Thursday, November 02, 2006

Kenilworth School and Sports College

The Upper School

In the British school system, students in year 9 (8th grade) choose the subjects they will study for GCSEs (General Certificate of Secondary Education). The tests are taken in year 11 (when students are sixteen), after which education is no longer compulsory. Most students take GCSEs in English, Maths, and Science, and most British employers prefer to recruit workers with five good GCSEs. (The tests are graded on a scale, from best to worse, of A* to G.) Because he is in year 10, Will is taking GCSE courses, but he will not be required to take the actual examinations—although his music teacher has asked him to consider taking the Music GCSE a year early.

At the Kenilworth School, French is a requirement through year 8, and Peter is taking both French and Spanish. Will is taking French. Two years ago, the government dropped the nation-wide foreign language requirement, and enrollments in French and German (the two most commonly studied languages) abruptly declined. Critics are concerned that without knowledge of modern foreign languages, the British will become further isolated from the rest of Europe and Britain will be put at a disadvantage in the global marketplace. The British, like the Americans, like to talk about "the knowledge-based economy," and to speak of education as if its only purpose were to boost "competitiveness." Supporters of the government's decision to drop languages have done what most Americans would do: drawn attention to test scores. With fewer students now taking languages for GCSE qualification, test scores have risen dramatically.

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