The quality of a country's future life, commercially, industrially and intellectually, depends on the quality of its education system. The state in the United Kingdom provides a full range of free schooling. Those parents who prefer to send their children to private educational institutions, are free to do so. There are about 2500 fee-paying, or public schools in the country.
State schooling in the UK is not as centralized as in most European countries. Firstly, there is no prescribed curriculum. Secondly, the types of schools available and the age ranges for which they cater vary in different parts of the country. Local Educational Authorities are responsible for education in each area. At any state school no tuition fees are payable. State schooling in the UK is funded by the government and the local rates.
Schooling is voluntary under the age of five, and compulsory from 5 to 16. Generally, primary education in the UK takes place in infant schools (for ages 5-7) and junior schools (for ages 8—11); secondary education takes place in secondary schools. Pupils can stay at school voluntarily for up to three years longer. Until 1964 children took an 'eleven plus exam' at the age of 11 and were 'streamed' according to the results of the exam for education in different types of secondary schools. Grammar schools provided a mainly academic course for the top 20 %, technical schools specialized in technical studies, modern schools provided a general education with a practical bias. In 1965 non-selective comprehensive schools were introduced, though the old system still exists.
Having completed a compulsory education, 16 year-olds may start work, remain at school or study at a Further Education college. At schools and colleges they can take the school-leaving General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) exams — in a range of subjects. Other students prefer to pursue work-based training such as General National Vocational Qualifications (GNVQs), which provide skills and knowledge some in vocational areas such as business, engineering, etc. Having completed GCSEs most students usually specialize in three to four subjects leading to General Certificate of Education (GCE) A Levels. Others can take higher grade GNVQs.
Many students then move towards higher education training at universities, colleges and institutes offering studies at degree level and higher. The most common degree courses, which usually take three years to complete are the Bachelor of Arts (BA), Bachelor of Science (BSc), Bachelor of Education (BEd), Bachelor of Engineering (BEng) and Bachelor of Laws (LLB). Master degrees for those undertaking further study include the Master of Arts (MA), Master of Science (MSc), Master of Business Administration (MBA) and Master of Laws (LLM). Then there are research-based postgraduate courses leading to the Master of Philosophy (MPhil) and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD/DPhil).
These academic qualifications involve thousands of courses at more than 180 higher educational establishments in Britain. The most famous British universities are, of course, Oxford and Cambridge called 'Oxbridge' and famous for their academic excellence.