Education is a subject about which most British people care deeply. The British education system aims to educate the whole person, so that each child develops his or her personality as well as gaining academic knowledge.
Education in Britain is characterized by dual system: the publicly financed state schools, which are attended by about 95% of British schoolchildren, and the fee-paying private or independent schools, some of them known as “public schools”, which take in the relatively small percentage of about 5%. (*The main types of schools are shown in the chart.)
The Educational Structure in England and Wales
Master’s degree course
Other further education courses, leading to various professional and academic certificates and diplomas
3-4 year degree course at university or polytechnic
Nursery Schools and
Private Playgroups (Kindergartens)
In Britain all children have to go to school between 5 and 16.
An increasing number of children under 5 receive pre-school education. Some go to playgroups several time a week and take part in structures play (=play with some educational purpose) with other children of the same age. Others go to nursery schools or kindergartens. At the age of 3 they attend nursery school (or playgroup) and at 4 they attend kindergarten. But when they reach the age of 5 they start infant school, which they attend for 2 or 3 years.
Compulsory education in Britain begins at age 5, and all children attend primary school till the age of 11 (England and Wales) or 12 (Scotland). In some areas children receive their primary education at an infant school (6-7) and then a junior school (8-11), or at a primary school (6-11) that combines the two. At about 11 they begin secondary education.
The secondary state schools that are attended by the overwhelming majority of British schoolchildren are the comprehensive schools. They are non-selective schools for all children of secondary school age in a particular neighbourhood.
They were introduced by the Labour Government in the 1960s and were to replace the three types of selective secondary schools, i.e. grammar schools (strictly academic, preparation for a university education), secondary modern schools (general education on somewhat lower level, including vocational courses), and technical schools (emphasis on practical and technical work, stress on career-oriented subjects).
This triggered off a controversial and heated debate. By the end of the 1970s, the comprehensive versus grammar school debate was almost over. The Conservatives, when they came to power, had to carry on with the comprehensive schools, but opposition to them has never stopped completely. Since Margaret Thatcher was elected Prime Minister in 1979, LEAs (Local Educational Authorities) are no longer required to abolish selective schools. This means that about 5-10% of children attending state schools are selected at the age of 11 according to their total school performance. The famous ‘eleven-plus’ exam, which pupils had to take up to the 1970s at the end of primary education to find out which of the existing secondary schools under the tripartite system they should attend, has been abandoned in most areas.
There is one basic rule in the school: to respect others and their property and behave in a normal, sensible way, with due consideration for the health and safety of all. If a pupil misbehaves there is a system known as WRO – Warning, Report, Out. First you get a warning from your teacher. Then you are put on report; you have to carry a form around with you and the teacher signs it after each lesson – to show that you were present and behaved well. If you do anything wrong at this stage you are out; you have to go to the hall to join any other pupils in trouble. In the hall, all such pupils work in silence under the supervision of a teacher.
For persistent offenders, there is a system of detentions, when pupils are kept for an hour after school. In really serious cases, it is possible to exclude pupil for a period of time from the school, or to expel them permanently.
Schools usually divide their year into three ‘terms’, starting at the beginning of September. In addition, all schools have a ‘half-term’ ( = half-term holiday), lasting for a few days or a week in the middle of each term
Alongside the state school system there is the system of fee-paying private or independent schools. The largest and most important of them are the public schools (age 13-18). The misleading word ‘public’ derives from the fact that originally students from all over the country and not just from the immediate neighbourhood could enter the school.
Apart from intellectual development public school education aims at the following ideals and values:
1) formation of character through the practice of sport (‘fair play’ ideal);
2) emphasis on social behaviour (‘Manners makyth Man’: motto of Winchester);
3) training for leading positions (discipline and responsibility).
