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Television [Saturday 19 Mar 2011 at 11:46 pm]
Owen
Watching Skins, I wonder. Do Brits usually leave secondary school at seventeen and attend a special A-levels "college" school for two years? Then do they apply to university for three or four years to pick up a bachelor degree? Is that the only way into university? And do they usually have to pay tuition to these two-year programs?

In The USA, most kids headed for higher education proceed at seventeen or eighteen to university right from free four year high school programs. Very few universities prefer or require achievement or aptitude tests like A-levels, though, and fewer yet take them seriously. The very idea of an important national test is very strange to me.

***

I watched the Korean production J.S.A. - Joint Security Area (공동경비구역 JSA). I thought it was going to be an action movie, but it wasn't. It was the ultimate bromance flick. Soldiers from the DPRK (North Korea) and RoK (South Korea) who man a closed border post (they're all closed border posts) hang out together smoking and drinking and playing games through long guard shifts out in the DMZ. Awkward political moments crop up pretty often as they must but the magical power of guys just hanging out together overcomes all troubles. Of course it's all purely hetero tough guy stuff with none of that 'subtext' I've heard about on eljay. Finally, as in real Korea life, politics asserts itself and you cry at the end.

***

Inscrutible foreign lands, Brittanica and Korea. I'd like to visit but it's too much trouble to pick up the languages. What's the difference between peckish, pissed, and knackered again?
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: speakr2customrs
Sunday 20 Mar 2011 at 06:30 am (UTC)
Do Brits usually leave secondary school at seventeen and attend a special A-levels school for two years?

No. They usually stay at secondary school to do A-levels (and they'd usually be 18 when they finished A-levels). It isn't uncommon to switch to a separate specialist school, usually known as a 'Sixth-form College', to do A-levels, , if the secondary school at which they started doesn't offer A-levels, but it isn't standard practice (although it is becoming more common as the capitalist running dog government whittles away at the education system). It's also common for students to move from a secondary school which doesn't offer A-levels to one that does for the final two years; those who leave school 1 without going for A-levels make space for the ones transferring from school 2 so that class sizes remain about the same as in the earlier years.

Peckish means hungry (and it's incredibly out-of-date slang), pissed means drunk, and knackered means exhausted.
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[User Picture]From: owenthurman
Monday 21 Mar 2011 at 11:16 pm (UTC)
usually known as a 'Sixth-form College', to do A-levels, , if the secondary school at which they started doesn't offer A-levels, but it isn't standard practice

That's what the youngsters on Skins are doing then. Good to hear it isn't the standard practice.
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[User Picture]From: zanthinegirl
Sunday 20 Mar 2011 at 06:55 am (UTC)
Very few universities prefer or require achievement or aptitude tests like A-levels, though, and fewer yet take them seriously. The very idea of an important national test is very strange to me.

Where did you go to school? I had to take the SAT, and where I went to college was heavily dependent on my scores!
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[User Picture]From: owenthurman
Monday 21 Mar 2011 at 11:14 pm (UTC)
I went to school in a state where class rank was by far the most important factor. Some state university systems like CA emphasize GPA while others like TX focus more on class rank. I don't know of any that place much store in SAT scores. CA, for instance, the last time they published a formula at Cal gave 4000-5000 points for GPA and 1200-1800 for SAT and Achievement test scores.

At the top Stanford/Yale level the admissions criteria in order are 1. racial balance, 2. sports, 3. family influence, 4. teacher connections and recommendations, 5. extracurricular activities, 6. GPA and class schedule, 7. SATs and other tests.

National and regional top-notch universities in Japan, France, Korea, England, China, Ireland, Mexico, Canada, &c, &c put a tough national test as the first criterion so I find the emphasis in the USA peculiar. Nevertheless, they don't exactly ignore the SAT.
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[User Picture]From: stormwreath
Sunday 20 Mar 2011 at 11:06 am (UTC)
The official school leaving age is 16, but about half the population take 'A' levels as well. Others take various vocational or job-related qualifications - 'A' levels are academic rather than practical, aimed at getting you ready for university entry. As a rule, 'A' levels are offered by secondary schools, the more practical and vocational courses by specialist colleges, but there are exceptions.

You normally take 3 - 5 'A' levels in specific subjects (history, physics, French, etc); one criticism of the system is that it gives pupils too narrow a focus, and a broader-based unitary qualification like the French Baccalaureat would be better.

