English Educational System Quirks

I’ve been immersed for some time now in the English Education System. So far, I have had the opportunity to teach primary and secondary and, although it is true that the English and Spanish Systems have much in common, some of the differences are fairly curious. For example, there aren’t the dreaded “oposiciones” that bothers Spaniards so much. This concept even doesn’t exit!

Substitutions. When a teacher is absent at the school someone has to cover to them, even if it is just for an hour. The way to obtain a supply is mostly though an agency. The agency will send the school one of their workers. So if you want to do supply you should register with an agency.

In England it is quite frequent to do day-to-day supply, may be one day in one school and the next in a different one and so on. In this country there isn’t any similar to “oposiciones” as in Spain.

Agencies work in two ways. Either they can book you in advance for a school ( when the school knows in advance that the teacher will not operate on a specific date) or you get an early morning call, which is quite frequent. These calls can be any time from 7.15am onwards. Therefore, if you work for an agency as a day-to-day supply you have to get up and be ready, even if you don’t know yet if you will get work for that specific day. Some days you might get ready for nothing but fortunately that`s the minority of them.

If you are interested in working as a supply, check out these agencies: Connex-EducationHaysRandstadImpact teachers, Red, or Capita.

DBS. The Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) enables organisations in the public, private and voluntary sectors to make safer recruitment decisions by identifying candidates who may be unsuitable for certain work, especially that involve children or vulnerable adults, and provides wider access to criminal record information through its disclosure service for England and Wales.

Therefore, you will find that every single school will ask you for your DBS, so if you want to work as a teacher in England, you must get it. You need to register to use the update service. The registration costs are £13 per year.

OFSTED, Public inspection. Unlike Spain, in England all inspections of schools can be consulted online. This allows you to know the reputation of a school that is offering you a position or know its quality reputation before applying for a place for your children.

Punishments. Schools can punish their students for their behaviour, of course never physically. Detention is one of the most common punishments in schools in the United Kingdom.

It requires the pupil to report to a designated area of the school during a specified time on a school day (typically either recess or after school) and remain there for a specified period of time, but also may require a pupil to report to that part of school at a certain time on a non-school day, e.g. “Saturday detention”. Especially for serious offences not quite serious enough for suspension.

Schools don’t have to give parents notice of after-school detentions or tell them why a detention has been given.

Uniforms. Uniforms are not compulsory. However, it is quite unusual to find a school (primary or secondary) that does not have it.

If the school have a uniform – as I said almost all schools have – the head teacher can discipline your child for not wearing the school uniform. Your child can be suspended or expelled if they repeatedly ignore the uniform rules.

Schools can decide if girls can wear trousers, or if religious dress is allowed. In case your family economy cannot afford it, some local councils provide help with the cost of school clothing, including PE kits.

School attendance and absence. Unless you educate your children yourself, you must make sure your child gets a full-time education. Children must get an education between the school term after their 5th birthday and the last Friday in June in the school year they turn 16.

Your child cannot miss school even if you, as a parent, want to (eg: family holidays). You can only allow your child to miss school if either: they’re too ill to go in or you’ve got advance permission from the school.

Holidays in term time. You have to get permission from the head teacher if you want to take your child out of school during term time. It’s up to the head teacher how many days your child can be away from school if leave is granted.

You can be fined for taking your child on holiday during term time without the school’s permission.

Fine. Your local council can give you a fine of £60, which rises to £120 if you don’t pay within 21 days. You may be prosecuted if you don’t pay the fine after 28 days.You could get a fine of up to £2,500, a community order or a jail sentence up to 3 months.

School trips. Your child’s school can ask you for a voluntary contribution to the cost of activities like school trips. They can’t stop your child from attending if you don’t pay.

In England school holidays are spread throughout the year due to half-terms. However, in Spain we keep those days from half-term to use in summer, therefore summer vacation is more prolonged in Spain.

School term, half-term and holiday dates vary across the UK.

Ainoa Cano


Types of Schools in England

Unlike Spain, which has just three types of school –público, concertado and privado England has a huge variety. It can become exhausting, as well as confusing, to try to understand their features, especially when you are from another country.

For sure, you will find plenty of information on the Internet, but what I have tried to do in this post is to gather together all that information in the simplest way. I’ve created a summary table, designed to help us, particularly teachers, to differentiate the different kinds of school in England.

In any case, all children in England between the ages of 5 and 16 are entitled to a free place at a state school. Most state schools have to follow the National Curriculum. The most common ones are: community schools, foundation schools, academies, grammar schools.

Types of school

As you can see, the table is firstly divided into three blocks: Academies, Maintained school and other types of school. The data has been taken from newschoolsnetwork.org

The first section provides a brief outline of academies:

While there are different types of academies in operation in England, they all have the same status in law as ‘academies’. Academies are publically funded, independent schools, held accountable through a legally binding ‘funding agreement’. These schools have more freedom and control over curriculum design, school hours and term dates, and staff pay and conditions.

