Visit Boston and Experience New England

New England may offer a colder climate and fewer opportunities for sunshine than the country’s more vacation-friendly West Coast, but this north-eastern region remains a popular destination for tourists in the United States. Consisting of the states of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont, New England – one of America’s most historical locations – boasts a busy produce industry that counts seafood, potatoes and maple syrup among its main exports. However, if you’re planning a visit to New England and only have time to visit one location, make it Boston, Massachusetts – the region’s largest city by population.

As one of America’s earliest founded cities, Boston is famous as the site of some of the most important turning points in the American Revolutionary War. From the Boston Tea Party of 1773 to the Midnight Ride of Paul Revere in 1775, Boston’s rich heritage is reflected in its diversity of museums and galleries. When in Boston, make sure you visit the Harvard Museum of Natural History, the MIT Museum, the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum and the Museum of Science, among a host of other attractions.

Moreover, Boston is renowned as one of the United States’ foremost centres of education and higher learning. Often referred to as “the Athens of America”, the Greater Boston area is home to more than 100 colleges and universities – from the likes of Harvard University (located across the river in Cambridge), MIT and Tufts University to smaller conservatories and art schools, including the Massachusetts College of Art, the Boston Conservatory and School of the Museum of Fine Arts. As a result, it boasts a lively, youthful atmosphere that makes it irresistible to many a visitor.

Indeed, Boston’s vibrant urban lifestyle and cosmopolitan culture has won the hearts of many. Among the numerous novels that have been set in or near Boston are Henry James’ “The Bostonians”, “The Sound and the Fury” by William Faulkner and, most recently, Zadie Smith’s “On Beauty”. Moreover, Boston has been represented on screen numerous times, in popular TV shows like Cheers and Ally McBeal as well as iconic Hollywood films, including Good Will Hunting and Martin Scorcese’s The Departed. So anyone planning a visit to Boston is sure to have an immediate frame of reference in mind.

If you’re visiting Boston, make sure you don’t miss out on its native cuisine, which generally presents itself as a fine example of the food you’d find in New England. Among the most well-known Boston dishes are New England clam chowder, lobsters, steamed or fried clams and fish and chips. Boston also offers visitors and residents a variety of first-class restaurants, including the Union Oyster House – the USA’s oldest operating restaurant.

Finding a hotel in Boston during your visit is easy too, as many of Boston’s hotels are located in its downtown Theatre District. From here, you’ll find it’s simple to locate Boston’s main performance venues, its busy Chinatown or the calming Boston Public Garden, as well as a host of other central locations in the city. So you’ll truly be able to appreciate New England’s premier city in style!

Parent Power – The Prime Hope For a Grass Roots Revival of English Education

This is my third investigative report into the parlous state of education in England’s state schools. The first argued for a massive reduction in the scale of government intervention; the second for a transfer of power to give teachers far more control of the education process. Now, in this final article, I want to highlight the vital role that can, and should, be played by parents, grandparents and local communities in helping youngsters develop their individual talents and skills, so they are not merely trained to earn a living, but more significantly to enjoy a fulfilling life and make a substantial contribution to the society they will eventually inherit..

Much is said today of the need to empower children and give them more control of the way their schools are run. This is an invaluable exercise in democracy as children mature, but must never be introduced in a way which weakens teacher autonomy and classroom discipline. One of the government’s recent items of backroom window dressing is ‘Student Voice’, a programme which invites children to rate their teachers’ performance. This, they now realize, gives youngsters the opportunity to downgrade teachers whom they judge to be too strict. Under this new initiative they’re also offered the chance of interviewing prospective new teachers, one applicant being humiliated by a request to sing his favourite song. Ill-conceived policies like these have led to a marked decline in discipline in schools. Practically every week there is a violent attack on a teacher in England. One fourteen-year-old boy sexually assaulted a classroom assistant. The head wanted him expelled, but the governors overturned his decision. A twelve year old boy was banned from an Essex school for carrying a knife, but was allowed back by an appeals panel. With this lax discipline, children will offend with impunity, and think that they can do the same when they leave school which is hardly what we want.

Children are being taught their rights, but not their responsibilities. Coordination Group Publications, one of the UK’s largest educational publishers, has sold thousands of copies of ‘Your Legal Rights’, a book which assures teenagers: ‘You have the right to be protected from emotional or physical abuse’. One of the examples it gives of physical abuse, is being made to take part in a cross country run. This was once thought to be an excellent way of getting fit, but clearly our aim now is not to encourage youngsters to maintain a high level of physical fitness, but to be able to take their place in a litigation culture. Children should we empowered, but at the same time they must be encouraged to recognise authority, and eventually assume positions of authority, for as Voltaire stressed, “firm discipline serves not only to punish the culprit, but also to ‘encourage the others’ to remain virtuous.”

