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Despite recent changes, it is a characteristic of the British system that there is comparatively little central control or uniformity. For example, education is manager not by one, but by three, separate government departments: the Department for Education and Employment is responsible for England and Wales alone - Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own departments. In fact, within England and Wales education has traditionally been seen as separate from 'training', and the two areas of responsibility have only recently been combined in a single department.

None of these central authorities exercises much control over the details of what actually happens in the country's educational institutions. All they do is to ensure the availability of education, dictate and implement is overall organization and set overall learning objectives (which they enforce through a system of inspectors) up to the end of compulsory education.

Central government does not prescribe a detailed programme of learning or determine what books and materials should be used. It says, in broad terms, what schoolchildren should learn, but it only offers occasional advice about how they should learn it. Nor does it dictate the exact hours of the school day, the exact dates of holidays or the exact age at which a child must start in full-time education. It does not manage an institution's finances either, it just decides how much money to give it. It does not itself set or supervise the marking of the exams which older teenager do. In general, as many details as possible are left up to the individual institution or the Local Education Authority (LEA, a branch of local government).

One of the reasons for this level of 'grass-roots' independence is that the system has been influenced by the public-school tradition that a school is its own community. Most schools develop, to some degree at lest, a sense of distinctiveness. Many, for example, have their own uniforms for pupils. Many, especially those outside the state system, have associations of former pupils. It is considered desirable (even necessary) for every school to have its own school hall, big enough to accommodate every pupil, for daily assemblies and other occasional ceremonies. Universities, although financed by the government, have even more autonomy. Each one has complete control over what to teach, how to teach it, who it accepts as students and how to test these students.


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