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Education in Britain


                                COURSE PAPER

                       Education in the United Kingdom

                                                 Written  by  Isaeva Tatiana
                                                                   group 301
                                                    Checked by Makhmuryan K.

                               MOSCOW     2001


1. Introduction

1.  Primary and secondary education

1. The story of British schools

1. Arguments aboout the purpose of education

1. Changing political control

1. The public system of education (a table)

1. The private sector

1. Further and higher education

1. Conclusion (Education under Labour)



ducation in England is not as perfect as we,  foreigners  think.  There  are
plenty of stereotypes, which make us think, that British education  is  only
Oxford and Cambrige, but there are  also  many  educational  problems.During
the last fifteen years or so, there have been unprecedented changes  in  the
system of education in England and Wales. Ill try to  explain  the  changes
and the reasons for them. In my work I will also give a description  of  the
system of education, which differs from that in Russia very much.

                       Primary and secondary education

chooling is compulsory for 12 years, for  all  children  aged  five  to  16.
There are two voluntary years of schooling thereafter. Children  may  attend
either state-funded or fee-paying independent  schools.  In  England,  Wales
and Northern Ireland the primary cycle lasts  from  five  to  11.  Generally
speaking, children enter infant school, moving on to  junior  school  (often
in the same building) at the age of seven, and then on to  secondary  school
at the age of 11. Roughly 90 per cent of children  receive  their  secondary
education at 'comprehensive'  schools.  For  those  who  wish  to  stay  on,
secondary school can include the two final  years  of  secondary  education,
sometimes known in Britain (for historical reasons) as 'the sixth form'.  In
many parts of the country, these two years are spent at a tertiary or sixth-
form college, which provides academic and vocational courses.
      Two public academic examinations are set, one  on  completion  of  the
compulsory cycle of education at the age of 16, and  one  on  completion  of
the two voluntary years. At  16  pupils  take  the  General  Certificate  of
Secondary Education (GCSE), introduced  in  1989  to  replace  two  previous
examinations, one academic and the other indicating completion of  secondary
education. It was introduced to provide one examination  whereby  the  whole
range of ability  could  be  judged,  rather  than  having  two  classes  of
achievers; and also to assess children on classwork 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 General Certificate of Education (always known  simply
as 'GCE') Advanced Level, or 'A level' examination, usually with a  view  to
entry  to  a  university  or  other  college  of   higher   education.   New
examinations. Advanced Supplementary (AS) levels, were introduced  in  1989,
to provide a wider range of subjects to study, a  recognition  that  English
education has traditionally been overly narrow. The debate  about  the  need
for a wider secondary level curriculum continues, and Labour  is  likely  to
introduce more changes at this level. These examinations are not set by  the
government, but  by  independent  examination  boards,  most  of  which  are
associated with a particular university or  group  of  universities.  Labour
may replace these boards with one national board of examination.
      A new qualification was introduced in 1992 for pupils who are  skills,
rather  than  academically,  orientated,  the  General  National  Vocational
Qualification, known as GNVQ. This examination is taken  at  three  distinct
levels: the Foundation which has equivalent standing to low-grade passes  in
four subjects of GCSE; the Intermediate GNVQ which is  equivalent  to  high-
grade passes in four subjects of GCSE; and the Advanced GNVQ, equivalent  to
two passes at A level and acceptable for university entrance.
      The academic year begins in late summer, usually in September, and  is
divided into three terms, with holidays for Christmas, Easter  and  for  the
month of August, although the exact dates vary slightly from area  to  area.
In addition each term there is normally a mid-term one-week  holiday,  known
as 'half-term'.

