Moving from the American to the British education system

Are you relocating from the US to the UK?  The transition between education systems can be stressful for your child.  Moving from the American to the British education system can be done smoothly,  despite the differences between the two.  

  1. The Early Years

Your younger child can experience the difference between the two early years approaches as a culture shock 

For children from aged 4 upwards, the mainstream UK system is focused on learning to read and write at a young age.  Your child will start school aged four in the Reception class, although some schools now offer more flexibility with a starting age of five.  Alternatively, you can opt for a Steiner or Montessori school in the early years.  Both Steiner and Montessori schools which offer a gentler approach and teach reading later.   Your child might benefit from the Steiner system, which does not teach children to read until they are seven.  Montessori and Steiner schools are mostly private.  Most capital cities, including London and Paris, offer a good selection of Steiner and Montessori schools.

In contrast, your US-educated child will be are eased into their academic studies.  In the US there is a strong emphasis on socialisation in addition to fostering basic English and Maths skills.

2. High School:  Assessments and Testing for your child

As the US and UK have a shared language, you might assume that the education systems in the two countries are broadly similar.  This is not the case.  When you are moving your child from US to UK schools, you need to be prepared for the fact that the UK has more nationally-assessed exams. In the US, your child will be assessed at the end of every school grade.  But the examinations are not national.  Your child’s US exams have little bearing on their progression from year to year, for the most part.   U.S standardised tests tend to be state mandated instead of federally mandated.  If your child is in a New York high school, he or she may take the “Regents” exams which test the core subjects.  However the US exam system will vary from state to state.  Your US child will find that the GCSE and A level exams are a culturally different experience.

3. Generalist versus Specialist 

You will find that the US system is more generalist whereas the UK is more specialist.  Your child will have more opportunity to study a wider range of subjects for their High School Diploma US schools, as in the French Baccalauréat.   They will have more focus on sport, music, drama and art.  As a result, for your US child, a move to the UK can seem restrictive at first.  Mathematics in both countries is also taught very differently.   You should take this into consideration when settling a US family into a UK school.

Culturally, your US schoolchild will tend to be praised more- which is a positive attribute.   If your child has previously studied in the US system, they should be prepared for the fact that recognition of achievement in UK schools can be less effusive.

Your move from the American to the British education system can be relatively stress-free for your family, especially with advance planning and preparation.

Finding a school that is willing to support the student’s adjustment, academically, emotionally and socially, is vital.  We work closely with international and expat families to ensure a smooth educational transition to life in the UK.  We are highly experienced in supporting families who are moving between different education systems and cultures. If you relocating to London and would like your child to continue with a US education, please  contact us us to book a consultation. 

Read more about American schools in London. 

See our key points to consider when choosing a London school.