types of schools, school years

In the comments for my last entry, Paul Danon wondered about the names of school years in AmE and how they compare to those in BrE. The Brackley Baptist Church in Northamptonshire has on its website (for some reason!) the following table summari{s/z}ing these differences .

British stage British
Old British system Year in age American year
Children enter Pre-school sometime after they are 2 years and 6 months old. They do not wait until September to start.

Keystage 1
Rising 5’s

Year 1

Year 2
Top Infants
Keystage 2
Year 3
Bottom Junior

Year 4
2nd Junior

Year 5
3rd Junior

Year 6
Top Junior
Keystage 3
Year 7
First form

Year 8
Second form

Year 9
Third form
GCSE 1st
Year 10
Fourth form
GCSE 2nd
Year 11
Fifth form
A Levels 1st
Year 12
Lower Sixth form
A Levels 2nd
Year 13
Upper Sixth form

This is a great start, but there's room for a lot of clarification (for the Americans reading), and a lot more detail on the American side (for the British people reading). Let's start with some caveats before we get into either too deeply. First, there's a lot of local variation that can't all be covered here. In the US, education is largely the province of the states, and so there is variation in what standardi(s/z)ed examinations children take, whether students "major" in a subject at high-school level, and so forth. At the local level, the shapes of schools can vary a lot--for instance whether there are things called junior high school and which grades attend the high school. So, I'll talk about what I know as 'typical', but there will be variation. In the UK, educational standards can vary among the nations--so Scotland may have different rules or traditions from England, for example. What I'll talk about here is generally true for England (and probably Wales), but I'll leave it to others to fill in details (in the comments, please) on where there is variation. Second, educational systems seem to be in a near-constant state of flux. What you knew as a child may be quite different from what is done now. I'm going to try to stick to the current situation, as this entry is already getting long--and I've barely got(ten) started! Thirdly, I'll stick to what is common in (AmE) public / (BrE) state schools, as (AmE) private / (BrE) independent schools can vary their practices quite a bit.

Before we get back to that table, a note on types of schools. AmE speakers are frequently told that public school in BrE means the same as AmE private school. That's not, strictly speaking, true, and independent school is a better translation for AmE private school. The OED explains:

public school [...] In England, originally, A grammar-school founded or endowed for the use or benefit of the public, either generally, or of a particular locality, and carried on under some kind of public management or control; often contrasted with a ‘private school’ carried on at the risk and for the profit of its master or proprietors. In modern English use (chiefly from the 19th century), applied especially to such of the old endowed grammar-schools as have developed into large, fee-paying boarding-schools drawing pupils from all parts of the country and from abroad, and to other private schools established upon similar principles. Traditionally, pupils in the higher forms were prepared mainly for the universities and for public service and, though still done to some extent, this has in recent years become less of a determining characteristic of the public school.
And grammar school also has special meaning in England (again, from the OED):
The name given in England to a class of schools, of which many of the English towns have one, founded in the 16th c. or earlier for the teaching of Latin. They subsequently became secondary schools of various degrees of importance, a few of them ranking little below the level of the ‘public schools’.
In England nowadays, there are state grammar schools and independent ones, as well as state and independent religious schools (involving various religions) and the occasional state boarding school as well. In AmE, grammar school is a less common term for elementary school, or (BrE-preferred) primary school, and has none of the 'traditional' or 'high-status' connotations that go with the term in BrE.

And a final bit of terminology before we get back to the table. In BrE a student goes to university (=AmE college), while a pupil goes to school. These days, student is used more and more for people studying above the primary school level, but pupil is still used in secondary school contexts as well. Pupil is understood in AmE, but generally not used--all learners in institutions of education are students in AmE.

So, let's get back to that table and the British (or at least English) system. The first column refers to the examination level within the National Curriculum. Everyone goes through Key Stages 1-3. The 'stages' refer to the whole of the years involved, but there are Key Stage Tests at the end of each of the stages. At the next level, GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education) or Key Stage 4, one chooses a number of subjects to study, at the end of which one takes GCSE exams (which are commonly just called GCSEs). The Scottish equivalent of GCSE is the Standard Grade. Prior to 1986, people took O-levels. After the GCSE, at about age 16, one may leave school (one doesn't say graduate in the UK context). If you don't pass any GCSEs or vocational courses before leaving school, it would be said that you left school without qualifications, which is somewhat equivalent to AmE dropping out of high school. Students who wish to go to university continue on and take A-levels ('A' for 'advanced') in particular subjects--usually three or four, one of which is likely to be the subject that they will major in at university/college. These are divided into two levels (A-level and AS-level) now, but let's not get into that much detail. See here for more info.

