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The UK Education System vs. Other Countries

United Kingdom had been the education leader of the world. It has set standards for the others to follow with some of the path breaking policies and their effective implementation at all educational levels, such as primary, secondary and beyond. Also now, many countries incorporate the improvements made by the British education system into their education system. Therefore, the evolution of British system of education, policy changes through the ages, the economical and social factors that affected education system in England etc, would make an interesting study.

The education system of UK was well evolved in comparison with other nations even during the colonial past. In fact, British started the first educational institutions of most of the countries with the network of their missionaries, which has helped in the spread of English as a world language. The scope of this essay, however, is limited to the “social, economic and political factors influencing the changes in primary and secondary education in Wales and England since 1944”.

The UK Education System vs. Other Countries

1944 was a landmark year in the history of the Wales and England education systems. The 1944 educational act (also known as the Butler Act, named after Rab Butler who formulated the act) changed the existing primary and secondary education system scenario completely. It placed the education system under Ministry of Education, which hitherto was nonexistent and increased the role of the minister to include promotion of education in England and Wales. The act made Education free but compulsory. This increased the school leaving age to 15; offered all students free food, housing, and regular medical check-ups. Most of which were owned by the churches were converted to the entire Voluntary Schools, either aided or ‘ regulated. ‘ To advice the minister on the matters connected with education two Central Advisory Councils for Education, one for England and one for Wales were established. While it established that religious education was a statutory requirement, it gave the parents a free hand to decide on the participation of their children in it. It made the appointment of a Chief Education Officer a mandatory requirement for every LEA and divided the responsibility of management of education between the central government, the LEAs and Institution governing bodies. The government did not get involved in the process of making the curriculum which was left to the institution governing bodies mainly head teacher.

The 1994 education act was based on the reports of Hadow (1926), Spens (1938), and Norwood (1943) all of which were suggestive of grouping of children based on their intelligence through exams (Roy Lowe (ed), 2000). Hence, it introduced the ‘Tripartite System’ of having Grammar Schools, Secondary Modern Schools, and the Secondary Technical Schools. Grammar school was for the most intelligent of the student lot, the Secondary Modern Schools for the ordinary majority and Secondary Technical Schools were for those with technical aptitude. Most of the provisions of the 1944 Education Act were introduced by the Labor Party, which came to power with a huge majority after the Second World War. Some parts of the act were abolished by legislation one by one in later years, and it was finally repealed by the Education Act of 1996.

While Britain was busy with mammoth restoration efforts after World War II, the government in power under Clement Attlee was fascinated with the development of so called ‘welfare State’. Ellen Wilkinson the first Minister of Education post-war aggressively pursued her ambition of implementation of provisions of 1944 education act without much success. Some of the studies produced after the Education Act of 1944 proposed further improvements to the education system. Percy report (1945) recommended inclusion of technical education in universities and Barlow Report (1946) recommended increase in number of seats for science students in universities. The first Clarke report (1947) School and life had a close look at the transformation stage from school to the employee life and the second Clarke Report (1948) Suggested for increased funding for schools.

In 1951 elections, Conservatives mustered the mandate to form the Government and Winston Churchill became the Prime Minister. The contribution of Tories to the field of education during this period was close to zilch. The Gurney-Dixton Report (1954) which was published a decade after the 1944 Education Act was the first major assessment of the functioning of the 1944 Education Act. The 1955 Underwood Report Maladjusted Children emphasized the need for the LEAs to address the tribulations faced by the children by setting up Child Guidance Service.

