Everything You Need to Know About High School Study Abroad in England
Interested in studying abroad in England as a high school student? From school structure to extracurriculars, here’s everything you need to know about high school study abroad in England.
- High school in England is referred to as “Secondary school” and there are various types of secondary education.
- Students in England are required to take the GCSEs and A-Level exams in order to attend a UK university after secondary school.
- Schools in England have more frequent breaks, compared to high schools in the US. In England, students are given two weeks for Christmas break, two weeks for Spring break, and six weeks for Summer, as well as one week holidays in October, February, and May.
- Many UK schools and universities have adjusted to the COVID-19 pandemic and are welcoming international students. However due to COVID variants, travel from the US to the UK is still highly advised against.
- Parents should stay up-to-date on everything going on in England, to help you and your child feel more comfortable. Visit the U.S Bureau of Consular Affairs to view fact sheets, Embassy & Consulate locations, vaccination requirements, travel advisories, and more.
After spending months researching different countries and high school study abroad programs, you have finally decided to study in England. Congratulations! By now you already know that England is a wonderful country to study abroad in, especially in high school.
The country’s emphasis on providing excellent education and creating well-rounded students is clear, so you can rest assured knowing that you have chosen a great location for high school abroad. However, preparing to spend a year of high school, or even just a summer abroad, can be daunting.
One major question you may be wondering is, “how different are the high schools in England compared to the US?”
To help you become as prepared as possible and avoid culture shock mishaps on your first day of classes, we’ve rounded up the top 7 things to know about being a high school student in England and how they compare to schools here in the US.
1. There are different types of high schools
Below are the main types of secondary education in England:
- Academy Schools: Independent schools funded by the government and can operate based on their own curriculum
- Community Schools: Controlled by local council and follow the national curriculum
- Free Schools: Non-profit organizations funded by the government and are allowed to deviate from typical curriculum
- Foundation Schools/Voluntary Schools: Local authority maintained schools
- Grammar schools: Run by local authorities and admit students based on academic abilities and their entry exam score
In addition to these, there are several types of boarding and independent schools.
Despite popular belief, only 7% of British students attend boarding school, so don’t assume that all high schools in England are prep schools. Instead, almost 90% of state-funded high schools are “specialist schools,” which receive extra funding in order to develop one or more subjects that the school specializes in. This includes everything from music and the arts, to science and math.
It’s important to understand the type of school you will be enrolling in so that you don’t walk into your first day with false expectations or assumptions.
2. Uniforms are usually required
Before classes begin, it’s important to understand the dress code and uniform requirements. You definitely do not want to be that kid who comes to class in a hoodie and jeans, while everyone else is wearing khakis and a blazer!
On average, most high schools in England require uniforms, even if they’re public and state funded. The British government believes that uniforms play an important role in contributing to the school’s ethos and therefore encourage schools to provide uniforms.
However, there are many regulations for school uniforms. They must be fair for both genders, available at a reasonably low cost, and tolerate religious freedoms (such as wearing a turban).
The formality of uniforms ranges depending on the type of school students attend, and can be anything from khakis and polos to sport coats and dresses.
Despite the government encouragement, there are still many high schools that do not require uniforms, so be sure to check with the school you will be enrolling in.
3. The typical school day in England isn’t too different from the US
Most secondary schools in England run from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, with about 7 periods per day, which is similar to many high schools in the US.
Many schools also have up to a 15 minute break in between classes, with 30-60 minutes for lunch.
Depending on the type of school, students can either bring their own food for lunch or purchase something to eat in the school cafeteria or a nearby cafe. Similar to US schools, most teachers in British schools offer time before or after school when students can ask questions or receive extra help and overall, the schedule aspect of attending school in England won't differ too much from life back home.
4. Secondary schools offer a large range of extracurriculars
Whether you love art, band, or student government, we’re sure you’ll find the perfect extracurricular for you while attending high school in England.
Almost all British high schools offer a diverse selection of extracurriculars including sports, music and the arts, cultural clubs, and academic groups. The UK puts a good deal of emphasis on groups such as student government, competitive scholastic clubs, and similar activities that foster knowledgeable and well-rounded students.
In addition, most high schools have many artistic options including music, dance, theater, and visual arts that students can participate in. Depending on the type of school, some will require auditions, while others will be open to everyone. In many areas of England, students can also participate in local extracurriculars, such as the county orchestra or the community theater.
