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Moving from the American to the British education system


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Relocating from the US to the UK?  Moving between education systems can be stressful for children.  Despite the differences between the American and British education systems, students can move successfully from one to the other.  Planning carefully is the key to a smooth transition. 

  1. The Early Years

The difference between the two early years approaches can be a culture shock for younger children. 

For children from aged 4 upwards, the mainstream UK system is focused on learning to read and write at a young age.  primary school children Children start school aged four in the Reception class, although some schools now offer more flexibility with a starting age of five.  Alternatively, you can opt for a Steiner or Montessori school in the early years, both of which offer a gentler approach and teach reading later:  the Steiner system does not teach children to read until they are seven.  These schools are mostly private.

In contrast, in the US system children are eased into academic studies, and there is a strong emphasis on socialisation in addition to fostering basic English and maths skills.  From kindergarten to Grade 3, children the academic foundations which are further developed during Grade 4.

2. High School:  Assessments and Testing

As the US and UK have a shared language, it is often assumed that the education systems in the two countries are broadly similar.  Children moving from US to UK schools need to be prepared for the fact that the UK has more nationally-assessed Bennett-Education-Table_12146_t5 US UK equivalent school years 2018exams to contend with.  In the US, although children are assessed at the end of every school grade, the examinations are not national and for the most part, have little bearing on their progression from year to year.  The standardized tests in the U.S. tend to be state mandated instead of federally mandated.  In New York, many high school students take the “Regents” exams which test the core subjects- but the exam system will vary from state to state.  Therefore, GCSE and A level exams are a culturally different experience for US children.

3. Generalist versus Specialist 

In addition, the US system is more generalist whereas the UK is more specialist.  In US schools, as in the French Baccalauréat, students have more opportunity to study a wider range of subjects for their High School Diploma.  There is more focus on sport, music, drama and art and as a result, a move to the UK can seem restrictive at first to US students.  Mathematics in both countries is also taught very differently and this must be taken into consideration when settling a US family into a UK school.

Culturally, children in US schools tend to be praised more- which is a positive attribute.   Children who have previously studied in the US system should be prepared for the fact that recognition of achievement in UK schools can be less effusive.

Finding a school that is willing to support the student’s adjustment, academically, emotionally and socially, is vital.   Please contact us for expert support with applications to schools in London and throughout the UK.

Read more about American schools in London. 

See our key points to consider when choosing a London school.

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