Comparing the education in America and the UK


24 out of 25 of the top universities in the world are located in the United States or the United Kingdom, according to World University Rankings 2015-2016. Both countries share quality higher education and a culture that promotes intellectualism. However, there are many differences regarding the structure of the education system between the United States and the United Kingdom.

Education in England is divided into three stages: early years foundation stages (ages 3-5), primary education (ages 5-11), secondary education (ages 11-16), and tertiary education (ages 18 and up).

In Wake County there are a variety of schools for students to choose from public, private, or faith based. It isn’t uncommon to not attend the same school as your neighbor with Wake County’s school districting policy or school choice, a neighborhood can be divided such as the Brier Creek area that is newly redistricted to Leesville schools this year. The current Wake County Public School System is the result of a 1976 merger between the Wake County School System and Raleigh City Schools.

The idea of merging the schools was initially an unpopular idea by residents, until school and business leaders convinced the North Carolina General Assembly to force the merger. As a result, suburban students can be bused to magnet schools in lower income areas and low-income students can be bused to suburban schools.

With an effort to maintain socio-economic diversity while keeping up with the quickly growing student population, Wake County has the ability to reassign students to different schools.

Instead of school counties, the United Kingdom uses local education authorities (LEAs) that are councils responsible for education within their jurisdiction. There are 152 local education authorities in England, a much smaller number than the amount of counties in America.

Their primary functions include: distribution and monitoring of funding, co-ordination of admissions, and they are the owners of the school land. The term “state schools” refers to government funded schools.

“Independent schools” are fee-paying private schools governed by an elected board. According to the Independent School’s Council, there are 2,600 independent schools in the UK educating 615,000 students, approximately 7% of school children.

The process leading up to attending a university or college is very different. The United States puts emphasis on the GPA system where a student’s grade is dependent upon class participation, tests, quizzes, and homework.

The United Kingdom system puts emphasis on a series of exams (SATs, GCSEs, A-levels, and University finals). This also means it is possible for a student who is a strong test taker, but doesn’t have a strong work ethic to still be successful.

Many students in the United Kingdom will start working towards a certain discipline at a young age. Following the GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education) at age sixteen, students will take three or four core subjects and then continue on to study one of these subjects at the university level. If a student were to switch subjects at the bachelor’s level, they would have to restart all new classes since there aren’t any general education requirements.

This is a large contrast from the United States when most students don’t begin to specialize in a certain subject typically until their sophomore year. All students are also expected to complete a variety of courses, or gen eds.

The academic year also varies. Most universities in the United States begin their academic year at the beginning or end of August, take a lengthy winter break around mid December and start again in early to mid January, and end their academic year in June. In the United Kingdom, the academic year is less standard, it can vary between universities and schools. Generally, universities start in September and end in May or June.

Although both areas have contrasting education systems for younger and older students, they still comprise a majority of the top universities in the world.


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