The Structure of the Education System, Educational Achievement & Contemporary Debates

The Structure of the Education System, Educational Achievement & Contemporary Debates

The education system is divided into five stages.

1.) Pre-school or early years education – The state provides part-time schooling for children aged between 3-4 in either nursery schools or in nursery classes within primary schools.

2.) Primary education – Primary schools provide education for children of both sexes between the ages of 5-11.

3.) Secondary education – for students between the ages of 11-16. Some schools also offer a sixth form. Depending on the area, middle schools may provide education for students between the ages of 8-12, 9-13 or 10-13. There are a number of types of secondary school: academies, faith, comprehensives, grammar, specialist and private schools.

4.) Further education (FE) – For students aged 16+. Further education is for students who have completed their compulsory schooling and is provided by sixth forms or colleges of further education. Courses may be either academic of vocational.

5.) Higher education – Made up mostly of universities offering degrees, however some higher education provision may be offered in FE colleges.

Educational achievement

Sociologists have observed how the background of a child heavily influences his/her success at school. The following trends have been observed:

Students from middle class backgrounds generally perform better in exams than those from working class backgrounds.
Certain minority ethnic groups tend to achieve better exam results than others. Chinese and Indian heritage groups, for example, generally outperform students from African, Caribbean, Pakistani and Bangladeshi heritage groups.
Students from affluent areas tend to gain higher exam results than students from more deprived areas.
Despite boys outperforming girls in A-levels prior to the 1980s, the gender gap in achievement started to narrow. Now girls outperform boys at all levels up to and including A-level.


Debates in education

Education has always been the subject of heated political debate. The political parties have strong ideas about what kind of education they should provide and how it should be delivered. In an attempt to attract voters, political parties will talk about education reform (changing the way education works) and raising standards.

The Education Reform Act (1998) introduced SATs tests for pupils aged 7, 11 and 14 so that their educational attainments could be measured against national targets. Testing at the age of 14 has since been abolished.

Those who criticise SATs tests argue that:

      • They encourage schools to place too much emphasis on testing and not enough on actual education.
      • They place unacceptable stress on pupils and teachers.

Faith schools offer education to pupils of the same faith – Church of England schools, for example. Whilst parents may feel that their children will benefit from being around those who share the same values, critics of faith schools feel that they offer pupils a too narrow vision and experience of the real world.

Private schools charge a fee and generally offer better facilities and more options beyond the regular school curriculum. Private boarding schools enable students to both live and study at the school. Some critics of the private school argue that:

      • A system in which the better off can pay for an (arguably) better standard of education for their children is an unfair one.
      • Private school pupils don’t benefit from mixing with children from a range of social backgrounds.

Special Needs: Children who have learning difficulties can be provided for in specialist schools where teachers are able to give them closer attention. Parents may have to make a difficult choice between specialist help or regular schooling where their child is more likely to learn how to cope in society.

Home education: Some parents choose to educate their children at home, although it is difficult to know exactly how many children are educated in this way. Home schooling may ensure the child gets close attention, but some people argue that:

      • Home schooling doesn’t socialise a child as thoroughly as a regular school.
      • Regular schools provide an education by trained educational professionals.