As I have already mentioned, in England, children start school when they are 5 years old. Sometimes, children start just before their 5th birthday. This is earlier than in Russia and indeed most other countries, where children start school when they are 6 or 7.
Primary schools in England are divided into two: infant schools for ages 5-7 and junior schools for ages 7 to 11.
In Scotland, children start school at the age of 6 and leave when they are 12.
The national curriculum for primary schools
In infant schools (ages 5-7), the main emphasis is on basic literacy and numeracy - learning to read and write and basic arithmetic.
In Junior schools are required to teach: English, Mathematics, Science, Information Technology (Computers), Religious Education, Design and Technology, History, Geography, Art, Music and Physical Education.
And, the NC lays down what is to be taught in each subject.
At the age of 11 in England, children leave primary school and go to secondary school, and they are required to stay at school until they are 16.
David Moon teaches history at the University of Durham in England. From 1999 to 2005, he taught at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow (Scotland).
There are different sorts of secondary schools.
Most children go to comprehensive schools. These are schools for children of all abilities that aim to teach the full range of subjects. Comprehensive schools became the most common sort of secondary schools in the 1960s and 1970s.
Some children go to grammar schools. These are schools for the academically more able children. Children have to pass a test to get into grammar schools. Grammar schools have a long history in England. Before the introduction of computers, children who failed the test to go to a grammar school went to separate secondary schools.
In recent years, the government has encouraged schools to specialise in certain areas, e.g. science and technology. Parents who want their children to get a more specialised education can choose one of these schools. Specialised schools still have to teach the NC, but give more emphasis to their speciality. The government has encouraged these schools to get funding from industry and business.
Most state secondary schools in England are now for boys and girls. Until the 1960s and 70s, there were separate schools for boys and girls. The separate schools were most common among grammar schools and church schools.
In Scotland, children go to secondary school when they are 12 and are also required to stay at secondary school until they are 16.
Most Scottish secondary schools are comprehensive schools, and Scotland does not have the tradition of testing children to decide which school they go to.
The National Curriculum at Secondary schools includes:
English, Mathematics, Science, Design and Technology, IT, History, Geography, Modern Foreign Languages, Art, Music and PE.
Children are required to study a foreign language for only 3 years. The most popular are French, German and Spanish. Some schools offer other languages, but many teach only French and German. Most children do not study a foreign language for more than 3 years.
At age of 16, pupils take examinations in most of these subjects. In England, the exams are called GCSEs (General Certificate of Secondary Education) and in Scotland, Standard Grades.
At the age 16 pupils have a choice.
They can stay on at school to study for more exams, usually in academic subjects, to qualify for higher education, or they can leave and go to college to study for more exams or to get the skills and qualifications they need for work. Some pupils start work at 16 and go to college part time to get their qualifications. There have been serious problems with unemployment for young people and the government has introduced many schemes to ensure that as many young people as possible get some sort of training for a job. Those who want to go on to Higher Education (universities) specialise in a narrower range of subjects at the age of 16.
In England, they study for 2 more years and take A levels. Until a few years ago, most studied three subjects. Often, they specialised quite narrowly. For example, a student wishing to study science or engineering at university would study maths, physics and chemistry or biology. A student wishing to study a humanities subject might study English, History and a foreign language. Over the last few years the A level system has been changed, and is still changing, and students now often study 5 subjects, but not in such depth.
In Scotland, students who want to go to University study for one or two more years, and study usually 5 subjects and take exams called ‘Highers’. There have also been changes in Scotland, and students are encouraged to stay on for two years and take exams called ‘Advanced highers’, but in few subjests.
So, the English and Scottish systems are moving towards each other....
Higher Education - Universities
There are around 100 universities in Great Britain. Some are very old. Oxford and Cambridge were founded in the 12-th and 13-th centuries and are among the oldest universities in Europe. There were 5 ancient universities in Scotland, which date back to the 15-th and 16-th.
Higher education began to expand in the 19-th.
The 3rd university to be founded in England was at Durham in 1832, and was followed by other new universities in major cities in the late 19-th and 20-th centuries. There were further waves of expansion in the 1960s and the 1990s in both England and Scotland.
Nearly 50 % of 18 year olds now go to higher education in Great Britain. This is a big increase. When I was a student over 20 years ago, only 14 % of 18 year olds went to university. A slightly higher proportion of Scots than English go to Universities. Another difference between England and Scotland is that in England, many students go to a university in a different city or part of the country from where their families live. In Scotland, most go to a university near their home.
Most universities in Great Britain teach a wide range of subjects - science and engineering, natural sciences, humanities and social sciences, law, accountancy, and some have medical schools.
The first degree in England is called a Bachelor’s degree (BA or BSc), and usually takes 3 years. Students usually study only one or two subjects in great detail for 3 years. English universities are unusual in Europe for offering such specialised degrees. The reason is because to qualify for university, students have to show that they have passed exams in a broad range of subjects and so are prepare to specialise.
In Scotland, the first degree is called either an MA or a BA.
Students in Scotland usually study for 4 years for their degree, and university education is broader than in England. Most Scottish universities require their students to study 3 or 4 subjects in their 1st year before specialising in 1 or 2.
Although universities get most of their funding from the state, higher education is not free. Until the 1990s, however, not only was higher education free, students also received grants from the government towards their living expenses. When the government decided to expand higher education in the 1990s, it was no longer possible to provide it free of charge and to give grants.
In England, students were required to pay fees of £1000 a year. This did not cover the full cost of their education. The rest was paid by the state.
In Scotland, a different system was introduced in 1999 when Scotland got its own parliament. Since 1999, Scottish students do not pay fees each year, but after they have graduated and when their incomes reach a certain level, they start to pay a special tax to pay for their education.
Last year in England the government introduced a new system. Fees have been increased to £3000 a year, but students will pay them only after they have graduated in a tax like in Scotland.
Big debates over whether fees and taxes are discouraging students from poorer families from going to university. Government is insisting that universities use some of the money they earn in fees to offer grants to students from poorer families.
The governments of England and Scotland are committed to providing a high quality education at all levels from primary schools to universities, and recognise the importance of education. They are still discussing changes now and there will be more changes to come. The English exams for 18 year olds - A levels - are likely to be replaced by a broader range of exams. The question of university funding is still changing.
Over my lifetime there have been many changes. The school system is very different since I was at school. And, when I was a student I was lucky enough to get a free university education and grants not only for my BA but also for my doctorate. I hope that by making a career teaching in universities I have been able to repay for the education I received.