Great Britain does not have a written constitution, so there are no constitutional provisions for education. The system of education is determined by the National Education Act.
Education in Britain is provided by the Local Education Authority (LEA) in each county. It is financed partly by the Government and partly by local taxes. Until recently planning and organization were not controlled by central government. Each LEA was free to decide how to organize education in its own area. In September 1988, however, "The National Curriculum" was introduced, which means that there is now greater government control over what is taught in schools.
Let's outline the basic features of public education in Britain. Firstly, there are wide variations between one part of the country and another. For most educational purposes England and Wales are treated as one unit, though the system in Wales is a little different from that of England. Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own educational systems.
Secondly, education in Britain mirrors the country's social system: it is class-divided and selective. The first division is between those who pay and those who do not pay. The majority of schools in Britain are supported by public funds and the education provided is free. They are maintained schools, but there is also a considerable number of public schools. Parents must pay fees to send their children to these schools. The fees are high.
Another important feature of schooling in Britain is a variety of opportunities offered to schoolchildren. The English school syllabus is divided into Arts (or Humanities) and Sciences, which determine the division of the secondary school pupils into study groups: a Science pupil will study Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics, Economics, Technical Drawing, Biology, Geography; an Art pupil will do the English Language and Literature, History, foreign languages, Music, Art, Drama. Besides these subjects they must do some general education subjects like Physical Education, PE), Home Economics for girls, and Technical subjects for boys. Computers play an important part in education.
There is a system of careers education for schoolchildren in Britain. It is a three-year course.
The National Education Act of 1944 provided three stages of education: primary, secondary and further education. Compulsory schooling in England and Wales lasts 11 years, from the age of 5 to 16. After the age of 16 a growing number of school students are staying on at school, some until 18 or 19, the age of entry into a higher education in universities and Polytechnics. British university courses are rather short, generally lasting for 3 years. The cost of education depends on the college and speciality which one chooses.
Nursery Education (under 5 years)
Children do not have to go to school until they reach the age of five, but there is some free nursery-school education before that age.
Nursery schools are staffed with teachers and students in training. There are all kinds of toys to keep the children busy from 9 o'clock in the morning till 4 o'clock in the afternoon — while their parents are at work. Here the babies play, lunch and sleep. They can run about and play in safety with someone keeping an eye on them.
However, LEAs do not have nursery school places for all who would like them and these places are usually given to families in special circumstances, for example families with one parent only. Because of the small number of nursery schools, parents in many areas have formed play groups where children under 5 years can go for a morning or afternoon a couple of times a week.
Primary Education (5 to 11 years)
Primary education takes place in infant schools (pupils aged from 5 to 7 years) and junior schools (from 8 to 11 years). Some LEAs have a different system in which middle schools replace junior schools and take pupils aged from 9 to 12 years.
At infant, schools reading, writing and arithmetic are taught for about 20 minutes a day during the first year, gradually increasing to about 2 hours in their last year. There is usually no written timetable. Much time is spent in modeling from clay or drawing, reading and signing.
By the time children are ready for the junior school they will be able to read and write, do simple addition and sub-straction of numbers.
At 8 children go on from the infant school to the junior school. This marks the transition from play to "real work". The children have set periods of arithmetic, reading and composition. History, Geography, Nature Study, Art and Music, Physical Education, Swimming are also on the timetable.
Secondary Education (11 to 16/18 years)
Since the 1944 Education Act of Parliament, free secondary education has been available to all children in Britain. Indeed, children must go to school until the age of 16, and pupils may stay on for one or two years more if they wish. Secondary schools are usually much larger than primary schools and most children — over 80 per cent — go to a comprehensive school at the age of 11. These schools are not selective — you don't, have to pass an exam to go there.
In 1965 the Labour Government introduced the policy of comprehensive education. Before that time, all children took an exam at the age of 11 called the ''11 + ". Approximately the top 20 per cent were chosen to go to the academic grammar schools. Those who failed the "11 + " (80 per cent) went to secondary modern schools.
A lot of people thought that this system of selection at the age of 11 was unfair on many children. So comprehensive schools were introduced to offer suitable courses for pupils of all abilities. Some LEAs started to change over to comprehensive education immediately, but some were harder to convince and slower to act. There are a few LEAs who still keep the old system of grammar schools, but most LEAs have now changed over completely to non-selective education in comprehensive schools.
