While studying abroad and student teaching Glasgow, I’ve noticed quite a few similarities and differences between schools in Scotland and in the U.S. The first major difference is that children go to school much earlier in the UK. The school I work at has a full time nursery for very young students and its first organized grade level (primary one) is made up of 4 and 5 year olds. The students in these classes are able to focus surprisingly well for their age, but it seems like the majority of their day is spent playing and doing more creative exercises. I definitely see the benefit of exploratory learning, but it I think the system of preschool and kindergarten in the U.S. may be a more effective way to educate children who are so young.
Another difference between Scotland and the U.S. is the amount of freedom giving to students during the school day. In the morning before school starts parents drop their children off outside in the school yard with no adult supervision. In the U.S. most schools would not let students play outside unsupervised because of the liability issues. During recess the entire school goes outside at one time with only maybe 6 to 7 teachers supervising them. I’ve noticed that outside of school parents seem more relaxed and less overprotective of their children. They appear to trust their children with more responsibility at a younger age.
Even though the primary school I work at is very different form the schools I’ve experienced in the U.S. there are still some similarities between the two systems. One I’ve noticed is the way literacy instruction is structured. Students in the early primary levels are learning the alphabet along with the corresponding sounds for the letters. The teachers use a commercial reading program for some of the literacy instruction and then also read their own selected stories in class. Another similarity is the pressure teachers feel from higher authorities. Schools in Scotland have the same pressure to have students pass tests and reach certain levels by specific times. They also have the added pressure of school inspections and evaluation by the education authorities that run them.