E-Mail: intlprac@bc.edu or SKYPE us: bc.prac.office

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Notable Differences: Education in America and England

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.

Introduction to Beechen Cliff Secondary School

Beechen Cliff is an all boys secondary school that sits on a hill overlooking the center of the city in Bath, England. The students begin attending Beechen Cliff in Year 7, and many continue on to the co ed “Sixth Form,” which is the final two years of high school, specifically meant to prepare students for university. At Beech Cliff, there is a strong presence of athletics, as the school encourages students to achieve both in class and in sport. I often see many students carrying field hockey sticks or playing basketball outside between classes, representing the active nature of the student body.
One difference that I have noticed between Beechen Cliff and the schools I have student taught at is that the schedule is much more stretched out. Students do not begin class until 8:45, and classes last for an hour. After each period, students have a ten minute break. This break is more than just passing time for students to get from class to class--interestingly enough, Beechen Cliff’s prospectus states that the reason for such long breaks between classes is to “encourage students to be active,” both promoting a sense of athleticism again and insinuating something about the way the teachers feel about the nature of male students who have sat at desks for too long. Likewise, the prospectus highlights Beechen Cliff’s unique ability to serve the needs of male students often, noting the library, which is “crammed with fiction specifically targeted at boys’ interests” along with the expansive breaks. While I think these notions have a tendency to oversimplify gender perceptions and values, the students overall seem to be pretty satisfied with the school’s structure.
There is a noticeable sense of community and cohesion among the students. In general, they are very respectful to their teachers and friendly with each other. They are gathered into Houses (yes, it’s just like Harry Potter), mixing with their classmates from other years, to attend tutor groups and assemblies twice a week. During these sessions, the students discuss current events, citizenship, religion, and general school news. In the Year 7 classes I have been observing, students have been preparing scenes from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in small groups. Each class has been assigned a scene and each teacher has been assigned the task of choosing which of their small groups acts out the scene best. Once teachers have decided, the whole Year 7 will gather in the assembly hall to watch A Midsummer Night’s Dream in its entirety, performed by the selected groups. While the Houses bring students from across the school together, I think this Shakespeare unit is an excellent example of how the students experience a sense of unity within their grade.
I am excited to spend more time at Beechen Cliff, both observing English lessons and teaching a few at the end of the semester.