The 1960s were marked by comprehensive and brisk developments in the field of education in Britain. This period saw a general shift in the public attitude towards the individualization of learning process, which was student centered, with a stress on learning by discovery. This progressive outlook resulted in the introduction of comprehensive secondary education, which facilitated in unhooking the primary schools from the grip of eleven plus exams. There were many factors, which brought about these sudden changes in the education system. The first among these factors was the role of the society. Unlike in the previous decade where society was skeptical about the changes that were brought forward in the field of education, and the teachers were resistive towards the emergence of government control of the system during 1960s there existed a permissive society which actually craved for the changes and welcomed all the experiments in this field. Unlike in the previous decades when the country was restoring itself from the after effects of the war and the society was left in a haze to decide whether to concentrate on building up its educational system or become a welfare state, this period (1960s) saw the emergence of a consensus in the consciousness among youth of their role in the society, importance of personal liberty and full employment, such that they were willing to experiment. Charged with this shift in trend, LEAs accelerated the pace of developments by encouraging schools to come up with innovations. These innovations resulted in the teacher’s community acquiring high degree of autonomy giving rise to professionalism and better standard of teaching. This further resulted in a gradual decline of inspections by HMI and LEA officials. A new concept of  ‘Open Plan’ schools, which gave importance to individualization of the learning process and discarded the whole-class teaching methods gained wide acceptance. The tripartite system, which came into being after the 1944 Education Act, put the comprehensive education system on hold for some time. While other countries concentrated on producing qualified work force, due to the increase in demand, Britain was left behind due to the opposite stance taken by the politicians who restricted the access to secondary school for a selected few and prohibited secondary schools to run exam courses. Although many LEAs demanded for the comprehensive system of education as back as 1951 the Labour government, which was in power then, rejected most of them. However, in mid 1950s there was a change in party’s policy and it voiced its support for comprehensive schools and doing away with eleven plus selection exam. By early 1960s, the public opinion was also in the favor of having comprehensive school and abolishing eleven plus exam. There were a few major shortcomings in the selection system. The admissions to the schools were error prone due to the shortcomings of the selection mechanism. The student population in grammar school was highly skewed as far as gender composition was concerned with vacancy for boys far outnumbering that of girls. Due to the shortage of seats created by the selectivity, many children were leaving school too early. Riding on the existing public opinion, Labour party declared their commitment to abolish eleven plus exam and established comprehensive schools by including it in their manifesto for the 1964 general election. The Labour won the election by a tiny margin. However, after coming into power the pressures of governance kept the Labour party from fulfilling their promise in the manifesto. Nevertheless, to prove its commitment to the declaration in the manifesto the government in principle accepted the partial comprehensivisation thereby making the fatal error running the grammar school along with comprehensive school, which was not feasible. In 1966, again Labour came into power but this time with a huge mandate, which was suggestive of the public support for the Labour’s policy of introducing the comprehensive schools. This time also the government failed to take any concrete step towards this. In spite of all this, there were around 50 schools, which went comprehensive, and many more became non-selective (Harry Bringhouse, 2003).

The comprehensivisation took hold of the education scenario in the late 50s and 60s. Now when the schools wanted to convert from grammar school, which had small buildings due to their smaller intake, to comprehensive ones the existing buildings were not sufficient. Some of the schools then created split-site campus to address this problem segregating the students on age basis. To others who wanted to bring down the school buildings to erect new ones with more space, the Ministry of education stating that the existing buildings, which are in good condition, would not be demolished denied the permission. To address this problem Sir Alec Clegg suggested the three-tier system of organizing the classes on the basis of the student’s age ranging 5-9, 9-13, 13-18. Then Minister of Education Sir Edward Boyle consented with this proposal and granted limited experimental status to the middle school. The first of these middle schools started in Bradford and West riding in1968. The publication of Plowden Report (1967) children and their primary school was one of the major events in the education field of England and Wales. He advocated child centered learning process where a child is encouraged to learn for themselves rather than from the fear of disapproval or desire for rewards.

