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The School System. Una risorsa didattica di civiltà inglese

red - Di seguito viene proposta una risorsa didattica, rielaborata dalla prof.ssa Susanna Carra, che descrive il sistema scolastico inglese. Grazie alla risorsa è possibile comprendere com'è strutturata la scuola secondaria e la scuola primaria in Inghilterra. Infine vengono anche descritti l'autonomia delle istituzione scolastiche e la struttura dell'università.



The old division

Until a few decades ago, at about 11 children did an examination called the "eleven-plus [exam]", which was supposed to be a test of pure intelligence. Those who passed went to grammar school, from which they could later go on to university; those who failed went to secondary modern school, which prepared them for a craft.

The comprehensive movement

Selection procedures at the age of 11 proved to be the Achilles' heel of the grammar school-secondary modern System. Various developments contributed to the downfall of selection at 11: first, the examination successes of the secondary modern schoolchildren (which meant that they should probably have been sent to grammar school); second, the failure of a significant proportion of the children so carefully selected for grammar schools (which suggested they should perhaps have gone to secondary modern schools); third the report of a committee appointed by the British Psychological Society supported arguments that education itself promotes intellectual development and that “intelligence” tests do not in fact measure genetic endowment but rather educational achievement.

The main issue in the 1950s and '60s was whether or not the grammar schools should be retained with selection at 11 plus. One of the main arguments used was that the right of "parental choice" must be upheld. Another was that it was in the "English tradition" to retain a selective system. But gradually the number of comprehensive (non-selective) schools increased.

The Labour Party during the election of 1964 promised to promote the establishment of the comprehensive school and to abolish selection at 11 plus. On taking office, however, the Labour government instead of legislating issued a circular in the belief that this would enlist local support and encourage local initiative. The result was conflict between national policy and local policy in some areas.

The Conservative government elected in 1970 declared its intention of leaving decisions about reorganization to the local authorities. However, the comprehensive principle has since become dominant, and the number of comprehensive schools has grown under both Labour and Conservative governments so that most state-maintained secondary schools are now comprehensive.

The administrative compromise of leaving organizational options open to local authorities has permitted variations to continue, however five to six percent of the school population attend completely independent private schools. Enrollment at the exclusively academic, often prestigious, and costly independent secondary schools may be preceded by attendance at private preparatory schools.

About 90 percent of students now attend comprehensive schools. These schools are organized in various ways, serving ages 11 to 18; 11-12 to 16; or 12-14 to 16-18. Most of the remaining students receive secondary education in secondary modern or grammar schools (these being remnants of the old tripartite school system), to which they are assigned after selective procedures at age 11.

In Britain a small, separate, but highly significant group of independent schools also exists. These primary and secondary schools are financially self-supporting. The best known of the independent schools are the so-called public schools, some of which, notably Eton and Harrow, have long maintained a distinguished reputation. These schools for centuries have prepared students academically for higher education, typically at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, and ultimately for leadership in British life. Although a controversial element in British education and frequently accused of reinforcing invidious social distinctions, these institutions remain popular.

Most public schools are residential, are privately financed, and provide education to children aged 11 through 19. Important public schools for boys include Eton (the oldest, established 1440-41), Harrow, Winchester, and Westminster; famous public schools for girls include Cheltenham, Roedean and Wycombe Abbey. There are also private, mostly residential, preparatory schools, which prepare students aged 7 through 13 for the Common Entrance Examination required to enter senior secondary schools.


Primary education includes students from ages 5 (4 in Northern Ireland) to 11 (12 in Scotland). It is usually divided into an infant stage (ages five to seven} and a junior stage (ages eight to 11). A few localities use a middle-school organization, and children attend the middle school from age eight or nine to age 13 or 14.

Pre-school provision is uneven, but a great deal of innovation has taken place in ideas and practices of early-childhood learning. In the infant school children work together with their teacher. Children may  be placed together vertically in the same class, like a family group. Play is considered an activity of central significance in the infant school. It is a vehicle for the child's motivation and learning, carefully structured to promote cognitive development. The teacher's job is to set the environment through organization of space, time, and materials; to encourage, guide, and stimulate; and to see that all children learn and develop independence and responsibility. Studies are interrelated, and the curriculum is flexible.


The compromise regarding school organization is representative of the British educational administration's attempt to balance local and national interests delicately. Local education authorities are responsible for basic school operations, and much of the professional responsibility is passed on to the school. This representation of community and professional interest is underscored in policy documents, such as the 1980 Education Act's stipulation that governing boards include at least two parent and two teacher representatives. Local education authorities maintain a professional administrative staff and administer school finances, which are funded primarily by government grants and local property taxes. Ultimate authority for education is at the national level with the Department of Education and Science (formerly the Ministry of Education) that was headed by the secretary of state for education and science. The department is the agent of governmental policy. It reaches schools through circulars and directives as well as through Her Majesty's Inspectors of Schools. The inspectors increasingly advise and report on the general condition of schooling. Under the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher emphasis was placed on management efficiency. While decentralization has applied to operational decisions, the government has increasingly pushed for standardization of curriculum and streamlining of assessment procedures. Traditionally, curriculum had been decentralized to the extreme in the United Kingdom, being a matter of teacher's professional judgement, unified only informally (though effectively) through the influence of teacher training, published curriculum projects, textbook choices, and public examination syllabi. This resulted in a great deal of curriculum agreement in the common schooling period, narrowing to a secondary core to age 16, including a wide range of options in the comprehensive school, and different basic curricula in selective systems. Independent schools showed some variations, particularly in .the requirement of Latin, and the upper secondary stage was characterized by specialization. Through the 1970s and '80s, however, there was central pressure on curriculum improvement in science, practical elements, technical and vocational education and the relationship of education to economic life. Influential publications have proposed standardization of the curriculum nationally. Probably the issue that has received the most attention has been the relationship of education to the economy, to industry, to work. Much of the impact of this attention has been on the post-compulsory sector. Schemes developed outside of the educational establishment are providing training for young school-leavers. The Technical   and Vocational Education Initiative calls for local education authority cooperation with the Manpower Services Commission in the introduction of technical courses which span school and post-school training. Recent reforms to the examination and certification System exemplify the government's thrust toward improvement of the education-economy link, toward rationalization of the System, and toward coordinated, standardized assessment procedures.

About one-third of primary and secondary schools in England are administered by Anglican or Roman Catholic voluntary organizations.


Students seeking university entrance must successfully complete a series of examinations that result in General Certificate of Education (GCE). These examinations have two levels: ordinary (“O” level, taken at 15-16) and advanced ("A" level, taken at 17-18). Entry to a university requires a prescribed combination of passes on the ordinary and advanced level in such subjects as English, foreign language, science, and mathematics. The sixth-form curriculum (i.e., that of the last two years of secondary school) is largely oriented toward preparation for the advanced-level examination and provides intense specialization.

Universities are self-governing and depend on the central government only for financial grants.

The universities of Oxford and Cambridge date from the 12th and 13th centuries, and both have university presses that are among the oldest printing and publishing houses m the world. There are about 35 universities in England, some of which are referred to as red brick universities. These universities were founded in the late 19th or early 20th century in the industrial cities of Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Birmingham, Sheffield and Bristol and were constructed of red brick, as contrasted with the stone construction of the buildings of Oxford and Cambridge.

Every university admits only a limited number of students.

A continuing education program through the Open University (1969), in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, offers education through correspondence courses and the electronic media

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