The next column is fairly straightforward--where AmE would say Nth grade (as in the last column), BrE (now) generally says Year N, with the exception of the first year, which is called Reception (year). (Note though, that N≠N in this translation, as the table shows.) Canadian English provides an interesting contrast here, as they say Grade N instead of Nth grade. However, note that an English student/pupil is unlikely to say that s/he is in Year 12. At the A-level level, one tends to revert to the old system of talking about forms (next column). So, a student studying for A-levels could be said to be in the sixth form. Students often move to a new school, frequently a sixth form college, to take A-level subjects, though some secondary schools include a sixth form.

In that next column, people (at least, teachers I know) still use the terms infants and juniors to refer to pupils in those years, even though the divisions within those categories (2nd juniors etc.) are not now used in most schools. Many schools still have names that reflect those divisions, however.

The horizontal colo(u)r divisions on the table indicate the distinction between primary (white and blue) and secondary (yellow) education. In AmE, the terms primary and secondary are used as well. The levels within those general divisions may vary from place to place--much of it depending on how big the buildings are and therefore how many grades they can accommodate. Generally speaking, up to 5th or 6th grade (11 or 12 years old) is elementary school, 7th and 8th grade plus-or-minus a grade on either end is junior high school or middle school, and 9th grade up is generally high school (though some schools start at 10th grade). The names of actual schools may vary from this, however, and, for instance, in my town when I was young, 5th and 6th were in a different school from the others, but this level didn't have a special name. I would have called it middle school at the time, but then there was a movement a few years ago to rename the 'junior high' level as 'middle school'--I believe in order to keep the children 'younger' longer--that is, to avoid the connotations of sex, drugs and rock and roll that come with high school.

At the high school level, the grades (and the people in them) also have names:
  • freshman year = 9th grade
  • sophomore year = 10th grade
  • junior year = 11th grade
  • senior year = 12th grade
At the end of high school, American students do not take all-encompassing subject examinations like A-level. (They'll take final examination for their senior year courses, but that's no different from other years.) Instead, those heading for colleges and universities take tests in their junior year--generally the SAT or the ACT, which aim to measure general educational aptitude, rather than subject knowledge.

On to the the tertiary level! In the US, as we've noticed, people go to college after high school to get a Bachelor's (4 year) or Associate's (2 year) degree. The names of the four undergraduate years are the same as those of the high-school years (freshman, etc.). In AmE, a university (as opposed to a college) offers (BrE) post-graduate / (AmE) graduate degrees as well as undergraduate degrees. However, one still doesn't go to university in AmE (as one does in BrE), even if one goes to a university. After one goes to college in AmE, one might go to grad(uate) school. All of these things can be referred to as school in AmE. [added in 2019] In contexts where it's assumed people went to college/university, Americans ask Where did you go to school? and expect the answer to be a college/university.

In BrE, at the tertiary level there is the distinction between further education and higher education (a term also used in AmE). Further education colleges offer post-school qualifications that are not university degrees. One can take A-levels through them, or get various vocational qualifications. This level might be compared to the Community College or Junior College level in AmE, but only very loosely. While fresher is used for the first year (especially in informal circumstances), in general undergraduates are referred to by their year: first years, second years... Students in their final undergraduate year are also called finalists.

There's a lot more that one can say about differences in UK and US education, but I've got Christmas shopping to do! Happy longest night of the year...


  1. I went to a rather snooty American prep school--that is, a (AmE) private school designed to prepare students for (AmE) college (usually of the liberal arts or elite university variety). These prep schools often try to mimic British public school mores and manners. Anyway, one of the older teachers there used to refer to us by forms--so he called the 9th graders third formers, and so on. Needless to say we had no idea what he was talking about. So I guess he achieved his linguistic purpose.

    This is a great blog (which I've only recently discovered).

    Can you tell us some of the questions on your British naturalization exam?

  2. Thanks for the compliment, Hieronimo, and welcome to the blog!

    I had to sign a form saying that I would not discuss the questions on the test, or I would retroactively fail it. I don't think they can do anything about it now that I'm actually a citizen, but it wouldn't be wise to try it on the internet!

    But the BBC did a little test based on the book that you have to study for the test, and you can try that at this

    1. hi are you the one who has wrote the blog? just wondering if i can use it in my assignment as references?

    2. If you cite it, you can refer to it!

  3. I'm not sure how the statewide exams introduced, or in some cases reinforced, by the No Child Left Behind law in the United States compare to the A-level exams in Britain, but most if not all states now require high school seniors to pass a statewide exam before they can get a diploma; it is not just the usual round of final exams.

    Students are typically tested in reading, writing and mathematics, and such tests are required to move on from several grade levels, not just to earn a high school diploma. The Texas version is called TAKS -- the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills -- and Googling that phrase will tell you more than you could possibly want to know about the concept, which remains extremely controversial and, with the shift in power in Washington, seems likely to be radically modified if not jettisoned entirely.

  4. No Child Left Behind is about basic literacy. The A-levels are about advanced knowledge of particular subjects, like Psychology or French.

  5. ...NCLB tests are more like what's done at the Key Stages in UK schools. The A-levels don't really compare to anything in American school education.

