UK’s education system

This is a slightly different post from the usual, since I’ll be going through a bit of history and giving you some explanations about the UK’s education system.

First things first, by the way: do we say education system or educational system?

My instinct is that it should be education system, because educational system describes a system that is educational (=pedagogical), but isn’t necessarily the school system. For example, you could perhaps argue that a mentoring system is an educational system (i.e. it teaches the participants something). For me, the school + university system is ‘a system of education’, i.e. the education system.

However, this distinction is a little pedantic, and I began to wonder if there was a British English vs American English difference, so I did a little more digging.

If you look at the two Google ngrams below (showing the frequency of use of the two terms in written sources), you will see that in American English, the two terms are used virtually synonymously, whereas in British English, there was a shift in the 1980s, when education system took over and became the more common term.

‘education system’ (blue) vs ‘educational system’ (red) in American English
‘education system’ (blue) vs ‘educational system’ (red) in British English

This also explains why I haven’t heard educational system used here in the UK: I’m too young (for once!). 🤣

To sum up: if you want to stick to British English, use education system; if you’re speaking American English, use either.

Now to some interesting (and sometimes tricky) questions about terminology.

Public school vs private school

This is a very confusing area.

In American English, ‘public school’ means ‘run by the State’. This is what we would call ‘State school’ in the UK.

In the UK, a ‘public school’ is actually an independent (usually secondary) school, i.e. it isn’t run by the government. Public schools are fee-paying, i.e. they can be equated to ‘private schools’ in other countries.

Why are they called ‘public’? In the 18th century, the reputation of some schools that taught academic subjects such as Latin and Greek spread, and these schools opened their doors to pupils whose parents could afford residential fees. In this way, the schools ceased to be local and therefore became known as public.

The UK has many public schools, some of which are boarding schools as well as accepting day pupils.

A side note: fees at top public schools are exorbitant. I spent a year at Sevenoaks school in Kent, taking A-levels. I’ve just looked up the fees:

Standard Fees

 Per termPer annum
Day Pupil£8,340£25,020
Boarder£13,320£39,960

Compare the annual fee for boarders, at around £40,000, with the median salary in the UK: £25,971.

Grammar school

Now, what I didn’t mention in my explanation above, was that these academic schools teaching Latin and Greek were known (since the 16th century) as grammar schools.

[By the way, don’t confuse this with the term ‘grammar school’ in the US, which apparently is a synonym of ‘elementary school’ (or what we in the UK would call ‘primary school’) – confused yet??]

The modern version of grammar schools has existed since the 1944 Education Act, which made secondary education after the age of 14 free.

Under this Act, secondary education was divided into two types of schools:

  • grammar schools, which were selective and academically rigorous, and to which pupils could be admitted at the age of 11 if they passed an exam called the 11+ (‘eleven plus’) – but only if there were sufficient places at the school. The idea behind these schools was that pupils would go on to higher education.
  • ‘secondary moderns’, which prepared pupils for trades.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Labour politicians and educational egalitarians argued that the grammar school system reinforced class divisions and middle class privilege, and that all pupils should be taught together.

In 1965, the government ordered local education authorities to start phasing out grammar schools and secondary moderns, and replace them with ‘comprehensive schools’, i.e. secondary schools that accept all pupils, regardless of ability or aptitude.

There are no longer any secondary modern schools.

Grammar schools disappeared rapidly between 1968 and 1980, but they stubbornly persist in some parts of England, particularly in counties like Kent, Lincolnshire, and Buckinghamshire, and in some areas around Birmingham.

As it happens, there are a few grammar schools in Yorkshire, where I live, and both of my children are at single-sex (🙁) grammar schools.

There are now 164 grammar schools in England and 69 in Northern Ireland (out of 3,000 State secondaries). There are no State grammar schools in Wales or Scotland.

Grammar schools are selective State schools in England and Northern Ireland to which pupils are admitted on the basis of an exam taken in the last year of primary school called the 11+.

I could spend a long time discussing the pros and cons of grammar schools. On the one hand, they generally provide a very good standard of education, being academically rigorous and focused on high standards of discipline. Proponents argue that they promote social mobility, since they accept pupils based on ability, and not the ‘postcode lottery’ of catchment area (i.e. rich parents being able to buy a house in the catchment area of a good State school). Detractors argue that they perpetuate class divisions, and that rich parents can afford expensive coaching to get their children through the exam (children who then may not even be able to keep up with the demands of the curriculum).

