Education in UK

The education system in the UK consists of several levels starting in early years and continuing on to higher education such as University. Education is compulsory in England until the age of 18 and the following text will give an insight into any current issues faced within the education system.

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Table of contents

    The Education System in the UK

    The education system in the UK has changed drastically in previous years and now provides free education for all until the age of 18. It's important to understand the most influential government policies which changed the education system into the one we see now.

    The Education Reform Act - 1944

    The Education Reform act was introduced in 1944 and aimed to give all students an equal opportunity in education, catered toward their talents. The idea was that pupils would determine what secondary school they went to based on their academic achievement. The act introduced the tripartite system in order to do this.

    The tripartite system introduced the 11 plus exam taken in the final year of primary school, which determined which type of three schools a pupil would attend.

    Grammar schools

    If a pupil passed the test, they were able to enter grammar schools. These schools were aimed at providing a higher level of education for those able to pass the 11 plus.

    Secondary modern and technical schools

    If a pupil failed the test, they would have the option of attending a secondary modern school or a technical school. Secondary moderns took around 75% of all students who took the 11 plus exam and they are state-run schools. They aim at providing a high standard of education for all pupils but must have a mixed ability range.

    There was also a final option of technical schools introduced. These schools focused on cultivating a particular skill or subject and disregarded the students' 11 plus results. However, there are very few of these schools built and therefore most pupils who failed their 11 plus would simply attend a secondary modern.

    Comprehensivisation - 1965

    In 1965, the comprehensive system was introduced by the government. This introduced the merging of grammar schools and secondary modern schools to form a more mixed ability set of students. Comprehensive schools didn't require any exam to attend and took on students of all abilities. They offered a wide range of subjects, exams and extracurricular activities.

    Students attending these schools were often streamed and banded on their ability, to receive the most appropriate education based on their needs.

    Yet when the Conservative government came into power shortly afterwards, they stopped comprehensive schools as they were deemed too expensive. They preferred grammar schools because of the high achieving pupils they created.

    Consequently, with each new change in the governing party, 'comprehensivisation' was started and stopped multiple times until 1977. This was when the government started focusing more on improving the standard of education in the UK instead.

    Education in the UK, The houses of Parliament, StudySmarterThe government regularly introduces new legislation which changes the way education works in the UK.

    Current Issues with Education in UK

    The majority of secondary schools in the UK are comprehensive. Current issues within the education system in the UK can be seen when criticising the current comprehensive system.

    The main areas of critique lie within the limits of parental choice. Critics argue that comprehensivisation has limited the reach of parental choice as they no longer need to choose. If students no longer take the 11 plus exam, then they automatically go to a comprehensive school.

    Critics also point out that some academically talented students are held back by the sets of mixed-ability within a comprehensive, compared to a grammar. This can be particularly detrimental to academically talented working-class pupils who thrive better at a grammar school.

    It's also pointed out that the aim of comprehensivisation, to provide education in a mixed ability environment, has not wholly been achieved. This is because schools in a middle-class area take on mostly middle-class children which therefore affects overall achievement among pupils.

    Can you think of two advantages of having a comprehensive system?

    Levels of Education in UK

    It's important to have a clear understanding of how the schooling system works in the UK. There are a wide variety of schools which offer different opportunities for pupils, but we can view the school system in the following stages: early years, primary, secondary, further education and higher education.

    Early years education

    This refers to all education and care provided when a child is under the age of 5. There are several varieties of care given through different means. Day nurseries are set up for very young children either privately or state-provided by the local authority (LA).

    These can be useful for parents with long working hours or to get the child used to a school-like atmosphere. Playgroups provide a caring and educational space for children mostly between the ages of 3-5. Nursery education is for children up to 5 years old and is often attached to a primary school.

    Primary education

    Primary education includes both infants and junior schools. These schools often take pupils from the immediate local area from ages 5 to 11. Infant schools are ages 5-8 and the junior school follows at 8-11. The majority of primary schools are state-provided from the LA, however, there are some which require private fees to attend.

    Secondary education

    From the ages of 11-16, pupils must attend a secondary school. There are several options depending on the students. Comprehensive schools are provided by the state and require no fees to attend. This is where the majority of secondary education is provided.

    However, some secondary schools are private and require fees to gain access to their education, but this only accounts for approximately 7% of all school pupils. Alongside this, there are also grammar schools and some independent faith schools.

