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Education in England

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Education in England

Education in England
Department for Education
Department for Business, Innovation and Skills
Secretary of State (Education)
Minister for Universities and Science (BIS)
Nicky Morgan

David Willetts
National education budget (2008–09)
Budget £62.2 billion[1][2]
General details
Primary languages English
System type National
Compulsory education 1880
Literacy (2003[3])
Total 99 %
Male 99 %
Female 99 %
Total 11.7 million
Primary 4.4 million[4]
Secondary 3.6 million[4]
Post secondary 3.7 million[5][6]
Secondary diploma

Level 2 and above: 70.7%

Level 3 and above: 50.6%
Post-secondary diploma

Level 4 and above: 30.9%

(2007 statistics for population aged 19-64)[7]

Education in England is overseen by the United Kingdom's Department for Education and Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Local authorities (LAs) are responsible for implementing policy for public education and state schools at a local level.

The education system is divided into early years (ages 3–5), primary education (ages 5–11), secondary education (ages 11–18) and tertiary education (ages 18+).

Full-time education is compulsory for all children aged 5 to 17, either at school or otherwise, with a child beginning primary education during the school year he or she turns 5.[8] After the age of 16, pupils may continue their secondary studies for a further two years (sixth form), leading most typically to A-level qualifications (similar to a high school diploma in some other countries), or, for some students, to other qualifications, like the Business and Technology Education Council (BTEC) qualifications, the International Baccalaureate and the Cambridge Pre-U.

The leaving age for compulsory education was raised to 18 by the Education and Skills Act 2008. The change took effect in 2013 for 16-year-olds and will take effect in 2015 for 17-year-olds.[9] State-provided schooling and sixth-form education are paid for by taxes. England also has a tradition of independent schooling but parents may choose to educate their children by any suitable means.

Higher education often begins with a three-year bachelor's degree. Postgraduate degrees include master's degrees, either taught or by research, and the doctorate, a research degree that usually takes at least three years. Universities require a Royal Charter in order to issue degrees and all but one are financed by the state via tuition fees, which cost up to £9,000 per academic year for English, Welsh and European Union students.

History of English education

Until 1870 all schools were charitable or private institutions, but in that year the Elementary Education Act 1870 permitted local governments to complement the existing elementary schools in order to fill any gaps. The Education Act 1902 allowed local authorities to create secondary schools. The Education Act 1918 abolished fees for elementary schools.

Education to the age of 18

All children in England must currently receive an effective education (at school or otherwise) from the first "prescribed day", which falls on or after their fifth birthday to the last Friday in June of the school year in which they turn 16.[10][11] This was raised in 2013 to the year in which they turn 17 and will be raised in 2015 to their 18th birthday.[9] The prescribed days are 31 August, 31 December and 31 March.[12][13] The school year begins on 1 September (or 1 August if a term starts in August).[14] The Compulsory stages of education are broken into a Foundation Stage (actually covering the last part of voluntary and first part of compulsory education), four Key Stages, and Sixth Form (which covers the last 2 years of Secondary Education).

State-funded schools

St Barnabas Church of England Primary School, Oxford

Some 93% of children between the ages of 3 and 18 are in education in state-funded schools without charge (other than for activities such as swimming, theatre visits and field trips for which a voluntary payment can be requested, and limited charges at state-funded boarding schools[15]).

Since 1998, there have been six main types of maintained (state funded) school in England:[16][17][18]