                        The story of British schools

or  largely  historical  reasons,  the  schools   system   is   complicated,
inconsistent and highly varied. Most of the oldest  schools,  of  which  the
most  famous  are  Eton,  Harrow,  Winchester  and  Westminster,  are  today
independent, fee-paying,  public  schools  for  boys.  Most  of  these  were
established to create a body of literate men to fulfil  the  administrative,
political, legal and religious requirements of the late  Middle  Ages.  From
the sixteenth century onwards,  many  'grammar'  schools  were  established,
often with large grants of money from wealthy men, in  order  to  provide  a
local educational facility.
      From the 1870s local authorities were required to establish elementary
schools, paid for by the local community, and to compel  attendance  by  all
boys and girls up to the age of 1 3. By 1900  almost  total  attendance  had
been achieved. Each authority, with its  locally  elected  councillors,  was
responsible for the  curriculum.  Although  a  general  consensus  developed
concerning the major part of the school  curriculum,  a  strong  feeling  of
local  control  continued  and  interference  by  central   government   was
resented. A number of secondary  schools  were  also  established  by  local
authorities, modelled on the public schools.
      The 1944 Education Act introduced free compulsory secondary education.
Almost all children attended one of  two  kinds  of  secondary  school.  The
decision was made on the results obtained  in  the  '11  plus'  examination,
taken in the last year of primary school. Eighty per cent of pupils went  to
'secondary modern' schools where they were  expected  to  obtain  sufficient
education for manual, skilled and clerical employment,  but  where  academic
expectations were  modest.  The  remaining  20  per  cent  went  to  grammar
schools. Some of these were old foundations  which  now  received  a  direct
grant from central government, but the  majority  were  funded  through  the
local authority. Grammar school pupils were expected to go on to  university
or some other form of higher education. A large number  of  the  grammar  or
'high' schools were single sex. In addition there were, and continue to  be,
a number of voluntary state-supported primary and  secondary  schools,  most
of them under the management of the Church of England or the Roman  Catholic
Church, which usually own the school buildings.
      By the 1960s there was  increasing  criticism  of  this  streaming  of
ability, particularly by the political Left. It  was  recognised  that  many
children performed inconsistently, and that those who  failed  the  11  plus
examination were denied the chance to do better later. Early selection  also
reinforced the  divisions  of  social  class,  and  was  wasteful  of  human
potential.  A  government  report  in  1968  produced   evidence   that   an
expectation of failure became increasingly fulfilled, with secondary  modern
pupils aged 14 doing significantly worse than they had at the age of  eight.
Labour's solution was to introduce a new type of school, the  comprehensive,
a combination of grammar and secondary modern under one roof,  so  that  all
the children could be continually assessed and given  appropriate  teaching.
Between 1965 and 1980 almost  all  the  old  grammar  and  secondary  modern
schools were replaced, mainly by coeducational comprehensives.  The  measure
caused much argument for two  principal  reasons.  Many  local  authorities,
particularly  Conservative-controlled  ones,  did  not  wish  to  lose   the
excellence  of  their  grammar   schools,   and   many   resented   Labour's
interference  in   education,   which   was   still   considered   a   local
responsibility. However, despite the pressure to change  school  structures,
each school, in consultation with the local authority, remained  in  control
of its curriculum. In practice the result of the reform was very mixed:
the best comprehensives aimed at grammar school  academic  standards,  while
the worst sank to secondary modern ones.
      One unforeseen but damaging result was the  refusal  of  many  grammar
schools to join  the  comprehensive  experiment.  Of  the  174  direct-grant
grammar schools, 119 decided to leave the state system  rather  than  become
comprehensive, and duly became independent fee-paying  establishments.  This
had two effects. Grammar schools had provided an  opportunity  for  children
from all social backgrounds to excel  academically  at  the  same  level  as
those attending fee-paying independent public schools.  The  loss  of  these
schools had a  demoralising  effect  on  the  comprehensive  experiment  and
damaged its chances of success, but led to a revival of independent  schools
at a time when they seemed to  be  slowly  shrinking.  The  introduction  of
comprehensive schools thus unintentionally reinforced an  educational  elite
which only the children of wealthier parents could hope to join.
Comprehensive schools  became  the  standard  form  of  secondary  education
(other than in  one  or  two  isolated  areas,  where  grammar  schools  and
secondary moderns survived). However, except among the  best  comprehensives
they lost for a while the excellence of the old grammar schools.
      Alongside the introduction of comprehensives there  was  a  move  away
from  traditional  teaching  and  discipline   towards   what   was   called
'progressive' education.-This entailed a change from  more  formal  teaching
and factual learning tc greater pupil  participation  and  discussion,  with
greater emphasis on comprehension and less on the acquisition of  knowledge.
Not everyone approved,  particularly  on  the  political  Right.  There  was
increasing criticism of the lack of discipline and of formal  learning,  and
a demand to return tc old-fashioned methods.
      From the 1960s there  was  also  greater  emphasis  on  education  and
training  than  ever  before,  with  many  colleges  of  further   education
established to provide technical or vocational  training.  However,  British
education remained too academic for the less  able,  and  technical  studies
stayed weak, with the result that a large number of less  academically  able
pupils left school without any skills or qualifications at all.
       The  expansion  of  education  led  to  increased  expenditure.   The
proportion of the gross national product devoted to education doubled,  from
3.2 per cent in 1954, to 6.5 per cent by 1970, but fell back to about 5  per
cent  in  the  1980s.  These  higher  levels  of  spending  did  not  fulfil
expectations, mainly because  spending  remained  substantially  lower  than
that in other industrialised countries. Perhaps the  most  serious  failures
were the continued high drop-out rate at the age of 16 and the low level  of
achievement in mathematics and science among  school-leavers.  By  the  mid-
1980s, while over 80 per cent of pupils in the United  States  and  over  90
per cent in Japan stayed on till the age of 18, barely one-third of  British
pupils did so.

                I. Arguments about the purpose of education.
      There is a  feeling  that  the  schools  are  not  succeeding  -  that
standards are too low, that schools are not preparing young people with  the
skills, knowledge and personal qualities which are necessary for  the  world
of work, and that schools have failed to instil  the  right  social  values.
These are the criticisms and therefore  there  have  been  changes  to  meet
these criticisms.
      However, the criticisms take different forms. First, there  are  those
who believe that standards have fallen, especially in the areas of  literacy
and numeracy - and, indeed, unfavourable   comparisons  are  made  with  the
other countries as a result  of  international  surveys.  For  example,  the
recent Third International Mathematics and Science Survey (TIMSS) placed  in
England and Wales very low in mathematical  achievement  at  13  -  although
very high in science. Therefore, these critics  emphasize  back  to  basis
and the need for more traditional teaching methods.
      Second, there are those who argue for a rather traditional  curriculum
which is divided  into  subjects  and  which  calls  upon  those  cultural
standards which previous generations have known  -  the  study  of  literary
classics ( Shakespeare,  Keats,  Wordsworth)   rather  than  popular  multi-
cultural history, classical music rather than  popular  music,  and  so  on.
Since there are many children who would not be interested in or  capable  of
learning within these subjects, there is a tendency for  such  advocates  of
traditional standards to support an early selection of  children  into  the
minority who are capable of being so  educated,  separated  off  from  the
majority who  are  thought  to  benefit  more  from  a  more  technical  or
practical education.
      Third, there are those who question deeply the idea  of  a  curriculum
based on these traditional subjects. Many  employers,  for  instance,  think
that such a curriculum by itself ill - serves the country economically.  The
curriculum ought to be more relevant to the world of work,  providing  those
skills, such as computer, numeracy and literacy skills,  personal  qualities
(such as  cooperation  and  enterprise)  and  knowledge  (such  as  economic
awareness) which make people more employable.
      A very important speech which expressed those concerns  and  which  is
seen as a  watershed  in  government  policy  was  that  of  Prime  Minister
Callaghan at Ruskin College, Oxford, in 1976.
      Preparing future generations for life was the theme and  he  pointed
to the need for greater relevance in education on four fronts:
1. the acquisition by school leavers of basic skills which they  lacked  but
  which industry needed;
2. the development of  more  positive  attitudes  to  industry  and  to  the
  economic needs of society;
3. greater technological know-how so that they might live effectively  in  a
  technological society;
4. the development of personal qualities for coping  with  an  unpredictable
      In what follows I give details of  the  different  contexts  in  which
this concern for change was discussed.

