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primary schooling US vs UK - how equivalent is the curriculum?

(51 Posts)
JennyWren Mon 11-Jun-12 22:58:54

We are thinking ahead (well I am, DH leaves that to me hmm ) about a possible move to the US with DH's job over the next few years. We have children at school and about to start and I can't find any information about how similar the curriculum are. We have a lot of flexibility as to when we go and the key factor is to make sure that when we come back, our DC will fit back into school reasonably easily. If we came back to school when DD is going into Year 5, for example, would she be expected to have learned stuff to the same level as her peers here, or would she be behind? The same for DS, if he came back into Year 2 or 3. I can find out that they start school later, but nothing about what they are taught in each year, and I'm concerned that they'll really struggle to fit into school again here.

What are your experiences - can anyone help?

marilenagironda Mon 11-Jun-12 23:34:03

The problem is that in the US there is not a national curriculum so you won't really be able to find any information. It is so different from one school district to the other. If you are in a good school they won't be behind. But remember that they don't start school full-time in most of the areas here until they are 6 years old. So possibly a 5 year old in the UK is ahead but it will level up as they continue until about High School. You definally need to move back to the UK in time to get them ready for their GCSE.

JennyWren Tue 12-Jun-12 09:15:15

Thanks - I was beginning to think that was the case. The concern I have is that we'll only be there for a couple of years, so we'll probably be back before the end of primary school, and so I'm worried that DD in particular will be just about to start secondary and will be behind sad

I guess we just need to wait until the time and then talk to the schools and see which school we can get them in to that will leave them as close as possible to their peers here when we return.

mummytime Tue 12-Jun-12 09:38:40

Do you live in a grammar school area? If you don't and just want to send her to the local comp. I wouldn't worry, most school's are used to getting pupils from other countries now, and they usually catch up pretty quickly (they will have been taught differently and maybe ahead in some areas and behind in others). I have known girls come back from the US and get into selective private schools withno problems.

JennyWren Tue 12-Jun-12 17:49:51

Hi mummytime. We're not in a grammar school area and are thinking of private for secondary, so we want to be sure that DD has at least as much chance at passing the entrance exams as she would if she hadn't been taken out of the UK system, IYKWIM. There are no guarantees, but she is a bright lass and I don't want her to be held back by not having the required knowledge because she hasn't been taught it. I guess though that we'll just have to choose carefully on both sides of the Atlantic and hope for the best!

PalmTrees Tue 12-Jun-12 18:51:52

We are in the US at the moment and will probably go back to the UK around the time my son starts secondary school. The private schools in our area told us that they test students coming from different curriculums using an IQ type test rather than the standard entrance exam. They want to see their aptitude for learning rather than penalizing them for what they might or might not have been taught overseas.
Also, my son went from Year 2 in the UK to 1st Grade in America and the gap isnt anything like I thought it would be, maybe 6 months behind in phonics / Maths but, if anything, with subjects like science, geography etc they were far ahead. The children in his class would have had no problems fitting into a Year 2 UK class.

NatashaBee Tue 12-Jun-12 18:58:47

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

NatashaBee Tue 12-Jun-12 18:59:31

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

wentshopping Tue 12-Jun-12 19:56:35

Hi my eldest dd had done one year of primary when we moved, but since then we have only seen the US side of things - here in Texas there is a state curriculum, so all school districts have to follow it. The things I felt bad for dds missing out on was studying the Romans, Vikings etc - dd16 has just done a little about other cultures in her High School World History class. We compensated for this with lots of visits to things with UK / European history links, so that they wouldn't have gaps in their general knowledge, when we were back in the UK on visits. Now dd1 has found that the super duper history class trip to Europe is to places she has already been to smile

JennyWren Tue 12-Jun-12 20:36:25

Hi PalmTrees and NatashaBee - thanks for that insight. I'm really ressured that it needn't be disastrous!

