Education in Great Britain

————————————————- EDUCATION IN GREAT BRITAIN 6/7. 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  Acts. Schools  in  England  are  supported  from  public  funds  paid  to  the  local  education  authorities. These  local  education  authorities  are  responsible  for  organizing  the  schools  in  their  areas  and  they  themselves  choose  how  to  do  it.
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  education  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  have  to  pay  fees  to  send  their  children  to  these  schools. The  fees  are  high. As  a  matter  of  fact,  only  very  rich  families  can  send  their  children  to  public  schools  as  well  as  to  the  best  universities,  such  as  Oxford  and Cambridge. 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  (Maths),  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,  General  Science.
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  system  of  option  exists  in  all  kinds  of  secondary  schools. Besides,  the  structure  of  the  curriculum  and  the  organization  of  teaching  vary  from  school  to  school. Headmasters  and  headmistresses  of  schools  are  given  a  great  deal  of  freedom  in  deciding  what  is  taught  and  how  in  their  schools  so  that  there  is  really  no  central  control  at  all  over  individual  schools.
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  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. Pre-primary  and  Primary  Education Nurseries. Primary  School. Streaming. The  Eleven  Plus  Examination. No  More  of  It? In  some  areas  of  England  there  are  nursery  schools  3  for  children  under  5  years  of  age. Some  children  between  two  and  five  receive  education  in  nursery  classes  or  in  infants  classes  in  primary  schools. Many  children  attend  informal  pre-school  play-groups  organized  by  parents  in  private  homes.
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. For  day  nurseries  which  remain  open  all  the  year  round  (he  parents  pay  according  to  their  income. The  local  education  authority’s  nurseries  are  free.
But  only  about  three  children  in  100  can  go  to  them:  there  aren’t  enough  places,  and  the  waiting  lists  are  rather  long. Most  children  start  school  at  5  in  a  primary  school. A  primary  school  may  be divided  into  two  parts  -infants  and  juniors. At  infants  school  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  modelling  from  clay  or  drawing,  reading  or  singing.
By  the  time  children  are  ready  for  the  junior  school  they  will  be  able  to  read  and  write,  do  simple  addition  and  subtraction  of  numbers. At  7  children  go  on  from  the  infants  school  to  the  junior  school. This  marks  the  transition  from  play  to  “real  work”. The  children  have  set  periods  of  arithmetic,  reading  and  composition  which  are  all  Eleven  Plus  subjects. History,  Geography,  Nature  Study,  Art  and  Music,  Physical  Education,  Swimming  are  also  on  the  timetable. Pupils  are  streamed  according  to  their  abilities  to  learn  into  A,  B,  ?  and  D  streams.
The  least  gifted  are  in  the  D  stream. Formally  towards  the  end  of  their  fourth  year  the  pupils  wrote  their  Eleven  Plus  Examination. The  hated  11  +  examination  was  a  selective  procedure  on  which  not  only  the  pupils’  future  schooling  but  their  future  careers  depended. The  abolition  of  selection  at  Eleven  Plus  Examination  brought  to  life  comprehensive  schools  where  pupils  can  get  secondary  education. Secondary  Education Comprehensive  Schools. Grammar  Schools. Secondary  Modern  Schools. The  Sixth  Form. No  More  Inequality?.
Cuts  on  School  Spending After  the  age  of  11,  most  children  go  to  comprehensive  schools  of  which  the  majority  are  for  both  —boys  and  girls. About  90  per  cent  of  all  state-financed  secondary  schools  are  of  this  type. Most  other  children  receive  secondary  education  in  grammar  and  secondary  modern  schools. Comprehensive  schools  were  introduced  in  1965. The  idea  of  comprehensive  education,  supported  by  the  Labour  Party,  was  to  give  all  children  of  whatever  background  the  same  opportunity  in  education.
Only  about  20  per  cent  of  children  study  for  the  General  Certificate  of  Education,  Ordinary  Level  (GCE  ?-level). Most  children  do  not  pass  GCE  examinations. They  leave  school  at  16  without  any  real  qualification  and  more  often than  not  increase  the  ranks  of  unemployed  people. Pupils  of  modern  schools  take  their  Certificate  of  Secondary  Education  (CSE)  examinations  while  in  grammar  schools  almost  all  children  stay  to  sixteen  to  take  ?-levels. More  than  half  of  them  stay  on  to  take  ?-levels.
Some  comprehensive  and  many  secondary  schools,  however,  do  not  have  enough  academic  courses  for  sixth-formers. Pupils  can  transfer  either  to  a  grammar  school  or  to  a  sixth-form  college  to  get  the  courses  they  want. The  majority  of  schools  in Scotland  are  six-year  comprehensives. Secondary  education  in  Northern  Ireland  is  organized  along  selective  lines  according  to  children’s  abilities. One  can  hardly  say  that  high  quality  secondary  education  is  provided  for  all  in Britain.
