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                                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. I’ll 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   country’s   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,  Britain’s
      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   children’s
      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 1980’s 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 

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