JennyWren Tue 12-Jun-12 20:39:50

Thanks wentshopping. Did your DD fit into the US system OK - as they start school later in the US, did she end up coasting to start with? DS would probably move after FC/Year 1 so would transfer into a class of children in their first year at school, I think.

wentshopping Wed 13-Jun-12 01:04:22

Oldest dd went into 1st grade, which is the second year of school; the class was mixed ability so I think the teacher picked up on her strengths.. having said that, I feel that dds have never been really stretched - they have been in the gifted and talented programme since early elementary (high school age now) and the only thing that they really had to work at was the accelerated maths - dd1 (16) is on a college level math course now.
They are tested all the time, and a lot of the teaching is to learn test requirements, even in the early grades. They never did a class project on something scientific or historical with all their work going up on the wall, as I remember from my UK education. On the other hand, dd1 would have been doing GCSEs now, but she did a couple of state exams, and teacher-set finals for everything else. It's all quite normal to me now, with report cards coming home every 9 weeks, with grades for every subject, even in elementary school. I have the feeling it is not as advanced as education in the UK - for example, dd1 has done 1 year of biology in High School, the following year chemistry, again for 1 year. However, if they had returned to the UK during elementary school they would have been fine with the pace of work, but some of the content would have been missing. I had a French friend here who was returning to France after 2 years, and she had work set by the prospective French school to do throughout the year to keep up the skills required for when her children went back to France.
Another interesting point is the difference between states, that someone else here mentioned - when a lot of people moved here after Hurricane Katrina, (from Louisiana) the children moving into our school district were often 1-2 years behind their grade level and people were asked to tutor them to get them up to Texas standards.

wentshopping Wed 13-Jun-12 01:07:29

Oh, and they will have learned totally different sports... but not at school (after school activities) smile

mummytime Wed 13-Jun-12 02:47:11

Two girls I know returned in years 8 and 5, and both managed to get into one of our local girls selective schools, a pretty rigorous one. I would talk to local private schools before you go to see how they feel and if there are differences in how they will test your DD. A lot of schools I know will see it as quite a positive experience.

pimmsgalore Sat 16-Jun-12 11:58:44

We moved back with DCs in Yr5,3,1 and nursery. We had been there 2 years, older 2 went to private school who assessed them in the first term then moved them into top sets for everything apart from French (they hadn't done it and the ones at the prep school had since yrR). The one that went into state school struggled but I think that was more to do with the school, we moved him and then in Yr3 he went to prep with others and has caught up and is in the top set. The things mine struggled with were the difference in routines no national anthem every day and swearing allegiance. They did all go a year ahead in the US as the private school we used allowed this (the state ones wouldn't)

CaliforniaLeaving Sat 16-Jun-12 18:12:03

We moved to California when oldest son had just completed reception year in UK and he started Kindergarten after the summer hols here due to where his birthday fell. He was miles ahead and bored silly, but they didn't want to know. We will be moving back next year when Dd will be 8 and finishing 2nd grade here, so I don't even know what year she'll go into. I worry she'll be behind. She way ahead with reading but math is average here so I think the UK will be miles ahead of her. It varies from school district to district not just state to state.

bamboostalks Sat 16-Jun-12 18:20:01

Ime of teaching USA children from a variety of states, their basics are fairly solid, 4 operations in maths etc. but their written work is at least 2 years behind the whole way the eduction system. Far more multiple choice and knowledge based testing rather than written in depth answers. Friends who have attended uni there after A levels have nearly always gone into 2nd or even third year of degree courses without blinking an eye.

TheCatInTheHairnet Sat 16-Jun-12 18:28:41

When we moved here, DS1 went into 5th Grade and DS2 went into 1st Grade. DS1 (who is bright and was top of the class in the UK) found the work quite hard at first. DS2, however, kind of repeated UK Y1. It starts much slower, but in a competitive school district like this one, it picks up pace pretty quickly.

And my children found they got MUCH more homework than in their UK schools and it was all taken much more seriously too.

sharklet Sat 16-Jun-12 18:30:11

We moved to Nevada (Las Vegas) when DD was in yr 2 in the UK, she has to enter school in first grade. We did push but our school district insist they remain with thier peer group for grades 1 - 3 in state schools.

