UK Philosophical Differences
Dignity and Self-Confidence
Personal dignity and self-confidence were more highly valued in the USA than in the UK. Each person, whether a small child or an adult, should feel himself to be respected and appreciated. It was felt that one outworking of this was that American children were frequently praised and affirmed and that within school they were usually given work within their capabilities that they can complete well to increase their confidence. In recent years it has been realised within the UK education system that it is important for children and young people to have a good self-esteem and dignity in order to learn well. However, the British system still works on the basis that children should be “stretched” to reach their full potential so that they are usually set work as hard as and a bit beyond what they have already done.
American teachers usually teach closely following a textbook and this is the teaching method expected by children and parents too. Americans may assume that if the children are not covering all that is in the textbook, they are not doing the required work for that grade, and conversely, when they have completed the textbook for their grade, they have done all the work necessary.
In the UK, teachers work to a set curriculum (see below) but are fairly free to teach in the way that seems best in their situation and are expected to use the resources flexibly. They are trained to teach from a syllabus and without a teachers’ manual. Teaching the whole class is not common, especially at Primary levels. Children may work in groups or individually, at different assignments. This is harder to organise but meets the individual needs of the children. There is an expectation for teachers to differentiate work in order to meet the various abilities within a class.
The whole curriculum in US schools is structured and methodical and logical. Teachers expect to use textbooks, workbooks and teachers’ manuals for each subject. “Good study habits” often means concentrating on the textbook, absorbing its vital information and using the questions on the workbook page to prove that one has done so.
In contrast, British schools put much more emphasis on developing creativity and an enquiring mind. Students are taught to investigate, make discoveries, discuss and communicate their own conclusions. Often this investigative work is done in groups so children generally sit in groups and move around the classroom much more than would be acceptable in most American schools. Textbooks may be used for some lessons but not frequently except maybe for Maths and languages at the upper end of High School. Reference books for an appropriate age, usually kept in a classroom library, are used extensively, even by children as young as 6 or 7.
View of Sociability
Most Americans put a high value on sociability and social maturity. In the US young children are taught and trained to be part of a social group and to interact well. There may be concern over the child who prefers to be on his own. At High School level the “individual thinker” can be seen as a rebel. The British expect more individual differences. A child is encouraged to be himself and follow his own interests. School work often allows for following special interests. A solitary child, provided that he is not unhappy, is allowed to be himself.
An American child may be delayed from starting school because of social immaturity, whereas British children start according to chronological age, i.e. by their 5th birthday at the latest. At a later stage, British schools place children in their chronological year group but provide all courses at different ability levels so that a child studies according to academic ability, not age or social maturity.