     a) Economic Context
      It is generally assumed that  there  is  a  close  connection  between
      economic performance and the quality  and  context  of  education  and
      training,  and  that  therefore   the   countrys   poor   performance
      economically since the second world  war  (compared  with  some  other
      countries) is due to irrelevant and poor quality education. During the
      thirty years from the end of the Second World War  not  enough  pupils
      stayed on beyond the compulsory school leaving  age.  There  were  too
      many unskilled and semi-skilled people for a much  more  sophisticated
      economy. Standards of literacy and numeracy were too low for a  modern
      economy. There was not enough practical and technical  know-how  being
            As a result, it was argued that there must be much closer  links
      between school and industry, with pupils spending  time  in  industry,
      with industrialists participating in the governance  of  schools,  and
      with subjects and activities on the curriculum which relate much  more
      closely to the world of work.
            Furthermore, there should be a different attitudes to  learning.
      So quickly is the economy that people constantly have to update  their
      knowledge and skills. There is a need for a learning society and for
      the   acquisition   of   generic   or   transferable   skills   in
      communication, numeracy, problem-solving, computer technology, etc.

     b) Social Context
            There are anxieties not just about the future economy  but  also
      about the future of society. Preparing young people for adult life was
      what the Ruskin speech was about, and there is much more to adult life
      than economic success -  for  example,  living  the  life  of  a  good
      citizen, of a father or mother, of involvement in social and political
      activity. Therefore, schools are required to prepare young people  for
      a multicultural society,  to  encourage  tolerance  between  different
      ethnic groups, to promote social responsibility, to encourage  respect
      for the law and  democratic  institutions,  to  develop  sensibilities
      towards  the  disadvantaged  and   to   ensure   girls   enjoy   equal
      opportunities with boys. And  schools  have.  Indeed,  responded  with
      programs of social education, citizenship, and  parenthood.  Moreover,
      they have often  done  this  in  practical  ways  such  as  organizing

     c) Standards
            The need for educational change arises  partly  from  a  concern
      about academic standards. The sense that Britain is declining has been
      reinforced by statements from employers. According to them,  Britains
      workforce is under-educated, under-trained and under-qualified!  These
      criticisms of standards are pitched at different levels. First,  there
      are worries about low standards  of  literacy  and  numeracy.  Second,
      international  comparisons  give  weight  to  misgivings   about   the
      performance of British schoolchildren in mathematics and science. And,
      therefore, the subsequent changes have tried to define standards  much
      more  precisely,  and  o  have  regular   assessment   of   childrens
      performance against these standards.

                       II. Changing Political Control

          a) After 1944
      The  key  educational  legislation,  until  recently,  was  the   1944
Education Act. That Act supported a partnership between  central  government
(Local Education Authorities or LEAs), teachers  and  the  churches  -  with
central government playing a minimal role in the curriculum.
      The 1944 Education Act required the Secretary of State to promote  the
education  of  the  people  of  England  and  Wales  and   the   progressive
development of institutions devoted  to  that  purpose  and  to  secure  the
effective execution by local authorities, under his control  and  direction,
of the national policy for providing a varied and comprehensive  educational
service in every area.
      In the decades following the Act,  promotion was perceived  in  very
general terms  -  ensuring  that  there  were  resources  adequate  for  all
children to receive an education according to age, ability  and  aptitude,
providing the broad legal framework and regulations within  which  education
should be provided (for example, the  length  of  the  school  year  or  the
division of education into primary and  secondary  phases),  and  initiating
major  reports  on  such  important  matters  as  language  and  mathematics
      Within this framework, the LEA organized the schools. The  LEA  raised
money through  local  taxation  to  provide  education  from  primary  right
through to further and indeed higher  education,  and  made  sure  that  the
schools and colleges were working efficiently. They employed  and  paid  the
teachers.  And  ultimately  they  had  responsibility  for  the  quality  of
teaching within those schools.
      The Churches were key partners because historically they (particularly
the Church of  England)  had  provided  a  large  proportion  of  elementary
education and owned many of the schools.
      The 1944 Act had to establish a new partnership  between  state,  LEAs
and the church schools.
           b)After 1980
      However,  the  changing  economic,  social  and  cultural   conditions
outlined in the previous section caused  the  government  to  reexamine  the
nature and the composition of that partnership. The  questions  being  asked
during the 1980s included the following:
      Has central government the power to make the  system  respond  to  the
changing context? Are the local authorities too local for  administrating  a
national system and too distant for supporting local,  especially  parental,
involvement in school? Have the parents been genuine partners in the  system
that affects the future welfare of their children? And what place,  if  any,
in the partnership has been allocated to the  employers,  who  believe  they
have a contribution to make to the  preparation  of  young  people  for  the

