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Education in Britain

Education in Britain



Education in the United Kingdom

Written by Isaeva Tatiana

group 301

Checked by Makhmuryan K.



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 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 1990’s, 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 Majesty’s 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 else’s 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 Ј5,700 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 children’s 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



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