  6. I think the A-levels are rather like the AP subject tests over here. AP stands for "advanced placement" and scoring well on them often yields college credit, so they have a different function than A-levels, as I understand them. But they are taken in the last year of secondary education and they test knowledge of a particular subject. Psychology isn't available, but English (literature), US History, Math, Science are.

    1. There is AP psychology; see https://apstudents.collegeboard.org/course-index-page for the full list.

  7. I got 6 of the 14 questions right. Probably no citizenship for me, but then, I didn't study.

    I did know (or deduced): the name of the 1215 document outlining English rights; what it's "very important" to ask a solicitor before engaging him or her; when 18 yr-olds got the vote; what your rights are if asked to go to the police station for an "interview"; what to do if you spill a person's pint at the pub (an important one, that); where Father Christmas calls home.

    Sigh... I wonder how I'd do on the US test.

  8. There are (some variations in the primary schools in England. In some regions there are Lower/ Infant Schools, Middle Schools, and Upper Schools. I think they vary somewhat but Lower School goes up to approx Year 4, Middle School is Y5-6-7, and Upper School is the rest (with or without a 6th Form/ Y12-13/ A-Level bit attached).

    I went from this system to the 'normal' system half way through primary school, and I must say, 11 does seem a bit old to be in the same school at 5-year-olds. In Year Six I think most of us had outgrown the place. Though it was a particularly small village school.

    I think the difference between A-levels and the way the US schooling system works is that, after age 16, most people don't do anything but A-levels (or advanced-level vocational qualifications, but i don't know much about them). So, if you want to be a vet, say, or a chemist, you can drop stuff like English; if you want to go to art college you can drop Maths and Science. And English. And most other stuff. You can also do subjects that aren't widely available to under-16s (due to curriculum requirements), such as psychology and other -ologies, linguistics, and loads more i'm sure.

  9. GREAT blog entry -- thanks!

    By the way, Brackley is near at least one American Air Force base, so perhaps that's why they have so much comparitive detail on their website?



  10. Thanks for pointing me to this blog, Hieronimo.

    Another source of confusion (along the lines of the student/pupil conundrum) is the broader definition of "school" in AmE. Informally an American "goes to school" even if he or she is getting a BA or a PhD, something that amused and irritated my British ex a bit, especially when she was finishing her thesis and Americans asked where exactly she was going to school.

  11. We covered that in the last blog entry, James--leading us to this one! Welcome to the discussion.

    Thanks for all the additions, everyone!

  12. I discovered this blog (and was delighted to do so) through a reference in the Boston Globe (Sunday, Dec 24 '06). My earliest recollection of the quotation re "separated by a common language" attributed it to G B Shaw, and it was regarded by my contemporaries as a witticism in the tradition of english humorists like Wilde, Wodehouse, Gilbert or Sullivan (whichever was the librettist?) Shaw himself, etc. On this side of the water, Benchley, Thurber, Leacock or Dorothy Parker used language similarly, deliberately stretching ideas to the point of absurdity in order to make a point.

    If I may, I would like to throw in a few comments about english education in 1940 or thereabouts.
    At that time only about 10% of working class children went into secondary education, by obtaining high marks on the "scholarship exam", at age eleven. Middle class usually went to minor public schools which were private (as fee paying pupils)schools. These were organizationally similar to the state schools but had a wider diversity of (read a higher proportion of dumber) pupils. Upper class went to the famous public schools, like Eton, Harrow, Winchester, Rugby etc. I understand that the reason the public schools were so called was to distinguish them from the Church Schools, which only admitted pupils of a specific faith, while the public schools had no such restrictions and were therefor open to the public.

    At the state school level, Secondary school and Grammar school were pretty well ineterchangeable, but Grammar Scool had a little extra cachet. The Forms were as shown in your table, but usually there was no fourth form, one went from 3rd to 5th. In popular boys stories of the time,(British equivalent of the Hardy Boys) the non-existent fourth form was referred to as "Remove", and seemed to the place where the kids who were not ready for the School Certificate exams were held over until they got to 16 years old and could leave school. (Does Harry Potter have a 4th form?)

    In the 5th form (at 15 years old) one took the School certificate exams in 5 to 8 subjects. One had to pass in 5 subjects to Matriculate (university entrance qualification) and this was regarded as a satisfactory ending to four years of schooling, even if one did not go to university.
    The grading was Very Good, Good, Pass, and Fail. Personally, I took eight subjects (the norm for my school) and got VG in English Litterature, Physics and Maths(BrE). and G in English comp, French, History, Chemistry and an F in Art (how could one do that?). Obviously one doesn't have to say "English History - what other kind is there.

