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Welcome to the British Culture Club, the online magazine, podcast and videos exploring British culture.
Students in the UK have just gone back to school, and in this episode you will learn more about the British education system.
I'm Dan, your host. Today I'll be speaking to Anna and her children about how they've been preparing to go back to school, and Rosanna is speaking to Yuki, a student from Japan, about his experience of going to school and university in the UK.
If you're learning English and you would like to read the words of the podcast, as they're being spoken, please visit our homepage at britishcultureclub.org. The link is in the show notes.
The British education system is a big topic, so we can't cover everything today. Different parts of the UK, like Scotland have slightly different education systems and exams. Today. I'm going to talk mainly about the education system in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The state education system in the UK is free and full-time education is compulsory for all children aged 5 to 18. As well as the state schools, there are also independent schools, which charge fees.
Children start what's called "primary education" when they are five years old. They stay at primary school for six years , so that's year numbers one to six. At the age of 11 children move from primary school to secondary school. And secondary education lasts for five years, which is years 7 through to 11. So most students are aged around 16 when they complete their secondary education. And at the end of the education, they will have taken GCSE examinations in a number of subjects.
I spoke to Anna whose children have just gone back to school about their schools and how they had to prepare for the new term.
Hi Anna, how are you?
Anna: Hello. I'm very well, thank you. Yes, just got in from the school run.
Dan: So you've got two daughters at school. Yes?
Anna: I have got two daughters at school. One's at a primary school and she's nine years old, she's in year five. And my oldest daughter, who's 12, is in year 8 at secondary school. Yes. Both in Bath, quite close to home.
Dan: So has your eldest daughter had to choose her subjects yet ?
Anna: No, she hasn't yet had to choose subjects for GCSE. That will be in her next school year. So she's currently near eight, nearly 13. she's still covering quite a broad range of subjects at the moment. and then she'll be choosing GCSE subjects next year. Yeah.
Dan: I see. So how did they feel about going back to school?
Anna: They were both ready to go back. They were missing their friends and they were, I think, ready to get back to bit of a routine. And a bit more structure. So actually that they're both very happy at school and both seem to enjoy school life.
Dan: And what did you have to do to prepare for them going back to school?
Anna: So in terms of what we had to get sorted really at home. We had a lot of information sent over from the schools, so yeah, it was going through all the stationery, bits and pieces they needed, had to get all their uniforms out, check the sizing. Cause obviously they're both still growing. so we had to get ourselves organized and go and buy some new uniform, not everything, but bits and pieces of new uniform for them, both new school shoes, a new school blazer, the new school shirts, tights.
Dan: So the school has a school uniform. What is that for girls? And what is that for boys?
Anna: Yes. So my youngest daughter's school uniform is black and yellow, like wasp. The school is called Weston All Saints Primary school, and WASPS for shorts. That's a yellow polo shirt. And for her, it's a black skirt, black tights or socks, and a black cardigan. And then for the boys, it's the same yellow polo shirt, but with black shorts or black trousers and a black jumper.
So it's the wasp look. And then my eldest daughter is at senior school, it's navy, white and gray. So she has to wear a shirt and tie - a white shirt, a blue and white striped tie, navy blue skirt, black tights, black shoes, and then a navy blue and white blazer. So yeah, two sets of a very different uniorms to get sorted and in the right size as well in time for September. And then they have different sports kits as well ,shorts and PE tops and that sort of thing. And trainers to PE, for sports.
Dan: I see. So the main things were stationery, school uniforms and sports kit.
Anna: That was really the main things. Yes, a calculator for my eldest for senior school, you don't need those at primary school, but in Maths at senior school, you start to use the calculator.
Oh, and also actually not forgetting the very important drinks bottles, drinks bottles seem to be one of the most important things for pupils at school these days, to have the latest fashionable trend in drinks bottles.
So that as well. That as well.
Dan: Okay, thanks, Anna. That's fantastic. You've given us the parents' view of going back to school. So let's speak to your children and see what they think.
--Hello, how are you?
Anna's daughter: Good.
Dan: Good good. Were you looking forward to going back to school?
Anna's daughter: Yeah but, I also wasn't looking forward to do some the work, but most of it I was excited to do.
Dan: Okay. And which year are you in?
Anna's daughter: Year five.
Dan: Year five and that means that you're in primary school. Is that right?
