The National curriculum.
Until 1988 the programmes of study varied from school to school and from region to region. One of the most important changes in education brought about by the Education Reform Act of 1988 is the introduction of a National Curriculum, for children aged 5- 16 in all state schools in England and Wales.
The National Curriculum consists of 10 subjects which all the children must study at school.
1. Core subjects: English, mathematics, science.
2. Foundation subjects: history, geography, a modern language, technology, art, music, physical education.
3. Religious Education is taught.
4. Attainment tests are given at the ages of 7, 11, 14, 16.
Schools offer other subjects in addition to those in the National Curriculum.
The National Curriculum aims to ensure that all children study essential subjects and have a better all-round education.
Pupils sit the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) exams at the end of the 5-years’ course. They usually take as many subjects as possible. Weak pupils may only sit for three or four subjects whilst better students will take ten subjects. Consequently pupils in Britain leave school at the age of 16 with examination certificates in the individual subjects they have passed.
The sixth form.
More ambitions pupils continue with very specialized studies in the sixth form. They remain at school for two more years. At the sixth form stage studies are highly specialized in only 3 or 4 main subjects which will prepare students either for entry to University or College of higher Education, or for direct entry into employment in industry or commerce.
The GCE Advanced Level (A-level) is normally taken after the two years of study in the sixth form.
The GCE Advanced Supplementary (AS), new examinations introduced for the first time in 1989, provide an opportunity for six-form pupils to take up a much wider curriculum than was previously possible. A student can take mathematics and physics at A-level but also study a modern language and economics at AS-level. A-levels or a mixture of A- and AS-levels are the main standard for entrance to university or other higher education.
Today there are 89 universities in Britain, compared with only seventeen in 1945. They fall into 4 broad categories: the ancient English foundations, the ancient Scottish ones, the “redbrick” universities, and the “plate-glass” ones. All the British universities are private institutions. Each has its own governing council; including some local business people and local politicians as well as a few academics. The state began to give them grants 60 years ago. Students have to pay fees and living costs, but every student may obtain a personal grant from local authorities of the place where he lives. This is enough to pay his full costs, including lodging and food but the amount depends on the parents’ income. If the parents don’t earn much money, their children will receive a full grant which will roughly cover all the expenses.
Students studying for first degrees are known as “undergraduates”. They have lectures, there are regular seminars, at which one of the students read a paper of he or she has written. The paper is then discussed by the tutor and the rest of the group.
The Bachelor’s degree. After 3 or 4 years (depending on the type of the university) the students will take their finals. Those who pass examinations successfully are given the Bachelor’s degree: bachelor of Arts (BA) for History, Philosophy, Language and Literature and sometimes Social Studies or Theology; or bachelor of Science (BSc) or Commerce or Music.
The Master’s degree. The first postgraduate degree is normally that of Master: Master of Arts (MA); Master of Science (MSc). In most universities it is only the science faculties that any large numbers of students stay to do postgraduate work.
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) is the highest degree. It is given for some original research work which is an important contribution to knowledge.