    After that, the few (about 10% of the original entrants) who went into Lower 6th, then Upper 6th, took the Higher School Certificate exam - much more intense and specialized. Most people took three major subjects and one subsidiary. (Mine were Physics, Chemistry and Maths (majors) and French (sub). Incidentally, all of the exams were essay type. One and a half hours each subject for the School Cert. and three hours each for the Higher cert. major subjects. The results from these were the basis of scholarship awards, and also, if the grades were sufficient, would enable one to skip the first year of university and thus get a Pass degree in two years, or an Honours degree in three.

    (Statistical note: At my Grammar school, 60 pupils entered when I did, having won scholarships at regional elementary schools, in 1937. Of these, six entered the 6th form in 1941. All of these went to universities - about 1% of the initial elementary school population. Of the six, three became university professors , one became a successful civil engineer, one became a secondary school teacher, and I sort stumbled into computers in 1957. Presumably all six were Mensa level intellects so the filtering system, based on tough exams at an early age, seems to have worked reasonably well.

  13. Thanks for all the recollections, xgeordie, and welcome to the blog!

  14. unless i am much mistaken the differentiation between old grammar schools and state schools at secondary level was that you had to take the '11-plus' exam to get into a grammar school, which were more academic as opposed to the state and tech schools of the time which had a more vocational and practical emphasis.

    to answer xgeordie, harry potter doesn't refer to 'forms', nor does it use the UK 'years' system. hogwarts covers years 7 to 13 but refers to each in terms of their year at the school, i.e. a year 7 would be a first year, a year 8 is a second year etc.

    only Oxbridge still uses Matriculation exams for uni entrance now (thank goodness!)

    most of us in England also had to take the 'Edinburgh reading test' in year 8, just to see how literate we were.

  15. So let me get this straight. Would a student attending their 3rd year at a British university be equivalent to a 4th year studying at an American university?

    I'm confused cause I'm studying abroad and the classes in the British system seem so much harder than what I expected!

  16. Br 3rd year = Am 4th year in that that's the year you graduate. But Br students come to the university with more specialist subject knowledge to start (at least in some disciplines) because of the A-levels.

  17. I hail from the American public school system. I think the major difference between the education systems is attitude about knowledge. Most of the elite colleges in the US have a liberal arts focus. Instead of cultivating hard skills (accounting, engineering, and such) the school aims to sharpen soft skill so that the students can work in almost any industry after college. Due to this attitude, secondary school takes a much more holistic approach. I had to take 3 years of science (all with a significant lab component), 4 years of math up to pre-Calculus, 4 years of English, 4 years of history/political science, and there was a one year arts requirement. You have to learn everything. The exams required for most colleges just measured basic knowledge and possibly the ability to learn new things in college. Most American students don't start their major until sophomore year and sometimes junior year.

  18. Hi, I wanted to ask for a little help. My family has moved around every 1-2 years and I've been through pretty much every school system out there. Consequently school hasn't been the most joyous experience, especially when it comes to repeating because of moving around too much. I'm currently in a private british system doing my AS-levels, and was told that in my case I could apply and start college/university in the states next year instead of staying on to do A2 (upper sixth form in BrE) - is upper sixth really considered the first year of university? Could you help me understand transfering from this system to the American, and whether I can leave next year??

    Many thanks,


  19. British bachelor's degrees are typically 3 years, and American ones 4 years. So, sixth form is often considered to be the equivalent of the freshman year in America. But, whether any particular American university would consider AS-level to be the equivalent of a US high-school diploma is up to that university. So your best bet is to contact the universities to which you want to apply and ask them.

  20. What I find bizarre is the mixture of British and American terminology in Canada. Here, the sequence of grades mostly follows the American system (with the exception of Quebec). After high school, however, students can either go to a university or a college (= community college). College, indeed, can even be a derogatory term amongst university students. Some institutions have even renamed themselves from colleges to universities (or university colleges) to avoid the stigma sometimes associated with the word. Degrees beyond the undergraduate level, however, are variously referred to as either postgraduate or graduate. Finally, an undergraduate degree here is typically four years, rather than three.

  21. xgeordie's account, for the confused, does not relate to the "old British" system in Ms. Guist's excellent table above, but an even older system.

    Universal (state-funded, or "free") secondary education was introduced in the UK by the Butler Education Act in 1944. The Fisher Act of the interwar years (1918-1944) had compulsory universal education until 14, but that mostly meant 11-14 apprenticeships in a trade.

    Mandatory school leaving age (ie if you're younger than this and not at school, then you're truant and can be picked up by the police/truant officers) went to 15 in 1944, with the intention of raising it to 16 once enough secondary places were available (it actually happened in 1973, but attending school until 16 was near-universal before that).

    The post-1944 system was that everyone (except the very rich) attended primary schools, either divided into infants and juniors or not until 11. In May or June of the "rising eleven" year (ie the school year in which those pupils have their eleventh birthday), the class all sat the eleven-plus examination. Those with the highest scores across a town (typically somewhere in the region of 10-15%) would pass - it was a norm-referenced test, ie there was a number of passes determined in advance and those with the highest scores pass, the rest fail. Pupils that passed went on to the town's grammar school, those that failed to the local secondary modern. Very large towns and cities would have multiple grammars, but as a rule of thumb there would be seven or eight secondary moderns for each grammar.