She was miles and miles ahead of her class mates in everything. The only thing they quibbled with her about was spelling and they had somewhat of an inability to understand that American English and British English have such different spellings for so many words. It took a good 6 months for the teacher to understand that we really do spell things differently and that although yes she needed to know US spellings if she lives in the US, she does not have a problem if she does not know them on arrival.

DD was operating on grade 3 levels for Maths, Science, Reading, Writing etc. She made a few freinds in her grade but many of her freinds here are 2 or 3 years older than her as the maturity level seems to match. She was doing well but was not above average in the UK.

We are only here a few years, and then we will be hopefully back to Europe for a posting there before back to the UK in time for secondary school. I work with her out of school to keep her on par and ale to blend back into the UK system. We do a few things:

We have our own British English - American English Book we add to when new words that have different uses or spellings come up.

We use the UK version of Mathletics ( and DD uses it at her current UK level to ensure she is keeping up with things back home.

We also use the UK version of Spellodrome which is a sister site to Mathletics. This is like an online spelling bee. It is very handy and keeps her fresh.

I went to speak to the Librarian in the school ( and go back to remind her every year) to encourage DD to read at her level, as they have a weekly library visit and are taken to an area in the school library and encouraged to bring home books from that area. DD was bringing home what she considered baby book as they were only allowed to choose from that section. Equally I spoke to the teacher to make sure that in class room reading time she would be reading chapter book rather than picture books which she was being given.

All in all it does depend very much on the school district you are in. Here in Clark County School District they stay very basic in grades 1-3 then suddenly raise the bar 3 fold and are suddenly working at a much higher level. So I think it does even out but right now it is frustrating and I feel if I don't do things to augment her school work she will just get bored and be naughty.

TheCatInTheHairnet Sat 16-Jun-12 18:31:15

Also, I have also found that when Brits come out here, they often have a quite snobby attitude to American education and then get their knickers in a twist when their little darlings aren't top of the class.

Not that I ever did that, oh no.... wink

pimmsgalore Sat 16-Jun-12 19:45:05

Ah the spellings yes my DCs were great at saying whatever way they wanted to spell something was the British way, DS2 once told his teacher that you spelt what wot in England so he was correct, we developed a system where she listed all the words he had spelt wrong and claimed were British versions and sent them home each day for me to send back in the morning with which ones were true British spellings and which were DS2 spellings grin

JennyWren Sat 16-Jun-12 20:55:02

Thanks everyone! It is good to know there might be some flexibility depending on the system where we go (likelt to be San Diego). We would also be able to look at private schools as an option if that was a better way to keep them on a par with their peers when we come back.

Frakiosaurus Sat 16-Jun-12 21:15:28

To keep up to UK 11+ levels I'd recommend Bond papers. They do English, Naths and Reasoning and are well paced with the UK NC.

mockingjay Sun 17-Jun-12 08:42:20

I moved back to the UK at the beginning of year 5, not from the US, but from a country where people start school at 7, after an absence of 3 years.

I wasn't behind at all (well, maybe a little in English spelling). I think my mum made sure that we broadly knew the stuff that our English year would be doing, just by talking to us during car trips, writing letters to English friends, etc.

In some areas I was far ahead - especially languages and understanding of other cultures.

So my advice would be don't worry too much and just check the UK curriculum and make sure they don't fall behind.

Hopandaskip Sun 17-Jun-12 14:37:56

I wouldn't worry too much. Yes the systems are very different, but we are talking elementary/junior school, not secondary. Also, like many have said, kids here work really hard so it will be easier for them to catch up.

The reason that kids doing A levels go in at a higher level at uni is not because the UK system is necessarily better, it is because US students do not specialise at all in school. My son is a STEM student and will have to continue doing English and History until 18, that just wouldn't happen in the UK. I personally feel they are a lot stronger in languages here. You do each subject every day for a year in most cases in high school.

Many have mentioned lack of projects. My kids went to an elementary school that was project based here in San Diego, they did a TON of projects, especially in history and science.

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