Contrary to my last blog post prediction, the school that UCL have placed me at is actually not in a fancy part of London at all. It’s a comprehensive school in South-West London and has a very diverse intake, both in terms of attainment and social background. Working here has been a really interesting experience so far and it’s made me reflect on some of the differences between the UK and German education systems.
In most of Germany, the school system still works on the principle of academic selection. Most areas no longer have the full three-tiered system that was around when I went to school, but there is still a basic divide between schools preparing children for vocational training on the one hand and the grammar schools (“Gymnasium”) on the other. Pupils are selected for one route or the other at the end of primary school, and it is the grammar schools that channel the majority of pupils into university. This system has been slightly tinkered with over the last years in some areas of Germany, but the basic divide still stands.
In the UK, most of the grammar schools were phased out in the 1970s and 1980s, and converted into comprehensive schools. A comprehensive school is a local school that serves all of the children of a neighbourhood, regardless of background or achievement. This means that teachers have to work hard to address pupils’ diverse needs and to move everyone forward, but I really like the idea of all local children sitting and learning together in the same classroom every day. In the last few weeks I have covered subjects from medieval Britain to the Second World War, and the enthusiasm that the children have for history is really infectious. At university we continue to underpin our practical experience with theoretical work on concepts like historical significance or continuity and change.
Plus, I’m in a great place to see some history on the weekends. A few weeks ago, I went to the Queen’s House museum in Greenwich and saw some fantastic Tudor portraits. It always makes such a difference to see these kinds of things with your own eyes – it brings the past to life and makes it feel real.
It’s definitely getting colder now in London and I’ve already started to see some Christmas decorations around. Time to unpack my coat and scarf!