There  is  a  high  loss  of  pupils  from  working-class  families  at  entry  into  the  sixth  form. If  you  are  a  working-class  child  at  school  today,  the  chance  of  your  reaching  the  second  year  of  a  sixth-  form  course  is  probably  less  than  one-twelfth  of  that  for  the  child  of  a  professional  parent. Besides,  government  cuts  on  school  spending  caused  many  difficulties. Secondary  School  Examinations Time  for  Examinations. GCE. CSE. The  Sixth  Forms. CEE.
GCSE Pupils  at  secondary  schools  in  England  (that  is,  pupils  between  the  ages  of  twelve  and  eighteen)  have  two  main  exams  to  worry  about,  both  called  GCE  —  General  Certificate  of  Education. They  take  the  first  one  when  they  are  about  fifteen. It’s  called  O-  level. There  is  an  exam  which  you  can  take  instead  of  ?-level:  it  is  called  the  CSE  (Certificate  of  Secondary  Education),  and  it  is  not  as  difficult  as  O-level. Most  pupils  take  ?-level  in  about  seven  or  eight  different  subjects.
There  are  lots  of  subjects  to  choose  from  —everything  from  carpentry  to  ancient  languages. For  a  lot  of  jobs,  such  as  nursing,  or  assistant  librarian,  you  must  have  four  or  five  ?-levels,  and  usually  these  must  include  English  and  Maths. You  may  leave  school  when  you  are  16. But  if  you  stay  at  school  after  taking  ?-level,  you  go  into  the  sixth  form. The  sixth  forms  and  sixth-form  colleges  offer  a  wide  range  of  courses. Ordinary  level  alternative,  CEE  (Certificate  of  Extended
Education)  and  CSE  courses  are  offered  to  pupils  who  need  qualifications  at  a  lower  level. But  if  you  have  made  up  your  mind  to  gain  entry  to  a  university,  Polytechnic  or  college  of  further  education  you  have  to  start  working  for  the  second  main  examination  —  A-level. Most  people  take  ?-level  when  they  are  about  eighteen. It  is  quite  a  difficult  exam,  so  people  don’t  usually  take  it  in  more  than  3  subjects—  and  some  only  in  one  or  two  subjects. Three  ?-levels  are  enough  to  get  you  in  to  most  universities.
For  others,  such  as  Oxford  and Cambridge,  you  have  to  take  special  exams  as  well. A  new  school-leaving  certificate  is  planned,  however,  and  O-level  and  CSE  will  be  replaced  by  one  public  exam,  the  General  Certificate  of  Secondary  Education  (GCSE). It  is  to  show  how  children  worked  throughout  5  years  of  secondary  school. 5. Parliamentary elections in the United Kingdom should be seen as a referendum on the performance of sitting MPs, not merely as a snapshot nationwide opinion poll determining party voting weights for the next Parliament.
The electoral system affects the degree to which voters may hold their representatives to account for their actions in the previous Parliament; changes which would diminish this accountability mechanism should be resisted. The UK presently has a legislature whose unelected chamber better reflects the relative strength of the Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat and None of the Above parties. Conversely, if Labour and the Conservatives each won 50% of the vote, the other chamber would have a sizable Labour majority. 51% of the seats in the Lower House delivers 100% of the power, and this can be captured by Labour on about 40% of the vote.
Nevertheless, whenever Labour runs into opposition from the chamber which, in any other context, would be described as more “representative” by people who go in for that kind of thing, it threatens to force its legislation through under the Parliament Acts, on the grounds that the Lower House is more “democratic”. The Lower House is more democratic. Contrary to the self-serving views of the Liberal Democrats and other jejune supporters of electoral “reform”, what matters for democracy is not representativeness or proportionality, so much as accountability and responsiveness.
When MPs behave in accordance with their constituents’ wishes, this is to be preferred to their merely existing in party groupings of such sizes as best reflect their constituents’ choices at the previous election. When discussing electoral reform in the UK, retaining a “constituency link” is often posited as a requirement. That is to say, it is felt to be necessary that everyone should have an MP who is in some sense “theirs”, normally meaning that people are grouped into geographical areas and each area gets its own MP. A weaker version of this permits multiple MPs for each area.
This is supposed to be good because it means that there’s automatically someone in Parliament to go to with one’s grievances. There is a much better reason why it happens to be good. If we merely say that everyone must have one or a small number of MPs, that does not imply that every MP must have his own constituency. The German federal electoral system and its antipodean imitator in New Zealand affords MPs who have no constituencies: they are elected from party lists and assigned in such numbers as ensure that the proportion of MPs in each party in the chamber match the proportion of the vote each party won.
This category of MPs shares the same vice as MPs in a chamber fully elected by a proportional system: they can’t be voted out of office directly. If your MP decides to go against the wishes of his constituents, they can contact him and say, “Hi, your majority at the last election was 2000; we, the undersigned 1001 who voted for you last time will vote against your party next time unless you buck the whip on this issue we care about. ” The easier it is to do this, the more likely the behaviour of an MP will reflect the wishes of constituents.
