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.

Researching Teacher Education and Training in England (Key Ethical and Methodological Concerns)

The present teacher education and training environment in England is characterised by schools and university partnerships and school-based only frameworks. There are however an increasing body of ‘independent’ teacher education providers. Out of this ‘new’ thinking has emerged labels and entities such as School Direct, Teach First, Troops to Teachers and School-Centred Initial Teacher Training.

This occurrence suggests that increasingly, research in teacher education and training is being carried out in a variety of schools’ contexts. This also provides researchers with a larger ‘ground’ in which to work and a diverse array of potential respondents and participants.

While there is always a ‘downside’ some may argue that the positives (such as the potential for ‘rich data’ and increased understanding of teacher education and training issue based on a wider pool of participants) out-weight the potential negatives–some are highlighted later in this article. Additionally, the highlighted negatives are also preventable with proper understanding and application of research knowledge and procedures. However, given this ‘new’ environment here are a few ethical and methodological concerns that I see as key.

Key Ethical Concerns

Increase in the pool of research participants and places means potentially, there is an increase in the number of people who can be negatively affected. This therefore lends importance to the need to promise and maintain both confidentiality and anonymity and for researchers to be vigilant in these matters.

A lapse in confidentiality and anonymity can have adverse effects on participants, bring the researcher and her or his affiliate University into disrepute and impact negatively relations between University, partnering schools and sometimes Local Educational Authority. On the extreme end of the spectrum of negative effects, a lapse in confidentiality and anonymity could lead to Job loss, or participants being ostracized especially when the research involves sensitive issues such as race, diversity, social Justice or culture.

It is my practice – where possible- to omit names and places in my research reports. However, if these are integral to your study they should only be included after obtaining appropriate consent from potential participants. The use of pseudonyms to conceal identities is a long-standing practice among researchers and continue to aid in achieving anonymity. Additionally, confidential information about children or staff should never be disclosed at any cost.

Other ethical issues which are akin to confidentiality and anonymity is openness, honesty and autonomy. As a researcher I always inform key people in the school and assure participants of their rights to withdraw from the researcher at any time, should they wish to do so, without fear of being penalised.

It is my opinion that if these ethical issues are not carefully attended to, they may lead to less than complete and honest responses from research participants which brings into question the research findings and conclusions.

Key Methodological/Procedural Concerns

The ‘new’ environment with its wide and diverse array of potential respondents and participants provides researchers with an enlarged participant pool from which to draw. This fact suggests the need for caution and care in selecting participants for your research. Participants must be ‘information rich’. Guba and Lincoln (1998) define ‘information rich’ participants as those who are able to provide insight into the issues being researched. It is worth stating here that inappropriate participants will affect the accuracy of the conclusions you draw and the potential impact your study could have.

The other key methodological or procedural concern is the need for a clearly defined research problem. In fact, getting this right, not only helps in selecting ‘information rich’ participants, but aid university based researchers to explain to potential respondents or participants in partnering schools the research focus and guides researchers’ actions and thoughts. Additionally, a clearly defined research problem also helps to determine an appropriate research framework or procedure (e.g. Biographical, Ethnographic, Phenomenological, or Applied Research) that could be used to solve a problem, data collection methods (Interview, survey, experimental) and data analysis approach (qualitative and/or quantitative)

So what have I said?

I said, key ethical concerns for researching teacher education in the ‘new’ teacher education environment in England are confidentiality and anonymity, openness, honesty and autonomy. Key methodological or procedural concerns are participants’ selection and clearly defined research problems. These are critical in light of the enlarged field of potential participant which emerges from the new environment.

Reference

Guba, E., G & Lincoln, Y., S. (1998). Competing paradigms in qualitative research. In Denzin, N., K., & Lincoln, Y., S. The Landscape of qualitative research theories and Issues. Sage USA.

Student Group Travel To Boston: Performance Trips That Are Educational!

If you are looking for a great performance destination with a historical twist, then Boston is an ideal choice for your student group trip. Bands, choruses, orchestras and dance ensembles have fantastic performance options from which to choose, where audiences are in abundance. Plus, your students will gain a real and vivid life education of the history of America and where it began. Known to many as the birthplace of the United States, Boston is one of America’s oldest cities steeped in history beginning with the Puritans who, in 1630, founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony to the Boston Tea Party and the American Revolution. Known as the “Walking City,” student groups will have fun learning about American history in Boston. This vibrant, thriving city is renowned for its world-class museums, historical sites, monuments, educational institutions, delicious food, signature shopping, fantastic entertainment and professional sports. Boston not only retells the powerful stories of our nation’s past, but is willing to accommodate and entertain student groups as few other cities can. Student group travel to Boston is educational, both musically and historically!

