How do different European countries compare when it comes to education, and how does the UK measure up?
In this series of maps, we look at three metrics – pupil-teacher ratios, public expenditure and years of schooling – to find out which countries fare the best, and which have room for improvement.
Closely linked with class sizes, the ratio of pupils to teachers nationwide is a common measure of educational quality. It’s commonly accepted that fewer pupils per teacher has a positive impact on attainment, as there is a larger pool of talent for schools to draw from.
Against many of our European neighbours, the UK sits somewhere in the middle in the lower secondary segment (10 to 13 years old) with 14.3 pupils per teacher. In upper secondary (14 to 16), however, the picture is much worse: at 26 pupils per teacher, the UK has more than twice the EU average of 12.9.
The amount spent on secondary education as a percentage of a country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) can be seen as a general indicator of how highly each country prioritises education.
A greater percentage spent suggests more investment in teacher training, infrastructure and resources for each school. However, it should be noted that higher spending doesn’t always equal better results, and may also highlight spending inefficiencies within the system.
The UK ranks highly against this metric at 1.2% of GDP, with only Denmark, Serbia, Finland and Cyprus spending more.
This metric shows how many years of education each pupil is expected to receive, and is closely tied to the years of compulsory education mandated by each country’s government.
The UK is about average in the EU by this measure, with most pupils receiving around 16.2 years of education. Only in Spain and the Netherlands does the average pupil receive 17 years or more.
Note that these statistics are from 2013, the same year from which 16-year-old pupils in the UK have been required to stay in some form of education, apprenticeship or training until age 18. This means the up-to-date figure is likely higher.
We’re in winter now, and some of us may be feeling the chill. But it could be worse. It has been worse. And it will be worse again…
Throughout Earth’s 4.5 billion years, there have been five big ice ages, some of which lasted hundreds of millions of years. The most recent major ice age occurred in the Pleistocene period, about 2.6 million years ago, and lasted until about 11,700 years ago. Researchers are still trying to understand how often these periods of deep winter happen and how soon we can expect another one.
Across various periods of time, a quarter of our planet’s history has been held in the grip of a major ice event.. In between these ice ages, there have also been many smaller ice ages called glacials, and therefore some warmer periods, called inter-glacials.
The last mini ice age, which scientists call the Maunder Minimum, plunged the northern hemisphere into a series of bitterly cold winters between 1645 and 1715. It was caused by incredibly low solar activity. During the Maunder Minimum, the River Thames froze solid. The ice was so thick that the people of London could walk or skate from one side to the other without needing a bridge (as depicted above). However, although the winters were much colder than average, they were not life-threatening as they would have been in a ‘big’ ice age; If the citizens of the Seventeenth and Early Eighteenth century could survive the extreme cold without any form of central heating, then the next mini ice age will not be deadly for the human race.
It is a steady, severe drop in levels of sunshine that brings on a mini ices age. Solar expert Piers Corbyn, of forecasting group WeatherAction, warned that the Earth faces another mini ice age. “We are now in a decline of solar activity… This can cause a shift in the jet-stream, making it move further south and as a result it turns very cold in temperate latitudes including Europe, Britain and North America. We are anticipating temperatures to drop leading to ocean water freezing and ice drifts washing up around the coasts in Europe – we expect the next mini ice age.”
Corbyn and his colleagues have predicted that between now and 2020, the decrease in sun spots will continue. This fall in temperature will trigger the next Solar Minimum, which scientists think could last approximately 15 years. Work by the UK’s Met Office goes on to report however, that the effect of this mini ice age will be offset by an increase in global warming. This means that, rather than being faced with rivers that are frozen from top to bottom, and harsh temperatures that will keep us huddled around the fire, we will merely have to face winters that are much colder than we have become used to- so don’t rush out and buy those ice skates just yet.
Let’s start by posing a fundamental question: how is one to learn about and marvel in experiences, cultures and ways of life in the past, if not through literature? In my view, there’s only one answer to that. You simply cannot know how you came to be where you are and who you are without literary accounts. You cannot understand your own language, not to mention other languages and their development within a historical context, if you don’t read literature.
Of course, it’s not just a peek into the past that will help get you through the works of Shakespeare, Dickens, Orwell and other influential authors of the British classics; you can get a deeper understanding of how the English language evolved in terms of word morphology, punctuation, syntax, grammar, and phonology. As Sally Law, the principal teacher of English at Marr College in Scotland, wrote in The Guardian, ‘we’re equipping them [the students] with essential skills for the real world.’ Simply using the English language as we read it in today’s modern version is not enough to understand its complexity.