Don’t believe the canard about votes not counting: every vote against the person who won counts against his majority and makes him more susceptible to pressure from his constituents before the next election. The electoral system can restrain this tactic. It works well under First Past The Post, and similar systems. Generally, increasing the number of MPs who represent a single constituency has the effect of making this tactic harder, as the punishment from electors may be spread across several MPs, especially if the electors cannot choose which MPs from a paricular party get the benefit of their vote.
This is a notorious problem with the European Parliamentary elections in Great Britain: if some MEP is the ringleader for a particularly odious policy, she cannot easily be voted out without voting out the colleagues from her party. Even when a free choice on the preferential ordering of MPs is permitted, it is difficult to stop the disliked MP from riding back to election on the coattails of his more popular colleagues. So, in order of preferability, the electoral systems rank as follows: * First Past The Post, and Alternative Vote Single Transferable Vote in multimember constituencies * Proper Proportional Representation systems with open lists * Proper Proportional Representation systems with closed lists Having said all this, it must be stressed that electoral reform for the House of Commons should not be considered in isolation from the composition of the other chamber, and the relation between the Commons and three other institutions: the executive, the House of lords, and the courts.
Some notes: Alternative Vote is the Australian name for a system which when used in single-member constituencies is identical to STV: electors rank the candidates in order of preference, and the least popular candidate is repeatedly eliminated until someone has over 50%; essentially, once a candidate is eliminated, a vote is regarded as counting for whichever remaining candidate was most preferred by its caster.
The effect of this system tends to be obliteration of extremists without penalising or “wasting” protest votes. It should be noted that in the British debate, “Proportional Representation” is used to mean proper PR systems and STV/AV. The Australian Electoral Commission used to have an excellent webpage with a classification of all the electoral systems used in Australia’s twenty-odd legislative chambers, but they’ve apparently improved it off their site now.
Other fallacious views on electoral systems which it is useful to rebut at this juncture include the contention that FPTP entrenches a two-party system (in fact, the number of parties is contingent on the geographical concentration of voters), that AV in the UK in 1997 would have led to a larger Labour majority (only if you didn’t tell people and the parties what the electoral system was in advance, otherwise the parties would have behaved differently), and that geographical constituencies are a relic of a bygone age and are being replaced by PR across Europe, or at least the world.
FPTP is described by Hilaire Barnett in her militantly Anglosceptic tome on the British constitution as “still” existing in some dusty English-speaking corners of the planet; in fact some countries using PR have been moving towards constituencies: Italy did in the 1990s, and the Dutch are considering a similar move. 2. POLITICAL PARTIES
The idea of political parties first took form in Britain and the Conservative Party claims to be the oldest political party in the world. Political parties began to form during the English civil wars of the 1640s and 1650s. First, there were Royalists and Parliamentarians; then Tories and Whigs. Whereas the Whigs wanted to curtail the power of the monarch, the Tories – today the Conservatives – were seen as the patriotic party.
Today there are three major political parties in the British system of politics: * The Labour Party – the centre-Left party currently led by Ed Miliband * The Conservative Party (frequently called the Tories) – the centre-Right party currently led by David Cameron * The Liberal Democrat Party (known as the Lib Dems) – the centrist, libertarian party currently led by Nick Clegg In addition to these three main parties, there are some much smaller UK parties (notably the UK Independence Party and the Green Party) and some parties which operate specifically in Scotland (the Scottish National Party), Wales (Plaid Cymru) or Northern Ireland (such as Sinn Fein for the nationalists and the Democratic Unionist Party for the loyalists). Each political party chooses its leader in a different way, but all involve all the Members of Parliament of the party and all the individual members of that party.
By convention, the leader of the political party with the largest number of members in the House of Commons becomes the Prime Minster (formally at the invitation of the Queen). Political parties are an all-important feature of the British political system because: * The three main political parties in the UK have existed for a century or more and have a strong and stable ‘brand image’. * It is virtually impossible for someone to be elected to the House of Commons without being a member of an established political party. * All political parties strongly ‘whip’ their elected members which means that, on the vast majority of issues, Members of Parliament of the same party vote as a ‘block’. Having said this, the influence of the hree main political parties is not as dominant as it was in the 1940s and 1950s because: * The three parties have smaller memberships than they did since voters are much less inclined to join a political party. * The three parties secure a lower overall percentage of the total vote since smaller parties between them now take a growing share of the vote. * Voters are much less ‘tribal’, supporting the same party at every election, and much more likely to ‘float, voting for different parties at successive elections. * The ideological differences between the parties are less than they were with the parties adopting more ‘pragmatic’ positions on many issues. In the past, class was a major determinant of voting intention in British politics, with most working class electors voting Labour and most middle class electors voting Conservative.
These days, class is much less important because: * Working class numbers have shrunk and now represent only 43% of the electorate. * Except at the extremes of wealth, lifestyles are more similar. * Class does not determine voting intention so much as values, trust and competence. In the British political system, there is a broad consensus between the major parties on: * the rule of law * the free market economy * the national health service * UK membership of European Union and NATO The main differences between the political parties concern: * how to tackle poverty and inequality * the levels and forms of taxation * the extent of state intervention in the economy * the balance between collective rights and individual rights

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