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British and American Curriculum: What’s the Difference?


British and American Curriculum: What’s the Difference?

In Abu Dhabi, parents have plenty of choices when it comes to private schools. Not only are there so many excellent institutions out there, but there are also several curricula that cater to different educational goals and needs.

Among the range of schools in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) capital, there are two major curriculum options: British and American.

In this article, you’ll learn about the key differences between the two curricula, focusing on the educational levels, subjects covered, extra-curricular activities, and moving up.


Stages and Grades

British schools indicate the level of educational attainment of their students in stages. Each stage covers one or more sub-levels called years, which is the equivalent of the American curriculum’s way of showing educational development.

Schools like the GEMS American Academy in Abu Dhabi use “grades” to indicate a student’s academic progression, preceded by preschool and kindergarten – the equivalent of British early years education.

Below is a comparison of stages and grades to help you decide which curriculum to select for your child’s education:


Early Years Foundation Stage and Kindergarten


The introduction to education phase in the American and British curricula welcomes children into the wonderful world of learning through a play-based environment.

For the United Kingdom academic framework, this is called the early years foundation stage (EYFS), while its United States counterpart refers to it as pre-school (short for preparatory school).

EYFS begins as early as infancy and continues until the child reaches age five. During this period, the little ones learn about communication and language. EYFS teachers also teach them the most basic mathematics (e.g., counting), literacy, and expressive arts and guide their physical, social, and emotional development.

From there, the pupils move up to the reception stage, where they prepare for year 1 in their primary education.

In prep and kindergarten, pupils in an American academy undergo a student-led learning course where they can explore, innovate, and have fun. They are also given opportunities to learn to differentiate objects and concepts at their own pace and be as creative as they can be.

Both EYFS and kindergarten prepare learners for primary or elementary education, which mark the beginning of their formal schooling.


Primary and Secondary Education and Elementary, Middle, and High School


The primary education stage (UK) and elementary school (US) start a student’s formal education, though each one does so a bit differently.

For primary education in the British curriculum, year 1 begins at age five, which is usually the age when pupils enrolled in an American curriculum take part in kindergarten learning. In other words, the UK learning framework begins a year earlier.


From there, the US framework follows this grading system per age:

●    Grade 1 – 6 to 7 years old

●    Grade 2 – 7 to 8 years old

●    Grade 3 – 8 to 9 years old

●    Grade 4 – 9 to 10 years old

●    Grade 5 – 10 to 11 years old

●    Grade 6 – 11 to 12 years old


The British curriculum is a bit different. For one, it isn’t usually divided into primary or secondary (though some schools do that). Instead, they split the educational years into key stages (KS):

●    Key Stage 1

o    Year 1 – 5 to 6 years old

o    Year 2 – 6 to 7 years old

●    Key Stage 2

o    Year 3 – 7 to 8 years old

o    Year 4 – 8 to 9 years old

o    Year 5 – 9 to 10 years old

o    Year 6 – 10 to 11 years old

●    Key Stage 3

o    Year 7 – 11 to 12 years old

o    Year 8 – 12 to 13 years old

o    Year 9 – 13 to 14 years old

●    Key Stage 4

o    Year 10 – 14 to 15 years old

o    Year 11 – 15 to 16 years old

●    Key Stage 5

o    Year 12 – 16 to 17 years old

o    Year 13 – 17 to 18 years old




Another vital difference between the British and American educational frameworks is the subjects being taught to the students at each level.

The UK curriculum simultaneously teaches subjects with various specialisations (e.g., mathematics and science).

Meanwhile, the US framework follows a sequential order of teaching sub-topics for these subjects.

For example, grade 9 students can be taught only physics for the entire school year, followed by chemistry for the next. Similarly, they may also learn about algebra for one year before moving into geometry, followed by trigonometry, calculus, etc.


Extra-Curricular Activities

After-school activities are a crucial part of learning. That said, the British and American school systems have slightly different takes on how to deliver them.

Under the UK curriculum, students are given the option to hone specific skills that go beyond classroom learning. Although considered extra-curricular, these activities are directly linked to what they’re being taught in the classroom because the education framework puts great importance on real-world education.

In other words, these activities are an inseparable part of life in a British school.

After-school activities in the US curriculum come in different tracks. Some promote physical well-being and teamwork through sports, while others delve into the arts (e.g., drama, band, choir, etc.).

Extra-curricular tasks in an American school are also integral in school life. Some, like sports, are even considered so crucial that they become one of the most highlighted periods in student life at an American school.


Moving Up

After completing high school, students under the American curriculum can continue their education at a university for their tertiary studies. Here’s what they would need to apply for college:

●    A good grade point average (GPA)

●    A passing score in one or more of the certifying exams required by the specific college or university, like the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) or the American College Test (ACT)

●    Letters of recommendation from teachers

●    Proof of personal achievements and volunteerism or extracurricular activities


Meanwhile, British international students can take advance level exams at KS 5, which most colleges and universities consider as entry qualifications.

Compared to the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) – the primary graduation certificate from British academies, the A-Level diploma is more challenging to attain. A student cannot take the A-Level test without passing the GSCE first, though it is possible to take and pass both exams.


Making the Right Decision

School life is a crucial part of growing up. Because of this, parents need to take extra care in choosing the school and educational framework for their children.

Use this article as a guide to making the right decision. And when you’re ready, you can begin the process of online enrolment for GEMS American Academy in Abu Dhabi.