    Many of the grammar schools were much older than this system, having been charitable establishments in the nineteenth century. These (the older ones) were mostly run as "direct-grant" schools, independently run, but funded by a direct grant (from the local authority). Twentieth-century foundations were "maintained" schools, run by the local authority.

    Grammars ran until 18, with all pupils remaining until 16 when they took GCE Ordinary Level ("O Level") exams, and those successful remaining for two further years in "sixth form" to take GCE Advanced Level ("A Level").

    Secondary moderns finished at 16. After 1965, secondary modern kids could take CSEs (Certificate of Secondary Education); if they did exceptionally well, they could transfer to a grammar school's sixth form.

    In theory there were also Secondary Technical schools, that were intended to train mechanics and technicians (electricians, plumbers - highly skilled manual workers) but many towns never set one up, and they never got the status they were intended to - perhaps the first example of many of the failure of high-status vocational education.

  22. From the mid-sixties on, towns merged their schools together, creating comprehensives (all-ability schools) and the CSE and O-level were merged into the GCSE in 1988 (I have a 1987 O-level and a bunch of 1988 GCSEs; I took Maths a year early).

    The direct-grant grammars mostly became fee-paying independent schools rather than comprehensives; they were given the final choice in 1975. My school, though, was a comprehensive that had been a direct-grant grammar, and is one of the oldest state schools in England.

    The very rich sent their children to prep school from eight to thirteen (originally twelve) and then to public school from thirteen to eighteen. Under-eights were originally educated by tutors within the home, but usually go to pre-prep schools from four or five now.

    Originally, public schools had six forms (12-13, 13-14, 14-15, 15-16, 16-17, 17-18), but the youngest form was moved to the prep schools for obscure reasons in the nineteenth century. Many public schools still call their top form "sixth form" (usually skipping third form or fourth form as a result), which is where the wider use of sixth form as the top year came from, and is why the grammars (which are usually 11-18, ie seven years) had a lower sixth and an upper sixth rather than a sixth and a seventh.

    When comprehensivisation came in, some local authorities set up a sixth-form college; others established sixth forms in all or most of their former secondary moderns. Poorer comprehensives with few pupils staying on into sixth form were not able to offer the variety of subjects of a sixth-form college or a large (e.g. ex-grammar, but also some successful ex-moderns, especially in middle-class areas) school sixth form, so many have reverted to 11-16 status, with pupils transferring at 16 to a school that has a sixth-form, or to a further education college.

    In some places the FE college (which traditionally teach city & guilds courses like NC, ND, HNC and HND) and the sixth-form college (which teach A levels) have been combined into one. Many also teach Access courses (university preparation for over 18s) and some will even teach full degree courses which are then examined by the local university.

  23. I've only just stumbled upon your blog, and I'd like to start with a massive THANK YOU!

    I am an American living in England, soon to be married to an Englishman.
    The discussion of where to educate our [future] kids has come up.
    I've done my masters in England, but otherwise my education was entirely American and his was entirely English.

    Have you given the matter any thought? Do you have a personal preference?

  24. Schools are different, but I don't know of any cause to say one or the other is better. Wherever you're well settled, I'd say.

    I will stay silent on higher education, lest I get into trouble at my day job!

  25. @Natalia

    I am familiar with undergraduate education at both a UK university and a US one (Oxford/Stanford).

    Based on my own personal experience, I would say that the UK approach may be superior for an undergraduate who is very self-sufficient, already knows exactly what he/she wants to do with his/her life and wants to get there as quickly as possible.

    The US approach probably works better for most other people, because it is far more structured in terms of pastoral care and general education, and allows much more freedom to choose one's major/course of study.

    I know that, if I had the ability to do it all over again, I would definitely choose Stanford over Oxford for my undergraduate studies.

    A few years ago (such as when I studied there), the UK universities had the advantage of being considerably cheaper, but that may not be the case in future.

    I can't say much yet about pre-university eductation: my daughter isn't even in kindergarten here (in the US) yet :)

  26. One thing that I find rather weird is the US use of "college" as a synonym for "university". In other English usage the point is precisely that there is a distinction between college and university. They are not the same.

    In Britain and the Commonwealth only universities grant degrees. Colleges do not and can not.

    To non-US ears "college degree" is an oxymoron.

    I was in a restaurant in Kuala Lumpur. The next table was filled with young, Malaysian women. I happened to overhear one of them say, "She said she was going to 'college'. When Americans say 'college', they mean uni, don't they?"

    Exactly right.

    This has just been brought on, again, by my reading a survey of how many Americans of various ages and sexes have "college degrees".

