at school ) you can take BTEC’s and this eliminates exams completely, based off of coursework and they translate into 4 GCSE’S.
In 2009, when I left school, education after 16 years old wasn’t compulsory. Some people I know went straight into jobs, others chose to stay on. From September 2013, education was compulsory, however you don’t have to continue studies through A-Levels ( Advanced Level Education ). There was a choice even for me, between College and Sixth Form
If you don’t want to go to Sixth Form or College there are other options aside from the traditional routes of Sixth Form. More recently, there is the option of the International Baccalaureate ( IB ). It is an equivalent to A-Levels and instead of choosing between 3-6 subjects ( or more depending ) to specialise in, IB is a two year course mixing in six different subjects. There are also BTEC’s ( Business and Technology Education Council ) which is a specialised course for things like Business, Engineering, Information and Communication, Travel and Tourism or Health and Social Care to name a few ). Finally, for those who skip the University route there are G-NVQ courses for which the work varies between levels and can cover things like Caring, Hairdressing and a wide range of things.
Again, like secondary school, you’ll choose from options of where to study. You can go into a Sixth Form or College. The differences are that a college will accept adults and some courses are only once a week as a part of something for your job etc. Sixth Forms are extensions of existing Secondary School’s and so, don’t accept students over 19.
In the process of choosing the place you’d like to study, you also choose the subjects you want. Sixth Form / College is entirely comprised of subjects you want to study. Students generally choose a subject that relate to the degree / profession they want. Other students take a bit of everything to give themselves more options depending on how sure they are with what they want to do ( I knew some people that always knew what they wanted and others who had absolutely no idea ). So what your character will choose depend on where they stand with what they want.
- A Levels: Ages: 16-19. Known as Years 12 ( AS / A1 Levels ) - 13 ( A Levels / A2 ). In AS you take four subjects and then drop one for A Levels / A2. At the end of both of these two years, there are exams. Completing both years get you an A-Level. During A-Levels, you will get help filing out your University applications, applying for student finance and everything else if you want to go onto further education. Your grades ( Passing A*-C ) are translated into UCAS points which get you into University. The more prestigious the University, the more UCAS points you’ll want, which can translate in taking 5-6 A-Levels instead of the usual 3.
- Studying for A-Levels are a lot, lot harder than GCSE’s. GCSE’s classes will generally re-cap a lot to make sure everybody understands. In A-Levels, they do recap but instead jump ahead, introducing you to topics/sub-topics you’re not familiar with. Half of the things you learned in GCSe become more or less irrelevant. They expect more work out of you in your own time and have less study time available in the classes themselves, exams are generally earlier than you’re used to, quite a few people fail or miss their targets for that year but whether you get to continue those studies is really up to your teacher and if they decide to keep you on, you can repeat these exams.
- Before 2008, an A was the highest you could achieve in A-Levels. But as of September 2008 an A* was introduced. Again, anything under a C is a fail.
- Certain Universities don’t accept certain subjects such as General Studies or Critical Thinking ( People will generally take General Studies in AS and drop it for A level to fill in the gap if they don’t want anything else ).
- I’ve mentioned UCAS ( Universities Colleges and Admissions Service ). Applications are due in the January of Year 13, in the following September/ October of that year, your character will attend University. Medical students applicants have to get their application three months earlier.Those who apply to Oxford / Cambridge ( You cannot apply for both ) also submit their applications in October. Art students can be given longer deadlines in order to submit a more current portfolio of their work.
- During this process, you apply for the University you want to attend as well as the degree you want to study. You get a maximum of five places / degrees ( I applied for the same degree or variations of it for five different Universities ). It’s usually encouraged to fill all five out because that way you have somewhere to go.
- Student finance is a way to help lower income students to be able to attend University. The Student Loans Company pays a students Uni fee’s and their living costs, this includes bursaries ( these do not have to be paid back ). If your character went to University before 2011, then your character’s course only cost £3,000 each year, where as after this it was 9,000 each year.
- Your characters would include their education, employment, references ( usually provided by a tutor with your grade predictions ), a personal statement, any volunteering they’ve done. Then, they would pay and UCAS would send out the application.
- I mentioned A-Level grades being converted into UCAS points. AS / A1 Level points are as follows: Grade A = 60 points. Grade B = 50 points. Grade C = 40 points and Grade D = 30 points. A2/A Level Grades are as follows: Grade A* = 140 points. Grade A = 120 points. Grade B = 100 points. Grade C = 80 points and Grade D = 60 points.
- Acceptance letters are usually sent out in May / June. Some Universities are very specific for their courses, others will offer conditional offers to students they are impressed by in one way or another. These generally state the points they want and if a character gets them, they would be accepted. If someone doesn’t get accepted into any Universities there are things like additional choice and in August, Clearing ( Allows you to re-apply to the spaces left on these courses ).
- Universities have slightly different holidays to school. There are still three terms with the end meeting National Christmas/ Easter holidays. Universities don’t offer half-term, but your Christmas holidays and Summer holidays are longer.
- Your character can choose to live at home ( lots of major cities in the UK have one or multiple universities ) or in student digs, in the first year these are usually buildings very near to University / provided by them. Somewhere between ten and three people can share a living place. There are communal kitchens and bathrooms ( which cost less ) or rooms with bathrooms attached. Each student generally has their own room. After the first year, a student will have to find their own accommodation: this is generally when friends made in the first year move in together. This is a popular option because in some ways it is cheaper.
- Universities in the UK do not have fraternities and sororities but we do have clubs, often referred to as societies. These are generally open to everyone except in obvious scenarios ( women groups, etc ). Societies can cover pretty much everything.
- Lecture’s depend widely on the subjects that have been taken. I usually had a four day week with one day off ( I was incredibly lucky to have Friday off one year, Monday off another and Thursday on a third ).Some days will be early starts, full days, others will be half days in the morning or afternoon. Generally, lectures involved a powerpoint presentation and we were expected to take notes. Lectures themselves aren’t necessarily compulsory, these powerpoints are generally made available online but they’re encouraged because the lecturer will elaborate on things etc.
- Your University will generally structure each years of being half coursework and half examination ( depending on the modules that are chosen, some are both, or just coursework or just examinations ). Grades are given as percentages and all of those grades combined give a student their degree results. These are as follows: 1st class: 70% and up. 2nd class, division 1 ( 2:1 ): 60-70%. 2nd class, division 2 ( 2:2 ): 50-60%. 3rd class: 40-50%. Fail: < 40%.
- Year structure. Term 1: Mid / Late September - just before Christmas. Term 2: Mid January - Just before Easter. Term 3: After easter / mid April - Early June. 3 months Summer Holiday. Medical students might find that their school year ends in August.