Yes. And which subjects do you like the most?
Anna's daughter: Probably Creative Writing, English and PE
Dan: Oh, excellent. Excellent. Thank you very much.
Anna's daughter:You're welcome.
Dan:And now we'll speak to Anna's daughter who's at secondary school
Dan: Hello? How are you?
Anna's daughter: Good
Dan: Good. And you've just gone back to school. Yes?
Anna's daughter: Yes. We started a couple of weeks ago.
Dan: I see. And were you, were you looking forward to going back to school?
Anna's daughter: Mostly. Yeah.
Dan: Yes. What were you looking forward to when you went back to school?
Anna's daughter: I was looking forward to seeing all of my friends and I was looking forward to doing more of the exercise in PE and dance.
Dan: I see. And, so which subjects do you do at school?
Anna's daughter: We do most of the subjects. We do a lot of practicals, what's more technology. And then PA dance and drama. And then we do more of the ones where you sit down and write, more English, Maths, Religious Studies and Science and things like that.
Dan: I see. Okay. And what's your favorite subject?
Anna's daughter: My favorite subjects are probably Music, PE and English.
Dan: That's great. Thank you very much.
Anna's daughter: Thank you
Dan: I forgot to mention. There are three periods of tuition or terms during the year. The first runs from September to December, the second from January to April, and the third from April to July. Between each term there's a holiday and halfway through the term, there'll be a half-term holiday, a shorter holiday .
Exact term dates differ depending on the school and where you are in the country.
You might hear a school refer to as a public school. Well, this is actually a fee-paying secondary school, which can be confusing. Why are these fee-paying schools called public schools? Well, I looked in the Oxford English dictionary and the first reference to this was in 1580.
It originally meant schools that were started or had been funded for the public to enroll as opposed to private schools, which weren't open to everyone.
So secondary school, that's years seven to 11, has taken students through to their GCSE exams. And after secondary school, there are still two more years of compulsory education, which is called further education. These two years are years, 12 and 13, where students will be aged 16 to 18.
There's a choice of schools and colleges for further education. Some secondary schools continue teaching in years 12 and 13, and there are separate colleges for further education as well.
The UK education system attracted many international students, and Rosanna has been talking to Yuki, a student from Japan who studied in the UK at secondary level and then university. Let's hear about Yuki's experience.
Rosanna: Hi, Yuki. How are you?
Yeah. Thank you so much for agreeing to talk to us today. We're going to talk about the experience of being a student here in the United Kingdom. And you're going to tell us all about your experience. So you're obviously all the way in Japan at the moment, and that's where you're from.
Rosanna: Why did you or your parents decide for you to come to school here in England?
Yuki: So it was actually, I really loved English. I think I really wanted to come to, you know, I would want to study it. I wanted to study in English. I wanted to come to English speaking countries. And it didn't have to be a UK. If I'm being honest, it didn't have to be UK. But, it was lucky because I, that my school, my high school that I was in, in Japan, they have this, like sister school kind of relationship, with the school that I went to in the UK.
So I was like an exchange students. And so that's how I. Yeah. it ended up being the UK.
Rosanna: Okay. So you went to, a school in the South of England at what is known confusingly in England. It's known as a public school. but actually public schools here are independently owned private schools versus a state school, which is only by government.
And I know that sometimes confuses people. When you explain that to them
Yuki: very true
Rosanna: So what did you have to do, or what does a student have to do in order to get into a school like you were at?
So like a public independent school.
Yuki: So I had to do the exam in Japan, in my school, but, I think people around me who came from different countries, I think they needed to do the exam, yeah, to get into the school.
Rosanna: Yeah. I think, you know, like you said, with your case, your school gave you the opportunity in Japan to come to a school here in England. but there's also an entrance level exam that you can take to, to go into the school and did your English have to be a particular level for you to be accepted at the school here in England.
Yuki: Yeah, I think so. I also had to do the English exam, and I think I was asked to submit the score of IELTS, which is, official international English exam.
Rosanna: Great. So an entrance exam, checking your English and also potentially an interview are things that you should think about if you're going to be joining a public school potentially.
So tell me, how, how did you find the experience? What was it like coming from Japan to England and being part of a school here?
Yuki: It was so interesting. Firstly, like, I was like, honestly, I loved English so I was studying a lot in Japan. but the first day I still remember, like, I just couldn't understand what was going on.
