I was talking to someone recently about schools in my home country and decided to make a blog post about my experience. I haven’t written in a very long time and this seemed like a good way to start again. Note that all of this is based on my knowledge and experience – I haven’t attempted to fact-check anything here. It’ll probably be more amusing that way.
In England, children typically start school at the age of five and are required to go to school for 11 years. Most stay on for another two years for what is often called sixth form – that will make more sense later. The first two years are spent in an infants’ school. The next four in a primary school, and the next five in a secondary school. We don’t say grade one and first-grader, we say year one and first-year. We don’t use the terms freshman, sophomore, junior and senior – instead we reserve fresher exclusively for the first year of university.
Before 1992, the numbering system for years was a bit weird. Year numbers started back at one with every new school, so you could be a first-year three times. In 1992 the numbering changed, so I jumped from being a fourth-year to a seventh-year when I went from primary to secondary school!
Students in secondary education receive qualifications known as GCSEs (General Certificate of Secondary Education, formerly O-Levels) after year 11 at the age of 16. They typically get ten of them in subjects such as maths, science, English and a second language. This is roughly equivalent to the high school diploma in the USA.
Following secondary education, students can leave school or stay on for sixth form or college for another two years. During these two years, they work towards qualifications known as A-Levels, which are usually required to apply to university. Sixth form means staying on at your secondary school for a sixth year, hence the name. Strangely, the seventh year is also referred to as sixth form (form being another word for a class of students). College is not the same as university; it’s between school and university, and some people enter the workforce right after college. At college you can instead obtain qualifications in work-related skills, and these are called GNVQs (General National Vocational Qualifications).
In my next post I’ll talk about my own experience at school and you’ll see how the stuff in the Harry Potter books is similar. Aside from the fact we didn’t learn magic at my school.