1) New governing bodies
       Various  Acts  of  Parliament  since  1980  have  made  schools  more
Teachers, employers and parents have been  given  places  on  the  governing
bodies. Governors have to publish information about the school that  enables
parents to make informed choices when deciding to which school  they  should
send their child. Each LEA has to have a  curriculum  policy  that  must  be
considered and implemented by each governing body. Schools also must have  a
policy on sex education and must ensure that political  indoctrination  does
not  take  place.  This  accountability  of  schools  and  LEAs  has  to  be
demonstrated through an annual report to be presented to  a  public  meeting
of parents. The government gave parents the right to enrol their children  -
given appropriate age and aptitude - at any state school  of  their  choice,
within the limits of capacity. Parents already sent their  children  to  the
local school of their choice. The decision to publish  schools'  examination
results, however, gave parents a stark, but not  necessarily  well-informed,
basis on which to choose  the  most  appropriate  school  for  their  child.
Increasingly parents sought access to the most successful nearby  school  in
terms  of  examination  results.                                         Far
from being able to exercise their choice, large numbers of parents were  now
frustrated in their choice. Overall, in 1996 20 per cent of  parents  failed
to obtain their first choice of school. In  London  the  level  was  40  per
cent, undermining the whole policy  of  'parental  choice'  and  encouraging
only the crudest view of educational  standards.  Schools  found  themselves
competing rather than cooperating and some schools, for example in  deprived
urban areas, faced a downward spiral  of  declining  enrolment  followed  by
reduced budgets. Thus the market offered winners  and  losers:  an  improved
system for the brighter or more fortunate pupils, but a worse  one  for  the
'bottom'  40  per  cent.  Schools  in  deprived  parts  of  cities  acquired
reputations as 'sink' schools. As one education journalist  wrote  in  1997,
'There is a clear hierarchy of schools:
private, grammar, comprehensives with plenty of nice middle-class  children,
comprehensives with fewer nice middle-class children and so on.'
2) Central control
      The government has looked for ways  of  exercising  greater  influence
over what is taught in schools. New legislation gave the  government  powers
to  exercise  detailed  control  over  the  organization  and   content   of
education. The 1988 Education Act legislated a  National  Curriculum  and  a
system  of  National  Assessment.  In  addition,  significant  changes  were
enacted to make possible the central financing and thus control  of  schools
through creating a new kind  of  school  outside  LEA  control  (first,  the
provision of City Technology Colleges 9CTC), and, second,  the  creation  of
Grant Maintained Schools (GMS)). The government also  significantly  reduced
the power of local authorities by transferring  the  management  of  schools
from the LEA to the schools themselves (known as  the  local  management  of
schools or LMS).
      At the same time, within this more centralized  system,  parents  have
been offered greater choice through the establishment of different kinds  of
schools  (GMS  and  CTC),  through  the  delegation  of  management  to  the
governing bodies of the schools (LMS) and through the granting  of  parental
rights to send their children to the school of their choice.
      The various Parliamentary Acts (but  especially  the  1988  Act)  gave
legal force to a massive change in the terms of the  education  partnership.
First, the Secretary of State  now  has  powers  over  the  details  of  the
curriculum and assessment. Second, a  mechanism  has  been  created  whereby
there can be more participation by parents (and to a much smaller degree  by
employers), in decisions that affect the quality of  education.  Third,  the
LEAs have been required to transfer many decisions over  finance,  staffing,
and admissions to the schools  and  colleges  themselves.  Fourth,  the  LEA
responsibility for the curriculum has been transferred to the  Secretary  of

3) Employer involvement
      The voice of the consumers  will  be  heard  more,  and  the  consumer
includes   the   employer.   Several   initiatives    encouraged    employer
participation. First, and possibly the most important in the long  run,  has
been the encouragement of business representatives on  governing  bodies  of
schools. Second, there has been a range  of  initiatives  which  have  given
employers a greater say in the purposes which schools are expected to  serve
and in the means of attaining them.
4) The role of assessment
      The government decided to develop a reformed  system  of  examinations
which  would  specify  the  standards  against  which  the  performance   of
individual schools and of pupils might be measured.
      The 1988 Education Act legislated for  assessment  of  pupils  at  the
ages of 7, 11, 14 and  16,  using  attainment  targets  which  all  children
should normally be expected to reach at these different  ages  in  different
subjects - especially in the foundation subjects of  English,  mathematics
and science. The assessments relied partly on moderated  teacher-assessment,
but more importantly on national, externally administrated tests.
      As a result of these national assessments, exactly  where  each  child
was in relation to all  other  children  in  terms  of  attainment  in  each
subject. And it would be possible to say how each school was  succeeding  in
these measured attainments in relationship  to  every  other  school.  These
assessments, have subsequently, provided the basis of  national  comparisons
and league tables of schools.
      In the reform of National Curriculum  in  the  early  1990s,  it  was
decided  that,  because  of  public  examinations  at  16  ,  the   national
assessment should finish at 14.
5) Inspection
      For over one hundred years, there had been an  independent  inspection
service. The inspectors  were  called  Her  Majestys  Inspectors  (HMI)  to
indicate that ultimately they were accountable to  the  Queen,  not  to  the
government from whom  they  ardently  preserved  their  independence.  Until
about ten years ago, HMI numbered about  500.  They  inspected  schools  and
they advised the government.
      Senior HMIs were based at the  Department  of  Education  and  Science
(now the department for Education and Employment) but the big majority  were
scattered over the whole country so that they could advise locally but  also
be a source of information to central government. Indeed,  they  were  known
as the ears and the eyes of the Minister.
      Much of this has now changed as government has sought greater  central
control. HMI has been cut back to about one third of its previous size.  The
Chief Inspector is now a political appointment, not someone who  has  arisen
from the ranks of  an  independent  inspectorate.  A  new  office  has  been
created, the Office for Standards in Education (OFSTED), to  which  HMI  now
belong and which is much more at the service of government policy.
      Under OFSTED a  very  large  army  of  Ofsted  inspectors  has  been
created - often teachers - who, after a  brief  training,  are  equipped  to
inspect schools. The initial plan was to inspect all  25,000  schools  every
four years and to publish a report which would be  accessible  to  everyone.
Every teacher is seen and  graded.  OFSTED  is  able  to  identify  failing
schools and failing teachers.
      It has been very difficult to get rid of very  poor  teachers.  It  is
now hoped that, with more regular inspection and with clearer  criteria  for
success  and  failure,  it  will  be  easier  to  sack  teachers   who   are
consistently                        under                        performing.

