Fame: Being American in the English school system

Posted on January 14, 2009 by yankeebean

yankeebeanI was inspired by a comment made by Cinda on our About page.  She’s moving to the UK with her 10 year old daughter and asked about the school system in the UK.

I lived in the UK for the equivalent of my Junior and Senior years of high school (or my A-Levels).  I’m aware that my experience won’t be the same as that of a 10-year old little lady, but I thought I’d share some of my experiences anyway.  After all, that’s what a blog is for, eh?

My overall memory of the English school system is:

It’s some seriously good learnin’
my English teachers crammed a lot of information into my brain.  It’s the kind of thing that infuriated me at the time, but I look back on with a sense of accomplished whimsy.  I studied the same 3 subjects for 2 straight years and I got A LOT out of it.  One of my chosen subjects was music and getting an education in the UK really gave me an advantage when I returned to the States for college.  Plus it sounded freakin’ cool on the ol’ resume…

Plus Madonna wanted to have her kids educated in England right?  Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

It’s like be a B or C-list celebrity
Everyone knows who you are because you’re ‘the American one’.  Everyone knows your name and where you’re from.  People watch you… not in a bad way, but they do.  This can be either fantastic or horrible, depending on how you feel about ‘the spotlight’.  I LOVED it, though… surprise surprise :)

I have never been so wonderfully and openly accepted so quickly
Dudes… the kids I met in England were SO AWESOME.  I moved around a lot when I was a kid so I’m very familiar with the standard new-kid-at-school feeling.  It could take months for American kids to pull their heads out of their clicks and say ‘hey’ to you.  But my first day in my English school I was treated to a non-stop stream of people that came to introduce themselves and talk to me.  Some kids immediately asked if I wanted to hang out that weekend, people helped me find classrooms, everyone was just outstanding…

If you’ve ever been the new kid, I don’t need to tell you that that is the best possible first-school-day of all time.  Best ever…

Something to look forward to
I don’t know if any of this is helpful, but it’s what happened to me.  I think ‘grown-ups’ are more stand-offish, but it’s not true for everyone (sometimes it just feels like it).  And there are plenty of American people around if you need someone to lend an ear :)

For all my blogs, I do love it here… I really hope you will too!

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What Others Are Saying

  1. Mark Zieg January 15, 2009 at 4:31 pm

    Our 9-yr-old US expat started at a small (200-pupil) council school last week, and has been getting on fine. I don’t know that he’s singled out as “the American one” — there are lots of immigrants in south-east England…he’d probably be more of a minority if he was born here :-)

    Our 12-yr-old took his admittance exams yesterday at Desborough.co.uk. From his description, it sounds like three straight hours of ability tests (e.g., spatial reasoning, versus “achievement tests”, where they ask you actual facts to see what you’ve learned).

    His school still has one foot firmly planted in the “grammar school” tradition — lots of foreign languages (new to us), mandatory rugby, and of course suit and tie! It will definitely make a change from Florida state schools…

    (BTW, my wife and I are both former public schoolteachers, so we aren’t particularly worried about curriculum mismatches, figuring we can always fill in the gaps at home.)

  2. notfromaroundhere January 15, 2009 at 2:54 am

    I have yet another perspective, I’m a University lecturer and trying to compare the education at both “high school” and “college” makes for a real apples-to-oranges issue in the US vs UK stakes. My beef with the UK system is that it calls for specialization too young with too many exams; my beef with the US system is that it’s too bad that gifted athletes are accepted to Unis with academic records much poorer than the non-athletic students. But I agree with peacefulyorkshire, the problem/system in the UK is such that it matters a great deal which school your child goes to, in a way that does not figure in the US. People will transport their kids great distances for a good school if they think it might improve their Oxbridge admissions chances…

  3. peacefulyorkshire January 14, 2009 at 7:57 pm

    I have taught music in the English school system (both public and state systems), so I get a completely different perspective, especially with the public schools here. (BTW Public schools are actually “private” schools so that can be confusing to anyone who is new here too.)

    What I think is a shame is the competition to get your kids into a state school with good results… if you can’t spend 25,000k a year to send your kids to a public school, it seems you need to be prepared to fight for the top ranking grammar schools in your area. A sad reality.

    Cinda, be prepared to research schools in Yorkshire for your daughter!

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