Education - ResearchEducation - Research
Education in England
Author: Mark Bobe


Primary and Secondary Education

The primary responsibility for the education system in England and Wales lies with the Secretary of State for Education and the Secretary of State for Wales respectively. Strategic direction and legislation is contained within various Education Acts and Statutory Instruments (Orders) made by the Secretaries of State. Responsibility is further delegated amongst other government departments, local education authorities (LEAs), churches and other voluntary bodies, individual educational institutions and the teaching profession. Central government has overall responsibility for the total provision of education, setting policy objectives, strategic planning and formulating the direction of the sector. LEAs and other more localised bodies have responsibility for implementing government policy but also have statutory powers of their own.

LEAs were established by the Education Act of 1944 and vary in size across the country. Depending on the official designation, LEAs may be constituted and responsible for a county, district or borough and usually follow the same structure as local government. Whilst LEAs have not been required to form Education Committees since 1993 all have continued to do so. Such committees are composed of a majority of elected local council members and a minority of people who may have experience of education and education provision. Whilst most councils will delegate responsibility for the effective running of local educational provision to this committee the council as a whole still has the overall legal obligation for education provision and management. The work of the committee is informed and supported by a professional Chief or Director of Education who is supported by a team of educational officers and administrative staff. There are currently (1997) 157 LEAs in England and Wales.

The duties of an LEA are varied although at their most basic it is the provision of education that is paramount. They must ensure that there are sufficient schools and teachers to service the local population and deliver the National Curriculum. LEAs administer the block grant, paid by central government, to provide education in their areas and also administer grants for students who enroll into Higher Education.

Following provisions contained within the 1988 Education Reform act LEAs have seen much of their power and influence decline. Local Management of Schools (LMS) allows individual establishments to take control of their budgets although they continue to liaise with the local LEA over issues concerning staff management. In effect the LEA has become more of a strategic body with managerial functions being delegated to local schools.

The relationship between state, local council and educational establishment remained fixed for more than 40 years following the implementation of the 1944 Education Act. This act and subsequent legislation ensured the existence of a national system of continuous education from primary, through secondary to tertiary education. The 1944 Education Act established compulsory secondary education for all children, the school leaving age was raised twice, once in 1947 from 14 to 15 and again in 1973 to the current age of 16.

The organisation of the system set up by the 1944 Act was a national system of education that was locally administered. A tripartite partnership was constructed whereby central government, local government and individual schools and colleges acted cooperatively in the administration of the education system.

During this period three differing sorts of schools were in existence ; grammar, secondary modern and technical. Perhaps most notable was the persistence of selective intakes via an 11+ examination for admission to grammar or technical schools. This selectivity in the system "creamed off the most able pupils into what were seen as superior establishments. The alternative to this selectivity was the comprehensive school which took children of all abilities. By the 1960s such schools were educating approximately 10 % of pupils in England and Wales.

Governments of both political persuasions became more amenable to the idea of removing at least some of the exclusivity of education in grammar schools. This combined with more vocal and influential input from parents during the 1960s ensured that by the end of the decade 30 % of pupils were in comprehensive schools.

The development of what may be seen as a more egalitarian system of school selection was not without its critics, particularly from the "right-wing" of the Conservative Party who advocated and indeed sought continued selection for grammar schools. During the 1970s they were very much a minority voice although the debate concerning selective education continued to attract public attention.

The Education Reform Act 1988 introduced for the first time a national curriculum for all state maintained schools. The subjects included were to be mathematics, English and science (core subjects) alongside foundation subjects of a modern foreign language (not in primary schools) technology, history, geography, art, music, physical education and religious education.

Alongside he National Curriculum a programme of testing was introduced which would take place at the ages of 7, 11, 14 and 16. Much of the assessment was to be carried out at a classroom level and provide information to parents and schools as to the performance of children.

England and Wales currently has four broad types of school providing education for pupils between the ages of 5 and 16 ; LEA maintained schools, grant maintained (GM) schools, city technology colleges (CTCs) and private schools. Those schools classified as LEA maintained can be further sub divided into county schools (wholly financed and run by LEAs) and voluntary schools which were originally set up by charitable or religious bodies. Such "voluntary" schools have varied financing arrangements with LEAs determined by their own specific status.