      The recent changes are increasingly  redescribed   in  managerial  and
business terms, as the educational system is managed as part  of  the  drive
to be more economically competitive.
      However, one must be aware of the doubts and dismay of  many  in  this
philosophy. First, there is little consideration of the aims of  education
- the values which make the relationship  between  teacher  and  learner  an
educational encounter, not one of delivering a service.  Second,  the  new
language of education is drawn from an entirely different  activity,  that
of business and management. The language of control,  delivery,  inputs  and
outputs, performance  indicators  and  audits,  defining  products,  testing
against product specification, etc. Is  not  obviously  appropriate  to  the
development of thinking, inquiring,  imagination,  creativity,  and  so  on.
Third, the key role of  the  teacher  is  made  peripheral  to  the  overall
design; the teacher becomes a technician of someone elses curriculum.
      The changing economic and social context in Britain seemed to  require
a closer integration of education, training, and  employment;  at  the  same
time, a sharper focus on personal development; greater concentration of  the
partnership to include employers and parents; and a dominant position  given
to central government in stipulating outcomes were  all  factors  which  led
the framework of the system is adapting to the new contexts.
a)The public system of education might be illustrated as follows:
|Age                  |Type of school       |National exams and   |
|                     |                     |assessments          |
|4                    |Nursery school       |                     |
|                     |(optional and where  |                     |
|                     |available)           |                     |
|Beginning of         |                     |                     |
|compulsory education |                     |                     |
|5                    |Primary school       |Baseline assessment  |
|6                    |Primary school       |                     |
|7                    |Primary school       |Assessment Key Stage |
|                     |                     |1                    |
|8                    |Primary school of    |                     |
|                     |Middle school        |                     |
|9                    |Primary school of    |                     |
|                     |Middle school        |                     |
|10                   |Primary school of    |                     |
|                     |Middle school        |                     |
|11                   |Secondary school of  |Assessment Key Stage |
|                     |Middle school        |2                    |
|12                   |Secondary school of  |                     |
|                     |Middle school        |                     |
|13                   |Secondary school of  |                     |
|                     |Middle school        |                     |
|14                   |Secondary School     |Assessment Key Stage |
|                     |                     |3                    |
|15                   |Secondary School     |Start of GCSE course |
|16                   |Secondary School     |GCSE exams           |
|End of compulsory    |                     |                     |
|education            |                     |                     |
|17                   |Secondary School     |Start of A-level     |
|                     |Sixth Form           |course               |
|                     |College of Further   |                     |
|                     |Education            |GNVQ                 |
|                     |Work Training Scheme |                     |
|                     |                     |NVQ                  |
|18                   |Secondary School     |A-level exams        |
|                     |Sixth Form           |GNVQ                 |
|                     |College of Further   |NVQ                  |
|                     |Education            |                     |
|                     |Work Training Scheme |                     |

b) Schools and the post-16 curriculum
      The maintenance of such a curriculum has been a major function of the
examination system at 16, which was originally designed as a preparation
for the post-16 courses leading to A-level. It is taken in single subjects,
usually not more than three. These three subjects, studied in depth, in
turn constituted a preparation for the single or double subject honors
degrees at university. In this way the shape of the curriculum for the
majority has been determined by the needs of the minority aspiring to a
university place. Alongside A Levels, there have been, more recently,
AS (Advanced Supplementary) Level examinations. These are worth half an
A Level and they enable very bright students to broaden their educational
experience with a contrasting subject (for example, the science
specialist might study a foreign language).
      The present A and AS Level system, however, is thought to be in
need of reform. First, it limits choice of subjects at 16 and 17 years, a
time, when a more general education should be encouraged. Second,
approximately 30% of students either drop out or fail - a mass failure rate
amongst a group of young people from the top 30% of academic achievement
who find that after two years they have no qualification. Third, the
concentration on academic success thus conceived has little room for the
vocationally relevant skills and personal qualities stressed by those
employers who are critics of the education system. Fourth, there are over
600 A Level syllabuses from eight independent examination boards often
with overlapping titles and content, making comparability of standards
between Boards difficult.

