The History of England

from Celts through 20th century

Education in Great Britain: School

Category: Educational System

In Britain it is compulsory for everyone between the ages of 5 and 16 years to receive some officially recognized form of schooling, though most secondary schools continue to provide education until the age of 18.

The vast majority of pupils attend state schools, which are absolutely free (including all text books and exercise books), but there are also about 500 private schools providing secondary education. The most famous of these schools are Eton and Harrow.

There is no statutory age at which students change from primary to secondary school, nor are schools “specialized” — pupils choose from the numerous subjects taught in their particular school.

The recently introduced National Curriculum has made it compulsory, however, for three core subjects — English, mathematics, and science — and seven other foundation subjects — technology (including design), history, geography, music, art, physical education, and a modern foreign language — to be included in the curricula of all pupils.

Passage from one academic year to the next is automatic. After a two-year course, usually from 14 to 16 years of age, most pupils take their General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE), assessed on the basis of a mixture of course work and a written examination, in individual subjects.

Pupils obtaining at least five passes at GCSE can then specialize for two years (usually from 16 to 18 years of age) in two or three subjects, in which they take the General Certificate of Education Advanced level (A-level) examination. This is used as an entrance qualification for university (minimum two passes) and other types of higher education, as well as for many forms of professional training.
All British children must stay at school from the age of 5 until they are sixteen. Many of them stay longer and take school-leaving exams when they are 18. Before 1965 all pupils of state schools had to go through special intelligence tests and went to secondary schools of different types (grammar, technical, modern) according to the results of these tests. Grammar schools provided academic education for the best, technical schools offered technical or commercial courses, and at a modern school one could learn some trade.

Nowadays schools of these types still exist, but the most popular type is comprehensive school introduced in 1965. A comprehensive school usually has the humanities, sciences and education with a practical bias combined under one roof. Pupils may change their specialisation inside one school. Schools of this type have physics, maths, chemistry, languages, geography, biology, history and art, as well as commercial and domestic courses. There are many private schools which the state does not control. In Britain they are called ‘public schools’ and charge fees for educating children. Many of them are boarding schools where pupils live during the term time.

At the age of 16 pupils take General Certificate of Secondary Education exams in several subjects. After that they can try to get a job, go to college of further education, or stay at school for another 2—3 years. If they stay at school after 16, or go to a college of further education, they take school-leaving A-level exams at the age of 18. After that, they may choose to go to a university or a college of higher education.

There are about 180 higher educational establishments in the UK. After three years at a university or college of higher education they may receive the Bachelor’s degree; getting the Master’s degree will take another 2 or 3 years. After that, a graduate can take postgraduate courses to Master of Philosophy or Doctor of Philosophy. Students may receive grants and loans from their Local Educational Authorities to help pay for books, accommodation, transport and food. However, most students should pay these loans back after they get a job. Most students in Great Britain live away from home, in flats or halls of residence. To pay for education, many students have to work in the evening and during their summer vacations.

University life is considered an experience. The exams are competitive but the social life and living away from home are also important. The social life at universities and colleges is usually excellent, with a lot of clubs, parties and concerts.

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