Why the UK education system is still one of the best

Prof. Angela Thodyan internationally renowned British expert and researcher on educational leadership, speaks to Kenneth Velle on some of the characteristics and changes in the British education system, which has always influenced the Maltese system.

Angela Thody

Angela Thody is well known to senior Maltese education officials and school leaders. In 2008, she was one of the keynote speakers at an international conference organized by the Malta Society for Education, Administration and Management. Considered an international expert and researcher on educational leadership, the Emeritus Professor of English has conducted several other workshops and training sessions for Maltese school leaders over the years.

The English education system has always had an influence on Maltese schools, which is why Professor Thody was asked to comment on recent developments and changes in education in the UK.

She said that whereas in the past democratically elected local authorities made all the decisions for all schools, such as setting budgets, setting policies, selecting teachers and professional development, the situation is now very different today. “Now each school is effectively independent. They have their own budget, select their own staff, establish and implement policies, and are responsible for capital and operating expenditures.

“School principals have become very powerful, as have parents and students, because now they can choose which school they want to attend.” (In fact, about four out of five parents succeed in enrolling their children in the school of first choice).

Many schools, both primary and secondary, are academies specializing in subjects such as languages, performing arts and sciences. “Apart from this, state-supported ‘denominational schools’ have now increased in number and now we also have state-supported Islamic and Hindu schools which reflect our diverse population.

Many schools are now private enterprises over which there is no democratic control by local governments. Teachers are largely trained directly in schools with just a short university curriculum. Prof Thody said the general picture is one of much greater freedom and variety in schools, more experimentation with school structures and much greater choice and variety for the students. But this freedom is tempered by the return of a government-mandated national curriculum (England had one in the 19th century, then it returned in the 1987-88 school year); through an extensive regime of frequent and regular inspections, the rating of schools and the publication of the results and comments of inspectors.

Every school [in the UK] is actually independent. They have their own budget, select their own staff, establish and implement policies, and are responsible for capital and operating expenditures.

Apart from these, there are also several changes to the formats of the qualifications, tests at four key stages in a student’s school life and changes to the 16+ and 18+ exams. Recently, there has also been the introduction of a national standardized school leadership preparation curriculum.

With all these changes, does Professor Thody still consider the English education system to be one of the best in the international context?

She said that if one were to analyze the English education system according to international rankings, on the expenditure of the system, on the success in attracting teachers to the profession and in motivating the parents and pupils of white working-class boys to continue their studies, this is certainly not the case.

However, she added that other aspects still make the British education system one of the best in the international context, such as its willingness to experiment with new forms of curricula, school structures and the promotion of progressive teaching for develop individualism.

Moreover, according to international rankings, English universities are consistently ranked among the best in the world.

The English education system is still highly regarded in areas related to international attitudes towards A-level examinations in the country; in its attempt to combine social justice with educational outcomes, and in the brilliant special education services offered in mainstream schools and in special schools.

Unsurprisingly, there are still a number of education systems around the world that copy parts of the British system.

Asked to comment on the challenges facing UK educators today, Professor Thody mentioned the growing expectations of pupils, parents and the nation about what schools can and should achieve, the recognition that pupils and parents have rights but do not seem to have reciprocal duties. , while teachers have duties but no rights.


Professor Thody began working as a teacher in the UK in 1965 and for the next 50 years taught, carried out research in higher education and published books and articles based on this research.

After joining a polytechnic and then De Montfort University in Leicester, she specialized in education administration, management and policy and worked part-time for 14 years at the Open University, the University of Leicester and the Workers Educational Association.

In 1986, he was asked to create the first MBA in Educational Management at the University of Leicester. She moved to the new University of Luton (now Bedfordshire), then took a professorship in educational leadership at Lincoln University, leading doctoral programs.

That same year she joined the prestigious British Educational Leadership, Management and Administration Society (BELMAS) and edited one of their journals for seven years. She has served on its international committee and as a member of the Commonwealth Council for Educational Administration and Management (CCEAM) she has traveled to Malta and other Commonwealth countries to learn about their educational systems and give lectures. In 1994, she was elected the first woman president of CCEAM, a position she held until 2000.

She retired in 2003 and was named professor emeritus. However, she was recalled in 2007 and remained a professor of education until 2015, specializing in research methods and management.

Kenneth Vella is Principal of Mater Boni Consilii St Joseph School, Paola, Member of the Executive Committee of the Maltese Society for Educational Administration and Management, Member of the Study Board of the Tumas Fenech Foundation for Education in journalism and international representative of Learning Scoop Finland.

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