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Japanese Education at the Crossroads (XII) - What is Happening in Schools in the United Kingdom Now? -

12,458. That is the number of children who were permanently excluded or what we in Japan would call "made to withdraw" from primary and secondary schools in the 1994-1995 school year in England. Of these, 16% were primary school pupils, and 84% were secondary school pupils (in a 5-year system). Among the secondary school pupils, 54% were between their first through third year, and the remaining 45% were in their fourth or fifth year (corresponding to the first and second-year of high school in Japan).

When I heard this information, I was shocked, but at the same time I thought it was bound to turn out this way. This is because since the 1970s, truancy, school violence, defiant attitudes towards teachers, attacks on teachers, and bullying have been problems in the UK, and at the same time, radical reforms aimed at improving the quality of education have been implemented since the 1980s.

In 1990, the number of permanent exclusions was 2,910, but in the 1993-1994 school year this rose sharply to exceed 11,000, and in 1994-1995 it reached the number I mentioned in the first paragraph. Why has this happened?

In the UK, since the 1980s, radical reforms have been put forward to regenerate schools and raise the level of scholastic ability. A national curriculum was introduced, standardized assessment tests of all pupils at the ages of 7, 11, 14, and 17 were instituted, and the results of these tests were made public for each school. Because of this, the media began reporting school ranking lists called "league tables," and parents starting referring to these lists to choose schools for their children. Because an increase or decrease in the number of pupils became a barometer of school popularity and determined the amount of allocated funding, schools took various steps to maintain safety and order, to raise the level of scholastic ability, and to improve their reputations; and one of these steps was the practice of excluding problem children.

However, the efforts and appeals of these schools were not just motivated by the principle of market-type competition for recruiting students. Another important factor was that in 1993 the Department for Education and Employment introduced a new system of school inspections.

In 1992, the Office for Standards in Education (OFSTED) was established in order to improve the quality of education and to raise the level of achievement, and it supervised and carried out periodic school inspections. Until that point, school inspections as such had been conducted by local educational authorities, but they were not standardized and lacked consistency since they were not carried out regularly and in a prescribed manner in all regions. However, under the new system, schools underwent inspection based on common standards of evaluation every four years, and this was later extended to every six years in 1997. These check and evaluate the level of educational services, the level of student achievement, the level of their spiritual, moral, and cultural development, the effective use of school budgets, and the school management policies.

Such inspections began in 1993, and in the 1993-1994 school year approximately 1000 schools in England underwent them. The results were made public, and they were put into a database together with other information like the scores of the standardized tests I mentioned above. The introduction of this new system of school inspections was a factor in the sudden increase in school exclusions in the 1993-1994 school year. Schools and head teachers tried various strategies and methods in order to obtain good evaluations. And, in order to increase the effectiveness of these strategies and methods, they also came to employ the tactic of expelling problem children.

This is one aspect of what has been happening in schools in the United Kingdom in the 1990s, and no doubt many readers will be surprised by the difference between this and other information about the British educational situation that has up to now been reported in Japan. Looking at schools individually, children appear to be lively and happy. However, essentially this is no different from the good impression non-Japanese scholars receive when they observe Japanese schools. Japanese media and Japanese intellectuals have a tendency to focus on problems when they discuss Japanese education, and only on the positive side of things when they discuss it in foreign countries. However, when reforms of the educational system are carried out on the basis of this kind of biased impression, the educational system cannot help but be distorted. The educational system is primarily one that provides educational opportunities and opportunities to carry out and experience education, and we should not forget that how to make these opportunities rich one fruitful is up to the creativity and ingenuity of individual schools and teachers.

[Source: This article was originally written for "Shinken News" February, 1998 issue published by Benesse Corporation]

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