The four lands that make up the United Kingdom (England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales) have different histories and distinctive culture. The UK educational systems are similar in general structure, but cultural differences have influenced their organisation, as well as attitudes, standards, and values.
Education in Britain is provided by the Local Education Authority (LEA) in each country. It is financed partly by the Government and partly by local taxes. Until recently, planning and oiganisation were not controlled by central government. Each LEA was free to decide how to organise education in its own area. In September
1988, however, the National Curriculum was introduced, which means that there is now greater governmental control over what is taught in schools.
Education is divided into three stages — primary education, secondary education, and further and higher education. Full-time education is compulsory between the age ol 5 and 16. A very high proportion of young people continue in full-time education, or part-time education and training, until the age of 18. Education during the primary and secondary stages is general rather than vocational.
Primary education takes place in infant schools (pupils aged from 5 to 7 years) and junior schools (from 7 to 11 years). Some LEAs have a different system in which middle schools replace junior schools and take pupils aged from 9 to 12 years.
Some parents choose to pay for private education in spite of the existence of free state education. Private schools are called by different names to state schools: the preparatory (often called ’prep’ schools) are for pupils aged up to 13, and the public schools are for 13 to 18 years-olds. These schools are very expensive and they are attended by about 5 per cent of the school population.,
Since the 1944 Education Act of Parliament, free secondary education has been available to all children in Britain. Indeed, children must go to school until the age of 16, and pupils may stay on for one or two years more if they wish. Education after
the age of sixteen is optional..NjH
Secondary schools are usually much larger than primary schools and most
children over 80 per cent — go to a comprehensive school at the age of 11. These
schools are not selective — you don’t have to pass an exam to go there/)
In 1965 the Labour Government introduced the policy of comprehensive education. Before that time, all children took an exam at the age of 11 called the ’11+’. Approximately the top 20 per cent were chosen to go to the academic grammar modern schools.
A lot of people thought that this system of selection at the age of 11 was unfair on many children. So comprehensive schools were introduced to offer suitable courses for pupils of all abilities. Some LEAs started to change over to comprehensive education immediately, but some were harder to convince and slower to act. There are a few LEAs who still keep the old system of grammar schools, but most LEAs have now changed over completely to non-selective education in comprehensive schools.
Comprehensive schools want to develop the talents of each individual child. So they offer a wide choice of subjects, from art and craft, woodwork and domestic science to the sciences, modern languages, computer studies, etc. All these subjects are enjoyed by both girls and boys.
Pupils at comprehensive schools are quite often put into ’sets’ for the more academic subjects such as mathematics or languages. Sets are formed according to ability in each subject, so that for example, the children in the highest set for maths will not necessarily be in the highest set for French. All pupils move to the next class automatically at the end of the year.
In the late 1980s the Conservative Government made important changes to the British Educational System. One of the most fundamental changes w’as the introduction of a new ’National Curriculum’. The aim was to provide a more balanced education. In secondary schools, for example, 80 % of the timetable must be spent on the ’core curriculum’. This must include English, Mathematics, Science and a Modern Language for all pupils up to the age of 16. (Before 1989 pupils of 13 or 14 used to choose the subjects they wanted to continue studying). At the same time, the new curriculum places greater emphasis on the more practical aspects of education. Skills are being taught which students need for life and “work experience” when pupils who are soon going to leave school spend some time in a business or industry — has become a standard part of the school programme.
Together with the ’National Curriculum’, a programme of ’Records of Achievement’ was introduced. This programme is known as ’REACH’, and it attempts to set learning objectives for each term and year in primary school, and for each component of each subject at secondary school. This has introduced much more central control and standardisation into what is taught. Many people think this will raise educational standards, but some teachers argue that they have lost the ability to respond to the needs and interests of their pupils, which may be different from pupils in other areas
As part of the ’REACH’ programme, new tests have been introduced for pupils
at the ages of 7, 11, 13 and 16. The aim of these tests is to discovi
areas which are not teaching to high enough standards. But many parer
are unhappy. 1 hey feel that it is a return to the days of the ’11+’ and that the tests are
unfair because they reflect differences in home background rather than in ability. Some teachers also fear that because of preparation for the tests, lessons will be more ’narrow’, with a lot of time being spent on Mathematics and English, for example, while other interesting subjects which are not tested may be left out.
