Education system of England and Wales

Topic 3: Education system of England and Wales

A brief history of state education until the 1980s:

Before World War 2, most children in the state sector remained at ‘elementary schools’ until the age of 14. A secondary education was available only to those who paid for private (or independent) schools or who had passed selection examinations to council- run grammar schools.

The 1944 the Education Act introduced secondary education for all from the age of 11, different types of secondary school were established as pupils were allocated based on their results in the 11+ examination. Highest marks attended grammar schools offering an academic curriculum; most of the rest (around 2 thirds) went to secondary modern schools and weren’t expected to take any examinations.

From 1965, many local authorities developed comprehensive secondary schools which all children attended; this was partly a response to what was an unfair system of selection, which favoured children from middle- class families.

Since the 1970s, there has been continuing debate about the quality of state education. New teaching methods, changing attitudes towards behaviour and punishment and young people’s readiness for the world of work are amongst the concerns. 

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Topic 3: Education system of England and Wales

Educational change since 1979:

Introduction of parent governors

Financial control being taken from local authorities and given to head teachers and governing bodies.

More frequent inspections of schools.

The development of the National Curriculum.

Increased examination of children at various ages.

The concept of educational choice for parents, to pick the school they feel was most suited to their child, rather than being allocated.

Better performing schools were given additional funding.

Some schools could select up to 10% of their students based on ability.


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Topic 3: Education system of England and Wales

Supporters of the education reforms:

They argue that there is better teaching in schools.

Schools are more responsive to the demands of parents.

Competition forces weaker schools to improve, as if they don’t they will lose pupils.

There are better links between employers and universities and schools.

Critics of the changes to education system:

The emphasis on league tables encourages schools to favour more able students. As there is a link between social class and educational success, this can disadvantage some pupils.

 Schools have become so examination focussed that the idea of education for its own sake has been squeezed out. The reinforcements of the exam drive lessons, not pupil interest.

Some of the new school types have freedom to adapt their curriculum; this has led to concerns that children may have a narrower education.


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Topic 3: Education system of England and Wales

The academy programme:

During the 1960s, local education authorities were seen by the Labour government as a barrier to school improvement. The response was to force failing schools to leave local authorities to become academies sponsored and managed by boards or trusts led by businesses and local universities or colleges. Some schools choose to become academies and don’t need a sponsor. The argument is that independence and new ideas will produce better exam results.

The changes haven’t been welcomed by everyone. The evidence about exam performance is difficult to interpret so researchers aren’t sure that by changing to an academy has any long- term impact on performance.

Other concerns have been expressed- freedom to adapt curriculum, some schools may have unfair disadvantages when it comes to recruiting teachers and pupils. As local authorities lose schools they will also lose money and the ability to support their remaining schools.

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Topic 3: Education system of England and Wales

Diversity and devolution:

Scotland and Northern Ireland have always had different education system from England and Wales.

Until 1998, there was little difference between Welsh and English schools; although the Welsh had more grammar schools, reflecting the value placed on education as a route to success.

From 2016, they will have different A- level systems of exams and Wales hasn’t followed the academy path.

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Topic 3: Education system of England and Wales

Independent and private schools: Alongside the state- provided education system, there is also a system whereby parents can pay for their child to attend independent schools. These are the schools which charge fees. The most prestigious are known as ‘public schools’ but not all independent schools offer the same kind of facilities, history or tradition.  

Arguments in favour of independent schools are that:

Parents can choose how to spend their money and if they choose to spend it on education, it is their right. Their children will more than likely achieve good exam results. 

By educating around 7% of students, independent schools are saving the state sector money; parents have paid taxes which support the state system and then pay again through fees.

Arguments against independent schools are that:

People can buy privilege for their children at the expense of all children, so increasing social inequality in UK.

Those who use the independent sector have little or no concern for the state system, if more influential parents used the state system, there would be more pressure for it to improve.

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