America Vs. England
Last year I lived in Oxfordshire, England where I attended a proper English private school called Cokethorpe. I didn’t consider the possibility that school would be different in comparison to Livermore High other than it would have more money for supplies and students would wear uniforms. Quite quickly I figured out I was wrong; the only similarity between schools is that the main objective is for students to learn.
Cokethorpe School is made up of 150 acres surrounding the Queen Anne Mansion House, which was originally built between 1710 and 1720. The school operates on a house system consisting of six houses: Queen Anne, Feilden, Swift, Gascoigne, Vanbrugh, and Harcourt. It’s exactly like Harry Potter (minus the magic). All six houses are historically connected to each other relative to the mansion house. There aren’t any rival schools so sporting, singing, and drama competitions between the houses provide the competition.
The house system seems kind of frivolous, but it was comforting being a new student in a different country and a different school system. From the beginning I was already part of a family, who although not the number one house competition wise, definitely had the biggest heart. Being part of a house (Feilden) provided the opportunity for a small group of people to become close and support each other.
Schooling in the UK is run on an examination system. This means that class grades aren’t used for anything other than your own personal knowledge. Transcripts are also unheard of, as I found out while I was trying to get back into LHS and needed an updated transcript.
The school curriculum follows the National Curriculum which is made up of twelve subjects: Art and Design, Citizenship, Design and Technology, Geography, History, English, Math, Sciences (Biology, Physics, and Chemistry are all taken at the same time), Modern Foreign Languages, Music, Physical Education, and Communication Technology. At the end of the year students take a range of exams in these subjects. Grades for these exams range from A* to E; A* is equivalent to an A+ and an E is equivalent to an F. If students do not score high enough to reach the E level they receive a U which is Unclassified, meaning a definite re-take in order for credit in the subject. An A* is not always offered for certain exams depending on the difficulty and content level.
During the school year, students work towards preparing for their exam rather than working for a total grade in the class. Homework is considered simply practice and a tool to study. There is no credit given that counts towards your exam in the summer. It was hard to get used to the idea that school work has no point value. With homework being a tool to study, students are very independent in studying and working. During exam time there is high pressure and stress to do well (of which about 85% of the students at my school receive grades A-C). After experiencing the exam system in comparison to the point – grade system, I feel that the exam system makes students establish proper study habits and the independence needed for higher education after high school.
In England, students are in “years” rather than grades. This took a few months to translate; rather than the first year of school being called “kindergarten”, England simply calls it “year 1.” Grade 1 is called “year 2” all the way to grade 12, which is “year 13.” Cokethorpe school students range from age 4 to 18, totaling to about 650 students. The school contains a preschool, which is called “reception”, an elementary school called “junior school”, a middle school which went from grades 6-10 and was called “senior school”, and Sixth Form, which is within the senior school, consists of grades 11 and 12.
Before going into Sixth Form, students must complete their GCSE examinations. Students take their GCSE’s in subjects from the National Curriculum at the age of 16 (grade 10). Sixth form is additional schooling in order to receive A-levels needed for acceptance to University. Students take three to four subjects that are equivalent to an American freshman year of college. This is partly a reason why they only take three years of college compared to four at an American university. During Sixth Form, teachers expect the students to work independently and learn outside of the classroom in addition to what they learn during class. It was like a practice for college only on a very small scale.
One of the biggest superficial differences between schools is the fact that students have to wear uniforms. At first, the thought of having to wear a uniform and not being able to decide for myself what I get to wear was extremely disappointing. As a Sixth Former I had to wear a “smart suit,” or a business suit. Sixth Form receives special privileges and girls were allowed to wear any color shirt, jewelry, and makeup, while boys had the choice of any color shirt and tie (they felt it was unfair that girls didn’t have to wear ties). Students in grades K-5 (Junior School) had to wear a school polo shirt and gray pants. Grades 6-10 had to wear white collared shirts, the school blazer (jacket), the school pants (boys) or skirt (girls), and their house tie. After a while the uniform didn’t matter; it gave the school a sense of formality. I liked the way everyone was dressed nice and proper and looked clean and unified.
Cokethorpe School holds high regards with its academic achievements as well as sports. All students must participate in sports. During the fall season the top sport for boys is rugby (which new students had to play; my brothers weren’t too fond of it) and the top sport for girls is field hockey. During the winter, boys play football (soccer) and girls play netball. Netball is similar to basketball except there is no dribbling; girls jump and throw the ball to each other, throwing the ball into a basket with no backboard. During the spring boys play cricket or tennis and the girls play either tennis or rounders. Rounders is similar to softball except the bat is about a foot long and is swung with only one arm and the bases are two foot poles.
School days begin at 8:45am, with registration until 9am. Registration is where they take attendance and where houses meet for discussions. I often hear students wish school days here at LHS weren’t so long, getting out at 3:05pm. At Cokethorpe school days lasted until 5pm. During the winter the sun would set around 3:30pm, so we would leave in school in the dark night, which seemed like 9pm rather than 5pm. There are 5 classes a day, 2 breaks, and a lunch of 1 hour and 40 minutes. The lunch time is for students to work on their studies. Between 4 and 5 is AOB (any other business) which is required time for clubs or extracurriculars such as pigeon shooting, poker club, and even American football.
After a year in a different school system I was able to learn that there are different ways of learning and it opened my eyes to culture outside of America. It was shocking to learn that homework didn’t carry the same weight as it does here; now I look at homework as a tool to help study rather than some pointless work the teacher makes me do. I don’t have a preference to one school system or the other as they both achieve the same goal just in different ways. I am very thankful for the experience of attending a British private school such as Cokethorpe.
--Allie Meyer (staff writer)