————————————————- EDUCATION IN GREAT BRITAIN 6/7. Great Britain does not have a written constitution, so there are no constitutional provisions for education. The system of education is determined by the National Education Acts. Schools in England are supported from public funds paid to the local education authorities. These local education authorities are responsible for organizing the schools in their areas and they themselves choose how to do it.
Let’s outline the basic features of public education in Britain. Firstly, there are wide variations between one part of the country and another. For most educational purposes England and Wales are treated as one unit, though the system in Wales is a little different from that of England. Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own education systems. Secondly, education in Britain mirrors the country’s social system: it is class-divided and selective. The first division is between those who pay and those who do not pay.
The majority of schools in Britain are supported by public funds and the education provided is free. They are maintained schools, but there is also a considerable number of public schools. Parents have to pay fees to send their children to these schools. The fees are high. As a matter of fact, only very rich families can send their children to public schools as well as to the best universities, such as Oxford and Cambridge. Another important feature of schooling in Britain is a variety of opportunities offered to schoolchildren.
The English school syllabus is divided into Arts (or Humanities) and Sciences, which determine the division of the secondary school pupils into study groups: a Science pupil will study Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics (Maths), Economics, Technical Drawing, Biology, Geography; an Art pupil will do the English Language and Literature, History, foreign languages, Music, Art, Drama. Besides these subjects they must do some general education subjects like Physical Education (PE), Home Economics for girls, and Technical subjects for boys, General Science.
Computers play an important part in education. There is a system of careers education for schoolchildren in Britain. It is a three-year course. The system of option exists in all kinds of secondary schools. Besides, the structure of the curriculum and the organization of teaching vary from school to school. Headmasters and headmistresses of schools are given a great deal of freedom in deciding what is taught and how in their schools so that there is really no central control at all over individual schools.
The National Education Act of 1944 provided three stages of education; primary, secondary and further education. Compulsory schooling in England and Wales lasts 11 years, from the age of 5 to 16. After the age of 16 a growing number of school students are staying on at school, some until 18 or 19, the age of entry into higher education in universities and Polytechnics. British university courses are rather short, generally lasting for 3 years.
The cost of education depends on the college and speciality which one chooses. Pre-primary and Primary Education Nurseries. Primary School. Streaming. The Eleven Plus Examination. No More of It? In some areas of England there are nursery schools 3 for children under 5 years of age. Some children between two and five receive education in nursery classes or in infants classes in primary schools. Many children attend informal pre-school play-groups organized by parents in private homes.
Nursery schools are staffed with teachers and students in training. There are all kinds of toys to keep the children busy from 9 o’clock in the morning till 4 o’clock in the afternoon – while their parents are at work. Here the babies play, lunch and sleep. They can run about and play in safety with someone keeping an eye on them. For day nurseries which remain open all the year round (he parents pay according to their income. The local education authority’s nurseries are free.
But only about three children in 100 can go to them: there aren’t enough places, and the waiting lists are rather long. Most children start school at 5 in a primary school. A primary school may be divided into two parts -infants and juniors. At infants school reading, writing and arithmetic are taught for about 20 minutes a day during the first year, gradually increasing to about 2 hours in their last year. There is usually no written timetable. Much time is spent in modelling from clay or drawing, reading or singing.
By the time children are ready for the junior school they will be able to read and write, do simple addition and subtraction of numbers. At 7 children go on from the infants school to the junior school. This marks the transition from play to “real work”. The children have set periods of arithmetic, reading and composition which are all Eleven Plus subjects. History, Geography, Nature Study, Art and Music, Physical Education, Swimming are also on the timetable. Pupils are streamed according to their abilities to learn into A, B, ? and D streams.
The least gifted are in the D stream. Formally towards the end of their fourth year the pupils wrote their Eleven Plus Examination. The hated 11 + examination was a selective procedure on which not only the pupils’ future schooling but their future careers depended. The abolition of selection at Eleven Plus Examination brought to life comprehensive schools where pupils can get secondary education. Secondary Education Comprehensive Schools. Grammar Schools. Secondary Modern Schools. The Sixth Form. No More Inequality?.
Cuts on School Spending After the age of 11, most children go to comprehensive schools of which the majority are for both —boys and girls. About 90 per cent of all state-financed secondary schools are of this type. Most other children receive secondary education in grammar and secondary modern schools. Comprehensive schools were introduced in 1965. The idea of comprehensive education, supported by the Labour Party, was to give all children of whatever background the same opportunity in education.
Only about 20 per cent of children study for the General Certificate of Education, Ordinary Level (GCE ?-level). Most children do not pass GCE examinations. They leave school at 16 without any real qualification and more often than not increase the ranks of unemployed people. Pupils of modern schools take their Certificate of Secondary Education (CSE) examinations while in grammar schools almost all children stay to sixteen to take ?-levels. More than half of them stay on to take ?-levels.