The first two points (‘character’ and ‘social skills’ through extra-curricular activities) have become and integral part of the aims of state schools too. Although times have changed and more emphasis is placed on merit today, public school pupils and pupils from other independent schools still have a big advantage over those from comprehensive schools. Educational privilege, social prestige and the ‘old-boy network’ help them to achieve high positions in all walks of life. For this very reason more and more middle-class parents who doubt the efficiency of the comprehensive schools try at all costs to send their children to a public or an independent school in order to give them a better start in life. Thus the ideal of quality of opportunity cannot become reality as long as there is a prestigious private sector in education.
All in all there’re about 260 public schools in Britain. Some of the most famous are Winchester (in S. England), Eton (a top, most expensive school for boys from the upper class), Rugby (in central England) and Harrow (N.W. England; it’s the other most prestigious and expensive private school).
Rugby was founded in 1567. Its headmaster from 1827 to 1842 was Dr Thomas Arnold, who declared that the task of the school was to rear a gentleman, strong-willed and intelligent, who can be a leader of society if need comes. Going in for sports is regarded as one of the most important things there; but it’s not only for physical fitness, it’s for development of certain traits of character. Instead of individual sports Rugby cultivates team sports (with 2 competing groups of people). It aims to develop “the team spirit” on the one hand, and to develop social status distinction, and faithfulness to it. A good team player acquires a leader’s qualities, which can make a later success in any public sphere.
The second important thing is the system of subordination between the junior and the senior students. Caning is given high priority here (as well as in other public schools), and senior students are responsible for administering the punishment.
The Rugby School has always been at the forefront of science education in Great Britain. The school also offers courses in art, history, design, politicsand Russian history. Girls were first admitted in 1976 and in 1993 the school initiated programmes that would move it toward full coeducation(ñîâìåñòíîå îáó÷åíèå)
Eton was founded in 1440. It is the most prestigious public school. One may speak of certain dynasties of Etonians, because leaders of the society send their sons and grandsons there. When the school was founded, it was very close to the royal court. 18 Prime Ministers of Britain were Eton graduates. The development of political interests is given the highest priority in Eton.
Harrow School (located 16 km from London) was founded in the late Middle Ages (1571) and reendowed in 1572. It is now a boarding school for about 775 pupils. The campus area is more than 122 hectares, including cricket and football fields, a farm, a lake, and a golf course.
The original course of instruction was exclusively classical, but studies are now offered in agriculture, architecture, art, classics, economics, geography, history, mathematics, modern languages, music, science, technology.
Winchester College (in Southern England) is the oldest public school in Britain. It was established in 1382 by William Wykeham (1324-1404), who was the bishop of Winchester and promoted religious education.
Other important aspects public school life:
· The system of subordination between the junior and the senior students;
· Caningis given high priority (to maintain discipline);
· Rather severe living conditions;
Because most of them are located in castles, there’s no central heating system in students’ hostels, which is supposed to strengthen the boys’ health. Besides they receive rather ascetic nourishment, which is supposed to strengthen the young gentlemen’s characters. The more respectable and prestigious the school is, the stricter and the more ascetic the conditions are.
· Rather ascetic nourishment to strengthen the young gentlemen’s characters;
· The more respectable and prestigious the school is, the stricter and the more ascetic the conditions are.
There is a notion of “old school tie”. The school tie is a distinctive feature of a school status, of one’s belonging to a certain club or scientific society. And certainly, the most prestigious tie is the public school tie, which a gentleman wears not only to show what education he has received, but also to show his high status.
Public schools are very much exclusive, because they’re too expensive; and mostly people who finished them send their sons there later.
A much higher proportion of students from public schools win university places than from state schools. Former public school students may also have an advantage when applying for a job because of ‘the old tie’.
When the upper class parents send their offspring to Harrow or Winchester, Eton or Rugby, they don’t think of the kind of education their children will receive, but of the influence the school will make on them, the way it will affect their character and manner of behaviour, as well as accent, which will remain with their children for ever.
Since 1988 the subjects to be taught in state schools have been laid down in the National Curriculum, which also sets the standards to be achieved. But the National Curriculum does not apply in Scotland, and schools there are free to decide how much time they devote to each subject.