    In our (Commonweaslth) usage a college is either a school, usually a private secondary (high) school, or it is a technical or trade (craft) school that trains people at a post secondary level but not to a degree, eg secretarial college, technical college, art college, hairdressing college, etc, or it is a part of a university that follows a collegial system, ie divides itself into colleges. In a collegial university (Oxford and Cambridge are examples) teaching is done in colleges but the degrees are granted only by the university.

    So, when an American asks me what "college" I went to my answer is that I didn't. I went to university.

  27. There is a difference between colleges and universities in the US, it's just not the same one as in the UK. Universities can give (post)graduate degrees. Colleges give Associates' (2-year) or Bachelors' (4-year) degrees.

    So, people who say they went to college in the US are saying they had an undergraduate education. (But we still don't say 'go to university' for (post)graduate degrees--then we go to 'grad school', which was the topic that got this all started--click the link at the start of this entry to see.

  28. Scottish schools:

    There are only two stages of schooling in Scotland: primary school (ages 4/5 - 11/12) and secondary school (ages 11/12 - 17/18).

    Secondary school is known predominantly as high school or - colloquially - 'the high school'. (Nouns in Scottish often take on a definite article that isn't required, as in, "He's been sent to the jail".)

    We don't have grammar schools or middle schools or prep schools or sixth form colleges.

    State schools are either non-denominational or Roman Catholic. Private schools are mostly non-denomination, but there are a couple of Catholic ones.

    School starts each year in mid-August and children begin at age 4.5 to 5.5. Age based recruitment is from something strange like March in the year of starting school to end Feb the following year (i.e. in Spring term of p1).

    It is compulsory to take four years of secondary school, even if you turn 16 in that year.

    Primary 1
    Primary 2
    Primary 3
    Primary 4
    Primary 5
    Primary 6
    Primary 7

    First year
    Second year
    Third year
    Fourth year
    Fifth year
    Sixth year

    The short form is P or S. So, you start school in P1 and take your standard grades in Third or Fourth year (S3/4).

    There's no application process for schools in the way there is in England. Unless you specifically ask otherwise (it will go to a panel at the local council's education department for a decision), you will be assigned your local school of your religious preference. Neither parents nor schools can pick and choose.

    Also, *British* degrees are not 3 years, but English, Welsh and Northern Irish are.

    Scottish undergraduate degrees in named subjects take four years. Your first two years are generalist and then you study a specific subject in third and fourth year. Most universities operate a system that allows you to study about a quarter of your third/fourth year credits outwith your chosen topic so, in that way, it's somewhat similar to the American system of selecting a minor.

    You can take a three-year BA or BSc, but it's known as an Ordinary degree and is entirely generalist, made of of 1st and 2nd year classes, with no subject specialism. Rightly or wrongly, they are viewed in the way that an American might view a junior college (associate) degree.

    Some Scottish universities also allow you to go straight from your second undergraduate year into Masters studies, but that's a separate level of complexity not required for our purposes.

  29. Thanks for that--it really enriches the picture.

  30. I'm from the west coast of Canada, and looking at that chart was a little interesting. I see how the system of education here is very much an amalgum of the two shown.

    Here, Kindergarten is the first compuslory class, at age 5. Then comes 1st Grade. The grades run up to 12th (and out east there is a semi-optional 13th). Whether those grades are segregated into junior/middle school or simply elementary (or primary, both are used, varying from school to school) and high school (and I have seen a couple private schools that prefer the British "college") seems to vary by school district.

    Within BC there are many school districts, all with their own curriculums, but building within the framework of provincial legislation that governs the broad testing of students (pupils), inspiringly called "provincial exams." The final provincial exams are given at the end of 12th grade, in academic courses, with pupils taking at least 3 provincials. I believe English is the only compulsory exam at that level, with the other exams being Math(s), Science (separated into biology, physics and chemistry), Language (French and Spanish being most common).

    The jist is that we seem to graduate a year earlier than both systems, at 17.

    Our post-secondary system is quite american in structure, but I'm currently in the shallow end of that pool, so I'm not an expert.

  31. You're missing a few things in your discussion of American schools.

    First, many schools run K - 8. (Or pre-k - 8, or preschool - 8.) Certainly that's the norm for parochial schools in NYC, and many of the more popular and successful public elementary schools are transitioning now to go through the 8th grade as well.

    Secondly, middle school and junior high, originally, weren't just different terms for the same school.

    At first, junior high was high school, but for younger students. You had your own classes, and they were taught separately by separate teachers.

    The middle school model gained a foothold in the middle of the last century on the grounds that kids in that age group need a transitional period from elementary school. So instead of going to your own classes, in a middle school you would spend most of the day with the students in your homeroom, and there's some degree of interdisciplinary teaching - that is, if you're learning about the civil war in history, you read about it in English as well, that sort of thing.

    Nowadays, of course, people use the terms interchangeably, but there's a very good reason that we have two different terms, and it's not just because one sounds better.

