Classes of pupils are called forms (though it has recently become common to refer to years) and are numbered from one to six, beginning with first form. Nearly all schools work a five-day week, and are closed on Saturdays. The day starts at or just before nine oclock and finishes between three and four. The lunch break usually lasts about an hour-and-a-quarter. Nearly two-thirds of pupils have lunch provided by the school. Parents pay for this, except for the 15 per cent who are rated poor enough and have it for free. Other children either go home for lunch or take sandwiches.
Schools usually divide their year into three terms, starting at the beginning of September:
Autumn termChristmas holiday (about 2 weeks)Spring
termEaster holiday (about 2 weeks)Summer termSummer holiday (about 6 weeks)
Passage from one year to the next one is automatic. At the age of 14 pupils are tested in English, maths and science, as well as in statutory subjects. At that same age, in the 3rd or 4th form pupils begin to choose their exam subjects and work for two years to prepare for their GCSE qualifications. The exams are usually taken in the 5th form at the age of 16, which is a school-leaving age. The GCSE can be taken in a range of subjects (usually five in number). The actual written exams are set by independent Examination Boards, and are marker anonymously by outside examiners, but they must be approved by the government and comply with national guidelines. There are several examination boards in Britain and each school decided which boards exam its pupils take. Most exams last for two hours, marks are given for each exam separately and are graded from A to G (grades A, B, C are considered to be good marks).
16 is an important age for school-leavers because they have to make key decisions as to their future lives and careers. There is a number of choices for them.
§4. Education and training after 16.
The government has stated that all young people should have access to high-quality education and training after the age of 16. Young people have two routes they that can follow one based on school and college education, and the other on work-based learning.
About 70% of pupils choose to continue full-time education after 16. Broadly speaking, education after 16 is divided into further and higher education. Further (and adult) education is largely vocational and covers up to and including GCE A-level and AC qualifications, General National Vocational Qualifications (GNVQ) A-level. Higher education covers advanced courses higher than GCE A-level or equivalent.
Those wishing to go on to higher education stay for two years more into the Sixth form (17 year-olds in the Lower Sixth and 18 year-olds in the Upper Sixth). If their schools do not have the sixth form or do not teach the desired subjects pupils may choose to go to a Sixth Form College. The pupils then concentrate in two or three subjects, in which they take the GCE A-level examination. Good passes are now essential because the competition for places in the universities and other colleges has become much stiffer. The number of subjects taken at A-level varies between one and four, although three are usually required for entry into higher education. The concentration is upon a few subjects a high degree of early specialization in the British system.
Since 1988 there has been introduced a new level of examination: the AS exam, which is worth half an A-level and usually, involves one years study. This means that if pupils wish to study more than two or three subjects in the sixth form they can take a combination of A and AS levels. A-level arts student, for example, can still study science subjects at AS-level.
Some young people want to stay in schools for the period between 16 and 18, not just to do academic work but also get ready for examinations that lead to professional training or vocational qualifications (and because the general level of unemployment is now high).
To the end of September 1992 there were introduced the GNVQ. They are mainly undertaken by young people in full-time education between the ages of 16 and 18 and focus on vocational skills such as business and finance, information and technology. There are three GNVQ levels Advanced, Intermediate and Foundation. An Advanced GNVQ requires a level of achievement broadly equal to two GCE A-levels. Most commonly the GNVQs courses are studied at CFE but more and more schools are also offering them.
The following five levels of NVQs have been established:
Level 1 Foundation;
Level 2 Basic craft;
Level 3 Technical, advanced craft, supervisor;
Level 4 Higher technical, junior management;
Level 5 Professional, middle management.
There are also job-specific National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs).
These are the awards, which recognize work-related skills and knowledge and provide a path for lifelong learning. They are prepared by industry and commerce, including representatives from trade unions and professional bodies.
NVQs are based on national standards of competence and can be achieved levels from 1 to 5.
With Britains new enthusiasm for continuing education, far fewer 16 years-olds go straight out and look for a job than used to. About a third of them still take this option, however. The importance of creating a gap in their education is ever appealing to young people in Britain today. Experience outside classroom is also valued since it demonstrates maturity and a willingness to be independent.
The first step for young people entering the job market is their local Jobcentre or careers office. Some school careers advisors teach such skills as filling out a curriculum vitae or writing letters applying for jobs, which is a problem for many young people. Youth workers of Youth Service organizations also can give advice and counseling. A large number 16 and 17 years-olds enter. Youth Training Programmes established by the government as a means of helping young people to gain vocational experience. The government guarantees a place on the scheme to everybody under 18 who is not in full-time education or in work. Such programmes cover a wide range of vocational skills from hairdressing to engineering.
To sum up, average pupils usually attempt six or seven subjects, and the basic subjects required for jobs and further education are English, mathematics, science and foreign language. Good GCSE results will qualify pupils for a range of jobs, and for entry to further education if desired. GCE A-level examinations are normally associated with more academic children, who are aiming to entry higher education or to get professions. The dispersion of all 16-17 years olds in Britain in 1990 was following:
- 36% were at schools or colleges;
- 49% were working (employment) or seeking work;
- 15% were in Youth Training placements.
§5. Higher education.
As has been mentioned above, there is a considerable enthusiasm for post-school education in Britain. The aim of the government is to increase the number of students who enter into higher education. The driving force for this has been mainly economic. It is assumed that the more people who study at degree level, the more likely the country is to succeed economically. A large proportion of young people about a third in England and Wales and almost half in Scotland continue in education at a more A-level beyond the age of 18. The higher education sector provides a variety of courses up to degree and postgraduate degree level, and careers out research. It increasingly caters for older students; over 50% of students in 1999 were aged 25 and over and many studied part-time. Nearly every university offers access and foundation courses before enrolment on a course of higher education of prospective students who do not have the standard entry qualifications.
Higher education in Britain is traditionally associated with universities, though education of University standard is also given in other institutions such as colleges and institutes of higher education, which have the power to award their own degrees.
The only exception to state universities is the small University of Buckingham which concentrates on law, and which draws most of its students of overseas.
All universities in England and Wales are state universities (this includes Oxford and Cambridge).
English universities can be broadly classified into three types. First come the ancient universities of Oxford and Cambridge that date from the 12th century and that until 1828 were virtually the only English universities.
Oxford and Cambridge are composed of semi-independent colleges, each college having its own staff, know as Fellows. Most colleges have their own dining hall, library and chapel and contain enough accommodation for at least half of their students. The Fellows teach the students, either one-to-one or in very small groups (called tutorials in Oxford and supervision in Cambridge), the tutorial method brings the tutor into close and personal contact with the student. Before 1970 all Oxford colleges were single-sex (mostly for men). Now, the majority admits both sexes.