British Secondary Schools

British secondary school students in school uniforms.

In Britain, children typically ease into primary school around age five. After this, they stay in primary school for six years until they go on to secondary school, where they spend school year seven through eleven. The eleven years of primary and secondary school, altogether, constitute the entirety of Britain’s compulsory education, and are fully paid for by the state.

School uniforms

In secondary school, zooming in on students eleven to sixteen years old, school work is focused on a broad array of subjects, including English, science and math. Moreover, on school property high-school-aged students are usually required to wear a school uniform, which commonly consists of a shirt and a blazer paired with matching trousers. The uniform dress code, among other things, is meant to give pupils a sense of belonging, and combined with secondary school students’ habit of calling teachers by the titles Mister, Mrs and Miss, evokes a sense of Britishness in many foreigners.

Prefects and head pupils

Just as emblematic for British secondary schools as uniforms and the respectful addressing of staff, though not as known to foreigners, are GCSE exams. These examinations are taken by students by the end of school year eleven, and together with previous coursework, they determine pupils’ grades and qualifications for pursuing post-secondary school education. Also going on students’ records is any honorable position they may have had in school, such as prefect or head girl or boy. The prefect position involves being a hall monitor, a role which mature pupils with leadership qualities are typically assigned, and head girl or boy is a function in which a popular student leads by example and represents the student body in meetings and at events.

Isolation and sixth form

The prefects and the head pupils, doing what they can to keep a school functioning together with the faculty, cannot help prevent all disruptive student behavior. For this reason, secondary schools implement temporary isolation of disorderly students, where teenagers get to study quietly in a cubicle for hours or school days on end. The aim of the sanction is to create an environment at school where all pupils can fulfill their academic potential, a theoretical focus that, after secondary school, could be extended for two years in sixth form or in college provided that students pass their GCSEs. Completion of sixth form or college, furthermore, then makes one eligible to go to university, where one can study for a bachelor degree. Neither going to university nor sixth form and college is obligatory, though, and pupils with a different focus could always enter into vocational training or seek out apprenticeship programs right after secondary school.