Assuming that power can be wrenched from the government, and a large measure transferred to teachers and senior pupils, some must be retained and reassigned to parents and local communities. Parents are legally responsible for their children, and since they pay the bulk of the taxes which fund the state education system, they should have a powerful voice in the way that money is spent. In a democracy there should be no taxation without direct representation, as the Bostonians citizens argued when they thumbed their noses at the British government and held their highly successful Tea Party protest. There’s little doubt that if a referendum were held today, parents would vote against the rigid, exam based 3Rs national syllabus, in favour of a more liberal, diverse and flexible curriculum which took account not only of children’s needs, but also of teachers’ individual talents and enthusiasms. Classes must be adaptable, so they can respond to a child’s natural curiosity, whether it’s an interest is grasshoppers or a zeal for collecting foreign coins. So much schooling today is dull, and bears little relationship to the real world. A focus on passing tests does little to foster creativity, enthusiasm and a passion for lifetime study. At five the majority of children can’t wait to get to school; at sixteen most can’t wait to leave. Education should return to its etymological roots. It should be a process of drawing out (from the Latin educare), rather than a mindless regime of indoctrination. In the long run the only meaningful education is self-education, for what children learn at school today will be out of date in a few years time.

The educational aspirations of politicians fail, not because they’re too high, but because they’re set so abysmally low. A healthy education system needs diversity rather than mind numbing conformity. Families should be given the choice of sending their children to technical colleges, comprehensives, faith schools, secondary modern, grammar schools or public schools. Or, if they have the time and ability, why should they be hindered from joining the estimated twenty to fifty thousand parents in England who opt to teach their offspring at home? Again, why shouldn’t parents in England be given the chance to open ‘free schools’? This has been done with great success in Sweden where since 1955 local communities have the freedom to buy an appropriate building and turn it into an independent school. Parents are given a voucher to pay for their child’s education and can cash it in at any school they fancy, so long as it doesn’t charge any kind of ‘top up’ fees. Since this legislation was introduced well over a thousand free schools have opened and now educate more than one in ten of all Swedish pupils.

Success in life is not closely related to IQ scores, but is more intimately linked with personality factors, like determination, sociability, inventiveness, courage and motivation. Research shows that gifted children tend to be artistic, musical, good at sports, able to communicate easily with adults, have a lively and original imagination coupled with an ability to focus on their own interests rather than simply what is being taught in the school curriculum. Parents have been led to believe that education is about gaining diplomas and degrees, which is why almost half of the children at London state schools are now receiving private tuition to help them through their SATs and GCSEs. Children’s minds should not be crammed with facts. They should be given time to dream, which is the open sesame to creativity. Like the White Queen in Alice in Wonderland they should be encouraged to think that education includes believing half-a-dozen impossible things every morning before breakfast. At a good school, children should be trained to work together for the common good rather than in monastic isolation. This is not happening today in most UK schools according to a recent survey of eight countries where a sample of children was asked to reply to the statement: ‘Most of the students in my class are kind and helpful.’ In Switzerland over eighty per cent of children replied that this was true; in Britain only 43 per cent of children gave the same affirmative response, the lowest of all the countries polled. This is a sad commentary on our schools, and an even sadder reflection of the state of our divided society.

Many independent schools have a social service programme, an extra-curricular activity which encourages senior boys to go out into the community: to visit the elderly in their homes, do their shopping, help at day centres, work in charity shops, take food and clothing to homeless people and work at centres for the mentally handicapped. By doing so they gain as much as the people they serve. Why can’t a similar system be introduced in state schools? Gardening is another valuable extra-curricular activity, which can be carried out under the supervision of parents and grandparents whenever there’s an accessible plot of allotment land. Less than two years ago the Royal Horticultural Society launched a Campaign for Schools Gardening, which well over six thousand schools have now joined. Its objective is to give every youngster the opportunity to get a taste for gardening, and the opportunity to grow and learn about plants. Children should also be expected to perform chores, a duty which prepares them for the responsibilities of adult life. This is the belief of the charity help line www.parentlineplus.org.uk which claims that as well as being a confidence builder, ‘Chores can also teach children how to plan their own time, taking into consideration others’ needs’. This used to be taken for granted in most households, but is now largely forgotten, unless children are bribed to run an errand or clean the family car. A study carried out by Markella Rutherford, an assistant professor of sociology at Wellesley College, Massachusetts, revealed that American parenting magazines regularly advised families to give children routine tasks, like decorating, shopping, house cleaning, gardening and nursing sick relatives. This advice disappeared from the magazines in the 1980s. Since then, children’s only responsibility is to do their homework. This is regrettable, since the more trust we place in children, the more they will grow to justify that trust. Learning doesn’t stop when we complete our formal education, for as Maimonides, the great medieval Jewish philosopher affirmed: ‘A man should never stop learning, even on his last day.’ To recognise and promote the individuality of the pupil, and prepare them for a lifetime of exploration and growth, we must recognize and promote the individuality of each individual school.