  • Academy schools, established by the 1997-2010 Labour Government to replace poorly-performing community schools in areas of high social and economic deprivation. Their start-up costs are typically funded by private means, such as entrepreneurs or NGOs, with running costs met by Central Government and, like Foundation schools, are administratively free from direct local authority control. The 2010 Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government expanded the role of Academies in the Academy Programme, in which a wide number of schools in non-deprived areas were also encouraged to become Academies, thereby essentially replacing the role of Foundation schools established by the previous Labour government. They are monitored directly by the Department for Education.[19]
  • Community schools (formerly county schools), in which the local authority employs the schools' staff, owns the schools' lands and buildings, and has primary responsibility for admissions.
  • Free schools, introduced by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition following the 2010 general election, are newly established schools in England set up by parents, teachers, charities or businesses, where there is a perceived local need for more schools. They are funded by taxpayers, are academically non-selective and free to attend, and like Foundation schools and Academies, are not controlled by a local authority. They are ultimately accountable to the Secretary of State for Education. Free schools are an extension of the existing Academy Programme. The first 24 free schools opened in Autumn 2011.
  • Foundation schools, in which the governing body employs the staff and has primary responsibility for admissions. School land and buildings are owned by the governing body or by a charitable foundation. The Foundation appoints a minority of governors. Many of these schools were formerly grant maintained schools. In 2005 the Labour government proposed allowing all schools to become Foundation schools if they wished.
  • Church of England or the Roman Catholic Church), or non-denominational schools, such as those linked to London Livery Companies. The charitable foundation contributes towards the capital costs of the school (typically 10%), and appoints a majority of the school governors. The governing body employs the staff and has primary responsibility for admissions.[20]
  • Voluntary Controlled schools, which are almost always church schools, with the lands and buildings often owned by a charitable foundation. However, the local authority employs the schools' staff and has primary responsibility for admissions.

In addition, 3 of the 15 City Technology Colleges established in the 1980s still remain, the rest having converted to academies. These are state-funded all-ability secondary schools which charge no fees but which are independent of local authority control. There are also a small number of state-funded boarding schools.

English state-funded primary schools are almost all local schools with a small catchment area. More than half are owned by the Local Authority, though many are (nominally) voluntary controlled and some are voluntary aided. Some schools just include infants (aged 4 to 7) and some just juniors (aged 7 to 11). Some are linked, with automatic progression from the infant school to the junior school, and some are not. A few areas still have first schools for ages around 4 to 8 and middle schools for ages 8 or 9 to 12 or 13.

English secondary schools are mostly comprehensive, although the intake of comprehensive schools can vary widely, especially in urban areas with several local schools. Nearly 90% of state-funded secondary schools are specialist schools, receiving extra funding to develop one or more subjects in which the school specialises, which can select up to 10% of their intake for aptitude in the specialism (though relatively few of them have taken up this option).In a few areas children can enter a grammar school if they pass the eleven plus exam, there are also a number of isolated fully selective grammar schools and a few dozen partially selective schools.[21] A significant minority of state-funded schools are faith schools, which are attached to religious groups, most often the Church of England or the Roman Catholic Church.

All state-funded schools are regularly inspected by the Office for Standards in Education, often known simply as Ofsted. Ofsted publish reports on the quality of education at a particular school on a regular basis. Schools judged by Ofsted to be providing an inadequate standard of education may be subject to special measures, which could include replacing the governing body and senior staff.

Independent schools

Approximately 7% of school children in England attend privately run, fee-paying independent schools. 18% of sixth form students attend independent schools. Some independent schools for 13-18 year olds are known for historical reasons as 'public schools' and for 8-13 year olds as 'prep schools'. Some schools offer scholarships for those with particular skills or aptitudes, or bursaries to allow students from less financially well-off families to attend. Independent schools do not have to follow the National Curriculum, and their teachers are not required or regulated by law to have official teaching qualifications."[4]

Sixth form colleges / further education colleges

Students at both state schools and independent schools typically take GCSE examinations, which mark the end of compulsory education. Above school-leaving age, the independent and state sectors are similarly structured. In the 16–18 age group, sixth form education is not compulsory at present, although mandatory education until the age of 18 is to be phased in under the Education and Skills Act 2008. This will take effect for 16-year-olds in 2013, and for 17-year-olds in 2015.

