For instance, a school, say S, was established in 2000, with the first class in the same year. I entered the school, with other students, in 2002, i.e. the third time of a student cohort.

Should I say: I am the student of the 3rd course of the school S of 2002? What is the proper way to express this in English?

NB: In my country, we often refer to a cohort by the ordinal number of the course.

  • We’d call it the third class in the U S, or “the class of 200x” (graduation year). Probably different in GB.
    – Xanne
    Commented Aug 21, 2019 at 3:38
  • What's more important? To show how far along this group of students is (freshmen, sophomores, juniors, seniors)? Or to show where this group of students is in relation to the date the school opened its doors? Commented Aug 21, 2019 at 4:28
  • It's just a routine in our country: refer to the ordinal number of a cohort, not its year; and by entering time not the finishing time. We normally do not say: I am a student of the class of 2005 (finishing year) but rather: I am a student of the Class III of the S school.
    – user76911
    Commented Aug 21, 2019 at 4:31
  • I am just not so sure how to express that properly in English.
    – user76911
    Commented Aug 21, 2019 at 4:32

1 Answer 1


The British simply do not talk about their schools in that way. It is hard, of course, to prove a negative. But Britain has a much untidier system of school education, much more prone to local and national political change that (till comparatively recently) with the emergence of charter schools. I have visited and inspected schools all over the U.K. as well as in parts of the USA . The USA elementary and high school system is far more consistent over time that the U.K. has been.

Roughly speaking, the US system breaks down broadly into areas where there are elementary schools from age 6 to 11 and high schools from 11 to 18, and areas were there are ‘middle schools’ from in between the two. In either case, all students are expected to ‘graduate’ from ‘high school’ at the end of grade 12, equivalent to British Year 13, at age 18 (plus or minus a year for early and late developers). So important is this occasion that the kids throughout the US undergo an elaborate graduation ceremony for all the students ‘graduating’ in that year. The students all dress up in academic gowns and mortar boards (which they have never worn before and will never wear again till ‘college’ graduation). There will be a photo of the ‘class of 2018’ or whichever year. And strangers discovering they attended the same school will ask each other which class they were. We know this because because we watch so much American film and TV. Those of my generation tend to scoff at this ceremony as rather callow, till lately, more and more UK secondary (and even primary) schools have started to copy the tradition.

However, ‘class of Year xxxx is impossible. First, in England for two thirds of the twentieth century, the high school you went to depended on whether you went to a private (‘public’ school) or a selective ‘grammar’ school or a ‘secondary modern’ school. When you went was far less significant than to which type of school you went. Second, since then there had been a political free-for-all about which secondary school a child goes to, in which a succession of governments have given control to most schools (in England) over admissions criteria.

More significantly, Britain does not have the concept of ‘high school drop-out.’. Till about the last quarter in the 20th century, many boys and girls left school (US ‘college’) to start work at the age of 16. This was thought normal. Many working class (US ‘blue collar’) emerged from school (‘college’) to earn a living, go to a college of further education (US ‘community college’) for some form of vocational training) or, in the case of girls get married, have a baby or both (not always).

In the U.K., particularly in England, There are many ‘tertiary’ schools, which provide exclusively for students in Years 12-13 (grades 11-12). These are called ‘sixth form colleges’. There are also some areas, such as parts of Somerset around Yeovil, with a tertiary system, in which students can study either academic ‘A-levels’ (very roughly ‘advanced placement’) or for practical and vocational qualifications. So, in American terms, you can leave your ‘high school’ at 16 without being a ‘high school drop-out’ - for which there is no specific term in British English. This ‘mark of shame’ does not attach itself to a child thereafter.

Our British snobbery works differently. What kind of a school did you go to? If private school (well, they prefer to be called ‘independent),’ then fellow ex independent school patrons will be interested in which one and be chummy or condescending, depending on the status of the school. Those who went to state maintained schools (US ‘public!) schools may look at you with awe, envy or disapproval. Even there, there is a special status to those who have been to a selective (‘grammar’) school. And so on.

You may hear that someone ‘dropped out’ of school at 16. But the hyphenated adjective ‘drop-out’ is not in common use.

I go on at this length, and apparently ‘off topic’ because it is a good example of how the ‘same’ language evolves differently because of differences in the environments in which they occur. ‘class of’ is on use in British English (except to talk about American movies). Similarly, ‘high- school drop-out’ may be know. to a Brit, but is not part of their active speech (except to talk about America or its movies).

The same applies to the university world, where the word ‘professor’ has quite different overtones in the U.K. and the USA. But here, the ever closer integration between the British and American universities has gradually brought the British usage towards the American. What used to be called ‘lecturers’ or (in the ancient universities) ‘fellows’ are increasingly awarded or award themselves the monicker ‘professor’ because they need American universities to know that they are ‘tenured’. The size, distinction and power of the American system exerts an irresistible gravitational pull on the English language. No such force exist in the school (in the British sense) sector.

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