Communities ought to form pressure groups to lobby for change in the educational system. Parents should join their local PTAs, to play an active role in the running of their schools. All too often we don’t protest because we think we’re powerless to change the status quo, but as Lord Justice Brandeis rightly observed: ‘The irresistible in often simply that which is not resisted.’ Many people campaigned against the 1902 Education Act, which abolished the board school system, and 170 parents went to prison for refusing to pay their school taxes. Would we be brave enough to do the same today? Schools should work in close conjunction with parents and local communities, and be subject to far less control from impersonal quangos and remote government departments. We must press for change at grass roots level to meet the needs of a rapidly evolving world, for as Thomas Edison observed more than a century ago: ‘If you are doing anything the way you did twenty years ago, there is a better way.’

The Systems of Education in the UK – English and Welsh Year Groups

In the first part of a series of articles looking at the education systems across the UK, the overarching structure of the school year for state funded schools in England and Wales will be considered. The structures and terms for schools under the Scottish, Northern Irish and Independent School systems differ again and will be looked at in future articles.

The type and range of schools through which children pass during their education may vary depending on which part of the UK they grow up in, the nature of the schools in their locale and their parents ability to fund their education. However, for any schools receiving state funding in England and Wales, the defined schools years, and the requirements for education in each of those years, is set by the UK government and the Welsh Assembly respectively.

The Year Groups

The school year in the England and Wales begins on 1 September and runs up until 31 August and is split into three terms: Autumn (up to Christmas), Spring (Christmas to Easter) and Summer (Easter onwards).

Although children will usually progress through the school years depending on their age(s) in between those dates every year, it is possible to both skip years or repeat years if there is a need; if a child’s performance is above or below the level expected at their current age.

Whilst it is not compulsory attendance for a child, the (state funded) school year system begins with the Nursery year for children who are three years old. The system ends with Year 13 (the 15th year in total) for children who turn 18 in the relevant timeframe. School attendance is only mandatory from the ages of 5-16 and so children are required to enter school at some stage during Reception (the 2nd year), if they haven’t already, whilst, at the other end of the system, they can then choose whether or not to pursue their education in Years 12-13 (Further Education) once they’ve turned 16.

The third year of education is termed Year 1 as it is the first full school year in which children are required to attend school having been introduced to it in Reception (if not Nursery).

The Key Stages

To provide a framework for teaching and examinations the National Curriculum (for state funded schools) in particular uses the following key stages to group these years together:

  • Foundation Stages:
    • Foundation 1 – Nursery
    • Foundation 2 – Reception
  • Key Stage 1 – Years 1 & 2
  • Key Stage 2 – Years 3 – 6
  • Key Stage 3 – Years 7 – 9
  • Key Stage 4 – Years 10 & 11 (ending in GCSEs)
  • Sixth Form/College – Years 12 & 13 (ending in A Levels or International Baccalaureate)

The Standard School Structure

The first Nursery year nearly always involves the child attending a designated Nursery school but after that the structure can vary. The most common structure for the schools that a child will progress through in the subsequent years is that of:

  • Infant School – Reception to Year 2 [Foundation Stage 2 & Key Stage 1]
  • Junior School – Years 3 – 6 [Key Stage 2]
  • Senior School – Years 7 – 11 [Key Stages 3 & 4]
  • Sixth Form/College – Years 12 & 13

Many schools, however, combine the functions above so that the structure is simplified into two levels to fit neatly with the idea of primary and secondary education:

  • Primary School – Infant School & Junior School
  • Secondary School – Senior School & Sixth Form

Some more traditional schools in the secondary education system still refer to the Years 7 through to 11 in the older notation as Years 1 to 5 (or First Form to Fifth Form) with the following Sixth Form (Years 12 and 13) split into the Lower and Upper Sixth.

The Alternative School Structure

A less common alternative structure sees a three tier system straddling primary and secondary education and the curriculum’s Key Stages with:

  • First School – Reception to Year 4
  • Middle School – Years 5 – 8
  • Upper School – Years 9 – 13

Children can and do switch between schools following these structures according to the opportunities in their locality and it is particularly common, for example, for children to switch to a Secondary School for the rest of their secondary education once they have finished Middle School.

Ultimately, the year groups only provide a framework to determine how and when the National Curriculum and examinations should be implemented. There are therefore many varying types of schools even within the above definitions, from Faith Schools to Academies to Grammar Schools, depending on other factors such as selection criteria and funding.