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Italy vs. Britain - The love affair with British schools

Aprile 2017
Mandare i figli a studiare in Gran Bretagna? È un sogno di molti italiani, al punto che tanti considerano addirittura l’ipotesi di iniziare dalla scuola superiore e di trasferirsi con l’intera famiglia... l’opinione dell’esperta!

di Rachel Roberts

Rachel Roberts
Rachel Roberts

It’s not just British universities that are attracting Italian students these days. Many parents, in an attempt to give their children a “good” start in life, are considering sending them to secondary school in the UK. Some people have even asked me for help and information because they want to move the entire family to the UK, just so that their kids can go to a British school.


I understand the reasons behind such a choice. Most people have understood that you need to be able to communicate well in English to get anywhere these days. Not only that, but British and American universities have a very good reputation. What could be better than sending your child to a British school, so that he or she speaks perfect English and is well acquainted with the system when the time comes to apply to university?

under interrogation

Many parents are also frustrated with the system in Italy. They know their kids are bright and intelligent and they hate watching them struggle with mountains of homework and constant, humiliating, “interrogation”-style tests, until they lose their desire to study.
Don’t be deceived. Although there are many positive aspects to the British education system, there are plenty of negative ones and although we don’t have “interrogations” it is still fiercely competitive!

grammar schools

Education in Great Britain is elitist and discriminatory. Students lucky enough to have parents who can send them to private school have a distinct advantage over other young people, who may actually be more capable.
The current Prime Minister, Theresa May, is now seeking to reintroduce Grammar Schools: secondary schools which, in theory, offer a higher standard of education to particularly bright pupils, who have to pass an entry test to attend. Unfortunately “bright pupils” often means students whose parents can afford private lessons; or simply students with nerves of steel, who can perform well in exams at the age of eleven.


When I went to school, the first real standardized test had to be completed at age 16. In 1991, however, the government introduced SATs, or Standard Assessment Tests: compulsory national tests for primary school pupils. Children in England are required to take the first test (Key Stage 1) at the age of 11 (school year 6). Successive governments introduced Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 3, so in Britain too, children’s performance is now frequently tested and monitored.

university entrance

Students take their GCSEs  (General Certificate of Secondary Education) when they are 16, and their A-level exams when they’re 18. Each year these exams become more difficult. This puts a huge amount of pressure on students, who know that their A-level results will determine whether or not they are accepted into university. Not to mention the £27,000-plus worth of debt they will take on if they decide to attend.


Perhaps it’s not surprising that depression in young people, particularly teenagers, is a serious problem in the United Kingdom, with many young people saying they feel inadequate. The teachers are often depressed, too. They have to follow a tight, repetitive curriculum and even the most passionate amongst them, who love their subject, often feel their enthusiasm diminishing.


The funny thing is, that, in government debates, we often hear praise for Finland. Just like in the good old days in the UK, children are not formally examined in a standardized test until they are aged 16. Apparently it works. Almost every high school student graduates, and a significant proportion of them attend university.
Yet, although Finnish ideas are always on the news, they are never adopted. Quite the contrary. According to new government proposals, children could be tested within the first six weeks of primary school – that’s age five. The intention is to measure progress and inform schools about each pupil’s strengths and weaknesses on entry.

at the end of the day...

Anyway, before you decide to change your life radically and to abandon your rich Italian history and culture, not to mention the sun, remember that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the fence and that UK state education can be just as problematic as it is here in Italy. You’d probably be better off investing in some good lessons in the English language for your child, as that is something he or she will certainly need for the future.

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Secondary school. Scuola superiore.

“Interrogations”. La parola è stata messa tra virgolette, perché in realtà non esiste con il senso che ha in italiano, nel contesto scolastico. In inglese to interrogate significa “mettere sotto torchio”, come nel caso di un prigioniero. A scuola si dice oral test.
Standardized test. Esame standard, uguale per tutti gli studenti che arrivano a una determinata età.