Education in Britain

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private, grammar, comprehensives with plenty of nice middle-class children, comprehensives with fewer nice middle-class children and so on.'

Central control

The government has looked for ways of exercising greater influence over what is taught in schools. New legislation gave the government powers to exercise detailed control over the organization and content of education. The 1988 Education Act legislated a National Curriculum and a system of National Assessment. In addition, significant changes were enacted to make possible the central financing and thus control of schools through creating a new kind of school outside LEA control (first, the provision of City Technology Colleges 9CTC), and, second, the creation of Grant Maintained Schools (GMS)). The government also significantly reduced the power of local authorities by transferring the management of schools from the LEA to the schools themselves (known as the local management of schools or LMS).

At the same time, within this more centralized system, parents have been offered greater choice through the establishment of different kinds of schools (GMS and CTC), through the delegation of management to the governing bodies of the schools (LMS) and through the granting of parental rights to send their children to the school of their choice.

The various Parliamentary Acts (but especially the 1988 Act) gave legal force to a massive change in the terms of the education partnership. First, the Secretary of State now has powers over the details of the curriculum and assessment. Second, a mechanism has been created whereby there can be more participation by parents (and to a much smaller degree by employers), in decisions that affect the quality of education. Third, the LEAs have been required to transfer many decisions over finance, staffing, and admissions to the schools and colleges themselves. Fourth, the LEA responsibility for the curriculum has been transferred to the Secretary of State.

Employer involvement

The voice of the consumers will be heard more, and the consumer includes the employer. Several initiatives encouraged employer participation. First, and possibly the most important in the long run, has been the encouragement of business representatives on governing bodies of schools. Second, there has been a range of initiatives which have given employers a greater say in the purposes which schools are expected to serve and in the means of attaining them.

The role of assessment

The government decided to develop a reformed system of examinations which would specify the standards against which the performance of individual schools and of pupils might be measured.

The 1988 Education Act legislated for assessment of pupils at the ages of 7, 11, 14 and 16, using attainment targets which all children should normally be expected to reach at these different ages in different subjects - especially in the foundation subjects of English, mathematics and science. The assessments relied partly on moderated teacher-assessment, but more importantly on national, externally administrated tests.

As a result of these national assessments, exactly where each child was in relation to all other children in terms of attainment in each subject. And it would be possible to say how each school was succeeding in these measured attainments in relationship to every other school. These assessments, have subsequently, provided the basis of national comparisons and league tables of schools.

In the reform of National Curriculum in the early 1990s, it was decided that, because of public examinations at 16 , the national assessment should finish at 14.


For over one hundred years, there had been an independent inspection service. The inspectors were called Her Majestys Inspectors (HMI) to indicate that ultimately they were accountable to the Queen, not to the government from whom they ardently preserved their independence. Until about ten years ago, HMI numbered about 500. They inspected schools and they advised the government.

Senior HMIs were based at the Department of Education and Science (now the department for Education and Employment) but the big majority were scattered over the whole country so that they could advise locally but also be a source of information to central government. Indeed, they were known as the ears and the eyes of the Minister.

Much of this has now changed as government has sought greater central control. HMI has been cut back to about one third of its previous size. The Chief Inspector is now a political appointment, not someone who has arisen from the ranks of an independent inspectorate. A new office has been created, the Office for Standards in Education (OFSTED), to which HMI now belong and which is much more at the service of government policy.

Under OFSTED a very large army of Ofsted inspectors has been created - often teachers - who, after a brief training, are equipped to inspect schools. The initial plan was to inspect all 25,000 schools every four years and to publish a report which would be accessible to everyone. Every teacher is seen and graded. OFSTED is able to identify failing schools and failing teachers.

: 20/09/2009