I was certainly quite shocked when I discovered 99% of children attempting the 11+ in my local area were being coached, at a cost of £5,000 per year. I thought the test was a test of ability, not a test of how rich your parents were, and how well your coach had prepared you for the exam…🙁

The name ‘grammar school’

Now, because nothing is ever simple in the UK’s education system, you may recall that I said there were no State grammar schools in Wales or Scotland.

BUT

Some schools retain the name ‘grammar school’, while actually being non-selective, with no special status.

AND

One of the schools near us is Bradford Grammar School, which is in fact an independent (i.e. public, i.e. private 🤣), fee-paying, school.

In other words, some schools calling themselves grammar schools are NOT selective, and others are NOT State schools.

Told you it was confusing.

The moral of the story is: regardless of what a school calls itself, you have to check whether it’s a State school, selective grammar school, or public school.

As far as translating the term ‘grammar school’ is concerned, given the terminological morass in which we find ourselves, I think your best option is to say ‘selective’, or ‘where pupils are admitted based on ability/exam results’.

Plethora

You all know I love Greek words, and plethora (with the syllable stress at the beginning: PLETHora) is one of my favourites.

I thought it might be useful to go through some options for saying ‘many‘ – but in more exciting ways. 🙂

I’ll take you through some possibilities, and try to discuss the terms they collocate with, as well as the register where relevant.

First things first, let’s talk about the meaning of plethora. When I hear it used in meetings, it’s used as a synonym for ‘many, a large amount’, and that’s how I use it too. But it can actually mean an overabundance (i.e. too much of something) as well.

Options for ‘many, a large number’

Apart from plethora, you could use:

  • a host of (for example, a host of reasons)
  • a raft of (usually something like a raft of measures, proposals, ideas, although I have seen it in the singular as well, which sounds odd to me).
  • a range of (used for a set, or things of a similar nature, for example a range of facial expressions, a range of mortgages, a range of proposals, a range of resources, a range of options, a range of opinions). The word range is often used with ‘large’ or ‘wide’.
  • an array of (referring to things that are positioned in a certain way, or that generally elicit admiration: an array of food on the table, an array of cameras displayed in the shop). The word array is often used with ‘large’ or ‘wide’.
  • a wealth of. This could be positive or negative; you might have a wealth of complaints, a wealth of comments on social media. It’s also often used with singular nouns such as a wealth of experience, a wealth of knowledge, a wealth of potential.
  • a myriad of (originally, this meant 10,000, but the meaning has changed over the centuries, and now it just mean ‘a very large amount’).
  • in a relatively high register, you could use abundance, profusion, or multitude. These tend to mean a very large number of people or things (e.g. a multitude of questions, a multitude of problems, a profusion of books on this subject, a profusion of articles in the press).

In a completely different register, you could use ‘a ton’ to mean ‘a lot’. This is too informal for many meeting situations.

Options for ‘too many’

If you’re explicitly trying to say there is too much of something, try the following words:

  • an excess of
  • a surfeit of
  • a flood of
  • a deluge of

You could have a flood or deluge of something positive (e.g. a flood of compliments), but in the vast majority of cases, the implication is that it’s too many to deal with comfortably.

For example, theguardian.com ran an article titled “How a deluge of money nearly broke the Premier League: It’s the world’s most lucrative football league. But a civil war over all that money came close to toppling it.”

Gap filling exercise (Ukraine)- Part 1

This is (sadly) the second gap filling exercise about Ukraine. You can find the first one here, and this exercise is in two parts.

The exercise is based on an article in The Guardian (theguardian.com), with minor adaptations.

Your task is to find suitable words or expressions to fill in the gaps, taking into account syntax as well as register, and bringing to bear your background knowledge.

I have given some suggestions following the exercise.