Education up to 18 is free, so there's no charge for the two-year 'A' level course. Pupils would be aged 16/17 in the first year and 17/18 in the second year.

Most first degree courses in the UK are for three years, unless you take a year out for a work placement course. Universities usually offer places based on the grades you get at 'A' level plus an interview - for example, you might need an A and two Bs. Other qualifications might be accepted, or places can be given purely on interview to, for example, mature students, but 'A' levels is the usual route.

I've heard it said that the reason British degrees are only 3 years instead of 4 is because the 'A' level course has already covered the more elementary levels of the degree syllabus, and so the university can begin teaching at what in the US would be a 200-level course to first-year students. But I don't know how true that is. :)

"Peckish" means "kind of hungry", not "ravenously hungry". It implies you want to peck at food like a bird.
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[User Picture]From: owenthurman
Tuesday 22 Mar 2011 at 12:01 am (UTC)
That's funny. The studies seem similar but the ages at which a student moves on from school to school are all different. In the USA it's considered unseemly and dangerous for the 18 year olds, who are full adults, to be mixing always with the 14-15-16-17 year olds who are children and cannot be considered reaponsible for themselves in any way. We separate them quite sharply at that age.
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[User Picture]From: gillo
Sunday 20 Mar 2011 at 02:15 pm (UTC)
OK, what Speakr and stormwreath said. We're physically a much smaller country, with a population of around 60 million, so a single system makes more sense. Actually, Scotland has its own subtly different system, which shaves more from the numbers.

Most kids go to government-owned schools (local government really, like yours, but there's more central control.) They start school around the age of 4-5, spend three years or thereabouts at "Infant School", then four years at "Junior School". At age 11 they transfer to "Secondary School". For the vast majority this is a "Comprehensive School", though there are variants, and about 7% are educated in the fee-paying sector which has its own patterns.

Whatever precise school they go to, virtually all kids take a battery of exams at age 16, called GCSEs. There test general education, usually in nine or ten subjects studied concurrently. English, Maths and Science are pretty much compulsory, other subjects vary according to ability, temperament or what the school is able to offer.

About 60% of the age cohort get at least five "good passes" in these subjects, including Maths and English. This level is supposedly equivalent to a much older exam, abolished in the 80s and still regarded with longing by older politicians, most of whom did very well in them and want to go back to their young days when everyone knew their place. (Never happened in reality, of course.)

Kids who don't get the magic five either stay on a further year to retake exams, or drop out of school to find jobs, apprenticeships or worklessness. Thus about 65-70% of 17-year-olds are in school, and about 60% of 18-year-olds.

There are various courses available in the last two years of free schooling. (It's not compulsory after 16, though the majority do stay on.) The commonest are A Levels, taken in two parts, one in the first year("AS"), one in the second (A2 or full "A Levels") The combined results of these are issued in August every year.

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[User Picture]From: gillo
Sunday 20 Mar 2011 at 02:15 pm (UTC)
A Levels as individual subjects are broadly equivalent in difficulty to Sophomore courses at most US colleges/universities. It's about depth, not breadth. The GCSE is supposed to ensure a broad general education; after that a student chooses their own preferred subjects and narrow but deepens the studies.

In the autumn of their last year at school students who want to go to university apply through a centralised system, usually to a maximum of five institutions. They may or may not be interviewed, and will be given offers of places based on their GCSE and AS grades, references from school and their own personal statements. The offers will be contingent on their achieving specified grades in their final exams, which is why August results day is such a nightmare for teachers, parents and students - and university admin who have to make decisions about those who missed the grades. (These grades can be really tough, BTW - for Oxford, Cambridge or Med School it could easily be a raft of straight A and A* grades required. Even very bright kids are tense.)

Where you study for and take these exams varies - there are special two-year schools which cater only to the post-compulsory students ("Sixth Form Colleges") and more general colleges ("FE Colleges") which cater for them but also teach a range of other folks, like apprenticeship classes, people returning to school after a long break, people with learning difficulties doing courses in independent living and all sorts of other things. Most systems, however, leave kids at the school where they spent the last five years, though usually with fewer regulations, smaller classes, less uniform and so on. They often help "police" the school as "prefects", a term you may recognise from Hogwarts, but which is a genuine part of most British schools.

