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What do you think makes a good school?

Harrow School for Boys
Harrow School for Boys

You can find an easy version of the text here: UK - Education - Text in Brief

UK Education

UK Education
(The audio begins with a brief summary of the text)

State Schools and Independent Schools

School Bag. Photo.
School Bag

All children in the United Kingdom between the ages of 5 and 16 are required by law to receive full-time education. More than 90% are educated in co-educational state schools. The remaining 10% attend independent schools financed by their parents and non-governmental means. Therefore, these are private schools, but are known as independent schools in England. England and Wales have identical systems, whereas the school systems in Scotland and Northern Ireland are slightly different.

From 5 to 18

Children start primary school at 5 years old and continue until they are 11. Then after 5 years at secondary school, when they are 16 and have completed the examination, the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE), education is no longer compulsory. Pupils can continue in full-time education at a separate sixth form college or in the sixth form of a secondary school. There they will study for examinations leading to university entrance qualifications. These are the AS levels (Advanced Supplementary), which take 1 year and the A levels (Advanced), which usually take 2 years.

Age Year State System (90% of pupils) Private System (10% of pupils) Exams
18 Higher education







Sixth Form College Tertiary College

Public School

(Starts at 11 or 13)

A level
AS level
Various Vocational qualifications

Secondary School


Primary School

Preparatory School

Nursery School

Pupils, who want a more practical education, can choose to study at a tertiary or further education college with the possibility of choosing between different vocational qualifications e.g. NVQ (National Vocational Qualification), HNC (Higher National Certificate), etc.

Education has been reformed substantially. Parents are now entitled to an annual written report about their child’s performance and they have more of a say with regard to employing staff and the school budget. Pupils must sit for tests at several stages and take exams at 16. Exam results are published so that it is possible to compare the performances of different schools. Parents have the right to choose the school they want for their child. The teaching is determined by the National Curriculum and to make sure targets are being achieved independent inspectors visit all schools.

The core subjects of English (and Welsh, in Wales), mathematics, science, technology, physical education (PE), and religious education are taught. History, geography, art and music are also compulsory subjects in the earlier stages of the curriculum. A modern foreign language and a new subject, ‘citizenship’, are added to the curriculum at age 11. At age 14, the study of history, geography, art and music becomes optional. Other subjects, such as drama, dance, and classical languages remain on the curriculum, but the teaching of them is dependent on the resources of each school.

Nearly a third of all young people now enter higher education attending 170 universities and educational institutions.

Tasks and Activities


UK, Education - Comprehension


  1. What are your favourite subjects at school? Why? Are there any subjects which are not offered at school, but which you would like to have?
  2. In pairs, make a list of the differences and similarities between the school sytems in England, the USA and Norway. Use the information in the text and the table, The School Systems in Norway, the United States and England. In small groups compare and discuss your lists.


Arrange a press conference where the principal of your school announces that the school will introduce school uniforms from next year on. (A teacher or a student has to play this part and prepare some facts on the matter - like type of uniform, pricing, disciplinary actions etc) The rest of the class are journalists and may ask questions.

Following the press conference all the students write a news article on the topic. Add pictures from the Internet and format the text like in a real newspaper by adding quotes, columns, bold text, large heading etc. Have a look at How to Write a Newspaper Article.

Before you arrange this press conference you may want to discuss the topic of school uniforms in class.


Political and Educational Systems