Exercise

  • There is still the possibility of a diplomatic __________ that would bring an early end to this dreadful war and Russian military withdrawal while __________ the vital interests of Ukraine. Indeed, if the Russians are ever to withdraw, a diplomatic agreement on the terms of withdrawal will be necessary.
  • The West should __________ a peace agreement and Russian withdrawal by offering Russia the lifting of all new sanctions imposed on it. The offer to Ukraine should be a __________ reconstruction package that will also help Ukraine to move towards the West economically and politically rather than militarily – just as Finland and Austria were able to do during the Cold War despite their neutral status.
  • The demands by the Russian side are that Ukraine should sign a treaty of neutrality; engage in “demilitarisation” and “denazification”; and recognise Russian sovereignty over Crimea, which was _______________ by Russia after the Ukrainian Revolution. These demands are a __________ of the acceptable, the unacceptable, and the undefined.
  • The option of neutrality for Ukraine has often been called “Finlandisation”, and perhaps the ________________ Ukrainian response to Russian aggression over the past week has given a new meaning to that term in the case of Ukraine. For like the Finns in the “winter war” of 1939-40, the Ukrainians have also been abandoned militarily by the West, which has declared publicly and repeatedly that it ________________ defend them.
  • On the other hand, it seems that the extraordinary courage and resolution with which the Finns fought convinced Stalin that to rule Finland would be too much of a challenge. Finland became the only part of the former Russian Empire not to be incorporated in the USSR, and during the cold war, though neutral by treaty, was able to develop as a successful social market democracy. Similarly, we must hope that the courage and determination of the Ukrainians has convinced Putin that it will be impossible to run Ukraine as a Russian _________________, and neutrality is the best deal he is going to get.

Suggestions

  • There is still the possibility of a diplomatic settlement that would bring an early end to this dreadful war and Russian military withdrawal while safeguarding the vital interests of Ukraine. Indeed, if the Russians are ever to withdraw, a diplomatic agreement on the terms of withdrawal will be necessary. [Instead of ‘settlement’, you could say agreement or resolution; and you could substitute ‘safeguarding’ with protecting or securing. Looking after would also work, but is more informal.]
  • The West should back a peace agreement and Russian withdrawal by offering Russia the lifting of all new sanctions imposed on it. The offer to Ukraine should be a massive reconstruction package that will also help Ukraine to move towards the West economically and politically rather than militarily – just as Finland and Austria were able to do during the Cold War despite their neutral status. [The obvious alternative to ‘back’ is support; or you could try advocate for or encourage. Instead of a ‘massive’ reconstruction package, you could say generous, substantial or sizeable. There are many other synonyms for ‘massive’, such as huge, immense, gigantic, gargantuan, etc. but they don’t fit so well here.]
  • The demands by the Russian side are that Ukraine should sign a treaty of neutrality; engage in “demilitarisation” and “denazification”; and recognise Russian sovereignty over Crimea, which was seized back by Russia after the Ukrainian Revolution. These demands are a mixed bag of the acceptable, the unacceptable, and the undefined. [For ‘seized back’, you could say retaken or perhaps reappropriated. And a ‘mixed bag’ could simply be rendered as a mixture.]
  • The option of neutrality for Ukraine has often been called “Finlandisation”, and perhaps the determined and unified Ukrainian response to Russian aggression over the past week has given a new meaning to that term in the case of Ukraine. For like the Finns in the “winter war” of 1939-40, the Ukrainians have also been abandoned militarily by the West, which has declared publicly and repeatedly that it has no intention of fighting to defend them. [You could imagine all sorts of alternatives to ‘determined and unified’, depending on your view of the Ukrainian response. Resolute, tenacious, robust, dogged and resolved are possibilities. Or you could go in a different direction with impressive, surprising, astonishing, remarkable, extraordinary or inspiring. As for ‘has no intention of fighting to defend them’, you could say it won’t send troops to defend them, it won’t put troops on the ground to defend them, it won’t defend them, it won’t step up and defend them, etc.]
  • On the other hand, it seems that the extraordinary courage and resolution with which the Finns fought convinced Stalin that to rule Finland would be too much of a challenge. Finland became the only part of the former Russian Empire not to be incorporated in the USSR, and during the cold war, though neutral by treaty, was able to develop as a successful social market democracy. Similarly, we must hope that the courage and determination of the Ukrainians has convinced Putin that it will be impossible to run Ukraine as a Russian client state, and neutrality is the best deal he is going to get. [Not many other options here, except satellite state or dependency.]