As a guide for British expatriates living in the United States, here is a list of 10 words and phrases used in British education circles that are not used in the United States. For each one, I have listed the American equivalent.
A shortening of mathematics, the equally pluralised word maths would seem like appropriate usage. Try telling that to Americans, who simply refer to this school subject as math.
The academic year for British schools is mostly split into three terms: Autumn, Spring and Summer. While a split also happens in the U.S. (typically two 18-week blocks), the word semester is preferred over the word term.
3. Year 1 to 13
In Britain, the standard progression of a pupil's school life is measured in years. E.g. pupils in the 12-13 age range are usually in year 8. For their part, the Americans measure by grade, and as a general rule, any specific grade level is usually one number below its British counterpart. In other words, American students in the 12-13 age range will typically be at grade 7 level. It should be noted that year 1 in Britain equates to kindergarten in the United States.
4. Reception year
In Britain, the stage in between playgroup and infants school - known as reception year - is referred to in the U.S. as pre-k or pre-kindergarten. Note: the American terms for playgroup are day care and preschool.
While the American education system is replete with exams, the word exam (or examination) is not in wide use in the United States. Rather, American students take tests.
6. Primary school
For British pupils aged roughly between five and eleven, primary school houses early education development. In the United States, however, this same school is typically known as elementary.
7. Break time
In between class time, pupils will take a brief period of relief from study. In Britain, this is known as break time, while in the United States, it is referred to as recess or free period.
8. Head teacher
In British schools, the leader of a school is known commonly as the head teacher (or to distinguish between gender, head mistress and head master). This terms is not used in the USA, where the word principal (and sometimes head of school) is preferred.
9. Supply teacher
A teacher who is hired for temporary services in the absence of the regular teacher is known in Britain as a supply teacher. In American education circles, this same role is referred to as a substitute teacher (or more commonly, just sub).
As you might have noticed above, the word pupil is used broadly to describe an individual who is in any phase of education before university, where they will usually become a student. The latter word - student - is used in the United States to describe all learners, from kindergarten to grade 12, and beyond.
What other word differences are there in British and American education? Let us know in the comments below.
Laurence is a British expat living in Indianapolis, Indiana. He is a contributor for BBC America and writes a weekly column for Anglotopia. Having graduated from Lancaster University with a degree in English Language and Creative Writing, Laurence runs this blog, Lost In The Pond, charting the endless cultural and linguistic differences between Britain and The United States.
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