64 At what age do children go to school in Britain?
Children in Britain must attend
school from the age of 5 (4 in Northern Ireland) until they are 16. Before
the start of formal schooling, many children attend nursery schools or
nursery classes attached to primary schools. In addition, some parents
elect to send their children to private (fee-paying) nursery schools or
kindergartens. In England and Wales, many primary schools also operate an
early admission policy where they admit children under 5 into what are
called reception classes.
Over 85 per cent of secondary school pupils go to comprehensive
schools. These take children of all abilities, and provide a wide range of
secondary education for all or most of the children in a district from the
age of 11 to 16 or 18. There are also other types of secondary school.
Grammar schools offer a mainly academic education for the 11 to 18-year
age group. Children enter grammar schools on the basis of their abilities,
first sitting the ‘11’ plus or entrance examination. Grammar schools cater
for four per cent of children in secondary education. A small minority of
children attend secondary modern schools (around four per cent). These
schools provide a more general and technical education for children aged
The independent school sector is separate from the state educational system,and caters for some seven per cent of all schoolchildren in England and four per cent in Scotland.
Parents of pupils attending independent schools pay for their education, and in some cases fees can amount to several thousand pounds a year. Some pupils gain scholarships and their expenses are covered by the schools.
About 250 of the larger independent shools are known for historical reasons as public schools. Eton, which was founded in 1440, is said to have been the first grammar schools to be called a 'public shool' because scholars could come to it from any part of England and not, as was generally the case, just from the immediate neighbourhood.
Originally, many public schools stressed a classical education, character training and sports, but the curriculum is now closely allied to state education.
In Northern Ireland there are a few independent fee paying schools catering for a very small proportion of the school population; they do not receive any support from public funds.
Schools in Scotland supported by public funds are also called 'public schools' but they are not fee-paying, independent schools.
The University of Oxford was the first university to
be established in Britain. Dating from the 12th century, it is organised
as a federation of colleges which are governed by their own teaching staff
known as ‘Fellows’. The oldest college, University College, was founded in
1249. Other notable colleges include All Souls (founded in 1438), Christ
Church (founded in 1546 by Cardinal Wolsey), the college chapel of which
is also Oxford Cathedral, and Lady Margaret Hall (founded in 1878), which
was the first women’s college. Today Oxford University is made up of 35
separate colleges, of which two are for women students only, and the rest
take both men and women.
The University of Wales was founded in 1893. It consists of six colleges, the oldest one being St David’s University College in Lampeter, founded in 1822.
Queen’s University, Belfast was founded in 1845 as Queen’s College,
Belfast, part of the Queen’s University of Ireland which had other
colleges at Cork and Galway. It received its charter as a separate
university in 1908.