EDUCATION IN BRITAIN
Education in Britain is primarily the responsibility of local educational authorities although the central government lays down guidelines and provides or withholds money. From the end of the Second World War until the 1960’s, education under state control depended on the ’11-plus’ examination, taken by all pupils between the ages of eleven and twelve.
The most successful went to grammar schools or direct-grant schools, while the rest went to secondary modern schools. Since the 1960’s, almost all local authorities have introduced comprehensive schools, where all pupils attend the same school, even though there is usually an attempt to separate them according to ability once they are there.
Local authorities where the Labour Party is usually in control tend, by now, to be almost completely comprehensive; those where the Conservatives hold power have been more resistant to the change. Throughout this period, the public schools, which are private in all except name, have continued to exist, independent of the state system. Some became direct-grant schools, accepting students who had passed the 11-plus examination and were paid for by local authorities, but this system came to an end in many cases when a Labour-controlled local authority refused to go on paying the grants because of its commitment to comprehensive education.
The public debate in England and Wales between the supporters of comprehensive schools and those who want to retain or revive grammar schools continues unabated. Every year statistics are produced to demonstrate that comprehensive schools provide better education than grammar schools (and in some cases, better than the prestigious private sector). These statistics are immediately contradicted by others proving the opposite.
The local authorities have, on the whole, been converted to the comprehensive system, in some cases with enthusiasm, in others with marked reluctance. Yet, the real complication of the debate stems from the fact that although arguments are usually stated in educational terms, almost all of them are based on political opinions.
It is clear that those local authorities that have abolished grammar schools completely were determined that their experiment should succeed because of their belief that it is just as wrong to separate children by intelligence as by social class. Such authorities tend to associate grammar schools with the private sector they would also like to abolish if they had the opportunity.
In their view, any system that differentiates between children strengthens class barriers, and the fact that more upper-class children tend to go to university is not evidence that comprehensive schools are inferior; it is merely further evidence of the discrimination that already exists in society. The defenders of grammar schools use examination results to show that children reach their maximum potential when placed with others of similar intelligence and point out that even in comprehensive schools they are put in different classes according to ability. It is difficult to believe, however, that this defence is inspired purely by a desire for academic excellence.
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A. What do the following refer to?
1. ‘them’ (line 10):
3. ‘the opposite’ (line 28):
4. ‘if (line 42):
1. Which students were sent to modern secondary schools until the 1960’s?
2. What is the usual procedure followed in comprehensive schools for new students?
3. Which type of school is favoured by the Conservatives?
4. How do ‘public schools’ contradict their name?
5. What is the real basis of argument for and against comprehensive schools?
6. What is the reason for local authorities’ abolishing grammar schools?
7. Why are some authorities against the private sector?
8. According to the defenders of grammar schools, what is necessary for students to be successful?