Performance Opportunities in Boston

Three of the most popular performance sites in Boston include the Boston Conservatory, Faneuil Hall/Quincy Market and Six Flags® New England.

The Boston Conservatory, the oldest performing arts conservatory in the nation, offers student performance groups an award-winning theater that is newly renovated. The Conservatory just recently completed a $32 million, 16-month-long renovation and expansion project that effectively adds 16,000 new square feet of rehearsal and performance space to the building, as well as a completely renovated, state-of-the-art 300-seat theater with new orchestra pit, air conditioning and a host of technical upgrades and accoutrements. Conductors are constantly raving about the incredible acoustics within this theater.

At Faneuil Hall/Quincy Market, there are numerous locations for your school band, orchestra, choir or dance ensemble to perform in the most historic location in Boston. Your ensemble can perform outdoors where thousands of people shop and dine each day, giving you a large audience. Faneuil Hall/Quincy Market is one of the most visited historical attractions in Boston.

Just an hour and a half outside of Boston is Six Flags® New England. Like all Six Flags®, this theme park is exciting and has some of the fastest, tallest, wildest, gut-wrenching rides in the country including rollercoasters like Batman – The Dark Night, Bizarro, voted the #2 steel rollercoaster in the country, and the Cyclone, one of the largest wooden rollercoasters in the U.S. New to Six Flags® New England this year is Goliath, a heart-pounding roller coaster. With over 40 exciting amusement rides, an exhilarating water park and fantastic entertainment, Six Flags® New England will surely provide thrills and exciting times your student group will always remember. Six Flags® New England provides marching bands, concert bands, jazz bands, choirs, orchestras and dance ensembles an opportunity to perform in front of thousands of spectators at various sites throughout the park as well.

Historical Sites in Boston

The historical aspects of Boston are fascinating. Boston is both an indoor and outdoor museum of history and architecture. As part of your itinerary, you and your student group should include the Freedom Trail. The Freedom Trail is 2.5 mile walking tour through Boston that takes groups around 16 significant historical sites including:

U.S.S. Constitution
Bunker Hill Monument
Copp’s Hill Burial Ground
Old North Church
Paul Revere House
Faneuil Hall
Boston Massacre Site
Old State House
Old South Meeting House
Former Site of the Old Corner Bookstore
First Public School Site and Ben Franklin Statue
King’s Chapel and Burying Ground
Granary Burying Ground
Park Street Church
Massachusetts State House
Boston Commons

Guided tours are available for student groups. However, the Freedom Trail is well-marked and can be self-guided. To obtain guides for your group, The Freedom Trail Foundation offers maps and other resources for educators at http://www.thefreedomtrail.org.

Opening Soon: Scheduled to open June 25 in Boston is the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum. Most of the museum will be located on a barge anchored next to the museum pier on the Fort Point Channel. In addition to state-of-the-art technology, the museum will have actors dressed in period clothing and the original Robinson Tea Chest that was thrown into the Boston Harbor on Dec. 16, 1773. Students will have the opportunity to throw a tea chest over the sides of the Beaver, Eleanor and Dartmouth, replicas of the original ships involved in the Boston Tea Party.

Other Historical Sites in the Boston Area

Don’t forget to include historical sites around Boston including Lexington and Concord, where the great patriot Paul Revere is best remembered for his ride through the countryside warning the Minute Men that “The British are Coming!” Lexington and Concord are also known as the first sites of battle in the American Revolution as well as the site of the Old North Bridge where the American militia defeated the British soon after the “shot heard ’round the world” was fired.

Just north of Boston is Salem, a town known for the Salem Witch Trials, one of the darkest episodes in American History. Salem is a fascinating town that features The Salem Witch Museum which takes students back to Salem in 1692. The museum offers a dramatic history of the Witch Trials and witchcraft, bringing the past into a present day perspective. In addition to the museum, a tour of the House of the Seven Gables, complete with a hidden staircase and history of Nathaniel Hawthorn, will inspire students’ imaginations.

Lastly, a trip to Boston wouldn’t be complete without a short jaunt south along the coast to Plymouth. Here students can view Plymouth Rock where the Pilgrims first landed in 1620, experience the Mayflower II, and visit the living outdoor history museum, Plimoth Plantation. Known as the site of the first colony, Plimoth plantation recreates life in a Wampanoag Indian village and a 1627 English settlement and how they co-habitated. Students will gain a fantastic education of Native American and Colonial history.

Overall, Boston provides performance groups with fantastic performance options and a historical education about the American Revolution. In addition and not even mentioned in this article are other fantastic attractions like the New England Aquarium, the Museum of Science and whale watching excursions. Unlike any other city, Boston provides student groups with unlimited attractions, museums, historical sites, monuments and performance sites. As one can see, Boston has it all!