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School life

Do pupils have to sit national tests and examinations?

There are national tests for 7-, 11- and 14-year-olds in English and mathematics. Pupils aged 11 and 14 are also tested in science. The tests give an independent measure of how pupils and schools are doing compared with the national standards in these subjects.

Most 16-year-old take GCSEs or similar qualifications.

One final point about the persistence of decentralization: there are really three, not one, national curricula. There is one for England and Wales, another for Scotland and another for Northern Ireland. The organization of subjects and the details of the learning objectives vary slightly from to the other. There is even a difference between England and Wales. Only in the latter is the Welsh language part of the curriculum.

The introduction of the national curriculum is also intended to have an influence on the subject-matter of teaching. At the lower primary level, this means a greater emphasis on what are known as 'the three Rs' (Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic). At higher levels, it means a greater emphasis on science and technology. A consequence of the traditional British approach to education had been the habit of giving a relatively large amount of attention to the arts and humanities (which develop the well-rounded human being), and relatively little to science and technology (which develop the ability to do specific jobs). The prevailing belief at the time of writing is that Britain needs more scientists and technicians.

There is no countrywide system of nursery (i.e. pre-primary) schools. In some areas primary schools have nursery schools attached to them, but in others there is no provision of this kind. The average child does not being full-time attendance at school until he or she is about five and starts primary school. Almost all schools are either primary or secondary only, the latter being generally larger.

Nearly all schools work a five-day week, with no half-day, and are closed on Saturdays. The day starts at or just before nine o'clock and finishes between three and four, or a bit later for older children. The lunch break usually lasts about an hour-and-a-quarter. Nearly two-thirds of pupils have lunch provided by the school. Parents pay for this, except for the 15% who are rated poor enough for it to be free. Other children either go home for lunch or take sandwiches.

Methods of teaching vary, but there is most commonly a balance between formal lessons with the teacher at the front of the classroom, and activities in which children work in small groups round a table with the teacher supervising. In primary schools, the children are mostly taught by a class teacher who teaches all subjects. At the ages of seven and eleven, children have to (or soon will have to) take national tests in English, mathematics and science. In secondary schools, pupils have different teachers for different subjects and are given regular homework.

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Recent developments | Public exams

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