Some comprehensive and many secondary schools, however, do not have enough academic courses for sixth-formers. Pupils can transfer either to a grammar school or to a sixth-form college to get the courses they want. The majority of schools in Scotland are six-year comprehensives. Secondary education in Northern Ireland is organized along selective lines according to children’s abilities. One can hardly say that high quality secondary education is provided for all in Britain.
There is a high loss of pupils from working-class families at entry into the sixth form. If you are a working-class child at school today, the chance of your reaching the second year of a sixth- form course is probably less than one-twelfth of that for the child of a professional parent. Besides, government cuts on school spending caused many difficulties. Secondary School Examinations Time for Examinations. GCE. CSE. The Sixth Forms. CEE.
GCSE Pupils at secondary schools in England (that is, pupils between the ages of twelve and eighteen) have two main exams to worry about, both called GCE — General Certificate of Education. They take the first one when they are about fifteen. It’s called O- level. There is an exam which you can take instead of ?-level: it is called the CSE (Certificate of Secondary Education), and it is not as difficult as O-level. Most pupils take ?-level in about seven or eight different subjects.
There are lots of subjects to choose from —everything from carpentry to ancient languages. For a lot of jobs, such as nursing, or assistant librarian, you must have four or five ?-levels, and usually these must include English and Maths. You may leave school when you are 16. But if you stay at school after taking ?-level, you go into the sixth form. The sixth forms and sixth-form colleges offer a wide range of courses. Ordinary level alternative, CEE (Certificate of Extended
Education) and CSE courses are offered to pupils who need qualifications at a lower level. But if you have made up your mind to gain entry to a university, Polytechnic or college of further education you have to start working for the second main examination — A-level. Most people take ?-level when they are about eighteen. It is quite a difficult exam, so people don’t usually take it in more than 3 subjects— and some only in one or two subjects. Three ?-levels are enough to get you in to most universities.
For others, such as Oxford and Cambridge, you have to take special exams as well. A new school-leaving certificate is planned, however, and O-level and CSE will be replaced by one public exam, the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE). It is to show how children worked throughout 5 years of secondary school. 5. Parliamentary elections in the United Kingdom should be seen as a referendum on the performance of sitting MPs, not merely as a snapshot nationwide opinion poll determining party voting weights for the next Parliament.
The electoral system affects the degree to which voters may hold their representatives to account for their actions in the previous Parliament; changes which would diminish this accountability mechanism should be resisted. The UK presently has a legislature whose unelected chamber better reflects the relative strength of the Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat and None of the Above parties. Conversely, if Labour and the Conservatives each won 50% of the vote, the other chamber would have a sizable Labour majority. 51% of the seats in the Lower House delivers 100% of the power, and this can be captured by Labour on about 40% of the vote.
Nevertheless, whenever Labour runs into opposition from the chamber which, in any other context, would be described as more “representative” by people who go in for that kind of thing, it threatens to force its legislation through under the Parliament Acts, on the grounds that the Lower House is more “democratic”. The Lower House is more democratic. Contrary to the self-serving views of the Liberal Democrats and other jejune supporters of electoral “reform”, what matters for democracy is not representativeness or proportionality, so much as accountability and responsiveness.
When MPs behave in accordance with their constituents’ wishes, this is to be preferred to their merely existing in party groupings of such sizes as best reflect their constituents’ choices at the previous election. When discussing electoral reform in the UK, retaining a “constituency link” is often posited as a requirement. That is to say, it is felt to be necessary that everyone should have an MP who is in some sense “theirs”, normally meaning that people are grouped into geographical areas and each area gets its own MP. A weaker version of this permits multiple MPs for each area.
This is supposed to be good because it means that there’s automatically someone in Parliament to go to with one’s grievances. There is a much better reason why it happens to be good. If we merely say that everyone must have one or a small number of MPs, that does not imply that every MP must have his own constituency. The German federal electoral system and its antipodean imitator in New Zealand affords MPs who have no constituencies: they are elected from party lists and assigned in such numbers as ensure that the proportion of MPs in each party in the chamber match the proportion of the vote each party won.
This category of MPs shares the same vice as MPs in a chamber fully elected by a proportional system: they can’t be voted out of office directly. If your MP decides to go against the wishes of his constituents, they can contact him and say, “Hi, your majority at the last election was 2000; we, the undersigned 1001 who voted for you last time will vote against your party next time unless you buck the whip on this issue we care about. ” The easier it is to do this, the more likely the behaviour of an MP will reflect the wishes of constituents.
Don’t believe the canard about votes not counting: every vote against the person who won counts against his majority and makes him more susceptible to pressure from his constituents before the next election. The electoral system can restrain this tactic. It works well under First Past The Post, and similar systems. Generally, increasing the number of MPs who represent a single constituency has the effect of making this tactic harder, as the punishment from electors may be spread across several MPs, especially if the electors cannot choose which MPs from a paricular party get the benefit of their vote.