As I mentioned above, literature also contributes to one’s identity. Grasping the changes from past to present concerning behaviour, norms, ideas, and perspectives allows one to understand what, how, and why things have transformed. It is very well-known that history repeats itself, and through studying about the past, one can understand what to avoid in the present and, hopefully, in the future.
If there are, therefore, a lot of benefits to the study of literature, why is it not further promoted and encouraged in education in the UK? Because contrary to what you might think, it is not. And for that matter, why are other art subjects less and less appealing to students?
Unfortunately, due to policy changes in education, the number of students following a more artistic path has dropped to its lowest in a decade. English literature, which is better studied in its entirety, is mostly introduced to students as a supporting subject to the learning of the English language. As a result, insufficient attention is being paid to the content of literary work. The ultimate goal of this policy is of course to provide students with the best chance of achieving a good GCSE grade. However, a considerable amount of the enjoyment and heritage that these texts provide is at present being lost in the process. Some classic works traditionally taught as standard have now been cast aside, deemed unnecessary. Students study not for the pleasure of it, but rather as an obligation to pass, not really seeing or being present in the moment. It is unfortunate that today it seems like the study of such a subject is there only as a means to the end of passing exams.
One of the wonderful benefits of home education is the flexibility it provides, which can include the ability to travel with our children, learning as we go. With this in mind, my family and I decided to spend a few months on the Costa Tropical in southern Spain, working on improving our Spanish. Whilst there, I thought it may be of interest to record and inform you of some of the experiences we have.
We did the same thing last winter, and despite many people reassuring us that the children would simply absorb the language by having Spanish speakers around us, in fact it really didn’t work like that. For children to pick up very significant amounts of Spanish, or any other language, they really need to be properly immersed in it, having no option but to use it to communicate. This is difficult to do unless the children are immediately around spoken Spanish for 4-6 hours a day at least, which ours weren’t. However, they can still learn plenty of very useful new language in simple day to day situations such as shopping, or by joining Spanish groups and societies. If these societies provide plenty of opportunities to mix with local kids, so much the better.
For any traveller, the first challenge after finding somewhere to stay is finding somewhere to eat, and shopping for food is a goldmine for new and hugely practical vocabulary. Sometimes things are not as obvious as they might seem, however! We saw a grocer holding some bananas labelled with the word “plátanos”, implying that the Spanish for banana is “plátano”. On the shelf behind him were some more, but this time with a sign that read “banana” – so which was it?! In fact, both are right, Bananas are the type that we buy in the UK, whereas plátanos are a smaller, sweeter variety which is normally grown in the Canary Islands. They’re slightly more expensive, but much nicer than the regular “bananas”.
Elsewhere in the fruit and veg department, there are similar challenges; which sign relates to which item? Like a multiple choice question, we can work out the obvious ones such as “tomate cherry” and “limón”, and make a good guess at the rest. And if we’re still having trouble, nowadays we at least have Google Translate on our phones to double check – no more carrying around a dictionary!
With more travel and more exposure to different languages, educated guesses can really help. While we have to be very aware of “false friends”, we can make a reasonable guess at the fact that “ajo” means “garlic” if we know the French word “ail”. I remember travelling to Portugal as a child and learning that “bacalhau à bras” was a speciality of the country, a surprisingly delicious mix of dried, salted cod, potatoes and eggs. When I spotted “filete de bacalao” in the fish section I therefore felt that it was reasonable to assume that they were stocking frozen cod. French, Spanish and Portuguese share common roots as Latin languages, and children who learn one of them have a huge advantage when it comes to experiencing another.
Having made our food choices, we then needed to negotiate the checkout, and the word you’re likely to hear there is “bolsa?” meaning “bag?”. It is a colloquial reply if you’ve brought your own and answer: “sin bolsa”, meaning “without bag”, but this is the phrase that is used widely and it is easy to remember.
I’ll be writing more about our stay here and the ways that we’re learning Spanish together as a family, and about the learning experiences that we have while we’re here, so keep checking back to the Oxford Home Schooling blog page for more updates!
There is a lot of talk in the newspapers and on the news at the moment about the UK struggling not to fall into a state of recession, but what exactly does this mean? What is a recession?
In simple terms, a recession is a period of temporary economic decline during which industrial production, employment, and trade reduces significantly. When economic commentators talk about recessions, they use the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) as their reference point or technical downturn indicator.
