The British believe every child has a right to a good education. This means that school should do its best to make sure every child does as well as she or he possibly can. That’s why the Government’s education reforms are designed to support schools’ and teachers’ efforts to achieve that. As Benjamin Disraeli, a British Prime Minister and parliamentarian, remarked, “Upon the education of the people of this country the fate of this country depends”.
There are three stages in state educational system in Great Britain: primary, secondary and further education. University-level education stands apart being almost independent of state control. Children legally have to start schooling at the age of five. The years of compulsory schooling are from five to sixteen. Some 25 per cent of three and four-year olds receive education attending nursery schools or informal pre-school playgrounds run by parents and voluntary bodies.
Most pupils go to schools which offer free education, although fee-paying independent schools also have an important role to play. In most state maintained schools, the governors and head teacher are in charge of the way the school is run, but localeducation authorities (LEAs) fix the size of the budget, employ teachers and other staff, offer advice and can step in if things go wrong. Until September 1989 schools in England and Wales determined their own curriculum, supervised by the LEAs. The national curriculum has changed all that. Schools are now obliged by how to teach each three core subjects – English, math, science and six foundation ones – art, history, geography, music, PE and technology and design. A modern foreign language is a part of school curriculum as well.
Nearly a third of primary and secondary maintained schools are voluntary schools which encourage a particular set of religious beliefs. They are also known as church schools. All children in these schools receive religious education by law and take part in a daily corporate act of worship. Otherwise voluntary schools are run in the same way and founded by the local council in the same way.
Compulsory education begins at five when children go to infant school, at seven they go to junior school. The infant and junior schools are in many cases housed in the same building and may be regarded as departments within a single primary school. Curriculum in junior schools is arranged more formally into individual subjects. Pupils study three R’s: reading, writing and arithmetic. Besides infant school, children can attend first school or start their education in two-tier or all-through school which provides primary and secondary education.
Formerly, at the end of their primary education children took the Secondary Selection Examination known as the Eleven Plus Exam. It consisted of 3 tests – in English, arithmetic and an intelligence test. The Eleven Plus Exam was very important, for it concluded the primary stage of education and decided what kind of secondary school the child would attend. Though this exam has now been abolished, the selective procedure at the age of 11 is still preserved in some areas. Special tests are set to check each child’s ability and children then go to grammar schools, to technical or secondary modern schools which represent different kinds of secondary educational institutions. In general, children have formal assessment at 7, 11, 14, 16. Streaming (dividing pupils into different groups according to their abilities) is practiced in many schools.
About 90 percent of pupils in England, Wales and Scotland move to comprehensive schools at the age of 11. These take children of all abilities and provide a wide range of secondary education for all or most of the children in a district or a catchment area within the 11 to 18-year age. Comprehensive schools replaced secondary modern schools in the early 1970s and were designed for the majority of pupils – those who do not achieve scores in the top 25% of the Eleven Plus Examination.Secondary modern schools formed in 1944 provided a non-academic education up to the school-leaving age of 16 for students of lesser attainment. The general level of education in comprehensive schools is low, concentrating for the most part on practical work.
Grammar schools provide a mainly academic course from 11 to 16 or 18. Only pupils who have the best results are admitted to these schools. They give pupils a much higher level of academic instruction, with Greek and Latin being a part of the curriculum. They are a road to the universities and the professions.
Technical schools concentrate on technical subjects and provide education with a practical slant for lower-attaining pupils up to the age of 18. Children with slightly lower marks are often admitted. These schools do not provide a real foundation for serious higher technological study.
When British schoolchildren are 16, they take GCSEs (General Certificate of Secondary Education) or other public examination, including vocational qualification. Some pupils take 3 or 4 exams, others take 10 or 11. Pupils going on to higher education or professional training usually take GCE “A” (advanced) level examinations in two or three subjects. These require two more years after GCSE either in the sixth form of a secondary school, or in a separate sixth-form or tertiary college. Sixth-form colleges prove academic and non-academic education for students over 16. Tertiary colleges offer a range of full-time and part-time vocational courses for those over 16, as well as more academic courses.
Outside the state system of education there exists the system of private or independent schools formerly known as public ones. Only 7 per cent of all schoolchildren attend them. These schools receive no money from public funds and therefore they charge fees and may also have private endowment. They provide primary and secondary education: a pre-preparatory school takes children up to the age of 8, and then comes an independent preparatory school admitting pupils at 7/8 up to 13, and then children can enter public schools, but entrance is by examination. There are about 2,500 independent schools in Britain which are mostly boarding schools. The most known of them are Eton, Harrow, Winchester, Westminster and others. All these schools are very exclusive, the feesare usually very high, but they provide a general education of a very high quality and train their pupils for leading position in society. Glenda Jackson, a British Labour Party politician and former actress complained, “It would be nice if education was free to everyone who wanted it, but that’s not the world we live in”. The system of taking the finalsin private schools is the same. School-leavers need high “A” level marks to enter Oxford or Cambridge.