In 1970, Margaret Thatcher became the Education Secretary in the Ted Heath’s Tory Government. It went easy on the comprehensivisation plans of the previous government stating that it would only entertain the plans for comprehensivisation on individual school basis. However, in effect during her time in the office the number of students in comprehensive schools increased and even surpassed the number of students in the selective ones. The best opportunity for going fully comprehensive was created when in 1974 when the Labour government returned to power. However, all that the Labour Government could manage to achieve was to a pass two-paragraph bill giving the Secretary of State the power to ask LEAs to plan Non-Selective systems. The Conservatives repealed this bill in 1979. But even before this Labour Party’ s stance reversed which reflected in the “Yellow Book’ (1976). The Comprehensivisation as a political agenda had a slow death after the Ruskin College speech of Prime Minister Jim Callaghan in1976 which triggered the ‘Great Debate’. Later Margaret Thatcher drove in the nail on the coffin of the comprehensivisation when Conservatives came into power in 1979 by transforming the country’s schools into an education market place.

In contrast with the public psyche in 60s was that of 70s when disillusionment with education was set in. Due to the economic recession in the late 60s governments world over began to cut down on the expenditure on Education. This economic situation became the basis on which right-wing educationalists’ and politicians’ published a series of ‘Black Papers’. The William Tyndale Affair, where a complete chaos was generated as the staff of this primary school lost the control over its students because of introduction of radical changes coupled with an extreme form of romantic liberalism into the school life, also added fuel to the fire. The Margaret Thatcher Government went onto tighten the grip of the center on education. The LEAs were compelled to publish their curriculum policies. She went onto weaken the LEAs, initially by reducing their numbers, then by removing their powers and finally by abolishing them. . The Education Act of 1988 completed this effort. This Act recognized the need to involve parents in the education process and empowered them with legal powers.

The 1988 Education Reform Act ‘The Baker Act’ (after secretary of state Kenneth Backer) was the most significant one since 1944 Education Act. This act reduced the powers of the LEAs and transferred them to the Secretary of state. The teacher’s liberty to formulate the curriculum was passed onto a ‘quango’ (Quasi-autonomous non-government organization), which was in charge of making a National Curriculum. Based on their performance in the national curriculum subjects each student were assessed and the results were published. It introduced religious education and collective worship in every school, which were to be predominantly Christian. The act devised the local management of schools and placed the management of the budget in the ambit of schools. Parents were given more involvement in the running of the schools. The schools were given permission to opt out from the control of LEAs and be placed directly under a ‘quango’ for funding.

The next conservative Prime Minister John Major carried on the momentum achieved by the Margaret Thatcher Government to introduce the Market place initiatives in Education. His government came out with 1993 education act, which was the largest piece of legislation in the history of education, and the 1996 education act which basically consolidated all the education acts since the 1944 education act (Wearmouth, Janet, et all, 2003). The market place initiatives introduced into the education resulted in the closure of many middle schools in 90s. The two reasons for its closure were related to finance and national curriculum. The middle schools, which had less number of students, were increasingly getting expensive to run. The introduction of national curriculum gave rise to the