A recession begins after an economy that has peaked begins to fall too quickly. It comes to an end as the economy reaches a low point before picking up again. Between this dip and its peak, the economy enjoys a period of expansion, with low unemployment, steady wage rates and good trade links and sales. A recession kicks in when economy experiences two successive periods of “negative growth.”
There are different levels of recession, with some less damaging than others, and being easier and faster to recover from. There have been six major post-war recessions, in 1974, 1975, 1980, 1981, 1991 and 2010. All of these economic dips took years to recover from. In the case of 2010, the UK took four years to begin to rise out of trouble, and with economic uncertainty hanging over the country due to Brexit, economists believe that the chances of us dipping back into recession again are high – if we haven’t done so already. One of the biggest problems about declaring a recession is that we can only be sure if one has happened once it is over and the economy heads back towards a period of growth.
Some recessions are certainly more serious than others, and don’t affect just one country at a time. Between 2007 and 2009 there was a global recession which drew attention to the risky investment strategies used by large financial institutions across the world. As a result of this wide-spread global recession, the economies of virtually all the world’s developed countries were damaged.
During a period of recession people have less money to spend; it’s harder for shops and businesses to make money, and to pay other peoples wages. As a consequence, unemployment levels rise.
Recessions, however awful, are a normal part of a country’s economic cycle. Every area of business experiences periods of growth and decline. It is only when several things go wrong with the economy at one, that a recession is declared. So it could be said that at least there will always be a light at the end of the tunnel. Let’s just hope our next tunnel, if we have to go through one, doesn’t turn out to be that long.
On 29th October 1618, Sir Walter Raleigh was executed after being accused of plotting against King James I. His fortunes, once well in favour with the royal court, had fallen to the chopping block. During the Tudor times in which he lived, such dramatic reverses were not uncommon.
To begin with Raleigh, if you look at his earlier life at court, his eventual fall from grace once seemed unthinkable. Born to a well-connected gentry’ family at Hayes Barton in Devon in 1552, Raleigh was a renowned explorer. In 1578 he made his first exhibition to America, and in 1585 he attempted to set up the first English colony in America on Roanoke Island (now North Carolina). This attempt failed, as did others, but Raleigh was successful in introducing both potatoes and tobacco back to Britain.
Raleigh became a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I in 1580, after helping to suppress an uprising in Ireland. He was knighted and appointed captain of the Queen’s Guard in 1587. However, in 1592, Raleigh was to trigger his own downfall when he secretly married one of Elizabeth’s maids of honour, Elizabeth Throckmorton. The queen was intensely jealous, and threw both Raleigh and his wife into the Tower of London. After eventually gaining a plea for release, Raleigh soon set off on another expedition, this time to find the fabled land of gold, El Dorado. The trip inevitably failed, doing little to improve his standing in court.
When Elizabeth’s successor, King James I of England and VI of Scotland, came to the throne, it was clear that he and Raleigh would never get on; unsurprisingly, this would have worse consequences for Raleigh. In 1603 James accused him of plotting against him and sentenced Raleigh to death. The sentence was not immediately carried out, though, and he spent the next 12 years back in the Tower of London. Indeed, the need for funds then saw King James releasing Raleigh on the understanding he would try to find El Dorado again. However, Raleigh went against James’s orders and attacked the Spanish instead. Raleigh’s death sentence was reinstated, and after his recapture, on 29th October 1618 he was executed.
Sir Walter Raleigh was not the first Tudor favourite to be the most popular member of the Royal court one minute and in fear of their lives the next. One of the most famous falls from grace of all has to be that of Anne Boleyn. After a spectacular rise to prominence, her presence brought about both the divorce of the king, Henry VIII, from Catherine of Aragon, and the dissolution of the monasteries. Again there were to be grave consequences, including Anne’s decline from favour, which was to be no less dramatic than her rise.
Towards the end of January, 1536, Anne Boleyn miscarried a child, only three months into her pregnancy. Henry complained, ‘I see that God will not give me male children’ (Doran, 178). This statement signalled the beginning of the end of the royal marriage, and coincide with Henry moving his latest mistress, Jane Seymour, into the royal apartments.
Anne’s fall was ensured when she began to involve herself in political matters, particularly the dissolution of the monasteries. Anne argued with Thomas Cromwell, the man who was trying to organise the dissolution for the king. Cromwell insisted on filling the King’s depleted coffers with church money, while taking a cut for himself. Anne however, advocated that revenues taken from the church to be distributed to charitable and educational institutions. Unfortunately for Anne, she couldn’t deliver on her political promises or expectations, and Henry used this, as well as rumours of an affair she probably wasn’t having, to dispose of her. Ironically, it was only a matter of time before Thomas Cromwell himself also fell from grace.