Students will typically study in the sixth form of a school, in a separate sixth form college, or in a further education college. These courses can also be studied by adults over 18. This sector is referred to as Further Education. Some 16-18 students will be encouraged to study Key Skills in Communication, Application of Number, and Information Technology at this time.

The National Apprenticeship Service helps people 16 or more years of age enter apprenticeships in order to learn a skilled trade. Unemployment rates among tradesmen one year out of training are typically one-third those of university undergraduates one year out of school.[22]

Education by means other than schooling

The 1944 Education Act (Section 36) stated that parents are responsible for the education of their children, "by regular attendance at school or otherwise", which allows children to be educated at home. The legislation places no requirement for parents who choose not to send their children to school to follow the National Curriculum, or to give formal lessons, or to follow school hours and terms, and parents do not need to be qualified teachers.[23] A small but increasing numbers of parents do choose to educate their children outside the conventional school systems.[24][25][26] Officially referred to as "Elective Home Education", teaching ranges from structured homeschooling (using a school-style curriculum) to less-structured unschooling.[27][28] Education Otherwise has supported parents who wished to educate their children outside school since the 1970s. The state provides no financial support to parents who choose to educate their children outside of school.

Higher education

A view from one of the postgraduate study carrels at the Clock Tower of Maughan Library, King's College London.

Students normally enter university from age 18 onwards, and study for an academic degree. Historically, all undergraduate education outside the private Regent's University London[29] University of Buckingham and BPP University College was largely state-financed, with a small contribution from top-up fees, however fees of up to £9,000 per annum have been charged from October 2012. There is a distinct hierarchy among universities, with the Russell Group containing most of the country's more prestigious, research-led and research-focused universities. The state does not control university syllabuses, but it does influence admission procedures through the Office for Fair Access (OfFA), which approves and monitors access agreements to safeguard and promote fair access to higher education. Unlike most degrees, the state still has control over teacher training courses, and uses its Ofsted inspectors to maintain standards.[30]

The typical first degree offered at English universities is the bachelor's degree, and usually lasts for three years. Many institutions now offer an undergraduate master's degree as a first degree, which typically lasts for four years. During a first degree students are known as undergraduates. The difference in fees between undergraduate and traditional postgraduate master's degrees (and the possibility of securing LEA funding for the former) makes taking an undergraduate master's degree as a first degree a more attractive option, although the novelty of undergraduate master's degrees means that the relative educational merit of the two is currently unclear.

Some universities offer a vocationally based foundation degree, typically two years in length for those students who hope to continue on to a first degree but wish to remain in employment.

Postgraduate education

Students who have completed a first degree are eligible to undertake a postgraduate degree, which might be a:

  • Master's degree (typically taken in one year, though research-based master's degrees may last for two)
  • Doctorate (typically taken in three years)

Postgraduate education is not automatically financed by the state.

Specialist qualifications


In the academic year 2011-2012, most undergraduates paid fees that were set at a maximum of £3,375 per annum. These fees are repayable after graduation, contingent on attaining a certain level of income, with the state paying all fees for students from the poorest backgrounds. UK students are generally entitled to student loans for maintenance. Undergraduates admitted for the academic year 2012-2013 will pay tuition fees set at a maximum of up to £9,000 per annum, with most universities charging over £6,000 per annum, and other higher education providers charging less.

Postgraduate fees vary but are generally more than undergraduate fees, depending on the degree and university. There are numerous bursaries (awarded to low income applicants) to offset undergraduate fees and, for postgraduates, full scholarships are available for most subjects, and are usually awarded competitively.

Different arrangements will apply to English students studying in Scotland, and to Scottish and Welsh students studying in England. Students from outside the UK and the EU attending English universities are charged differing amounts, often in the region of £5,000 - £20,000 per annum[31] for undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. The actual amount differs by institution and subject, with the lab based subjects charging a greater amount.

