'British schools' commonly refer to schools which use the English National Curriculum. British schools are very popular around the world; and within Dubai there are numerous options for parents to choose from. Within England, the National Curriculum is the basic curriculum used within the government schools, but private (independent) schools and academies are not required to use it and many prefer to implement their own curricula and programmes of study. Others opt to 'enhance' or extend the basic curriculum with additional learning opportunities in a variety of different ways. Parents should ask schools about the specific academic programmes and educational approaches they use so that they can understand how one British school might differ from another.
English education carries the values of traditionalism, British culture and history. Sports and team events are important and many schools implement 'house systems' for nurturing team spirit and relationships between the students in the school (hint: think of 'Gryffindor,' and 'Hufflepuff' from Harry Potter). Teachers use clear objectives within their teaching and learning and the foundations are emphasised (e.g. spellings, handwriting, mental maths, etc.). There are also more 'formal' tests that students take to evaluate their learning in comparison to IB or American schools. In comparison to IB or American schools, British schools could roughly be considered more structured in terms of how the curriculum and learning is organised and taught.
Since British schools actively teach phonics and literacy much earlier compared to other education systems around the world, parents need to be mindful of this if they are transferring their child into a British primary school from another system. For example, in the EYFS curriculum framework, the expectations for literacy is for children to 'read simple sentences' and 'decode words' by 5. In many schools and nurseries, literacy-learning takes place at 4 years of age. This means by Year 1, students are already expected to read. If your child is in a British school and continues into Primary, then this should not be a problem. However, if you enroll your child in a British school at 5 or 6 from another education system (e.g. not a British nursery or school), they may not get access to the essential foundations of early literacy instruction. Parents should consider this carefully and should seek more information about this from the school. However, once the student has already mastered literacy then this would not necessarily be an issue.
As of 2014, the National Curriculum underwent several changes across subject areas and learning expectations. Previously, state schools would use the same curriculum and marking systems for student progress. Student progress was communicated through 'achievement levels' (e.g. 2A, 3B, etc.) but this has since been discontinued. The government believed that these levels were too narrow and did not adequately communicate the broader perspective of what students were able to do. Now, schools are given much more freedom to interpret the curriculum as they like and in a way that would best benefit their particular school or context. Schools are also required to apply new marking and assessment systems but these should be clearly communicated to parents and students.
Once students are in Years 10 and 11, they take subjects that work towards their school-leaving certificates called the GCSEs (General Certificate of Secondary Education) or IGCSEs (for students abroad). Then in Years 12 and 13, students can continue on in their A-Level courses-these are more advanced courses required for . There are currently many new changes taking place with the curriculum and exams for GCSEs and A-Levels, and parents can find out more about them here. Students can also obtain more vocational-geared qualifications like the BTEC (Business and Technology Education Council) qualifications. In Dubai, there are only a few British schools who offer BTEC courses so students may not have the same opportunity to obtain these as they would if they were studying in England.
Parents should be aware that there are many schools in Dubai and UAE which call themselves 'British curriculum schools' based upon the fact that they do implement the National Curriculum or even the 'Cambridge Curriculum.' However, it should be noted that not all of these schools employ teachers who have been trained in England or other Western countries. This would mean a big difference in the way the teaching and learning was delivered since British teachers (or teachers from other Western countries) typically have a Bachelor of Education (BEd) or PGCE (Post-Graduate Certificate of Education), not just a subject-specific or general B.A./BSc. This means they have received training in teaching methods, or 'pedagogy,' which enables them to learn how to implement effective lesson plans, deal with classroom management issues along with students' overall social and emotional well-being.