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Television [Saturday 19 Mar 2011 at 11:46 pm]
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?

[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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