Free schools, academy converters and traditional academies all have this status, yet there are a number of differences between them. This is focussed on: Who sets them up;  Why they are set up; Whether there is a predecessor school; and What the ‘provider’ has to demonstrate in order to be given permission to set one up.

The second section provides information about Maintained schools:

While the number of academies in England is expanding, the majority of state schools are maintained schools. This means they are overseen, or ‘maintained’, by the Local Authority. These schools must follow the national curriculum and national teacher pay and conditions.

There are four main types of maintained schools. Their differences are over: Who employs the staff; Who owns the land and buildings; and Who controls the admissions arrangements.

The third section provides information about other types of school:

While academies and maintained schools form the majority of schools in England, there are two other types of school that are different from the ones already discussed.

They are different from academies and maintained schools because of: How they are funded; and How they can select their pupils.

Ainoa Cano



the national curriculum.001The basicschool curriculum includes the National Curriculum, as well as religious education and sex education. The National Curriculum is a set of subjects and standards used by primary and secondary schools so that all children learn the same things. It covers which subjects are taught and the standards children should reach in each subject.

Other types of schools like academies and private schools dont have to follow the National Curriculum. Academies must teach a broad and balanced curriculum including English, maths and science. They must also teach religious education. (gov.uk)

In September 2014 the New Curriculum was introduced, we must know numerous educational changes in order to provide quality education to our students, as well as follow government guidelines. It’s introduction had an exception, children from Year 2 and 6 were allow to remain on the original National Curriculum, because it seemed quite unfair that children did their last exams of their Key Stage when they had been studying so many years with previous one. But this exception is now gone. From September 2015 all, from year 1 to year 6, are on the new curriculum.

The National Curriculum is organised into blocks of years called ‘key stages’ (KS). At the end of each key stage, the teacher will formally assess his/her students performance to measure a child’s progress.

With the new National Curriculum Key Stage levels are no longer part of the educational landscape, so we dont have levelling any more. Children in years 2 and 6 will be the last to receive an end-of-key-stage ‘level’, in summer 2015”. Instead, students will start sitting the new national primary curriculum tests in 2016. From 2016  at the end of year exams (key stage 2 and 3) children will have what are called scaled scores instead of levelling.

I have tried to summarise the most important features of the new National Curriculum in order to make it easier to understand and to instill confidence in foreign teachers in the English education field, so that we can be as competent as native teachers.

  1. The government wants to pull together a whole school curriculum, from the age of 5 to 14.
  2. Heavy emphasis on the non-academic side of education, such as every child should be taught to swim or to take part in volunteer organizations in Secondary Education.
  3. Music. The government wants every child to play an instrument.
  4. Learning a Modern Foreign Language has become compulsory in Key Stage 2.That is why primary schools are now looking for MFL teachers. So if you are a modern foreign language teacher, you are lucky.
  5. The Program of Study that teachers used to have which helped them define how and what to teach, have been drastically cut.  There is no document telling teachers how they have to do their job. You now have to know what the school does or what the expectations are, but the government doesn’t tell you how do it. Great for freedom.
  6. There are some restrictions on the implementation on the management. For example, schools in special measures will not be allowed to decide themselves what they are going to do. Their autonomy is removed from them and they will be told what they will have to do.
  7. Key Skills (conversation, listening or writing skills) age-appropriate. This point is a good resource for supply teachers because sometimes we don’t feel confident enough with the subject you are covering. Perhaps, you are an MFL teacher and have to cover a geography teacher and you don’t have the necessary knowledge here. What they are saying is it isn’t now just about score curriculum, so you can focus on key skill in this lesson.
  8. Emphasis on spoken language is something the government is determined to make. They will be producing guidelines for spoken language.
  9. It is also about writing and reading in every subject. There should be an element of writing and reading included.
  10. Developing fluency in every relevant subject. Emphasis on the uses of specific subject vocabulary and understanding in the real world.
  11. What they don’t want to see is mixing up physics, chemistry and biology. In this instance they don’t want a cross curriculum.
  12. Schools have autonomy in assessment attainment. In terms of assessment the government’s position is very clear, there is no national assessments model and no national strategy. So schools can keep their previous model or create their own assessment.So you as a teacher won’t be sure about what a school is doing until you ask them their assessment method system and policy and your role within it. By the end of each Key Stage you are expected to know,  apply and understand, skill and processes.
  13. In terms of inclusion it is about participation and achievement for all learners and recognising barriers to learning. Schools must ensure challenging and high quality teaching. For supply, schools should give you necessary information (planning, resources, etc) allowing you to deliver your lesson. However, it is quite possible that if you are there anything longer than a couple of days, you have to plan and be aware of inclusion and SEN.
  14. Core subjects: mathematics, sciences and English. There is a requirement with objetives for each year and Key Stage.
  15. Extra-curricular activities (ECA) are activities that take place outside regular class teaching and yet are related to student learning. As such, they fall within the scope of the school curriculum.  The government expects that schools and teachers provide additional support. For example, through after school club or lunch time club.