Adult education

Adult education, continuing education or lifelong learning is offered to students of all ages. This can include the vocational qualifications mentioned above, and also:

  • One or two year access courses, to allow adults without suitable qualifications access to university.
  • The Open University runs undergraduate and postgraduate distance learning programmes.
  • The Workers' Educational Association offers large number of semi-recreational courses, with or without qualifications, made available by Local Education Authorities under the guise of Adult Education. Courses are available in a wide variety of areas, such as holiday languages, crafts and yacht navigation.


2007 statistics:[7] Percentage of population aged 19–64 who have progressed to each level:


Pupils claiming free school meals (2010)[32]
School type Primary Secondary
All 19.3% 15.2%
Church of England 13.1% 12.0%
Roman Catholic 16.3% 14.0%
Non-religious 21.5% 15.6%

One-half of British universities have “lost confidence in the A* or A grades”, and require many applicants to sit for a competitive entrance examination or other aptitude test. According to the Schools Minister, “strong evidence has been emerging of grade inflation across subjects” in recent years.[33] The Confederation of British Industry, the EEF and the British Chambers of Commerce are also complaining of falling academic standards. Employers often experience difficulty in finding young people who have such basic employability skills as literacy, numeracy, problem solving, teamworking and time management. As a result, employers either have to pay for employees' remedial education, or they must hire foreign candidates.[34][35][36]

Katharine Birbalsingh has written of the problems she perceives in many community schools. She cites the impossibility of effective classroom management, bad teachers who cannot be dismissed, and government policies encouraging "soft" subjects. Birbalsingh has visited schools in Jamaica and India where pupils are desperate to gain the kind of education to which pupils in her own school (and their parents) were indifferent. She was a deputy head teacher in south London until she spoke at a Conservative Party conference in 2010 and was quickly sacked.[37] Frank Chalk, who taught at an inner-city school for ten years before resigning in frustration, makes similar claims.[38]

An analysis of 2010 school data by The Guardian found that state faith schools were not taking a fair share of the poorest pupils in their local areas, as indicated by free school meal entitlement. Not only was this so at an overall national level, but also in the postcode areas nearby the schools. This suggested selection by religion was leading to selection of children from more well-off families.[39]

Schools with fewer free school meal children than local postcode average (2010)[32]
School type Primary Secondary
Church of England 63.5% 39.6%
Roman Catholic 76.3% 64.7%
Non-religious 47.3% 28.8%

A survey of 2000 teachers by The Guardian in 2011 cited a recurring reason for not enjoying the job. A lack of trust was referred to by respondents in the survey's "free text" area for extra comments, and related to senior staff, parents and governments.[40] Writing about her own reasons for leaving teaching, a contributing editor to the newspaper's Guardian Teacher Network described the realisation of needing to leave the profession as having slowly crept up on her. Being a mature entrant, she questioned things in her aspiration to improve education and was reluctant to "be moulded into a standard shape".[41]