After his skillful handing of making sure Henry could divorce Catherine of Aragon to marry Anne Boleyn, Cromwell gained high favour with the king. He became Principal Secretary in 1534, and in July 1536, he was appointed Lord Privy Seal; one of the most influential and trusted positions in court. However, only four years later, Cromwell was arrested for treason- a crime historians can find no evidence of him committing. It is uncertain what happened to spark Cromwell’s demise. It is possible that it was triggered after he arranged Henry VIII’s disastrous marriage to Anne of Cleves. The marriage was meant to help form a closer alliance between England and the Protestant princes in Northern Germany. Although it was a disaster, Henry made Cromwell the Earl of Essex to thank him for arranging it for him. Unfortunately, the influential Duke of Norfolk took exception to a commoner being made an earl; Norfolk appears to have orchestrated Cromwell’s end by introducing his niece, the nineteen year old Catherine Howard, to Henry. Her beauty beguiled the king, and soon Catherine was providing the Duke of Norfolk with greatly increased influence in court.
The Duke of Norfolk convinced Henry that Cromwell was plotting to bring in a full version of Protestantism to England despite knowing that the king was adamantly against this. Believing himself in love with Catherine, and wanting to keep in favour with her family, Henry no longer listened to Cromwell. So, after further persuasion from Norfolk, Henry had Cromwell arrested, and only one month later, on July 28th 1540, he, like Raleigh and Boleyn, was executed.
Raleigh, Boleyn and Cromwell were only three of the era’s many high status figures who found favour and distinction one moment, and the executioner’s block the next. In a time filled with paranoia and treachery, it was a brave man or woman who aimed to rise to the top.
Examinations can be stressful, both for children and for parents, but when your child is home-schooled, it can feel even more difficult to ensure they’re as prepared as possible for upcoming tests.
In our recent survey, almost a quarter of parents felt unsure of how to best prepare their child for a test, and a further 40% observed that their child became noticeably stressed when an exam was approaching.
However, if you’re confused, concerned or a bit of both, there’s no need to worry. Here at Oxford Home Schooling we’ve put together our top tips for successful exam preparation, so you can help your child revise efficiently and effectively to achieve the very best results.
The key to avoiding an overly stressful revision period is to start early, and to start out small. It’s easy for a child to feel overwhelmed – particularly if they have more than one exam – so plan your time in advance.
For example, for examinations in May we suggest starting revision at the end of March at the latest. The more exams they have, the earlier children should begin to prepare. Overcramming can have a negative effect, and add unnecessary pressure.
When it comes to revision itself, try mixing things up by incorporating various revision techniques into your revision calendar. While creating notes to study can be a great way to learn, many children also respond to methods that are more hands-on or vocal.
Ask your child to recite facts aloud, find or write revision songs to help them remember key facts and figures, and make revision fun with interactive tests and educational games. Alongside the resources provided in our course packs, your child may also enjoy using websites such as BBC Bitesize.
Create a revision timetable with your child at the start of their exam preparation period so you’re both clear how you’re going to tackle the workload.
Allocate a specific colour for each individual subject, so you can both see how much time with be spent on every exam. If your child finds something particularly difficult, like maths for example, make sure their timetable reflects this by adding extra revision sessions.
Begin their day with the hardest subjects, while they’re alert, and keep certain elements of the timetable flexible too – like adults, some days are simply less productive than others. Just adjust the timetable to reflect this, and carry on!
While revision is important, balance is key to success. In order to keep your child calm, happy and alert throughout you should add plenty of leisure time into their timetable. Add a ten-minute break after every 30 or 40 minutes of revision, try not to exceed five hours of study a day, and don’t be afraid to treat your child to a lie-in or an early finish once or twice a week.
Not only are mock exams a great revision tool, they can also help children to familiarise themselves with working under pressure and towards a tight time limit. Your child will be sitting their exam in a centre selected by you, and many parents worry that their child won’t be able to adjust to such a different location.
There’s no doubt examination centres can be daunting, and while it’s unlikely you’ll be able to take your child to the centre prior to their first exam, you can try your best to mimic the environment at home.