requirement of having the middle school and upper schools clubbed together for ensuring uniformity of curriculum. In 1997, the Labour party formed the government after a gap of 18 years. The new Labour government’s policies were not in affirmation with that of the previous ones which kick started the process of comprehensivisation. The new Labour Government published a white paper ‘Excellence in schools’ in 1997 and implemented its proposals in the 1998 School standards and Framework Act. The government’s resolve not to make any radical changes in the structure of the education system was very much visible in the provisions of the act. ‘Standards not structures’ became the new mantra of the government. Therefore, the government went about quashing the Comprehensive principle in the pretext of modernizing it. This secret agenda of the Government was made amply clear when in 2000 Tony Blair announced his plans to turn many of the comprehensive schools into ‘specialist colleges’ in three years time. These new type of schools were to raise money from sponsorship for its running. In an effort to pressurize the schools to perform of face closure the Government started the practice to ‘name and shame’ the under performing schools on the basis of parental choice and the league tables, which hit the schools in the less affluent area the most resulting in the falling student admissions and the increased difficulty in retaining the good teaching staff. The next milestone in the path towards privatization of schools was the setting up of Educational Action Zones of which the first 12 came up in 1998 with the sponsorship from Blackburn Rovers, Cadbury Schweppes, Nissan, Rolls Royce, Kellogg, British Aerospace, Tate and Lyle, American Express and Brittany Ferries (Clyde Chitty, 1989). However, the private participation also did not have the desired effect of improving the standards in schools and in Jun 2003 OFSTED (private inspection team, a ‘quango’) reported that the introduction of EAZs also did not help the cause. The eagerness on the part of the government to privatize the Education System was exhibited in the privatization of Leeds LEA. In 2001 general election Labor Part retained the power and Estelle Morris was made the successor of David Blunkett as the Secretary of State for Education. In November 2001, a white paper ‘Schools Achieving success’ was published and in 2002, an education act was passed based on this. The government stance on the structure of education system was to have diversity. The government’s effort to stall the comprehensive education system continued. In December 2001 a five lakh pound scheme was announced, by School Standards Minister Stephen Timms, according to which some grammar schools, and local secondary modern schools and comprehensive schools would form a partnership. This was met with extensive criticism. However, the government continued with its persistent drive against comprehensive schools, which aimed at increasing the number of specialist to 1000 by 2003 and to 1500 by 2005. In September 2002, the first of the ‘City Academies’ came into being. The criticism against this included the objection that these were private schools running on taxpayer’s money. Charles Clarke who replaced Estelle Morris in October 2002 after her resignation reiterated his commitment to speed up the creation of specialist school. By May 2003 the government, expenditure on specialist schools had touched 400 million pounds (Stephen Ward, 2004). In September 2003 ‘The Business Academy Bexley’ was opened in the place of a ‘failing school’ in Thames mead. Further Blair took it as a challenge to work out the next phase of ‘ improved educational opportunity’ for inner-city pupils and identified Islington, Hackney, Haringey, Southwark and Lambeth as cities needing additional help. During this period the inadequacy of national curriculum and testing were also criticized. Under pressure from all quarters, Education Secretary Charles Clarke agreed to take steps towards the streamlining of School Tests and Targets.