See also


  1. ^ Annex A: Total Departmental Spending, 7391 Departmental report 2008, Department for Children, Schools and Families. £43 billion total spending on schools.
  2. ^ Table 1 Total Departmental spending, Departmental report 2008, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills. £14.3 billion spending on HE, £4.9 billion on FE.
  3. ^ Estimate for the United Kingdom, from United Kingdom, CIA World Factbook
  4. ^ a b c Table 1.2: Full-time and Part-time pupils by age, gender and school type, Education and Training Statistics for the United Kingdom: 2008, Department for Children, Schools and Families. Enrolment at independent schools is not partitioned by stages in the source, and has been estimated using an equal division. The error is within the precision of these figures.
  5. ^ "Higher Education Enrolments, and Qualifications Obtained, at Higher Education Institutions in the UK in the Academic Year 2006/07". Higher Education Statistics Agency. 10 January 2008. The total number of HE enrolments at English HEIs stood at 1,957,195 in 2006/07. 
  6. ^ "Further Education, Work-Based Learning, Train to Gain and Adult Safeguarded Learning - Learner Numbers in England: October 2007". Learning and Skills Council. 10 April 2008. There were 1.75 million learners in LSC-funded FE on 1 October 2007. 
  7. ^ a b DIUS: The Level of Highest Qualification Held by Adults: England 2007 (Revised)
  8. ^ "Schools in the Great Britain". Retrieved 7 January 2012. 
  9. ^ a b Education and Skills Act 2008, Office of Public Sector Information.
  10. ^ Section 8. Compulsory school age, Education Act 1996, 1996 c.56, UK Parliament.
  11. ^ "School attendance and absence: the law".  
  12. ^ "The Education (Start of Compulsory School Age) Order 1998". The National Archives. 
  13. ^ "School leaving age". Retrieved 2013-12-06. You’ll have to stay in some form of education or training until you turn 18, if you started year 11 in September 2013 or later 
  14. ^ Provision of Education) (England) Regulations 1994The Education (Information as to , Statutory Instrument 1994 No. 1256, UK Parliament.
  15. ^ Jeevan Vasagar (31 January 2012). "State boarding school boom: surge in pupils living away from home". Guardian. 
  16. ^ "Categories of Schools – Overview". GovernorNet.  
  17. ^ "The Composition of Schools in England" (PDF).  
  18. ^ Types of School, Citizens Advice Bureau.
  19. ^ "What are Academies?". Standards Site.  
  20. ^ "Voluntary Aided Schools". Teachernet.  
  21. ^ Clyde Chitty (16 November 2002). "The Right to a Comprehensive Education". Second Caroline Benn Memorial Lecture. Retrieved 22 January 2009. 
  22. ^ Clark, Laura (25 November 2014). "Apprentices beat graduates in jobs race: University leavers three times more likely to be unemployed a year after finishing course". Daily Mail. Retrieved 4 December 2014. 
  23. ^ "Educating your child at home". Directgov. Retrieved 9 December 2008. 
  24. ^ Richard Garner (28 January 2002). "Rising number of parents decide they can do a better job than the education system".  
  25. ^ Mathew Charles (18 March 2005). "Growth market in home education". BBC News. Retrieved 9 December 2008. 
  26. ^ Katie Razzall; Lewis Hannam (26 September 2007). "UK home-school cases soar". Channel 4 News. Retrieved 9 December 2008. 
  27. ^ "Elective Home Education: Guidelines for Local Authorities" (PDF).  
  28. ^ Terri Dowty (editor) (2000). Free Range Education: How Home Education Works. Hawthorn Press.  
  29. ^ 
  30. ^ "Teacher training providers".  
  31. ^ "UKCISA - Fees, funding and Student Support". Retrieved 25 February 2010.  UK Council for International Student Affairs > How much will the 'overseas' fee for my course be?
  32. ^ a b "How many poor children go to faith schools?". The Guardian. 5 March 2012. Retrieved 7 March 2012. 
  33. ^ Paton, Graeme (13 July 2012). "More students forced to sit university admissions tests". The Telegraph. Retrieved 14 July 2012. 
  34. ^ "Boosting employability skills". Confederation of British Industry. Retrieved 29 October 2011. 
  35. ^ "Skills and education submissions". EEF: The Manufacturers' Association. Retrieved 6 July 2014. 
  36. ^ "The BCC Skills and Employment Manifesto". British Chambers of Commerce. Retrieved 1 February 2014. 
  37. ^ Katharine Birbalsingh (2011). To Miss with Love. Viking. ISBN 0-670-91899-7
  38. ^ Frank Chalk (2006). It's Your Time You're Wasting: A Teacher's Tales of Classroom Hell. Monday Books. ISBN 978-0-9552854-0-0
  39. ^ Jessica Shepherd and Simon Rogers (5 March 2012). "Church schools shun poorest pupils". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 March 2012. 
  40. ^ Berliner, Wendy (3 October 2011). "Guardian survey finds teachers want to be treated as professionals".  
  41. ^ Drury, Emma (5 October 2011). "Why I left teaching".  

Further reading

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