With graduation just around the corner it’s time for another England versus America story.
When I was 16 it was legal to just end school there. You take a lot of very important standardized tests on the last two years of your schooling called GCSE’s and then with that you were free to leave school and pursue your career of choice.
If you wanted to further your education, the next step was A-Levels. Anyone could take A-Levels, students who had completed their GCSE’s or adults wishing to go back to school. The school I went to had an attached ‘sixth form’ so I could stay at the same school and continue for the next two years, which I did.
It has since been made mandatory that you do some sort of further education; either A-Levels or an apprenticeship. GCSE’s include a lot of subjects. There are: science, maths (yes with an s!), English were ones that you had to take, then you had to choose a humanity (history or geography), an art (art, music, dance, drama etc.), religious education (unless you were exempt), citizenship (how to be a better citizen and how the government works), a language (French or Spanish were offered in my school, other schools had other options) and a technology (IT, sewing, food tech or what we called ‘technology’ which was wood and metal work).
I believe I got 11 grades from the ones I chose but they do not give you points towards a GPA (I’d never heard of that). School normally ended mid-July for a six-week summer holiday. In your last year you left on ‘study leave’ much earlier and your exams were usually finished at the beginning of June so you got a much longer holiday. At this point you don’t know what scores you got or if you even passed. The exams are marked during the summer and near the end of the summer you go into the school and are handed a few pieces of paper with your scores on and a certificate or two. Then you walk out. End of school.
I chose to stay on for the extra two years when the education has no generals. You could choose four or five subjects and usually you dropped one or two of those the second year. These were completely free to choose with no requirements, but it has been said it’s more difficult than a degree because you are expected to be specialized in all four or five of those areas. When the end of the year came, we took more exams, and we went on holiday (I came to Aberdeen for mine!).
At the end of the summer we went back and got our few pieces of paper and a certificate and that was it. No ceremony, no celebration. You did not, in fact, even have to go into the school. If you didn’t come on that day you simply got your papers in the mail! If you’ve seen people overseas in caps and gowns and think I don’t know what I’m talking about, caps and gowns and graduation ceremonies are for university graduation only if you achieve your degree. This is achieved like it is in the USA, except that British universities do not waste time doing generals, you start right into your chosen subject(s).
Thinking on all the many celebrations, gifts, ceremony, etc. that are standard in America does make me slightly envious. It did feel very anti-climatic just walking out of school after all that hard work with a few pieces of paper. I think I will be glad that my children will be more celebrated when they get to that point. I might even go over-the-top with a graduation party, and there will definitely be cake.
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