Grant maintained schools were enabled or established as a result of the Education Reform Act of 1988. Such schools are independent of LEA control and directly financed by the Secretary of State for Education via the Funding Agency for Schools (FAS). Any school, subject to certain size criteria, may become grant maintained but can only apply to the Secretary of State to do so if a majority of parents vote, following a ballot, in favour. If successful the school takes possession of the assets of the school and becomes self governing through its legally constituted governing body. Funding arrangements for such schools remain controversial as they receive basic funding based on LEA figures plus an additional amount to meet extra costs due to their status. There are currently 1, 089 GM schools en England (approximately 4.3 per cent of total schools).

Alongside GM schools the 1988 Act also created CTCs, a further category of independent school. These institutions were to be located in primarily inner city areas and provide education for 11 to 18 year olds. Funding for these colleges was to be provided jointly by the Department for Education and Employment (DfEE), who would meet fixed costs, and a private sector sponsor. At present there are 15 of the originally envisaged 20 CTCs in operation and one City College for the Technology of the Arts (CCTA).

Higher Education

In the context of the UK Higher Education is defined, in the Education Reform Act of 1988, as "... a course of a standard higher than the standard of courses leading to General Certificate of Education Advanced-level (GCE A-level) or Business and Technology Education Council National Diploma or Certificate." (Education Reform Act, 1988, Section 120). Such courses can include training for teachers, youth and community workers ; postgraduate courses ; first degrees ; Diploma of Higher Education ; Higher National Diploma (HND), National Certificate of the Business and Technology Education Council, Diploma in Management Studies ; Certificate in Education or a course intended to prepare a candidate for a higher level professional qualification (Holt et al, 1997, 6-2).

In common with the rest of Europe the university system within the UK began with the establishment of centres of learning by religious bodies. As such they were funded, initially at least, by the Church or private endowments. Prior to the 19th Century such universities remained "elitist" catering predominantly for those who could pay for their education, were sponsored by a religious organisation or those who had won a limited number of scholarships.

It is in the nineteenth century that the expansion of universities and indeed the number of university places truly began. The six "Old Foundations" or old universities were supplemented by 12 new "Federal" or "Civic" institutions, each with the power to award degrees granted by civic government charters. Despite civic involvement in the setting up of such institutions they remained largely privately funded and exclusive.

Further expansion of the Higher Education sector occurred with the setting up of university colleges who awarded University of London degrees. These institutions were to cater primarily for local students who wished to take University of London degrees. Whilst funding for these three groups of universities remained substantively private and indeed local the formation of the University Grants Committee (UGC) en 1919 changed the funding of universities by introducing public funding on a large scale.

A further wave of expansion in the UK university sector took place following the Education Act (1944), the Barlow Report (1946) and the Robbins Report (1963). With an increase in qualified young people as a result of the Education Act (1944) the Barlow Report of 1946 recommended a doubling of student numbers, especially in science. Consequent to this doubling, and the general rise in the level of education open to young people, the Robbins Report (1963) recommended further increases in university place provision and the number and geographical spread of degree awarding institutions. This directly led to the foundation of new "Green-Field" universities and an upgrading of several Colleges of Advanced Technology to university status.

Another tier of degree awarding institutions was introduced during the 1960s, that of polytechnics and other colleges. Such institutions were founded all over the UK and were administered by the Local Education Authorities (LEAs) in which they were situated. Universities by contrast, whilst predominantly funded by central government, remained autonomous or semi-autonomous bodies.

The funding situation in Higher Education was changed in 1988 when the Universities Funding Council (UFC) and Polytechnics and Colleges Funding Council (PCFC) were established to administer funding to the two setsof institutions. This situation continued until 1992 when the Further and Higher Education Act caused the merger of the UFC and PCFC under the auspices of the Higher Education Funding Councils for England (HEFCE), Scotland (SHEFCE) and Wales (HEFCEW).

One of the most noticeable impacts of the new regime under the HEFCE was the abolition of the formal distinction between universities and polytechnics ; polytechnics could, with government approval, change their status to that of self governing universities. All eligible (33) institutions chose to do so. As of 1994 the Higher Education sector in the UK (institutions funded by HEFCE) comprised 72 universities, 16 directly-funded schools of the University of London and 48 colleges.

