The High School Student News Site of The American School in London

The Standard

The High School Student News Site of The American School in London

The Standard

The British are coming

A native Londoner, Zayn Daniels (’18) moved to ASL this year after attending Acton High School, a British state school, for three years. If Daniels had continued at Acton, he would be starting his General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) exams, his last two years of high school before beginning his A-level exams.

With the transition to ASL, Daniels has the opportunity to begin high school in the American system, with the ultimate goal of preparing himself to attend an American university.

With the desire to go to American universities, many European and local British students are moving to ASL and switching to the American curriculum.

Mimi Albanese (’16) experienced a similar situation to Daniels at her former school, Godolphin and Latymer, a British school in West London. Albanese was new to ASL at the beginning of her sophomore year; her transition coming at a logical time as she avoided the GCSE exam process and knew that ultimately she also wanted to attend an American university.

English Teacher Megan McGilchrist, who worked in the British school system prior to her current position at ASL, also recognizes an appeal to go to American universities influencing British students. McGilchrist believes that, for some students, the school is a “way in” to American universities.

As Daniels noticed, many of his classmates were motivated to switch to the American curriculum by the appeal of attending university abroad.

In addition to preparing students to apply to American universities, ASL is also appealing curriculum-wise. The electives program at ASL is something European and British students do not get to experience. Following an exam-based system, there is a certain amount of material that teachers must go through over the course of an academic year in order to prepare the students for these exams.

While the exam system is similar to AP courses, the same level of academic freedom does not exist throughout British curriculum. After Year 10 (equivalent of grade nine), all classes become exam-based, focusing students on particular courses of their choice, limiting the breadth of courses a student can take. “It is fun here, it is a lot of fun,” McGilchrist said. “It’s fun for students, it’s fun for teachers and I think that issue of academic freedom is huge because even in a very good British school, your curriculum after tenth grade is [fairly rigid].”

American content and subject matter can also be influential in British courses.“I remember teaching Of Mice and Men and To Kill a Mockingbird. I was surprised actually, at how much American literature there is on British syllabi,” McGilchrist said.

Despite the influence, McGilchrist says that it is very difficult to compare systems, as it would be like comparing “apples and oranges.”

The British system is very rigorous and there is a sense of formality which is not implied in schools such as ASL. In most British schools, all students wear uniforms, and address their teachers as either “Sir” or “Miss.” This formality and structure is present not only within the school, but also in the exams that students take. All tests are held externally, which means they are national exams and not graded by employees of the school. In this system there is little grading pressure on teachers.

Amanda Welch (’18), who along with Daniels was new to the High School this year, transitioned from The American School in Surrey (TASIS). TASIS, which has a smaller community compared to ASL, consists of approximately 750 students, while ASL has a student population of 1,350.

With the smaller community at TASIS, Welch felt that it was not as diverse. She did not agree that TASIS’s “community aspects” like friend-group inclusivity were very strong. In Welch’s opinion, ASL’s the academic community is also stronger, as there is more “hands-on learning” and teachers are more understanding, making the school more appealing to her learning style.

Albanese also recognized a different approach to teaching at ASL compared to her previous school. “The teachers are a lot nicer [at ASL] and have better relationships with the students and more willing to help students outside of class,” Albanese said.

“We’re the odd ones out here in terms of European education because Europe is all exam-based,” McGilchrist said. “I think a good American education and the freedom the kids have, the academic freedom and the freedom to explore, is huge.”

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