All these developments like, preference given to specialists school by government, the curriculum which gave importance to English, mathematics and science and neglecting subjects like geography, history, arts etc, increased stress on pupil due to the selectivity, and the existing diversity in the structure of education is what the final result of decades of planning and this has become the hall mark of education system in England and Wales.

The education system in England and Wales has come a full circle. It has to now start afresh from where it ended in 1860s when the class divisions among pupil were prominent much like the division; the system has managed to create in its quest to maintain selection and elitism. One can only hope that the enthusiasm and the participation of the public in the 60s is somehow revived, to facilitate the progression of the society towards a better tomorrow of excellence and glory.

Education in Wales from 1944 Onwards

The evolution of the education system is the most remarkable and the most appealing episode in the history of Wales. The welsh system of education thrived mainly on the aspiration of parents of the region to root their children in their own culture. The development of the Welsh education system is a testimony to the effectiveness of the parental interest in the matters related to schooling of their wards. The first welsh medium school, which was started in 1939, in Aberystwyth, with just seven pupils was a result of one such initiative (Jones Gareth, 1994). Although it started as a total private affair with no statutory status, because of 1944 education act provisions, it gained authenticity. The 1944 education act was a milestone in the history of education of England and Wales. For Wales, it was even more special because it was under the provisions of this act that the Central Advisory Council of Wales came into being. The amalgamations of welsh and English secondary education system was complete after the 1944 Education act. From the time of its inception, the Central Advisory Council concentrated its efforts more on the affairs of denominational instruction than the structure of the secondary education. The welsh secondary schools maintained a bipartite system of grammar and secondary modern schools since government Successfully stalled all the efforts to come up with a comprehensive system of secondary school education. But when the Crosland’s Circular 10/65 pressed for the comprehensive system of education Wales took to it automatically and many comprehensive schools came up in the welsh region. This gave rise to a change in attitude towards welsh language due to which many more welsh-language comprehensive schools came up. The role of parents in the development of welsh medium schools was commendable. It was under pressure from the parents that permission was given to the LEAs to start Welsh Medium Schools under the provisions of the 1944 Education Act. With in just three years from the passage of the act first of these Welsh medium schools were established, in Llanelli and Carmarthenshire. The existing socio-economic scenario in UK also facilitated in the spread of the Welsh medium schools. Several factors dictated the preference for welsh medium schools. Wales has maintained a tradition of quality education, through the years. Even the School curriculum in Wales differs considerably vis-à-vis that followed in England, mainly in its stringent requirement for Welsh language education.  In some cases welsh medium were preferred due to the heritage and in some cases it was preferred due to the increased chance to land up an employment in the coal mine valleys of the region of Wales. From its starting welsh medium schools had highly motivated teachers who were committed and hardworking. This enabled the Welsh medium schools to achieve a high quality of educational standard.  Further, the Undeb Cenedlacthol Athrawon Cymru or UCAC (The national Union of the Teachers of Wales) acted as the coordinating agency between the parents and teachers across Wales and effectively acted as a body to exert pressure on LEAs to increase the provisions for welsh- medium. Even in the anglicized areas of Wales, the Welsh medium schools gained popularity. This popularity increased further with the opening up of Welsh medium Primary Schools (Ysgolion Meithrin). In 1970 the count of welsh medium schools stood at 60. In the following year the Mundiad Ysgolion Meithrin (Welsh Nursery School Movement) was formed. These events triggered a greater enthusiasm in all agencies, involved in the process of running the educational institutions. Now along with the continued parental participation and interest the LEAs also started taking initiative. During this time, the proposal to adopt a bilingual system of education was also prevalent among the populace. The first of which; Ysgol Glanclwyd came into existence in 1956. Five years later in 1961 the second one; Ysgol Maes Garmon also came into existence followed by Rhyd felen in the county of Glamorgan in 1962. By 1976, bilingual schools were numbering at seven.  The starting up of bilingual secondary school brought about a fundamental change in the Welsh secondary education.  Every section of educational system like officials, advisors, teachers associations and other educational bodies were extending their support to this movement. This support went a long way in opening up of more number of welsh medium and bilingual schools. The curriculum also evolved and improved along side, which resulted in the introduction of welsh medium public examinations. In 1970s welsh medium and bilingual educations were very popular although the systems varied slightly, across different regions of Wales. It was in 1970s that the welsh medium and the bilingual education attained legitimacy in its fullest (Garcia (Ed) & Baker (Ed), 1998). In the 80s the marketisation of the education system, which gripped the entire education system of UK showed its effect in Wales too. The parental support and participation which was increased manifold due to the stance taken by the conservative government increased the demand for welsh medium provision. The 1986 Education act placed the budgetary control in the ambit of school authorities. Parents were given legitimate power to be represented in the decision-making forums of the School administration. The 1988 Education reform act made welsh a core subject, which has to be studied as a compulsory subject in all welsh medium Schools, and as a foundation subject in all other schools in Wales. The combined efforts and pressure from across the strata of society led to the passing of Welsh Language Act in 1993. This put Welsh in equal footing with English in the Welsh public sector institutions. The welsh language board was put in charge to oversee the implementation of the same. As per the Welsh Language Act the schools and LEAs were required to furnish welsh language schemes to the Welsh Language Board. In 1999, Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru (The National Assembly for Wales) was established. This has been the most important development in furthering the cause of welsh medium schools and bilingual schools in Wales. This political opportunity increased the value and legitimacy of welsh education system, and has the potential to boost up the spread of Welsh medium and bilingual Schools in future.  After coming into existence, the National Assembly for Wales took the responsibility for the statutory national key-stage tests in Wales. In 2003, The Welsh assembly undertook a revision of the assessment procedures that are followed in schools. While the tests at key stage one was stopped in2002, the committee set up for the revision of assessment procedures was supporting the abolition of tests at key stage two and three. Of late, the Welsh Language Board has announced a 2.7 million pound grant in 2006-07 to promote Welsh medium education (Jones Mari C, 1998).  All these developments have put the Welsh Education system on a sound footing with the capability to attain new heights in time to come.

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