Educational reform is bringing other changes too. City Technology Colleges (CTCs) are new super-schools for scientifically gifted children, who — the Government hopes — will be the scientists and technological experts of the future. These schools are partly funded by industry. In addition to the CTCs, since 1988 the Government has given ordinary schools the right to ’opt out of’ (choose to leave) the LEA if a majority of parents want it. Previously all state schools were under the control of the LEA, which provided the schools in its area with money for books etc., paid the teachers, and controlled educational policy. Now schools which opt out will receive money direct from the Government and will be free to spend it as they like. They can even pay teachers more or less than in LEA schools if they want to, and they can accept any children — the pupils do not have to come from the neighbourhood. Many people fear that this will mean a return to selection, i.e. these schools will choose the brightest children. The Government says that the new schools will mean more choice for parents.
At the age of 14 or 15, in the third or fourth form of secondary school, pupils begin to choose their exam subjects. At sixteen pupils take the GenmS Secondary Education (GCSE), introduced in 1989. It replaced two previous examinations: the Certificate of Secondary Education (CSE), which indicated satisfactory completion of secondary education, and the General Certificate of Education (GCE) which was for higher academic achievers. The new GCSE was introduced with two main intentions: to provide one examination whereby the whole range of ability could be judged, rather than having two classes of achievers; and to assess children on class-work and homework as well as in the examination room, as a more reliable form of assessment. During the two voluntary years of schooling, pupils specialise in two or three subjects, and take the GCE Advanced Level, or ’A level’ examination, usually with a view to entry to a university, polytechnic or other college of higher education. New examinations, Advanced Supplementary (AS) levels, which were introduced in 1989, are intended to provide a wider range of study..
Scotland, with a separate education traditions, has a slightly different system. Children stay in the primary cycle until the age of twelve. They take the Scottish Certificate of Education (SCE) usually at the age of sixteen, and instead of A levels, take the Scottish Higher Certificate which is more like continental European examinations, since it covers a wider area of study than the highly specialised A level courses. Scots pupils who wish to continue their studies beyond the Higher may take the Certificate of Sixth Year Studies (C’SYS).
Many people decide to leave school at the age of sixteen and go to a Further Education (FE) College. Here most of the courses are linked to some kind of practical vocational training, for example in engineering, typing, cooking or hairdressing. For those 16 year-olds who leave school and who cannot find work but do not want to go to FE colleges, the Government has introduced the Training Credit Scheme. This scheme allows young people £2,000 to buy training, leading to a National Vocational Qualification from an employer or training organisation that participates in the scheme. Because the young people pay for their own training it encourages employers to give them work. It also gives the trainee valuable work experience.
Only about one third of school leavers receive post-school education, compared with over 80 per cent in Germany, France, the United States, and Japan.
Full-time courses are provided in universities, polytechnics, Scottish central institutions, colleges of higher (HE) and further (FE) education, and technical, art and agricultural colleges.;j*|
Today there are about seventy universities in Britain, compared with only seventeen in 1945. They fall into four broad categories: the ancient English foundations, the ancient Scottish ones, the ’redbrick’ universities, and the ’plate- glass’ ones. They are all private institutions, receiving direct grants from central government.
Oxford and Cambridge, founded in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries respectively, are easily the most famous of Britain’s universities. Today ’Oxbridge’, as the two together are known, educate less than one tenth of Britain’s total student population. But they continue to attract many of the best braiiM amHcr mesmerise a greater number, partly on account of their prestige but also on account of the seductive beauty of many of their buildings and surroundings.
Scotland boasts about four ancient universities: Glasgow, Edinburgh, St. Andrews
and Aberdeen, all founded in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. In the Scottish
Lowlands greater value was placed on education during the sixteenth and later centuries
than in much of England. These universities were created with strong links with the
ancient universities of continental Europe, and followed their longer and broader course
of studies. Even today, Scottish universities provide four-year undergraduate courses
compared with the usual three-year courses in England and Wales.
In the nineteenth century many more redbrick universities were established to
respond to the greatly increased demand for educated people as a result of the Industrial
Revolution and the expansion of Britain’s overseas empire. Many of these were
sited in the industrial centres, for example Birmingham, Manchester, Nottingham, Newcastle, Liverpool and Bristol.
Wit the expansion ………………………………
There is also a highly successful Open University, which provides every person
in Britain with the opportunity to study for a degree, without leaving their home. It is
particularly designed for adults who regret missed opportunities earlier. It conducts
learning through correspondence, radio and television, and also through local study
University examinations are for Bachelor of Arts, or of Science (BA or Bsc) on completion of the undergraduate course, and Master of Arts or of Science (MA or Msc) on completion of post-graduate work, usually a one or two-year course involving some original research. Some students continue to complete a three-year period of …………………………………