Children in the UK start school in Primary School which generally lasts for seven years until the age of 11, followed by Secondary School until the age of 16 which culminates with GCSE examinations. If students wish to continue their studies, they can then move on to Further Education for two years, typically taken between the ages of 16 to 18. Students have a number of options when it comes to the qualifications they can study through Further Education years. The most common is the A Level programme which is a linear, two-year qualification where students typically study 3 to 5 subjects. Other qualifications include the BTEC, which can be vocational in nature and offers hundreds of options for students wishing to focus on one subject. Students can study these qualifications on a single year basis. In the UK, compulsory education ends at age 16 and students wishing to move on to University or Higher Education use these qualifications to prepare. A Level exams (usually) are both an exit exam from school and an entrance exam for university.
The school year is generally divided in two semesters. The fall semester starts in August/September and the spring semester starts in January and finishes in May/June. In the USA schools often have six or eight different subjects each day, of which two are often obligatory to exchange students: English and American History or Government. There are usually a large variety of other subjects to choose from to fill in the rest of the classes. These subjects vary between schools. There may be Computer Science, Drama, Photography, Ceramics, Journalism, Art, Marketing, International Relations and different kinds of Science. In the English class there are a number of different areas to choose between. Speech is one of them, where the student learns to give a presentation and talk comfortably in front of an audience. Another subject is Composition where the student writes essays, articles and other types of written material. The school counselor can assist in making the right choices and/or changing subjects or the level of a subject chosen, e.g. to upgrade the student to a more advanced class.
Austrian children study eight years at high school (Gymnasium). There are different kinds of schools e.g. sports orientated gymnasiums, music orientated schools, science orientated schools, economics orientated gymnasiums, tourism orientated gymnasiums, handicraft orientated schools, pedagogic and kindergarten orientated schools, and agricultural high schools. The first grade of high school starts when the students are ten years old, and then goes on until the final examination (“Matura”) in the 8th grade. The students are then ready to go on to University. As a general rule, the quality of education is high, especially in rural areas and small communities, where the schools have maintained their traditional social importance.
The Danish education system provides access to primary school, secondary school, and most kinds of higher education. Attendance at “Folkeskole” is compulsory for a minimum of 9 years, and a maximum of 10. About 99% of students attend compulsory elementary school, 86% attend secondary school, and 61% pursue further education. All college education, for Danish students, is free thanks to the tax system. Following graduation from Folkeskolen, there are several other educational opportunities: Gymnasium, Higher Preparatory Examination (HF), Higher Technical Examination Programme (HTX). As an exchange student in Denmark you will attend grade 10 or Gymnasium grade 1 or 2, depending on your age.
German schooling is based on nine years of compulsory education for all children. Once children are aged six, they generally attend primary school for four years, before going on to a variety of secondary schools: Hauptschule, Realschule, Gesamtschule, Gymnasium. The standards and the balance between practical and theoretical subjects vary between the different types of secondary schools, and so does the number of school years. Gymnasium provides in-depth education and most exchange students attend this type of school. Students graduate from Gymnasium after the 12th grade or 13th grade depending on the federal state, receiving a high school certificate necessary for studying at University.
In Ireland, the school system is split into two different ‘cycles’ called Junior and Senior. These cycles both last for three years with the major difference between the two being that the Junior Cycle is non-specialised in terms of subjects, and includes many varied options. The Senior Cycle is more focused to prepare students for university or other higher education options and their future career paths. Examinations in Irish Secondary Schools take place after three years (at the end of the Junior Cycle), with a second round of examinations taking place three years later (at the end of the Senior Cycle). These final exams are called the Leaving Certificate. The first year of Senior Cycle is called the Transition Year and is designed to progress students through academic and vocational development, alongside life skills and social studies, to better prepare them for the challenges of higher education and beyond. Following this year, the final two years of the Senior Cycle (5th & 6th Years) are preparation for the Leaving Certificate examinations.
In the Netherlands there are various types of secondary schools. The options are VMBO (pre-vocational secondary education), HAVO (senior general secondary education) and VWO (pre-university education). All three types of secondary education are for children aged 12 and over, and begin with a period of ‘basic secondary education’. This usually lasts three years and consists of a broad core curriculum for students. The three types differ widely from each other in terms of the length of the course and the level of education. Exchange students are most often placed in the HAVO or VWO schools. The HAVO schools are 5 years in length and students are then placed in the 4th year. The VWO schools are 6 years in length and the students are placed in the 4th or 5th year. The level of education at the VWO is usually higher than what a student is used to at home. This, combined with studying in the Dutch language, can make it challenging but very rewarding. Teachers do expect the students to make an effort to learn Dutch and will not translate course material in to English or any other language. In the HAVO and VWO, typical classes are Dutch, English, another foreign language (either French or German), maths, economics, physics, history, biology, chemistry, geography, physical education, art and independent study hours. The school week lasts from Monday through Friday, and typically consists of 30 to 35 lessons of 50 minutes each. The length of each school day may vary, depending on the schedule. It is not expected that exchange students can fully participate in the classes in the beginning, however, it is expected that students attend the classes. Not only does it help the students to get to know the others in the class, it also puts them in an environment where Dutch is the only language spoken.
High school consists of three years as preparation for higher education. Students have a certain number of compulsory subjects such as Math, English, Norwegian, History and Social Science, but they can also choose between a range of subjects depending on their interests and depending on the schools. There are certain educational programmes to attend, including Natural Science Programme, Social Science Programme, Language Programme (English, French, German, or Spanish), Business and Economics, Arts, Media and Communication and sports programmes. The relationship between teachers and students is usually friendly and informal and the grading range is 1–6, where 6 is the highest grade. School normally starts at eight or nine o’clock in the morning, and ends between one and four in the afternoon.
Public schools in Sweden are free and consist of nine years of compulsory education for children aged 7 to 16. The further three years of high school are optional, but most students choose to add this to their studies. The grading system in Sweden is comprised of six different levels, A – F, A being the highest and F being a failing grade. In the Swedish school, each student takes 16 compulsory subjects which are: Swedish, Mathematics, Physical Education, English, Handicrafts, Music, Visual arts, Technology, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, History, Social Studies, Religion, Geography and Home Economics. Swedish students go to school Monday through Friday, and classes generally start at eight and finish at around three–four o’clock. Teachers usually combine lectures with study-group work or projects.
After six years of primary school, Swiss students can apply to a variety of schools. One choice is the “Gymnasium”, also called Kantons- or Mittelschule, for six years, which leads to the “Matura” and allows entrance into University. Swiss students can also choose between various types of secondary schools, with programmes that last from three to four years. These eventually lead to a diploma and mark the end of the mandatory schooling. Exchange students are usually placed at a Gymnasium or Mittelschule.