                             The private sector

y 1997 8 per cent of the school population attended  independent  fee-paying
schools, compared with under 6 per cent in 1979, and  only  5  per  cent  in
1976. By the year 2000 the proportion may rise to almost 9 per cent,  nearly
back to the level in 1947 of 10 per cent. The recovery of private  education
in Britain is partly due  to  middle-class  fears  concerning  comprehensive
schools, but also to the mediocre  quality  possible  in  the  state  sector
after decades of inadequate funding.
      Although the percentage of those privately educated  may  be  a  small
fraction of the total, its importance is disproportionate to its  size,  for
this 8 per cent accounts for 23 per cent of all those passing A levels,  and
over 25 per cent of those gaining entry to university. Nearly  65  per  cent
of pupils leave fee-paying schools with one or more A levels, compared  with
only 14 per cent from  comprehensives.  Tellingly,  this  8  per  cent  also
accounts for 68 per  cent  of  those  gaining  the  highest  grade  in  GCSE
Physics. During the 1980s  pupils  at  independent  schools  showed  greater
improvement in their examination results than those  at  state  schools.  In
later life, those educated at fee-paying schools  dominate  the  sources  of
state power and authority in government, law, the armed forces and finance.
      The 'public' (in fact private, fee-paying) schools form  the  backbone
of the independent sector. Of the several hundred public schools,  the  most
famous are the 'Clarendon Nine', so named  after  a  commission  of  inquiry
into  education  in  1861.  Their  status  lies  in  a  fatally   attractive
combination of social superiority and  antiquity,  as  the  dates  of  their
foundation indicate: Winchester  (1382),  Eton  (1440),  St  Paul's  (1509),
Shrewsbury (1552), Westminster (1560), The Merchant Taylors'  (1561),  Rugby
(1567), Harrow (1571) and Charterhouse (1611).
      The golden age of the public schools, however, was the late nineteenth
century, when most were founded. They were vital to the establishment  of  a
particular set of values in the dominant professional middle classes.  These
values were reflected in the novel Tom Brown's Schooldays by Thomas  Hughes,
written in tribute to his own happy time at Rugby School.  Its  emphasis  is
on the making of gentlemen to enter one of the professions:  law,  medicine,
the Church, the Civil Service  or  the  colonial  service.  The  concept  of
'service', even if it only involved entering a  profitable  profession,  was
central to the public school ethos. A career in  commerce,  or  'mere  money
making' as it is referred to in  Tom  Brown's  Schooldays,  was  not  to  be
considered. As a result  of  such  values,  the  public  school  system  was
traditional in its view of learning and  deeply  resistant  to  science  and
technology. Most public schools were located in the 'timeless'  countryside,
away from the vulgarity of industrial cities.
      After 1945, when state-funded grammar schools were demonstrating equal
or greater academic  excellence,  the  public  schools  began  to  modernise
themselves. During the 1970s most of them abolished beating  and  'fagging',
the system whereby new boys carried out menial tasks for  senior  boys,  and
many introduced girls into the sixth form, as a civilising  influence.  They
made particular efforts to improve their academic  and  scientific  quality.
Traditionally boarding public schools  were  more  popular,  but  since  the
1970s there has been a  progressive  shift  of  balance  in  favour  of  day
schools. Today only 16 per  cent  of  pupils  in  private  education  attend
boarding schools, and the number of boarders declines on average  by  3  per
cent each year.
      Demand for public school education is now so great that  many  schools
register pupils' names at birth. Eton  maintains  two  lists,  one  for  the
children of 'old  boys'  and  the  other  for  outsiders.  There  are  three
applicants for every vacancy. Several other schools have two applicants  for
each vacancy, but they are careful not to expand  to  meet  demand.  In  the
words of one academic, 'Schools at the top  of  the  system  have  a  vested
interest in being elitist. They  would  lose  that  characteristic  if  they
expanded. To some extent they  pride  themselves  on  the  length  of  their
waiting lists.' This rush to private education is despite the steep rise  in
fees, 31 per cent between 1985 and 1988, and over 50 per cent  between  1990
and 1997 when the average annual day fees  were  5,700  and  boarding  fees
double that figure. Sixty per cent of  parents  would  probably  send  their
children to fee-paying schools if they could afford to.
      In order to obtain a place at a public school, children  must  take  a
competitive examination, called 'Common Entrance'.  In  order  to  pass  it,
most children destined for a public school education  attend  a  preparatory
(or 'prep') school until the age of 13.
      Independent schools remain politically controversial. The Conservative
Party believes in the fundamental freedom of  parents  to  choose  the  best
education for their children. The Labour Party disagrees,  arguing  that  in
reality only the wealthier citizens have this  freedom  of  choice.  In  the
words of Hugh Gaitskell, the Labour leader in 1953, 'We really cannot go  on
with a system in which wealthy parents are able to buy what  they  and  most
people believe to be a better education for their children.  The  system  is
wrong and must be changed.' But since then no Labour  government  has  dared
to abolish them.
      There can be no doubt that a better academic education can be obtained
in some of the public schools. In 1993 92 of the 100 schools with  the  best
A-level results were fee-paying. But the  argument  that  parents  will  not
wish to pay once state schools offer equally good education  is  misleading,
because  independent  schools  offer  social  status   also.   Unfortunately
education depends  not  only  on  quality  schools  but  also  on  the  home
environment. The background from  which  pupils  come  greatly  affects  the
encouragement they receive to study. Middle-class parents are likely  to  be
better able, and more concerned, to support their children's study than low-
income parents who themselves feel they failed at  school.  State-maintained
schools  must  operate  with  fewer  resources,  and   in   more   difficult
circumstances, particularly in low-income areas.  In  addition,  the  public
school system creams off many of the ablest teachers from the state sector.
      The public school system is socially divisive, breeding an  atmosphere
of  elitism  and  leaving  some  outside  the  system  feeling  socially  or
intellectually inferior, and in  some  cases  intimidated  by  the  prestige
attached to public schools. The  system  fosters  a  distinct  culture,  one
based not only upon social superiority  but  also  upon  deference.  As  one
leading journalist, Jeremy Paxman, himself an ex-public schoolboy  remarked,
The purpose of a public school education is to teach you to  respect  people
you don't respect.' In the words of Anthony Sampson, himself an ex-pupil  of
Westminster, the public school elite 'reinforces  and  perpetuates  a  class
system whose divisions run  through  all  British  institutions,  separating
language, attitudes and motivations'.
      Those who attend these schools continue to dominate  the  institutions
at the heart of the British state, and seem likely to do so  for  some  time
to come. At the beginning of the 1990s public schools accounted for  22  out
of 24 of the army's top  generals,  two-thirds  of  the  Bank  of  England's
external directors, 33 out of 39 top English judges, and ambassadors in  the
15 most important diplomatic missions abroad. Of the 200 richest  people  in
Britain no fewer than 35 had attended Eton. Eton and Winchester continue  to
dominate the public school scene, and the wider  world  beyond.  As  Sampson
asks, 'Can the products of two schools (Winchester and Eton),  it  might  be
asked, really effectively represent the other 99.5 per cent  of  the  people
in this diverse country who  went  to  neither  mediaeval  foundation?'  The
concept of service was once at the heart of the public school ethos, but  it
is questionable whether it still is.  A  senior  Anglican  bishop  noted  in
1997, 'A headmaster told me recently that the whole concept of  service  had
gone. Now they all want to become merchant bankers and lawyers.'
      There are two arguments that qualify the merit of the public  schools,
apart  from  the  criticism  that  they  are  socially   divisive.   It   is
inconceivable that the  very  best  intellectual  material  of  the  country
resides solely among those able to attend such schools. If one accepts  that
the brightest  and  best  pupils  are  in  fact  spread  across  the  social
spectrum, one must conclude  that  an  elitist  system  of  education  based
primarily upon wealth rather than ability  must  involve  enormous  wastage.
The other serious qualification regards the public school ethos which is  so
rooted  in  tradition,  authority  and  a  narrow  idea   of   'gentlemanly'
professions. Even  a  century  after  it  tried  to  turn  its  pupils  into
gentlemen,  the  public   school   culture   still   discourages,   possibly
unconsciously, its pupils from  entering  industry.  'It  is  no  accident,'
Sampson comments, 'that most formidable industrialists in Britain come  from
right outside  the  public  school  system,  and  many  from  right  outside
      Britain will be unable to  harness  its  real  intellectual  potential
until it can break loose from a divisive culture that should belong  in  the
past, and can create its future elite from the nation's schoolchildren as  a
whole. In 1996 a radical Conservative politician argued for  turning  public
schools into centres of excellence which  would  admit  children  solely  on
ability, regardless of  wealth  or  social  background,  with  the  help  of
government funding. It would be a way of  using  the  best  of  the  private
sector for the nation as a whole. It is just such an idea that Labour  might
find  attractive,  if  it  is  able  to  tackle  the  more  widespread   and
fundamental shortcomings of the state education system.