University courses in the main focus on one subject, with perhaps two or three required minor courses, and generally take three years. Because of the head start the in-depth A Levels have given students, they generally reach a higher standard in their main (or sole) subject than US undergraduates do in their majors, but without the wider range of studies UD undergraduates cover. For example, I did English at Durham (some centuries back, admittedly) - I studied history of laguage, Anglo-Saxon, formal Literary Criticism and literary periods in depth. In addition I did two courses of History, one in each of my first two years. After I got my BA I did a post-graduate course to train me as a teacher. That sort of pattern is routine here. In-depth specialist Bachelor's Degree, followed by a one or two year post-graduate course of specific professional training.

"Peckish" is "mildly hungry". "Pissed" is drunk (but "pissed off" is "very annoyed" - they are not interchangeable. "Knackered" is "exhausted" - a "knacker's yard" is where worn-out horses used to be sent to be killed and boiled down into glue. OTOH, a "pair of knackers" is an alternative to "a pair of bollocks". Ah, I love my language.
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[User Picture]From: gillo
Sunday 20 Mar 2011 at 02:52 pm (UTC)
BTW, tuition - education is free and legally available to all up to the age of 18. FE colleges are only allowed to charge their older students.

University-level colleges currently charge a bit over three thousand (pounds, not dollars, of course) per year, with living costs on top of that. Most students are entitled to a loan to cover all tuition and basic living costs, payable in instalments once they earn over fifteen thousand a year. The new government (*spit* bastards) plan to increase these charges massively very soon, along with the interest rate charged on these loans. It's controversial here. My generation - indeed, pretty much everyone over thirty - paid no tuition at all for their bachelors' degrees.
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[User Picture]From: owenthurman
Tuesday 22 Mar 2011 at 12:03 am (UTC)
Thanks so much for all the detail here about English school procedures. I'll never spend my time confused by an English school drama again just because I can't figure out anything about what I'm supposed to read into the age/school context.
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[User Picture]From: quinara
Sunday 20 Mar 2011 at 02:49 pm (UTC)
What everyone else as said - only repeating that sixth-form colleges aren't the most common place to take A Levels, but they're liked by TV programmes - probably because it means they don't have to buy in a load of extras from the ages of 11 to 16 and get caught up in all the employment laws...

Also, in addition to what Gill said about infant/junior school, there are a lot of general primary schools around as well, which take children from 4-5 to 11. A lot of children will only go to two schools over the course of their education, a primary school and a secondary school. Nice and simple. :D
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[User Picture]From: owenthurman
Tuesday 22 Mar 2011 at 12:04 am (UTC)
they're liked by TV programmes - probably because it means they don't have to buy in a load of extras from the ages of 11 to 16 and get caught up in all the employment laws...

Ah-ha!

A lot of children will only go to two schools over the course of their education

That's so much simpler. I attended seven between ages 4 and 18.
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[User Picture]From: curiouswombat
Sunday 20 Mar 2011 at 04:55 pm (UTC)
In The USA, most kids headed for higher education proceed at seventeen or eighteen to university right from free four year high school programs. Very few universities prefer or require achievement or aptitude tests like A-levels, though, and fewer yet take them seriously. The very idea of an important national test is very strange to me.


Which is quite possibly why, when one of my daughter's friends did a year at Columbia university as an exchange student, he was surprised to find it was easier than his previous year had been at his 'home' university of York. All the York History undergrads had covered the work he was being asked to do in year 2 at Columbia as 17-18 year olds at A level - and had had to get an A grade at A level to then get to York.

Then York had to convert his Columbia grades back into English so that they didn't inflate his final classification of his BA Hons, as the marking scheme is much more lenient. He thought it was quite interesting, though, having to do lectures in subjects unrelated to his actual degree subject, and enjoyed the year.

Those who come in the opposite direction as 2nd or 3rd years from Columbia join the York 1st years, mainly, for their lectures and tutorials.

This explains how an English university can award BA(Hons) and equivalent with only 3 years study.

The Scottish system is slightly different - in essence they transfer from school to university a year earlier so that the first year of a Scottish degree is similar to the second year of A levels; they can then get an 'ordinary' degree at the end of three years, but almost all do the fourth year to convert to Hons and so leave at 21 with Hons just as their English, Northern Irish & Welsh counterparts do.
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[User Picture]From: owenthurman
Tuesday 22 Mar 2011 at 12:07 am (UTC)
USA programs are much more liberal and free-form without such deep specialization as I see elsewhere. You can pretty much take anything you want with only small limited guides for completing a specific course of study.

Any time spent in another transfer program is likely to slow down completeing studies of course. No two systems are going to line up exactly. I'd say it's still worth it; going abroad is excellent and really opens the eyes of young people.
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