5. Athletics are mandatory, but they’re still fun!
In England, it is mandatory for all students until the age of sixteen to play a school sport. However, they typically only require the sport to be played 1-2 hours a week, as most schools do not place too much emphasis on their athletic programs.
Sports culture is much stronger in boarding and independent schools in England, with these types of schools contributing high numbers of competitors in sports which are typically considered “elitist,” such as rugby and cricket.
Participation in other types of sports, such as football, boxing, and rowing, is much more likely to come from public schools. Netball and rounders are popular sports among girls. However, in recent times, girls have been increasingly allowed to participate in sports that are traditionally male-dominated, such as football, cricket, and rugby.
Because most schools don’t emphasize their athletic programs, regional sports clubs usually play a greater role in developing athletic talent than do school coaches. This “just for fun” attitude in schools often comes as a surprise to international students, but competitive sports clubs usually take their training very seriously.
Get excited about your upcoming high school studies in England and prepare to have the time of your life!
6. There’s a lot of important exams
While students in the US are quite familiar with standardized testing, like the SAT, ACEs, or even the yearly AP exams, testing is a bit different in England.
Students attending state schools are required to take the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) a mandatory exam which tests students on a wide range of school subjects, from math and English to even ancient languages and humanities, and determines what courses they should take in their following school years.
After the GCSEs come A Levels (Advanced Level Qualifications), which are extremely important if you want to attend a university in the UK. A Levels are broken up into stages (based on age groups), where students choose at least one subject to be graded and tested on. The four subjects to choose from include the arts, design and technology, humanities, and modern foreign languages.
Not sure which exams you’ll need to take and start studying for? Don’t break out the textbook quite yet -- Just make sure to confirm with your advisor!
7. Prepare for more frequent time off
When researching to study in England, it’s important to know their school system and holidays, in case you want to schedule time to fly back home and visit family. If you’re the type of student who enjoys frequent rests and breaks, you might love studying in England.
While school holidays vary based on the type of secondary school you attend, most schools follow the same school terms and run for 39 weeks, from September to July.
However, unlike the US, where high school students participate in a long, two-month summer break, the schools in England have brief, frequent breaks spread throughout the school year.
In England, students are given two weeks for Christmas break, two weeks for Spring break, and six weeks for Summer. In addition to these seasonal breaks, there are also one week holidays at the end of October, in mid-February, and at the end of May.
This can be seen as an advantage for many students, as it allows time for academic rest and prevents the chances of forgetting everything they learned over the summer.
Can you study in England during the pandemic?
Many UK schools and universities have adjusted to the COVID-19 pandemic and are welcoming international students.
However, due to the COVID-19 variants, travel from the US to the UK is still highly advised against.
If you do travel to England, you will be required to show proof of vaccination, or a negative COVID test. You may also need to complete a mandatory quarantine upon arrival.
What should parents know about preparing for high school study abroad in England?
While study abroad is a life-changing experience for students, it’s normal for parents to feel nervous or worried. Here’s some things you can do to help you and your child prepare for this exciting time overseas:
- Make sure they stay safe and healthy abroad by getting the right travel insurance. You can also read about how to cope with injury and sickness abroad.
- Stay up-to-date on everything going on in England, to help you and your child feel more comfortable. Visit the U.S Bureau of Consular Affairs to view fact sheets, Embassy & Consulate locations, vaccination requirements, travel advisories, and more.
Now that you know the difference between high schools (or shall we say secondary schools) in England and the US, it’s time to begin finding the perfect program and preparing that study abroad application.
Start by researching which program in England fits your goals and needs best. It’s also important to start budgeting, by applying for scholarships and searching for travel grants. Even if your school doesn’t require tuition fees, you may still need to cover costs for food, housing, and all the exciting activities and sights you’ll want to experience.
Then, if you absolutely love your time studying abroad in England, you may want to consider studying abroad in England during college, or directly enrolling in university there!
Ready for high school in England?
While there are many differences between secondary schools in England and the US, it is important to remember that, in general, high schools and teenagers around the world are still very similar.
Don’t let the little differences overwhelm you, as England is a great place to study abroad in high school. This small country offers students a myriad of different settings to learn in, guaranteeing that students will feel comfortable in really expanding their horizons.
Regardless of which type of school or region of England a student is in, the time spent here will without doubt create a great educational boost, a more well-rounded perspective, and life-long memories. So get excited about your upcoming high school studies in England and prepare to have the time of your life!