Children have to study the core subjects of English, mathematics and science, and also the foundation subjects of technology, geography, history, art, music and physical education. Older children take a foreign language.
Children do Standard Assessment Tests or SATs at ages 7, 11 and 14.
At 16 pupils take their first major public exam, the General Certificate of Secondary Education or GCSE, which places the emphasis on practical work and problem-solving rather than one mere factual recall. For most subjects, coursework assessment marked by the pupils’ own teachers is an important feature of this exam. It was introduced in 1988 to replace GCE O-level (General Certificate of Education, Ordinary Level: a school-leaving exam in up to 8 subjects at the age of 16) and CSE (Certificate of Secondary Education: an exam in a wide range of subjects usually taken at 16, less academic than O-levels).
Some may take GNVQ (General National Vocational Qualifications – introduced in 1992 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland – designed to prepare students to do certain jobs and is offered in such subjects as business and management, teaching and computer skills).
After passing the GCSE, pupils who wish to continue at school can specialize in three or four subjects. This period from 16 to 18 is called the six form, at the end of which there is a second major exam, called the General Certificate of Education, Advanced Level, or simply A-level(in three or four subjects). In 1989 an AS-level was introduced (Advanced Supplementary) to allow sixth-formers to study a wider range of subjects.
For those pupils who wish to continue full-time education for a year after the school-leaving age of 16 to prepare for either work or vocational courses there is the CPVE (Certificate of Pre-Vocational Education) since 1986.
It is often linked to the YTS (Youth Training Scheme: vocational training over a period of two years, combining work experience, community projects and about 20% further education at local colleges).
Many people worry that the education system fails to make sure that all children reach minimum standards of literacy (=reading and writing) and numeracy (=number skills), and there are often demands for more attention to be paid to the three Rs (reading, writing and arithmetic).
The term ‘higher education’ is used to refer to degree course at universities. Most big towns in Britain have both a university and a college of higher education. There are 91 universities and 47 colleges of higher education in Britain. Universities offer three- and four-year degree courses, while colleges of higher education offer both two-year HND (Higher National Diploma) courses, as well as degree courses.
A degree is the qualification you get from a university when you pass your final exams. Then you are awarded a BA (Bachelor of Arts), BSc (Bachelor of Science) or BEd (Bachelor of Education). Other degrees conferred by the university include the master of arts/science/education, etc. and doctor of philosophy degrees, there are also higher doctorates in law, medicine, music, science, and theology.
Admittance to a University
British universities are not open to everyone. To get a place, one normally applies in their last year at school before taking one’s A-levels. Competition to get into one of the Britain’s universities is fierce and not everyone who gets A-levels can go. Students usually need three A-levels to go to university and grades at A-level go from ‘A’ (the highest grade) to ‘E’.
When students apply to universities (months before taking their A-levels) they are given interviews and then the universities decide which student they want. They offer them the place which depends on their A-level results. The university may make the applicant an offer. For instance, it will give you a place if you get at least one grade ‘A’ and two ‘Bs’ in the A-levels. The offer depends on market forces; for popular, high-prestige courses, the university will ask for very good A-level results. And in general, the more popular the university is, the higher the grades it will ask for.
As a result, only 25 per cent of student population goes on to higher education. Most British students choose to go to university a long way from their home town: university is seen as a time to be independent, to live away from home and develop new interests.
Higher education is fee-paying; thus students whose parents do not earn much money are given a grant (i.e. money from the local authorities). Some students borrow money from the bank which must be paid back after they leave university.
In theory the grant pays for rent, food, books, transport and socializing. In fact, the grant is not a lot of money, and students often have to work part-time (or during the holidays) to earn more money. Because it has become increasingly difficult to do so, more and more students are dropping out, failing to finish their courses.
The system does not allow students to follow full-time courses in a casual way, having a job or living in another town as they study. Students are quite closely monitored, and have to see their teachers regularly. Consequently, drop-out and failure are low.