Of particular note in the Higher Education sector in the UK is the Open University, founded in 1969. This degree awarding body was, and still is, national in scope enrolling students from all over the UK (and currently EU member states) for part time degrees. Whilst the university possesses a campus in Milton Keynes it also has 13 regional centres which in turn organise approximately 250 local study centres. Whilst the part-time nature of degrees, and indeed the geographical spread of its activities is unique the lack of any formal entry qualifications for prospective students makes it a truly "Open" university. Entry to other institutions is dependent on the results of A-level (or similar) examinations.

Further Education

Under the terms of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992 further education is defined as full time or part time education for persons over the age of 16 which may be of a vocational, social, physical or recreational nature. Such education originated in the Mechanics Institutes, founded during the nineteenth century to provide basic education to working people, particularly in basic numeracy and literacy.

Responsibility for the provision of Further Education in the UK was the responsibility of individual Local Education Authorities (LEAs) until 1992 when Further Education Funding Councils were established for England and Wales. These councils are charged with the responsibility for providing sufficient facilities for full time education of people over the age of 16. Part time educational provision must also be available for people between the ages of 16 and 19. LEAs now have the responsibility to provide courses which the Further Education Funding Councils are not obliged to provide.

Courses at further education colleges fall, primarily, into three categories ; vocational courses, courses leading to O or A level qualifications and courses that provide access to higher education. Basic numeracy and literacy courses are still provided alongside courses of benefit to those with learning difficulties.

The majority of colleges are now, following the Further and Higher Education Act of 1992, independent, autonomous corporations as are many tertiary colleges, sixth form colleges and other educational institutions. Four categories of further education institutions currently exist, further education colleges (providing full and part time courses across a range of subjects), tertiary colleges (institutions that combine the functions of further education colleges and sixth form colleges), sixth form colleges (providing full time courses to people over the age of 16) and adult education centres, many of which are still under LEA control, providing part time courses for persons over the school leaving age. There are few if any admission requirements to many of these institutions although access courses are provided by many colleges and some courses may well have some pre-requisites for some courses.


Development of the UK University System

Category Name Year
Old Foundations Oxford 1264
Old Foundations Cambridge 1284
Old Foundations St. Andrews 1411
Old Foundations Glasgow 1451
Old Foundations Aberdeen 1495
Old Foundations Edinburgh 1583
Federal & Civic Universities Durham 1832
Federal & Civic Universities Newcastle 1832
Federal & Civic Universities Belfast 1845
Federal & Civic Universities London 1836
Federal & Civic Universities Wales 1893
Federal & Civic Universities Bristol 1876
Federal & Civic Universities Manchester 1880
Federal & Civic Universities Dundee 1881
Federal & Civic Universities Liverpool 1881
Federal & Civic Universities Leeds 1884
Federal & Civic Universities Sheffield 1897
Federal & Civic Universities Birmingham 1898
London Based colleges Nottingham 1881 (1948)
London Based colleges Reading 1902 (1926)
London Based colleges Southampton 1902 (1952)
London Based colleges Hull 1927 (1954)
London Based colleges Exeter 1922 (1955)
London Based colleges Leicester 1918 (1957)
London Based colleges Keele 1949 (1962)
Green-field Universities Sussex 1961
Green-field Universities York 1963
Green-field Universities East Anglia 1964
Green-field Universities Essex 1961
Green-field Universities Kent 1964
Green-field Universities Lancaster 1964
Green-field Universities Warwick 1965
Green-field Universities Stirling 1967
Upgraded Colleges of Advanced Technology Aston 1966
Upgraded Colleges of Advanced Technology Bath 1966
Upgraded Colleges of Advanced Technology Bradford 1966
Upgraded Colleges of Advanced Technology Brunel 1966
Upgraded Colleges of Advanced Technology City 1966
Upgraded Colleges of Advanced Technology Heriot-Watt 1966
Upgraded Colleges of Advanced Technology Loughborough 1966
Upgraded Colleges of Advanced Technology Salford 1967
Upgraded Colleges of Advanced Technology Strathclyde 1964
Upgraded Colleges of Advanced Technology Surrey 1966
Figures in brackets indicate the date at which a university attained it's independence ;
prior to this date awards of degrees were for University of London.
Source : Davies, 1994