State Education in Grate Britain. In the past the central government has not involved itself directly in matters of the school curriculum, though it appoints about 500 experienced teachers as Her Majesty's Inspectors (HMI). Each school is visited quite frequently by an Inspector and every few years a team of HMIs carries out a thorough examination of each school's work. Their reports include criticism and advice, relating to general and particular matters, and to the work and methods of individual teachers. They have great influence, but no defined powers, though it seems likely that their role will be enhanced in the 1990 s by the effects of a new law of 1988. In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland the schools and colleges are run by local education authorities under the general responsibility of the Secretaries of State for these three countries, and of their central education offices in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast.
But these three are members of the UK cabinet, and their policies in principle form parts of the policy of the UK government. In England the Secretary of State for Education and Science has overall responsibility. Primary schools In primary schools the first two years, beginning at the age of five, are spent on informal development of expression and ability to concentrate. Often children stay with the same teacher all the time for this whole 'infant' period. More formal 'junior level' teaching begins at the age of seven, though at this stage there is more concern with making children interested than with traditional instruction. Competitiveness in the learning process is not encouraged Secondary schools Although almost all state secondary schools are now comprehensive schools, the equalizing purpose of the system has not altogether been achieved.
All comprehensive secondary schools may be intended to be of equal standard, but in some schools far bigger proportions of the pupils perform well in the certificate examinations than in others. The highest success rates tend to be in schools in comfortable suburban areas, the lowest in those parts of big towns where the social indicators are least favourable. Parents may ask for their children to go to one school rather than another. Even in the most favoured schools there are problems with a proportion of the pupils, but the majority of comprehensive schools provide a thorough academic education. In a minority of schools, mainly in inner cities, the teachers' main task is to keep disruption to a minimum. In spite of the efforts of school attendance officers many pupils attend irregularly, and have little interest in their work when they do attend.
The old practice of 'streaming', or teaching children in classes separated according to ability, has been unfashionable but is still used. Mixed-ability classes are obviously less 'elitist' than streamed ones. Outside the academic curriculum there is great concern with the development of the child's personality. Clubs are encouraged for the joint pursuit of interests in nature, such as bird-watching, or music, dancing. The approach to education has changed in the past thirty years. It is now widely accepted that it is not enough for children simply to absorb and remember information.
They should be equipped to evaluate and criticise the information they receive, and to find out things for themselves. The content of education should be relevant to real life. Language teaching should make use of typical situations of tourists or business people. The rules of grammar and syntax are not emphasised at the early stages. In the 1980 s it was not clear whether the new methods were having a positive effect. The proportion of pupils gaining ordinary and advanced certificates at sixteen and eighteen had increased a little, but too many children were leaving school with very low standards of literacy and numeracy.
Britain was not doing well in international comparisons of educational attainment. In 1988 a new law on education was passed. The role of the local education authorities was to be reduced, while that of the central government was to be increased, along with the autonomy of individual school heads and governing bodies. For the first time a basic national curriculum was established. In 1987-88 a committee of acknowledged experts, whose chairman was a mathematician and university vice-chancellor, was appointed to suggest objectives in the teaching of English. Its report implied that children aged eleven ought to know about the structure of language and about things such as verbs and nouns.
Every school has a 'senior management team' (SMT), and every teacher must under contract do 1, 265 hours of 'SMT-directed time' in a year - most of it in class with pupils, the rest attending meetings or on other specified activities. A typical forty-year-old secondary-school teacher has also to spend undirected time preparing for classes at several different levels, including one or two for academic seventeen-year-olds, marking written work and writing reports on pupils. The total of work hours in the year is likely to be more than the 1, 750 hour average of non-manual workers. Another innovation is an increase in the detailed responsibility of each school's Senior Management Team for the school's budget. Also, the role of the school governing body is to be increased. It is hoped that, with an element of competition between schools in the state sector, standards will be improved and that money will be used more effectively.
Modern technology demands more expenditure on computers and other types of school equipment, to which high priority is given. There are innumerable reasons why attempts to improve standards demand more money. But the current Government's first priorities are concerned with economy: to curb inflation, to reduce taxes, and hence to restrain public expenditure. Some teachers buy paint and decorate dingy classrooms in the holidays, even in quite modern buildings, because the authorities have no funds for these essential purposes. When teachers compare their working conditions, pay and status in society with those of their friends who have become accountants, they can easily feel aggrieved and resentful. There is a serious lack of teachers of mathematics, science and crafts, because teachers with qualifications in these subjects are leaving the profession and are not being replaced by new ones.
The number of children of secondary-school age fell by nearly 20 per cent in the 1980 s, because of the changes in the birthrate. The Government intends that more parental choice will ensure that resources will go to the most efficient schools. It seems that a large proportion of teachers dislike the new directions, and it is not clear how permanent they will be, or what their effect will be. Born n die.