    And lastly, in many areas elementary school, intermediate school (as my local one was called), and high school each encompass 4 numbered grades, so middle school (or whatever) starts in the 5th grade and runs through the 8th. This seems to be the norm as well for private schools in NYC, at least, those that run from elementary school through high school.

  32. Having just been directed to this blog I felt compelled to add some clarifications as a British person who went to a private school.

    While it's good to know technical definitions, colloquial ones are probably more helpful for trying to understand what British people actually mean when they talk about public vs. private schools. In my experience, a "private school" is a generic term for a school that you pay to attend. These can be subdivided into "public schools", which are large in terms of grounds size and number of pupils, are usually boarding schools, are well-known nationally and have a reputation for producing what we'd call "toffs" - posh, snooty, upper-class people - although of course this is a stereotype. For example, Eton, Rugby and Harrow. However a "private school" may also mean an "independent school", which is much smaller and will probably only be known locally.

    "State schools" are schools funded by the state (as you'd expect). However, "grammar schools" are a special class of state school at which the teaching is generally considered to be of a standard equal to or better than private schools. You have to pass the 11+ to attend a grammar school so basically, if you went to grammar school, you're pretty smart. If the school you went to was a state-funded non-grammar, you'd probably just say you went to a state school or a local comprehensive; if you went to grammar school, you'd definitely say so.

    A prep(aratoy) school is usually a term for a private primary school, which usually goes up to age 13, as many public schools begin at age 13 rather than age 11 (independents, grammars and other state schools will usually begin at age 11).

    Additionally, with regards to the "old British" numbering system for school years, you will quite often see the first two years between ages 3 and 5 being called "Kindergarten/Nursery" and "Reception" and each successive form being called either "Lower" or "Upper" - ie. Year 1 = Lower First Form, Year 2 = Lower Second Form etc. This is why you end up with "Lower Sixth" and "Upper Sixth" at the end rather than Sixth and Seventh. If you're working this out you'll notice you end up with one too many forms somewhere - my school got around this with Year 5 = Lower Third, Year 6 = Remove (ie. the year you leave), Year 7 = Third Form and then it just carried on as normal, and I think this method is (or was) quite common. You'll still see this numbering in a lot of traditional private schools but many (such as mine) are moving more towards the Year 1, Year 2 numbering system so that when we talk to people in other schools they actually understand what year we're in. I think the traditional way is better though.

    Hope this is useful to someone!

  33. I attended an Catholic School k-8, we used to call it Parochial School when I went there, but now the call it Private/Catholic School.

    But in my hometown Elementary school is k-4 Middle school is 5 and 6, Junior High school 7 and 8, and then High School 9-12. And there are about 5 elementary schools and then only one of each of the other 3. Mainly because of over crowding is why they have a separate middle and junior high.

  34. The four undergraduate years at Trinity College Dublin are:

    - junior freshman
    - senior freshman
    - junior sophister
    - senior sophister

    Most other Irish universities have 3-year undergraduate programs in most larger faculties (Arts, Law and sometimes Commerce, Engineering and/or Science)

  35. I thought I'd add something people might find interesting about becoming a doctor (of medicine) in UK. From my understanding in US you have to do a bachelors first as a pre-med and then enter medical school afterwards? In UK Medicine (and surgery) is a degree in itself which people enter after completing A-Levels they study it at university and it takes 5 years in most universities. Some universities offer a 2part degree where students do 3 years pre-clinical and then apply again to do 3 years clinical, this tends to be offered by more 'traditional' universities such as Oxford or Cambridge. At Liverpool university where I study we spend 4 years at unversity our final exams are in 4th year and we spend 5th year in hospital we become doctors when we pass our prescribing test and our SJT.

  36. Lynne mentioned that in Canada we say "Grade N" rather than "Nth grade". To add to the difference in naming, we don't use the terms freshman, sophomore, etc. for university as they do in the US (although I'm assuming most people know what they mean as a result of the prevalence of American tv and movies). University students say they're in "first year", "second year", etc.

    As an interesting other CanE/AmE distinction, when I was in university (in Canada) I told my American cousin that I had to write a test on a certain day. He was confused, because to him, only a teacher can write a test (e.g. actually compose the content of the exam). He said Americans would only ever use "take a test". I don't think "take" sounds odd in that context, but I don't think I'd ever use it. Is it just me, or is that a widespread difference between Canadian and American English? (Also, where would the Brits fit in? Do they always "sit" their exams, or do they also "write" or "take" them?)

  37. Laura: the verbs that go with exams can be found at this post:

  38. Just to add to what dev0347 said about the Scottish Education system, the high school years are now officially S1, S2, S3 etc.

    My children are currently in S4, but if I accidentally say "fourth year" to them, as it was in my day, they remind me that this is the 21st century and not the Stone Age.

    Also, not sure about the first two years at Scottish Uni being "general". I've only ever known of specific degree programmes where you are studying your chosen subject from the start.

