When I first decided to student teach in England, I did not think British education would differ very much from American education. Because the languages are the same and the culture is not too unfamiliar, I expected many similarities between the two countries in terms of schools. Along with partaking in the Education Tutorial at my program in Bath, I am taking a class called “Education in England.” This class, in combination with the prepracticum at Beechen Cliff, has allowed me to discern many differences between Education in England and Education in America.
For starters, the entirety of England follows a “National Curriculum.” Unlike the United States, which delivers the Common Core through the states, this curriculum must be followed by all teachers across the country to prepare students for the national tests in Year 10 and Year 11: the GCSEs. The GCSEs remind me of the MCAS tests I took as a high school student in Massachusetts. I think teachers have a tendency to “teach to the test” in regard to both of these exams, but I have noticed that teachers do more so at Beechen Cliff than in my high school. Once students are in the higher years, the class become more and more aligned with what they need to know for the test. In the Year 10 class that I observe, my SP often teaches poems she specifically says will be featured on the GCSE. We look at examples of strong answers to GCSE prompts in many classes. Teachers teach like this in the United States, of course, but not to the same extent. Many educators who I have spoken to at Beechen Cliff wish they had a little more flexibility in their curriculum and lesson planning that what the National Curriculum allows.
Another difference is the way religion is handled in schools. In the United States, there has always been a drive to separate church and state, which has naturally influenced schools to only discuss religion in historical contexts. But in England, the first schools were sponsored by Churches, and many still are. These “Faith” schools are not privatized the same way they are in America. As I mentioned in my last blog posts, classes often discuss religion, and in the English classes I have observed, we often look at poems with Christian themes. I think there is a critique to be made in regard to both American school and English schools in how they handle religious education. While schools in America rarely celebrate the variety and importance of religion, some schools in England can promote certain religions over others.
I have enjoyed exploring how education in America and England vary from one another. Small differences like uniforms (which are staples in public schools as well as private) and bigger ones like religion have been so interesting to notice. I am excited to find even more, along with the many similarities between schools in the two countries.