All Hands on Desks

I have had enough people ask me “What are schools like there?” to create a post about it. I have worked as a teacher and a teacher assistant in primary and secondary levels in schools in both Bristol and Westbury (roughly a 45 minute train ride away).

The most obvious difference between schools I have seen in Canada and schools in the UK is the building. In Canada, our schools mainly consist of one building – it may have sloppy, variously coloured, portable additions attached to form interesting shapes from an aerial view- but it is one interconnected building. The schools I have been at here are made up of 5+ buildings; some only with exterior doors so students line up outside for each class, some classrooms have porches, some buildings are a series of those trailers seen at construction sites, welded together or with a small wooden bridge connecting the doors. Aside from the shoddy construction techniques, the multi-building school is easy to explain. Europe is old, as to are these school buildings. As more people began to move into the cities from the country, the buildings could not handle the demand and more buildings had to be built. But it still makes me feel like a rat in a maze – with no cheese to guide me, only damp children waiting in the rain outside their classroom doors.
I apologize for the lack of photo which could provide explanation my words cannot, but I could loose my job for taking pictures of children/school buildings, let alone posting them on the internet.

Ages are also completely different with primary school ending in year 6 and secondary beginning with year 7. Now this could be comparable to middle schools but we lack those in Saskatchewan, so never mind. I have yet to be in a school with a year 12 class, all regular classes have ended at year 11. However, there are year 13 students who wander around the schools and confuse me because they do not dress in uniform. I haven’t figured it out completely yet, but talking to students it sounds like while we would just repeat a class if we failed it in high school, they have to repeat the level or come back for year 13.

Uniforms are very strict, one classroom I was in the teacher demanded that all students after midterm break (was in October) wore their jumpers (sweatshirts) to class overtop of their white polo shirts. No student is allowed to wear their jacket in class, even if they are drenched and freezing from standing outside their classroom in the rain. I know that black shoes are policy, but if the velcro orthopedic version is, I will need to look in a school handbook.

All secondary schools are specialized. This is popping up in Saskatoon more and more, with the dance/soccer/football/etc academies, but here we’re talking Specialist College in Maths and Engineering. I suspect these are just titles as I have noticed nothing particularly innovative (or even note worthy) in these fields.

The level of education is completely different from the education I received. I have not been in enough Canadian primary/secondary schools to make a direct present day comparison, but with the knowledge of my own education, the UK is just not competing. Spelling is absolutely atrocious – but I have been told that spelling tests have been banned in schools, so go figure. I have had year 11 students asking me to spell words like “period”, “battery”, and my favourite “rope”.
Their education system is quite similar to the American system in which students are learning to standardized tests. The standard of these tests are quite different, this may be because students have options (health care, catering, mechanics, etc.) that their studies and tests are catered to different areas, maybe. I was looking through the GCSE exam booklet for Biology that the year 11’s had to take and the material was nowhere near what I studied in Biology 20, it was comparable to a grade 8 health class.

I was warned by many that “British children are horrid” and in some aspects their behaviour is quite different. They are programmed to call all teachers “Sir” or “Miss” and can be very polite, however, are quick to tell any blatant lie with a straight face. While I have yet to be placed in any inner-city schools, the behaviour is basically rooted in students just being at that age.

The school system and practices I find could be very disheartening for students and very bizarre, some examples:
– Students are supposed to shoot for a certain “level” each class, usually 3 being the minimum and 5 being the top, with students able to achieve up to a level 7, but never had I heard teachers describe how a student may achieve a level 7. Some teachers have even gone so far as to pinpoint verbally which students will achieve which levels, saying things such as “Alex you are trying for a level 3 today, everyone else can try for a level 5”. They essentially point out that a student is dim and will not achieve as high as classmates. If a teacher had done that to me in school, I would not have even bothered to try.
– I read an article in the paper the other day that there is motion to ban students from raising their hands in classes – believing that it hinders the shy, quiet, or confused students and allows them to shrink back into the shadows. The belief is, is that students will learn up to 2x more if teachers are choosing students to answer questions. Aren’t teachers choosing students regardless? Raising ones hand to answer a question does not signify a student knows the answer, it may mean they cannot sit still, want attention, or just want to talk. And just because students raise their hands does not limit the teacher to only choosing the students with hands raised. If anything, raising their hands at least gives students something to do instead of blurting out answers.

Well now, I think that is more than enough. I have tired out my own brain. For those of you that came for something more entertaining but stuck it out reading about the British education system, I have a treat for.

On the subject of British-North American languages, I give you a clip of the hilarious action transvestite – Eddie Izzard

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