Comprehensive schools want to develop the talents of each individual child. So they offer a wide choice of subjects, from art and craft, woodwork and domestic science to the sciences, modern languages, computer studies, etc. All these subjects are enjoyed by both boys and girls. Pupils at comprehensive schools are quite often put into "sets" for the more academic subjects such as mathematics or languages. Sets are formed according to ability in each subject, so that for example the children in the highest set for math will not necessarily be in the highest set for French. All pupils move to the next class automatically at the end of the year.
Private Education (5 to 18 years)
Some parents choose to pay for private education in spite of the existence of Free State education. Private schools are called by different names to state schools: the preparatory (often called "prep") schools are for pupils aged up to 13, and the public schools are for 13 to 18 year-olds. These schools are very expensive and they are attended by about 5 per cent of the school population There are about 500 public schools in England and Wales, most of them single-sex. About half of them are for girls.
The schools, such as Eton, Harrow, Rugby and Winchester, are famous for their ability to lay foundation of a successful future by giving their pupils self-confidence, the right accent, a good academic background and, perhaps, most important of all, the right friends and contacts. The children who went to one of the public schools never call themselves school-leavers. Public schools educate the ruling class of England. One of such schools is Gordonstoun which Prince of Wales, the elder son of the Queen, left in 1968. Harrow School is famous as the place where Winston Churchill was educated, as well as six other Prime Ministers of Great Britain, the poet Lord Byron and many other prominent people. Public schools are free from state control. They are in dependent. Most of them are boarding schools. The education is of a high quality; the discipline is very strict. The system of education is the same: the most able go ahead. These schools accept pupils from the preparatory schools at about 11 or 13 years of age usually on the basis of an examination, known as Common Entrance. Scholarships are rarely awarded on the results of Common Entrance. The fundamental requirements are very high. At 18 most public school-leavers gain entry to universities.
At the age of 14 or 15, in the third or fourth form of secondary school, pupils begin to choose their exam subjects. In 1988 a new public examination — the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) — was introduced for 16 year-olds. This examination assesses pupils on the work they do in the 4th and 5th year at secondary school, and is often internally assessed, although there may also be an exam at the end of the course.
Pupils who stay on into the sixth form or who go on to a Sixth Form College (17 year-olds in the Lower Sixth and 18 year-olds in the Upper Sixth) usually fall into two categories. Some pupils will be retaking GCSEs in order to get better grades. Others will study two or three subjects for an "A" Level (Advanced Level) GCE exam (General Certificate of Education). This is a highly specialized exam and is necessary for University entrance.
Leaving School at Sixteen
Many people decide to leave school at the age of 16 and go to a Further Education (FE) College. Here most of the courses are linked to some kind of practical vocational training, for example in engineering, typing, cooking or hairdressing. Some young people are given "day release" (their employer allows them time off work) so that they can follow a course to help them in their job. For those 16 year-olds who leave school and who cannot find work but do not want to go to FE College, the Government has introduced the Young Opportunities Scheme (YOPS). This scheme places young, unemployed people with a business or an industry for six months so that they can get experience of work, and pays them a small wage. They generally have a better chance of getting a job afterwards and sometimes the company they are placed with offers them a permanent job.
There are 46 universities in Britain. The oldest and best-known universities are located in Oxford, Cambridge, London, Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool, Edinburgh, Southampton, Cardiff, Bristol, Birmingham.
British universities differ greatly from each other. They differ in date of foundation, size, history, tradition, general organization, methods of instruction, way of student life.
The two intellectual eyes of Britain — Oxford and Cambridge universities — date back to the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.
The Scottish universities of St. Andrews, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Edinburgh date back to the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.
In the nineteenth and the early part of the twentieth centuries the so-called Redbrick universities were founded. These include London, Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, Sheffield, and Birmingham. During the late sixties and the early seventies some 20 ''new" universities wore set up. Some-limes they are called "concrete and glass" universities Among them are the universities of Sussex, York, East Anglia and some others.
Good "A" Level results in at least two subjects are necessary to get a place at a university. However, good exam passes alone are not enough. Universities choose their students after interviews, and competition for places at university is fierce.
There is an interesting form of studies which is called the Open University. It is intended for people who study in their own free time and who "attend" lectures by watching television and listening to the radio. They keep in touch by phone and letter with their tutors and attend summer schools. The Open University students have no formal qualifications and would be unable to enter ordinary universities.
The academic year in Britain’s universities is divided into three terms, which usually run from the beginning of October to the middle of December, from the middle of January to the end of March, and from the middle of April to the end of June or the beginning of July.
After three years of study a university graduate will leave with the Degree of Bachelor of Arts, Science. Engineering, Medicine, etc. Later he may continue to take the Master's Degree and then the Doctor's Degree. Research is an important feature of university work.