School Education 37
The National Education Act of 1944 provided three stages of education: primary, secondary and further education. Compulsory schooling in England and Wales lasts 11 years, from the age of 5 to 16.
Primary education takes place in infant schools (pupils aged from 5 to 7 years) and junior schools (from 8 to 11 years). This marks the transition from play to "real work".
Secondary Education (11 to 16/18 years)
In 1965 the Labour Government introduced the policy of comprehensive education. Before that time, all children took an exam at the age of 11 called the ''11 + ". Approximately the top 20 per cent were chosen to go to the academic grammar schools. Those who failed the "11 + " exam (80 per cent) went to secondary modern schools.
A lot of educationalists thought that this system of selection at the age of 11 was unfair for many children. So comprehensive schools were introduced in 1965 to offer suitable courses for pupils of all abilities. Pupils at comprehensive schools are quite often put into "sets" for the more academic subjects. Sets are formed according to ability in each subject.
Private Education (5 to 18 years)
Some parents prefer to pay for private education in spite of the existence of Free State education. Private schools are expensive and attended by about 7 per cent of the school population. There are about 500 public schools in England and Wales.
The schools, such as Eton, Harrow, Rugby and Winchester, are famous and have a long history and traditions. Public schools educate the ruling class of England. Children of wealthy or aristocratic families often go to the same public school as their parents and their grandparents. Eton is one of the most famous private schools. The elder son of the Queen Prince Charles left Gordonstoun in 1968. Harrow School is famous as the place where Winston Churchill was educated, as well as six other Prime Ministers of Great Britain, the poet Lord Byron and many other prominent people. Public schools are free from state control and called independent. Most of them are boarding schools. The education is usually of a high quality; the discipline is very strict. These schools accept pupils from the preparatory schools at about 11 or 13 years of age. The fundamental requirements are very high. At 18 the most public school-leavers gain entry to universities. The majority of independent secondary schools are single-sex, although in recent years girls have been allowed to join the sixth forms of boys' schools.
Independent schools also include religious schools (Jewish, Catholic. Muslim, etc.) and schools for ethnic minorities.
At the age of 14 or 15, in the third or fourth form of secondary school, pupils begin to choose their exam subjects. In 1988 a new public examination — the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) — was introduced for 16 year-olds.
Many people decide to leave school at the age of 16 and go to a Further Education (FE) College. Here most of the courses are linked to some kind of practical vocational training, for example in engineering, typing, cooking or hairdressing. Some young people are given "day release" (their employer allows them time off work) so that they can follow a course to help them in their job. For the 16 year-olds who leave school and who cannot find work but do not want to go to Further Education College, the Government introduced the Young Opportunities Scheme (YOPS). This scheme places young, unemployed people with business or an industry for six months so that they can get experience of work, and pays them a small wage. They generally have a better chance of getting a job afterwards and sometimes the company they are placed with offers them a permanent job.
After the age of 16 a growing number of school students are staying on at school, some until 18 or 19, the age of entry into a higher education in universities and Polytechnics.
Pupils who stay on usually fall into two categories. Some pupils will be retaking GCSEs in order to get better grades. Others will study two or three subjects for an "A" Level (Advanced Level) GCE exam (General Certificate of Education).This is a highly specialized exam and is necessary for University entrance.