TIP 1! If you are a specialist teacher looking for a job in a primary school, now is your moment. Primary school are clamouring for people with specialist subject knowledge because the requirement in primary schools has been increased enormously.

TIP 2! Joining a teaching union will be very helpful as they provide support. I know this two NASUWT and  NUT.

TIP 3! Have a look in the New curriculum and find out the Key Skills. It can help when you are a supply, you don’t control the subject and the planning isn’t there. Don’t panic, focus on Key skills.

TIP 4! Find out the specific curriculum of your subject. In the following link you will find all programs of study by subject.

Teachers are now the ones transforming schools and transforming education in this country. You are part of that. Feel it and you will do a fantastic job.

Ainoa Cano

A chart to assist teachers to compare easily each level of English and Spanish Educational Systems

In the recent years, there has beeneducationspain a flood of young people moving from their places of origin to countries offering better alternatives of life. The goal of this migration is basically due to three major topics: educational, work and/or language reasons. Included in all of these aspects is experience, which comes out of all three factors. Of course, there are always very enterprising people wanting to see the world, but I dare say that for most of us, it is the lack of opportunities and the low value placed on us in our countries, which pushes us to go out. A kind of feeling of accumulating certificates that seem to have lost any validity. However, you dare to get out and people are amazed with your training, they respect it.

Nevertheless, Let’s not fool ourselves, it is not as easy as to pull something off at the first attempt. Progress requires effort, hard work and more hard work. Some of this work begins to enhance your professional knowledge of where you have migrated to. Although it is true that it seems that here they recognize your training and give you the corresponding validation for your certificates, let’s be honest, you do not feel competent at first. And I’m not just referring to the language, a real barrier, but I won’t talk about it on this post.

The thing about our profession, being teachers, is that we can have a deep understanding of education from our country. You may have a great mastery of your National Curriculum and the Spanish legislation, but when you come to England…What do you know of their curriculum? What do you know of their priorities? What are their objetives? What are the concerns in school and what worries them here? and What about the law? Perhaps, all these questions overwhelm you, make you feel small. You have to start from zero. However, it isn’t like that, trust me. We are competent and capable. We have valuable experience, although we still need to research in order to clarify some of our ideas. But how do I know what I need to research? Well, because I am of theses teachers who have decided to have a try in England, I will use my experience to advise you what I consider important, as I would have appreciated someone explaining to me before arriving.

One of the first things we need to know are the names of any stages of education in England in comparison with Spain. Why? because get confuse in a interview denotes ignorance of the topic, ignorance is associated with a lack of proficiency and no boss likes hiring incompetent staff. In other words, imagine you are in an interview for a position as a teacher in Year 2. The interviewer ask you what will you do. As a teacher, we know how important is to know our student ages to adapt our content, objetives and activities. Well, Year 2 is known as 1º de Primaria in Spain. It is clear now, right?

The next chart assists in comparing easily English and Spanish Educational Systems. Its shows the journey from kindergarten to high school. The English system is shown on the left and the Spanish on the right. Each colors correspond to a similar level.

Chart Stage Eng-Spa

I would like to emphasize some points and provide more data in order to complement the information:

First of all, Compulsory Education begins at 5 years old in England, although it is possible to homeschool. In Spain it is at 6, but the reality is that almost all children are in school at the age of 3. On the other hand, compulsory education ends at age of 16 in both. In England it is required to continue taking some type os studies until 18, although the teenager can be working.

Reception, also known as Foundation, is the educational stage with the least resemblance. The biggest difference to me is Foundation 1 (pre-school), which corresponds to Educación Infantil 3 años. The reason is because in England it is frequently taught by non teaching staff, when in Spain must be taught by qualified teachers.

Primary Education expands itself a year in Spain, reducing in one academic year the time spent  by Spanish students in high school.

At the end of Secondary School there are important exams in order to graduate in both countries . Those exams are known as GCSE in England.

The Sixth Form and Bachillerato occupy two academic years with important exams at the end. In England these tests are known as A Levels (Advance Levels). There is a big difference in the educational structure at this level. In Spain are two full-time academic courses in high school and with an average of 8 subjects. However, in England it is a specialization of a 3 subjects in line with the university career that they will take and are part time self-study.

In the case of opting for vocational training or formación profesional, students will be referred to other centers in the same manner as in England, where are called FE College.

NOTE: a bachelor and bachiller are not the same. The first one means that you have a degree at University!

Ainoa Cano.