I couldn't understand what was going on. I think that was like assembly where people kind of gathered and, I think some teachers were speaking. I didn't understand anything. and, so that was the first impression I was like, Whoa. But luckily like I, yeah, yeah, exactly. Like, and I thought it was, fine because I think, and then I think we had the form, so I will have some students, and we could talk, they were like all in the same year, so I could get to know them a bit more personally. And it helped me along. And so that was my first impression. And that was my first experience.
Rosanna: Obviously with the help of other students and with the help of teachers, you slowly became more comfortable.
Yuki: Exactly. And so the more I get used to it, and I think the thing that I felt, and probably the difference between Japan and the UK is definitely like in Japan, students tend to be quiet in the class. they just listen to the professors or like, sorry, the teachers. but in the UK, like, you know, people were like the being very active, and they asked like questions and that was a bit strange to me.
I really liked talking with teachers, so I was doing it in Japan, but like, normally you don't really say much during the class in Japan. And so, so yeah, like seeing that was like very, very interesting. That's a bit different.
Rosanna: Eyeopening to see the different classroom cultures may be and how different it is between the two countries.
But that's great that you felt happy to ask questions and comfortable to talk to your teachers.
What were some of your favorite lessons at school? What did you really enjoy? Maybe it was not necessarily the academic lessons. Maybe it was your PE or anything.
Yuki: I definitely enjoyed psychology, which is a bit, you know, like it's a rare thing to be able to do.
I did IB international baccalaureate, so, it's a bit different from like A levels, which I think generally in the UK, students do A levels, but there was a psychology class and I, because like people don't really take psychology, so there were only a few of them. a few of the students and the teacher teacher was like really, really kind to me.
and that was a big reason why I think I could get through, you know, my, my, time in the school. And it was just really, maybe thanks to the number, of the class, like number of the students. it was very engaging and. yeah, the teacher, like mainly the teacher is really nice.
Rosanna: We had a really good experience with both the teacher and the class size.
Yuki: Yeah. And the content as well, it was something very different. and I didn't expect that I could learn psychology and it was very related to like what happens in real life. Yeah, it's interesting.
Rosanna: Great. Thank you. So you, you mentioned the IB there, the international baccalaureate, which is a type of exam.
You can take at a school here in England and in Britain, were there the option to do A levels at your school as well. Cause that's the other one that you can do.
Yuki: Yeah. So, there are like, most of them are A level students. and, but like, normally it's just like the exchange students from my school from Japan.
Rosanna: Okay, and how did you, how did you find studying for the IB? Was it difficult or,
Yuki: yeah, it was, it was tough at the start, especially, I think getting used to English was huge. as I said, I couldn't, I couldn't really understand the classes. and so, you know, I had to spend a bit more extra time, to kind of like, know what's going on.
And, and also like writing speed, the speed of writing, they are so fast. And sometimes I couldn't read their handwriting.
So I was trying my best, but sometimes it's yeah, I, I spend, thanks to my friends as well. They helped me, they showed me, I, I still remember, like I was asking all the time, like, if they can show their notes so I can copy them.
Rosanna: I think that's really important. And getting the help of your friends at the school, your teachers always asking questions and really being inquisitive and trying to better yourself, because I remember, you know, your English has improved so much from when I knew you, when you just started school and you really made an effort to immerse yourself in the British culture. So what are some of the tips that you have for people to improve their English level in particular?
Yuki: Yeah. Like you made a very good point I think because like, I know a lot of international students who improved their English, but also I've seen others who, like, were doing okay but like they, you know, they could have improved a lot more. And I think the difference is really like about how much you put yourself in your environments of like, like British people or like, you know, people speaking English. Cause like the more you practice, obviously, the more we get better.
And, and it's also like the relationship with them as well. Even if you can't speak English, it doesn't necessarily mean that you can't be friends with them. Like you need to spend, good amounts of time to get to know them.
I think like if you can, like getting used to British English is, helpful, although, it's, it's going to come with time.
I remember, like I really liked the British accent because when I was in Japan, in Japan, I think American accent is more of like a general English accent. You can sometimes find a TV, American TV shows, broadcast, but you don't really find many British ones. It's, it's different now because now you can have access to Netflix or Amazon Prime and so you can choose. but at the time, I was more used to American English. And so maybe that might be another reason why it took a bit of time for me to understand, but you know, it's, it's gonna come with time.