This is a notorious problem with the European Parliamentary elections in Great Britain: if some MEP is the ringleader for a particularly odious policy, she cannot easily be voted out without voting out the colleagues from her party. Even when a free choice on the preferential ordering of MPs is permitted, it is difficult to stop the disliked MP from riding back to election on the coattails of his more popular colleagues. So, in order of preferability, the electoral systems rank as follows: * First Past The Post, and Alternative Vote Single Transferable Vote in multimember constituencies * Proper Proportional Representation systems with open lists * Proper Proportional Representation systems with closed lists Having said all this, it must be stressed that electoral reform for the House of Commons should not be considered in isolation from the composition of the other chamber, and the relation between the Commons and three other institutions: the executive, the House of lords, and the courts.
Some notes: Alternative Vote is the Australian name for a system which when used in single-member constituencies is identical to STV: electors rank the candidates in order of preference, and the least popular candidate is repeatedly eliminated until someone has over 50%; essentially, once a candidate is eliminated, a vote is regarded as counting for whichever remaining candidate was most preferred by its caster.
The effect of this system tends to be obliteration of extremists without penalising or “wasting” protest votes. It should be noted that in the British debate, “Proportional Representation” is used to mean proper PR systems and STV/AV. The Australian Electoral Commission used to have an excellent webpage with a classification of all the electoral systems used in Australia’s twenty-odd legislative chambers, but they’ve apparently improved it off their site now.
Other fallacious views on electoral systems which it is useful to rebut at this juncture include the contention that FPTP entrenches a two-party system (in fact, the number of parties is contingent on the geographical concentration of voters), that AV in the UK in 1997 would have led to a larger Labour majority (only if you didn’t tell people and the parties what the electoral system was in advance, otherwise the parties would have behaved differently), and that geographical constituencies are a relic of a bygone age and are being replaced by PR across Europe, or at least the world.
FPTP is described by Hilaire Barnett in her militantly Anglosceptic tome on the British constitution as “still” existing in some dusty English-speaking corners of the planet; in fact some countries using PR have been moving towards constituencies: Italy did in the 1990s, and the Dutch are considering a similar move. 2. POLITICAL PARTIES
The idea of political parties first took form in Britain and the Conservative Party claims to be the oldest political party in the world. Political parties began to form during the English civil wars of the 1640s and 1650s. First, there were Royalists and Parliamentarians; then Tories and Whigs. Whereas the Whigs wanted to curtail the power of the monarch, the Tories – today the Conservatives – were seen as the patriotic party.
Today there are three major political parties in the British system of politics: * The Labour Party – the centre-Left party currently led by Ed Miliband * The Conservative Party (frequently called the Tories) – the centre-Right party currently led by David Cameron * The Liberal Democrat Party (known as the Lib Dems) – the centrist, libertarian party currently led by Nick Clegg In addition to these three main parties, there are some much smaller UK parties (notably the UK Independence Party and the Green Party) and some parties which operate specifically in Scotland (the Scottish National Party), Wales (Plaid Cymru) or Northern Ireland (such as Sinn Fein for the nationalists and the Democratic Unionist Party for the loyalists). Each political party chooses its leader in a different way, but all involve all the Members of Parliament of the party and all the individual members of that party.
By convention, the leader of the political party with the largest number of members in the House of Commons becomes the Prime Minster (formally at the invitation of the Queen). Political parties are an all-important feature of the British political system because: * The three main political parties in the UK have existed for a century or more and have a strong and stable ‘brand image’. * It is virtually impossible for someone to be elected to the House of Commons without being a member of an established political party. * All political parties strongly ‘whip’ their elected members which means that, on the vast majority of issues, Members of Parliament of the same party vote as a ‘block’. Having said this, the influence of the hree main political parties is not as dominant as it was in the 1940s and 1950s because: * The three parties have smaller memberships than they did since voters are much less inclined to join a political party. * The three parties secure a lower overall percentage of the total vote since smaller parties between them now take a growing share of the vote. * Voters are much less ‘tribal’, supporting the same party at every election, and much more likely to ‘float, voting for different parties at successive elections. * The ideological differences between the parties are less than they were with the parties adopting more ‘pragmatic’ positions on many issues. In the past, class was a major determinant of voting intention in British politics, with most working class electors voting Labour and most middle class electors voting Conservative.
These days, class is much less important because: * Working class numbers have shrunk and now represent only 43% of the electorate. * Except at the extremes of wealth, lifestyles are more similar. * Class does not determine voting intention so much as values, trust and competence. In the British political system, there is a broad consensus between the major parties on: * the rule of law * the free market economy * the national health service * UK membership of European Union and NATO The main differences between the political parties concern: * how to tackle poverty and inequality * the levels and forms of taxation * the extent of state intervention in the economy * the balance between collective rights and individual rights
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