    As a side issue, "school" in Scotland always used to require the definite article, e.g. "When I leave the school I'll go to college", or "my wee boy's just started the school". Sadly, this is really only heard from older folks now as our culture is increasingly swamped by others.

  39. With a son who graduated from Brighton Uni quite recently, I would like to add a couple of points about English university education as I understand it (so lots of hedge words; do check for yourself if any of this is relevant to you before you rely on it). (I can't speak for Wales and Northern Ireland, and I know Scotland is different - see comments above.)

    It is sometimes (often?) said that current educational standards are lower than in the unspecified past, and in particular that 'teaching to the test' does not produce students with the enquiring minds and thinking skills that uni learning needs. True or not, the first year at university will include consolidating (in practice re-teaching) parts of the relevant A-level subject but in a uni way, and will often also teach general skills such as statistics, relevant Microsoft Office programs, possibly remedial writing and possibly English, together with fairly soft introductory-level degree topics. Typically the results from the first year's (course work and) exams will govern whether a student is allowed to progress to the second year, required to repeat some or all of the first year, or asked to leave. Those results will not count towards the class of degree.

    The second and third years move onto the meat of the degree subject proper, and results do determine the eventual class of degree. Probably half of the third year of an honours degree is taken up with writing the dissertation, or completing a project for more practical subjects.

    For practical subjects some unis may offer optional 'sandwich degrees', which mean that students follow a four-year degree course but spend the third year working, sometimes paid, sometimes not, gaining practical experience at a relevant company or non-commercial organisation. They then return to uni for a fourth year, studying alongside third-year non-sandwich students who started uni a year later. Sandwich course students will generally submit a dissertation-equivalent placement report for an honours degree, relating their sandwich year experience to some elements of subject theory. Although such students graduate a year later than non-sandwich students, their practical experience and more impressive CVs can more than compensate for the delay in entering the workforce proper.

    Finally, most but not all English degree courses are three years (or four year sandwich). From students within my family I understand that architecture takes four, veterinary studies five and medicine six years (there are probably others), and practical experience may be necessary beyond the BA/BSc/MB etc to get full professional accreditation.

  40. Several New England boarding schools of 19th-century foundation still use forms, meaning grades, as well as other terms extracted from the British lexicon--housemaster, tuck shop, etc. I was a second former (through sixth former) some sixty years ago at my Connecticut school (Choate), and would still be so designated today (except that the second form was phased out in the 1960s). The most ferociously anglophile New England school is St. Paul's, which is Episcopal (Anglican) and calls its headmaster a rector. Mencken, a mock anglophobe, treats New England boarding school lexical anglophilia in his American Language, with particular attention paid to St. Paul's, Choate, and Groton. Other such schools are designedly idiosyncratic, with, for example, Hotchkiss inserting lower-middler and upper-middler between junior and senior.

  41. Responding to Monty's prickly post of 8 March 2011: In American usage, a college is a bachelor's degree-granting component of a university. The usage is a thousand years old in Europe and four hundred years old in North America. If Monty finds objectionable this lexical discrimination, he'd better take it up with the College de France, Balliol College, or Magdelen College. In the New World, Harvard College (still so designated within Harvard University) quite naturally and logically began as the College at New Town. Princeton was the College of New Jersey, Columbia was King's College, and Brown was the College of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. All of those places were founded in the Colonial Period (as we call it). To state or restate the obvious, American English is not English English, and nor is Australian. H.L. Mencken wrote a three-volume masterpiece about American English, which everyone should read (so said Alistair Cooke and so says Stephen Fry). In the present-day universities of Yale, Harvard, Brown, and Dartmouth (frequently misnamed Dartmouth University in careless journalism) one makes application, if one is seventeen years old, to The College, not the The University. Many public American universities have lately been founding Honors Colleges with special residential arrangements, to lure top applicants away from the Ivies and the Ivy peers. And then there is the important world of the American bachelor's-degree-only liberal arts college, exemplified by the Ivy-peer Amherst College and Williams College. So the college-university distinction is utile and well understood in the USA. At my Ivy League university, the many British undergraduate were in absolutely no distress about the distinction, colloquial or technical (but then they had to be really smart to get in).

  42. Since you linked to this from a 2022 blog post.... many years ago now, I worked for an au pair agency in France which sent girls (it was always girls in those days) to the USA and to Britain. When asking for educational achievements, many had their French "baccalaureat", which was translated as "A levels" for English families, but as "Junior College" for American ones! And I believe British students going to an American university after A levels are excused the first year of their course.

    1. yes, I'm afraid that, having experienced the UK education system for 22 years now, I would not exempt the A-level students from anything!

    2. Possibly not - this was, however, 50 years ago!

  43. It sounds weird to my American ear to refer to a 6/7 year old as an "infant." To me, "infant" is, like, not walking, still in diapers(/nappies?), unable to talk, etc.

    I personally, tend to think of it as "newborn" or close to, though I've heard it referred to as somewhere between "baby" and "toddler" before (in an American context).


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AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)