Rosanna: Yeah, that's a really good tip is expose yourself to various different accents because, you know, even if you were to just listen to British English in a British accent, that then stops you when you visit other countries. So, you know, listen to American English or different types of accents will just help improve your English language skills overall. So that's a great tip.
So you're now at finishing university, you went to University College London, and that was a good experience for you? How, how, how was all of that? How do you find it?
Yuki: I loved it. I loved it. it was a, there's a lot of new things. I, I never imagined some of the things that I started during the time at UCL.
One of them is going to be breakdance. I started breakdance at my university. I actually wanted to do it before entering the university, but like, I didn't have opportunity, but because I was in, maybe I was in London because I was in London or there was a society I could try.
Like, I love learning languages and I started learning French. when I just, after I entered university and also I started learning Italian recently and yeah. And being able to, you know, be in London and also like at UCL really allowed me to, you know, just practice with my friends. And also there's like, Italian society from French Francophone society.
I made friends with a lot of British people at university as well. I was expecting to, it gets no more international students, but, like I, you know, I got to know a lot of British students from all around the UK.
Rosanna: There's a good mix of British and international students.
Well, that sounds good. Like you were able to, like you said, make friends, the university, get in touch with people from other universities as well. And also start looking at life after university, too. So all. All your education gave you the right experience to feel confident to then go out into the world and, and feel prepared and ready.
So what tips, what advice would you give to students thinking about maybe coming to school in England, in the United Kingdom in general? So they might be thinking, or do we come, you know, do we go to secondary school there? Do we go to primary school there? Do we go to university? Any level of education, what advice would you give to people thinking about the UK?
Yuki: I think the important thing is just really, you know, like, really know like what you want to do and sometimes, or like have something that you really like. Cause even if he can't speak, if you have something that you're into and when you find someone else that is also finding the same thing really interesting, you don't really, you sometimes don't need language to get a connection, right?
Rosanna: That's a really good point is finding hobbies that you have in common with someone, even if you don't know the language as fluently is you hope to. Finding common interests transcends all language barriers.
Yuki: Yeah. And so as much as I think, I think learning English is very important. I also think like really just like, putting your effort into hobbies or like things that you love, because you never know when those things will actually help you to build a relationship with other people.
And that happened to me as well. Like when I couldn't really communicate, thanks to football. you know, I got to know other people
Rosanna: that's that's, those are some really great points. You keep, thank you so much for going through what it was like and sharing your experience and, you know, letting us know that it can be difficult, but you have to keep trying, you have to find common interests, make sure you're practicing your English and school and university has the means to be very supportive, to help you through it.
Yuki: I had the opportunity to be immersed in the British culture when I was in sixth form. and I think it was very lucky. cause after I got into university, I already knew what it was like to be like, I didn't have, maybe I don't think I had the full picture, but I kind of understood like what it was like to be in the, in the UK, UK culture.
That's another reason. I think it helps if you go to British school. Yeah. If you, if you know, like he want to be like, you want to experience UK culture in future cause like, yeah, like it just really helps to be in a British environment. and so that's why maybe like I had a very smooth transition from sixth form to the UK.
Cause it was a moved from the UK to the UK.
Rosanna: I think that's such a good point, Yuki, that people should know about is if you're thinking about studying at university in England, or maybe working, starting your education from secondary school, when you're younger is a really great way to ensure there will be a smooth transition into higher education.
You get to learn the culture, you get to learn how to interact with people here in the United Kingdom. So that's a really good point. Yeah. Great. Well, thank you so much. Thank you for your time and speak to you soon.
Dan: It sounds as though you guys had a great experience, which is preparing him for his future career.
We haven't talked about universities in the UK yet they're around 150 of them offering undergraduate degrees, postgraduate degrees, high national diplomas, foundation years. And most of the universities have particular subjects in which they are stronger. I think that's a whole new topic and maybe the subject of another podcast episode.
For now I'll leave you with a Chinese proverb:
"If you're planning for a year, sow rice, if you're planning for a decade, plant trees, if you're planning for a lifetime, educate people"
Hope you'll join us for the next podcast episode. If you'd like to read our free online magazine or subscribe free of charge to the British Culture Club, then head over to our website, britishcultureclub.org. There's a link in the show notes. Goodbye for now.
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