    Further education

    Full-time education is compulsory up to the age of 18 in England, but only until 16 in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. In England, from 16 students are able to opt for a flexible range of options for their final 2 years with the main choices of educational places being sixth forms, colleges, apprenticeships and training courses.

    Compulsory Education in UK

    School is provided free of charge by the state up until 18 to encourage pupils to attend. When a student reaches 16, they can choose what option to pick, as stated above.

    Each of the choices are government-approved and includes some form of education. These different paths are suited to different individuals, and schools try to provide young people with enough information to make an informed decision on their future.

    The Government has tried to prompt teenagers to stay in full-time education for as long as possible. They hope the results will turn Britain's workforce into a more well-trained and committed one. In order to achieve this, the government has increased competition between colleges and sixth forms, in the hope that they can be motivated to recruit more young people.

    Performance targets, exam result goals and performance-related pay were introduced further in the hope that it will improve the school's performances and encourage those at age 16 to continue on their educational journeys.

    There are discussions about raising the compulsory education age to 18 in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland but nothing has been confirmed yet.

    Education in the UK, Students studying at a table, StudySmarterThe government tries to promote students to continue on to further education.

    After attending further education, pupils may then go onto...

    Higher Education in UK

    Higher education in the UK refers to education after further education. Many students go on to attend University to gain a bachelor's degree and some even go on to achieve a master's degree. These courses can be either academically focused or vocational, depending on what the pupil chooses to study.

    The wide variety of courses on offer encourages more pupils to pursue higher education. They are accessible to people at any age, but most undergraduate courses enrol pupils straight out of secondary education.

    Alternative types of education

    Home-schooling is an alternative type of education in the UK. It involves pupils being taught at home by parents, guardians or tutors. Often, there is worry about the standard of this teaching in relation to exams. The government tries to implement a legal structure so that pupils being home-schooled aren't at a social disadvantage over those who attend school.

    A critical sociologist to remember in regard to alternative education is the Marxist thinker Illich (1995). He saw schools as repressive to children and teaches them to conform to society. Passive conformity leads them to remain in their proletariat position.

    He argued that education should be abolished and introduced the term de-schooling. De-schooling is the idea of getting rid of schools and instead, having free will to choose what to learn and then learn it in an engaging and explorative manner.

    Independent education

    Private schools refer to schools that charge students fees to gain access to their education. Public schools are a type of private school which is famed and renowned, such as Eton or Harrow.

    Independent schools are not under the same restrictions by the government as state schools. They don't have to follow the national curriculum and this is often what appeals to students and parents the most. Independent schools focus on offering a unique set of subjects which gain the attention of prospective students.

    Many sociologists and politicians criticise independent education. This is because they feel it offers a higher level of education than state schools yet is only accessible to the elite rich. In 2016, approximately 40% of the places at Oxford University were taken by those from independent schools even though only around 7% of children attend independent schools.

    This statistic shows the advantages of attending an independent school, and therefore why many wealthy parents choose to send their children to one.

    Reflect on your opinions of independent education. Would you choose to send your child to an independent school?

    Education in the UK - Key Takeaways

    • The Education Reform Act (1944) introduced the Tripartite system into the UK, introducing grammar, secondary modern and technical schools.
    • Comprehensivisation (1965) introduced the idea of providing education for all, regardless of academic ability.
    • The schooling structure in the UK follows this path: early years, primary, secondary, further education and higher education.
    • Home-schooling is when pupils are taught at home. Illich (1995) criticised the education system and suggested we all get involved with de-schooling.
    • Independent schools require fees to attend and aim to provide a high academic level of teaching for pupils.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Education in UK

    What is higher education in the UK?

    Higher education in the UK refers to education after further education. Many students go on to attend University to gain a bachelor's degree and some even go on to achieve a master's degree.

    What are the stages of education in UK?

    There are a wide variety of schools which offer different opportunities for pupils, but we can view the school system in the following stages: early years, primary, secondary, further education and higher education.

    How has education changed in the UK?

    The education system in the UK has changed drastically in previous years and now provides free education for all until the age of 18. It's important to understand the most influential government policies which changed the education system into the one we see now.

    How does education work in the UK?

    The education system in the UK consists of several levels starting in early years and continuing on to higher education such as University. Education is compulsory in the UK until the age of 18.

    Is education free in the UK?

    In the UK, school is provided free of charge by the state up until the age of 18. However, there are options to send children to paid schools, such as to private schools and public schools.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Education is free in the UK up until the age of...

    What year was the 'Education Reform Act' introduced?

    What year was 'comprehensivisation' introduced in the UK?

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