School life begins at the age of four or five when one would enter a primary school. The first seven years of education are done in grades P1 to P7 (preparatory one to preparatory seven). At the age of ten or eleven, one would take his eleven plus (11+) test. This is an aptitude test to determine whether one will attend a high school or a grammar school for his secondary education. Those with the highest level of achievement will go to a grammar school while the rest will go to a high school. Although the same scholastic materials are used in both types of school, the academic standard is much higher in a grammar school. A high school prepares a person to go into various trades while a grammar school prepares a person to go on to college.
The beginning of secondary education (forms 1-3) lays down the foundation for the work that follows. After the third year of secondary school, one would start his G.C.S.E.’s (General Certificate of Secondary Education) – a two-year course consisting of seven to ten subjects of your choice. The only requirements are mathematics, English, and one foreign language. A variety of courses are offered including most languages, computer courses, English (along with literature, drama, or media), lower or higher level math, science (which is divided into biology, chemistry, and physics), physical education, music, art, technology, religious education, home economics, economics, history, and geography.
After completing one’s G.C.S.E.’s, the choice of how to further one’s education is up to the individual. The next stage is A-levels (advanced levels) – a two-year course specializing in two to four subjects. An even wider range of subjects is then available.
The school day is about the same length of that in America. The school year spans ten months, from the beginning of September unto the end of June. The school year is divided into two terms, two before Christmas and two after. There is a two or three-day midterm break and a week at the end of each term. Two weeks are taken off at Christmas and Easter. Day holidays and exceptional closures are also taken.
All schools require a uniform of certain colors. A typical girl’s uniform consists of a collared, button-up shirt, a tie, a jumper, a knee-length skirt, bunched up knee-high socks, and a certain style of shoes. A boy would wear the same style of shirt and tie, a blazer, plants, shoes and socks.
Public transport is used by a majority of students. The schools issue free bus passes to the students outside a two-mile radius. Every morning, those of us who get the bus have to walk a mile. The same trip has to be made each evening.
Most schools provide a number of sports activities including football (soccer), hockey, cricket, tennis, table-tennis, athletics, badminton, and netball – a girlish way of playing basketball. Everyone is required to participate in P.E. (physical education) and games (outdoor sports). Extracurricular activities include choir, orchestra, public-speaking, quiz teams, chess teams, debating, and Christian Union.
On the whole, school life in Northern Ireland is not much different from that of America. More studying is required of the students here, the reason being that N. Ireland has a higher standard of education. Also, more emphasis is placed on math, languages, and science. After a year, we have gotten used to the changes and we all have settled down well in our new environment.