                        Further and higher education

reparation for adult life includes training in the skills required for a
job. These skills can be pitched at different levels - highly job-specific
and not requiring much thought in their application, or generalisable and
applicable to different kinds of employment.
      Vocational courses are concerned with the teaching of job-related
skills, whether specific or generalisable. They can be based in industry,
and open learning techniques make this increasingly likely, although in
the past, they have normally been taught in colleges of further education,
with students given day release from work. Vocational training has not been
an activity for schools. But some critics think that schools should provide
it for non-academic pupils. One major initiative back in 1982, was the
Technical and Vocational Education Initiative (TVEI) in which schools
received money if they were able to build into the curriculum vocationally-
related content ant activities - more technology, business studies,
industry related work and visits, etc. But all this got lost in 1988 with
the imposition of a National Curriculum was reformed, providing
opportunities for vocational studies to be introduced at 14.
      But the real changes in vocational training were to be seen outside
the schools. The curriculum in colleges of further education has been
closely determined by vocational examination bodies which decide what the
student should be able to do in order to receive a qualification as, for
example, a plumber or a hairdresser. These qualifications were pitched at
different levels - from relatively low-skilled operative to higher-skilled
craft and technician. Obtaining these qualifications often required an
apprenticeship, with day release in a college of further education for more
theoretical  study.
      Vocational training always has had a relatively low status in
Britain. The practical and the vocational have seldom given access to
university or to the prestigious and professional jobs.
      Further education has traditionally been  characterised  by  part-time
vocational courses for those who leave school at the age of 16 but  need  to
acquire a skill, be that in the manual,  technical  or  clerical  field.  In
all, about three million students enrol each year in  part-time  courses  at
further education (FE) colleges, some released  by  their  employers  and  a
greater number unemployed.  In  addition  there  have  always  been  a  much
smaller proportion in full-time training. In 1985 this figure was  a  meagre
400,000, but by 1995 this had doubled. Given Labour's emphasis on  improving
the skills level  of  all  school-leavers,  this  expansion  will  continue.
Vocational training, most  of  which  is  conducted  at  the  country's  550
further education colleges is bound to be an important component.
      Higher education has also undergone a massive expansion. In 1985  only
573,000, 16 per cent of young people,  were  enrolled  in  full-time  higher
education. Ten years later the number was 1,150,000, no  less  than  30  per
cent of their age group.
This  massive  expansion  was  achieved  by  greatly  enlarging  access   to
undergraduate courses, but also  by  authorising  the  old  polytechnics  to
grant  their  own  degree  awards,  and  also  to   rename   themselves   as
universities. Thus there are today 90  universities,  compared  with  47  in
1990, and only seventeen in 1945. They fall into five broad categories:  the
medieval English foundations, the medieval Scottish  ones,  the  nineteenth-
century 'redbrick'  ones,  the  twentieth-century  'plate-glass'  ones,  and
finally the  previous  polytechnics.  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-twentieth of Britain's total  university  student  population.  But
they continue to attract many of the best brains and to  mesmerise  an  even
greater number, partly on account of their prestige, but also on account  of
the seductive beauty of many of their buildings and surroundings.
      Both  universities  grew  gradually,  as  federations  of  independent
colleges, most of which  were  founded  in  the  fourteenth,  fifteenth  and
sixteenth  centuries.  In  both  universities,  however,  new  colleges  are
periodically established, for  example  Green  College,  Oxford  (1979)  and
Robinson College, Cambridge (1977).
      In the  nineteenth  century  more  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.
      With the expansion of higher  education  in  the  1960s  'plate-glass'
universities were established, some named after counties or  regions  rather
than old cities, for example Sussex,  Kent,  East  Anglia  and  Strathclyde.
Over 50  polytechnics  and  similar  higher  education  institutes  acquired
university  status  in  1992.  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 missed the opportunity for higher education earlier in  life.
It conducts learning through correspondence, radio and television, and  also
through local study centres.
      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 postgraduate work, usually  a  one-  or
two-year course involving some original research. Some students continue  to
complete a three-year perio of original research for the  degree  of  Doctor
of Philosophy (PhD). The bachelor degree is normal  classed,  with  about  5
per cent normally gaining First, about 30 per cent gaining an  Upper  Seconi
or 2.1, perhaps 40 per cent gaining a Lower Second, or 2.2, and the  balance
getting either i Third, a Pass or failing. Approximately 15 per cei fail  to
complete their degree course.
      In addition there are a large number  of  specialis  higher  education
institutions in the realm of the performing and visual  arts.  For  example,
there a four leading conservatories: the  Royal  Academy  Music,  the  Royal
College of Music, Trinity College of Music and the  Royal  Northern  College
of Music.
      There are a large number of art colleges, of whi the  most  famous  is
the Royal College of Art, where both Henry  Moore  and  David  Hockney  once
studied. Other colleges cater for dance, film-making  and  other  specialist
areas in arts.
      In spite of the high fees, Britain's  universities,  Fl  colleges  and
English language schools host a  number of foreign students, in  1996  there
were fewer than 158,000.
      Female undergraduates have greatly increased proportionately in recent
years. In the mid-1960 they were only 28 per cent of the intake,  became  41
per cent by the early 1980s, and were 51 per cent by 1996.  There  is  still
an unfortunate separation of the sexes in fields of  chosen  study,  arising
from occupational tradition and social expectations. Caring  for  others  is
still a 'proper' career for women;  building  bridges,  it  seems,  is  not.
Unless one believes women's brains are better geared to  nursing  and  other
forms of caring and men's to bridge-building, one must conclude that  social
expectations still hinder women and  men  from  realising  their  potential.
Students from poorer backgrounds are seriously  underrepresented  in  higher
education. Although more in social categories C, D and E are  now  enrolled,
it is the more prosperous social categories A and  B  which  have  benefited
most from university expansion. For Labour there are two issues here:
equality of  opportunity,  and  maximising  all  of  society's  intellectual
      Ethnic minorities' representation is growing: 1 3  per  cent  in  1996
compared with only 10.7 per cent  in  1990.  It  is  noteworthy  that  their
university  representation  exceeds  their  proportion  within   the   whole
population, a measure of their commitment to higher education.
      In 1988 a new  funding  body,  the  University  Funding  Council,  was
established, with power to require universities to produce a certain  number
of qualified people in specific fields. It is under the UFC's  watchful  eye
that the universities have been forced to double their student  intake,  and
each university department is assessed on its performance and  quality.  The
fear, of course, is that the greatly increased  quantity  of  students  that
universities must now take might lead to a loss of academic quality.
      Expansion has led to a growing funding  gap.  Universities  have  been
forced to seek sponsorship from the commercial world,  wealthy  patrons  and
also from their alumni.  The  Conservative  Party  also  decided  to  reduce
maintenance grants but to offer students loans in  order  to  finance  their
studies. However, the funding gap has continued to grow and  Labour  shocked
many who had voted for it by introducing tuition fees at  1,000  pounds  per
annum in 1998. Although poorer students were to be exempted  it  was  feared
that, even with student loans, up to 10 per cent of those planning to go  to
university would abandon the idea. One effect of  the  financial  burden  is
that more students are living at home while continuing their studies:  about
50 per cent at the ex-polytechnics, but  only  15  per  cent  at  the  older
      Today many university science and technology departments, for  example
at Oxford, Cambridge, Manchester, Imperial College London, and  Strathclyde,
are among the best in Europe. The concern is whether they will  continue  to
be so in  the  future.  Academics'  pay  has  fallen  so  far  behinc  other
professions and behind academic salaries elsewhere, that many  of  the  best
brains have gon< abroad. Adequate pay and  sufficient  research  funding  to
keep the best in Britain remains a majo challenge.
      As with the schools system, so also with higher education: there is  a
real problem about the exclusivity of  Britain's  two  oldest  universities.
While Oxbridge is no longer the preserve of a social elite  it  retains  its
exclusive, narrow  and  spell-binding  culture.  Together  with  the  public
school system, it creates a narrow  social  and  intellectual  channel  from
which the nation's leaders are almost exclusively drawn. In 1996 few  people
were in top jobs in  the  Civil  Service,  the  armed  forces,  the  law  or
finance, who had not been either to a  public  school  or  Oxbridge,  or  to
      The problem is not the quality of  education  offered  either  in  the
independent schools or Oxbridge. The problem is cultural. Can  the  products
of such exclusive establishments remain closely in touch with the  remaining
95 per cent  of  the  population?  If  the  expectation  is  that  Oxbridge,
particularly, will continue to dominate the  controlling  positions  in  the
state and economy, is the country ignoring equal talent which does not  have
the Oxbridge label? As with the specialisation  at  the  age  of  16  for  A
levels, the danger is that Britain's governing elite is too narrow, both  in
the kind of education and where it was acquired. It is  just  possible  that
the new Labour government, which itself reflects a much wider field of  life
experience in Britain, will  mark  the  beginning  of  significantly  fuller
popular participation in the controlling institutions of state.

