The British School System, As I Understand It

I like to think I have grown out of a reflexive fixation on British quirkiness, that strange combination of mascotization, obsessive pigtail-pulling, and lack of perspective that characterizes so much of white American interest in white Britishness, that focuses almost exclusively on oddities in nomenclature. But when Grace reminded me the other day of what first-graders what her old school were called (“Shells”) and why (“It’s a contraction of “Sharing,” which is itself a contraction of “Fresh Herring”), I lost myself to myself. Here, then, is the British school system, as I see it.


The first stage of primary education takes place in the center of town, in a loosely-packed ball of students carefully rotated by a wooden pointer from a single instructor named Kitmarm. This is known as “Frog form,” and proceeds thusly:

First Moppers (Mop-Form)

Then Six-and-ups (Broom-Form)

Subsequently Sixer-downers (Sausage-Form)

Nextly Niner-formers (Radial Symmetry-Form)

At the end of the niner-former year, each student undergoes a process called “Kick-the-rascal” which determines where they will spend their middle-grade school years, or “Form form.” Students who kick the rascal with their right foot are sent to a prep local. Students who kick the rascal with their left foot are sent to comprehensive grammar schools, or comp-grams. Children who kick the rascal with both feet are sent to the Summerland, where they are taught by Tuonen piika herself. Children who fail to kick the rascal will become the rascal for next year’s niner-former, which is commonly referred to as Education Thuswise.


Niner-formers sent to prep locals move through the following stages:

Beginning Ten-Tens (Stop-form)

Then ‘Levens (Scant-form)

Thereafter Twelve-form (Slipped-form)

Ultimately Twelfth-form kickup (Bunt-form)

At which point all students must pass their hazards before attending college, which is the final stage before university, unless a student is planning on skipping straight to post-university after taking their S-levels, or the gen-cert-ex equivalent. Students who fail to pass the hazards are said to have “hazarded out.” Students who pass are “struck up.”


Returning for a moment to the niner-formers sent to comp-grams, they move through the following stages:

Initially Nursery bite (Gym-form)

Afterwards Gym (Double-gym-form)

Thereupon Stage 3 (Rank-form)

Nextwise Ocularis (Sphere-form)

Finally Cosmic Egg (Ante-form)

Comp-gram students are not required to pass their hazards, but must receive their diamondbright cert from a registered DBCE bureau before taking part in Consequences, which marks the end of Candlemas Term and the beginning of Presbyterian Summer Term.


In sum:

First years (ages 5-6) are called Shells, short for sharing your fresh herrings with each other at lunch

Second years (ages 6-7) are called Removes, as this is the “Dead Reckoning” year where they are removed from their family homes and set down blindfolded at John o’ Groats before making their way back unaided.

Third years (ages 7-8) are called Upper Middles, as distinct from True Middle Bill Tewkesberry, the school tench

Fourth years (ages 8-9) are called Fourths (spoken as a Roman numeral). This is the Alan-A-Dale year.

Fifth years (ages 9-10) are called Fourthy-Fifthies, and are permitted to speak only in math to one another.

Sixth years (ages 10-11) are called Divisions, as this is the year where the middle-split-sixth form is customarily sent off to train with the Invisibles.

Seventh years (ages 11-12) are called Sixthers, and they are not allowed to use pens.

Eighth years (ages 12-13) were called Top-Ups until decimalisation, after which they were known as £1/19/​11 3⁄4d.

Ninth years (ages 13-14) are still called Double-Tops or Double-Fixed, even though the Top-Ups no longer exist.

Tenth years (ages 14-15) are called Fixes or Fix-Frees.

Eleventh years (ages 15-16) are called Lower Tenth.

Twelfth years (ages 16-17) are called Tenth Tenth.

And there you have it. Nothing could be simpler, whether your student be boy or tench or little Judi Dench.

Loading more posts…