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Review shows widening differences in school systems across the UK

13 May 2011

A review published today by RISE (Research and Information on State Education) examines the differences in school systems across the UK.

The publication of this review is timely in view of the contrasting outcome of recent elections in different parts of the UK.

The author, Dr Linda Croxford, of the Centre for Educational Sociology, University of Edinburgh said:

“So much media attention is given to the problems of the English education system that many people do not realise things are done differently elsewhere. Different cultures and political priorities in the four nations of the UK are creating increasingly different experiences of schooling.”

The nature and extent of devolution differs across the UK, creating an anomalous position for England. Responsibility for the school system in England lies with the Secretary of State for Education within the UK Parliament and is administered by the Department for Education (DfE) of the UK government. Since 1999 responsibility for education in Scotland and Northern Ireland has been devolved to the Scottish Parliament and (subject to periods of suspension) the Northern Ireland Assembly. The National Assembly for Wales has had powers to make secondary legislation since 1999.

The review's main findings are:

Commitment to community-based comprehensive schools is strongest in Wales and Scotland but varies in England. The school system in Northern Ireland continues to be dominated by academic selection at age 11.

The focus on quasi-markets, school specialisation and league tables has been greater in England than elsewhere in the UK.

Each of the four systems has its own “national” curriculum, assessment and qualifications, but these are currently in the process of review, development and change.

The accountability framework in England has been more focused on testing, performance measurement and high-profile inspection than elsewhere. School self-evaluation has been a major focus of accountability in Scotland, and inspection systems in the other countries are also beginning to adopt this model.

Margaret Tulloch, a Trustee of RISE, said:

“The Trustees' aim in producing RISE reviews is to provide short, accessible briefings about issues in education, covering recent research where relevant. These reviews are to be a resource where users can find in one place the important work on a particular subject.”

Notes to editors

RISE is the Research and Information on State Education Trust. It is a charity which commissions research and provides information on state education. RISE reports have covered many issues of particular interest to parents, such as class size, school reports, home-school agreements, parental involvement in Ofsted inspections, school complaints procedures, specialist schools, parent governor representatives, parents and new schools, and school admissions.

Read summary or download full report

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