Present situation
      The educational system - its organization, its control, its content -
is changing rapidly to meet the perceived needs of the country - the need
to improve standards and to respond  to a rapidly changing and competitive
economy. Those changes might be summarized in the following way.
      First, there is much greater central control over what is taught.
Second, what is taught is seen in rather traditional terms - organized in
terms of subjects rather than in response to the learning needs of the
pupils. Third, however, there is an attempt to be responsive to the
economic needs of the country, with an emphasis upon vocational studies and
training. Fourth, there is a rapid expansion of those who stay in education
beyond the compulsory age, making use of the three-track system of  A
Level, GNVQ (General National Vocational Qualifications) and NVQ (National
Vocational Qualifications). Fifth, although the content of education is
centrally controlled, its delivery pays homage to the market by
encouraging choice between different institutions so that funding follows
popular choice (i.e. the more popular the school with parents, the more
money it gets, thereby providing an incentive to schools and colleges to
improve their performance.

                           Education under Labour

ducation was the central theme of the new Labour government. It  promised  a
huge range of improvements: high-quality education  for  all  four-year-olds
whose parents wanted it and lower pupil-teacher ratios, in  particular  that
children up to the age of eight children would never be in classes  of  over
30 pupils. It also declared that all children at primary school would  spend
one hour each day on reading and writing,  and  another  hour  each  day  on
numeracy, the basic skills for all employment. When Labour took office  only
57 per cent of children reached national literacy targets by the  time  they
left primary school, and only 55 per cent reached similar targets in  maths.
The government pledged to raise these proportions to 80 per cent and 75  per
cent respectively. It also established a new central  authority  responsible
for both qualifications and the curriculum, to ensure that  these  were,  in
the government's own  words,  'high  quality,  coherent  and  flexible'.  It
warned that it intended to evolve a single certificate to replace  A  levels
and vocational qualifications, and possibly to  reflect  a  broad  range  of
study rather than the narrow specialism of the A-level  system.  Because  30
per cent of students who started A-level courses failed to acquire  one,  it
also wanted to create a more  flexible  system  that  would  allow  students
still to attain recognised standards of education and training on  the  road
to A levels. However, unlike France or Germany, an increasing proportion  of
those taking exams at this standard were actually passing.
The government also promised to improve the quality of the  teaching  staff,
with a mandatory qualification for all newly appointed heads of schools,  to
improve teacher training, to establish a  General  Teaching  Council,  which
would restore teacher morale and raise  standards,  and  to  introduce  more
effective means of removing inefficient teachers. It also promised  to  look
at the growing problem  of  boys  underachieving  at  school  compared  with
girls. Finally, Labour asked for its record to be judged at the end  of  its
first term in office, in 2002.


1. When do the british start their education?
2. Do you agree that the british education has problems?
3. What were the lacks of British education?
4. Who can study in public schools?
5. Does the word public reflect the real principle of that schools?
6. What political acts became a turning point in British education?
7. What is the most well-spread opinion about the vocational courses?
8. What do you think about the quality of higher education in Britain?
9. What are the main principles of the Labour Patry (concerning education)
10. How had the role of parents in the childrens education changed?
11. How did the changing economic and social situation influence the system
  of education?
12. What are the most prestigeous schools in Britain?
13. Are there students from other countries in British schools and
14. Is the nursary school compulsory?
15. How do you think: do the Concervative principles of education differ
  from that of Labour?
16. What are the aims of education in Britain today?
17. Did the level of education become higher after the reforms?
18. What is the GCSE?
19. What types of schools does the british system of education includes?
20. Would you like to study in Britain? (Give your argument for or against