Education in Britain

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Schools and the post-16 curriculum

The maintenance of such a curriculum has been a major function of the examination system at 16, which was originally designed as a preparation for the post-16 courses leading to A-level. It is taken in single subjects, usually not more than three. These three subjects, studied in depth, in turn constituted a preparation for the single or double subject honors degrees at university. In this way the shape of the curriculum for the majority has been determined by the needs of the minority aspiring to a university place. Alongside «A» Levels, there have been, more recently, «AS» (Advanced Supplementary) Level examinations. These are worth half an «A» Level and they enable very bright students to broaden their educational experience with a «contrasting» subject (for example, the science specialist might study a foreign language).

The present «A» and «AS» Level system, however, is thought to be in need of reform. First, it limits choice of subjects at 16 and 17 years, a time, when a more general education should be encouraged. Second, approximately 30% of students either drop out or fail - a mass failure rate amongst a group of young people from the top 30% of academic achievement who find that after two years they have no qualification. Third, the concentration on academic success thus conceived has little room for the vocationally relevant skills and personal qualities stressed by those employers who are critics of the education system. Fourth, there are over 600 «A» Level syllabuses from eight independent examination boards often with overlapping titles and content, making comparability of standards between Boards difficult.

The private sector


y 1997 8 per cent of the school population attended independent fee-paying schools, compared with under 6 per cent in 1979, and only 5 per cent in 1976. By the year 2000 the proportion may rise to almost 9 per cent, nearly back to the level in 1947 of 10 per cent. The recovery of private education in Britain is partly due to middle-class fears concerning comprehensive schools, but also to the mediocre quality possible in the state sector after decades of inadequate funding.

Although the percentage of those privately educated may be a small fraction of the total, its importance is disproportionate to its size, for this 8 per cent accounts for 23 per cent of all those passing A levels, and over 25 per cent of those gaining entry to university. Nearly 65 per cent of pupils leave fee-paying schools with one or more A levels, compared with only 14 per cent from comprehensives. Tellingly, this 8 per cent also accounts for 68 per cent of those gaining the highest grade in GCSE Physics. During the 1980s pupils at independent schools showed greater improvement in their examination results than those at state schools. In later life, those educated at fee-paying schools dominate the sources of state power and authority in government, law, the armed forces and finance.

The 'public' (in fact private, fee-paying) schools form the backbone of the independent sector. Of the several hundred public schools, the most famous are the 'Clarendon Nine', so named after a commission of inquiry into education in 1861. Their status lies in a fatally attractive combination of social superiority and antiquity, as the dates of their foundation indicate: Winchester (1382), Eton (1440), St Paul's (1509), Shrewsbury (1552), Westminster (1560), The Merchant Taylors' (1561), Rugby (1567), Harrow (1571) and Charterhouse (1611).

The golden age of the public schools, however, was the late nineteenth century, when most were founded. They were vital to the establishment of a particular set of values in the dominant professional middle classes. These values were reflected in the novel Tom Brown's Schooldays by Thomas Hughes, written in tribute to his own happy time at Rugby School. Its emphasis is on the making of gentlemen to enter one of the professions: law, medicine, the Church, the Civil Service or the colonial service. The concept of 'service', even if it only involved entering a profitable profession, was central to the public school ethos. A career in commerce, or 'mere money making' as it is referred to in Tom Brown's Schooldays, was not to be considered. As a result of such values, the public school system was traditional in its view of learning and deeply resistant to science and technology. Most public schools were located in the 'timeless' countryside, away from the vulgarity of industrial cities.

After 1945, when state-funded grammar schools were demonstrating equal or greater academic excellence, the public schools began to modernise themselves. During the 1970s most of them abolished beating and 'fagging', the system whereby new boys carried out menial tasks for senior boys, and many introduced girls into the sixth form, as a civilising influence. They made particular efforts to improve their academic and scientific quality. Traditionally boarding public schools were more popular, but since the 1970s there has been a progressive shift of balance in favour of day schools. Today only 16 per cent of pupils in private education attend boarding schools, and the number of boarders declines on average by 3 per cent each year.

Реферат опубликован: 20/09/2009