Empty a room in your house of distractions, allocate a specific spot with proper seating for the exam to take place and make sure a clock is visible at all times. You can act as the exam invigilator throughout, announcing the start of the paper and alerting your child when only 10 minutes of the test remain.
No matter how the mock exam went, reward your child for completing the paper. Don’t launch straight back into revision – spend some time outdoors, watch a film or give them the afternoon off to meet friends.
If your child is currently enrolled in an Oxford Home Schooling course and you wish to speak to a member of our team, or you’re a parent considering home schooling for your child, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with a member of our team. We’ll be delighted to help.
The word “hibernation” comes from the Latin word hibernare, which means, “to pass the winter.” Linked to the changing of the seasons, from the warmth of summer and early autumn to the onset of the chill of winter, hibernation is a physical state that many animals adopt to converse energy. By remaining inactive in burrows, buried nests, and hollows, hibernators’ inactivity slows their metabolism and reduces their body temperature for days, weeks or even months at a time, helping them to survive when food supplies are low. Hibernation is therefore an almost sleep-state that many animal species have evolved to help them to weather long stretches of time without needing to drink, eat or urinate.
Although some fish, amphibians, birds and reptiles are known to lie dormant during cold winter months, according to Don Wilson, a curator emeritus of vertebrate zoology at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in America, “hibernation is generally associated with (warm blooded) mammals… During times of the year when that energy source is missing — especially in northern climates — one coping mechanism is to just shut down. They’ll feed heavily during the few months when food is plentiful and build up fat, then go to sleep and live off their fat reserves.”
The fat which hibernating mammals accumulate is known as “brown fat.” Mammals store this fat on their backs and around their shoulder blades as well as in their stomachs over the summer. As the animals hibernate, the dormant body can live off this brown fat, therefore ensuring that they stay alive during the harshest conditions. Female polar bears not only survive off this brown fat themselves, but often go into hibernation while pregnant, and use their reserves to feed not just themselves, but any cubs that may be born whilst they are in their annual sleep-state.
While many creatures hibernate, many others migrate. Whereas hibernation prevents animals from having to forage for food and be able to have more comfortable living conditions in winter, migration sends others on a long journey to find food, often in a much warmer climate. Migration can also be triggered by an animal’s need to breed. Humpback whales for example, travel as much as 5,000 miles to breed, while a shorebird called the bar-tailed godwit holds the record for the longest nonstop flight. It will fly an incredible 6,835 miles in eight days to find both food and a mate ( the route is shown above ). In Africa, zebras and wildebeest travel on a 300 mile round-trip to stay ahead of the rain and keep dry and have plenty of food.
Although migration and hibernation are both very different animal lifestyles and lifecycles, they are driven by the same force; the instinct to survive. The need for food, for safe warm, dry places to live, and the need to ensure the continuation of their species.
On the 15th October 2017 the people of the UK had their last chance to spend their old style one pound coins. Over the past year the Royal Mint has updated, not just our pound coins, but also our five and ten pound notes, as well as updating the designs of our fifty pence pieces. The reason behind this large scale updating of much of our sterling is an old one- the race to stay one step ahead of the counterfeiters; criminals who produce fake money.
The crime of counterfeiting is as old as the making of money itself. Archaeologists working in the Greek city of Lydia, for example, have found evidence from around 600 B.C. of the counterfeiting of coins which involved mixing base metals with gold or silver. It was about this time when the practice of clipping came into being- when the edges of a coin were clipped off, collected, and used to make fake coins. Clipping remained a problem across the world until early this century.
It isn’t just metal cash that has been subject to forgery from the moment of its conception. In China, in the thirteenth century, when paper money was first made from the wood of mulberry trees, access to the trees was protected by guards stationed around the forests in which they were most common. Counterfeiters who still managed to find a way to make fake money were punished by death. This harsh punishment was adopted across the world as the standard penalty for faking any form of money and cheating the mint of the country in question, and it remained in force up until as recently as the twentieth century in the Western world. However, there are still some countries still do enforce the death penalty for the crime.
The Bank of England (pictured) and Royal Mint claim that the UK’s new one pound coin, which resembles the old three-penny-bit in shape, will be “the most secure coin in the world…. the new coin will reduce the costs of counterfeits to businesses and the taxpayer.” The coin is thinner and lighter than the previous round pound (2.8mm thick and weighing 8.75g to be exact), its bimetallic construction similar to the existing £2 coin. The outer ring is gold-coloured (in fact, nickel-brass) and the inner ring is silver (nickel-plated alloy). The reverse of the new coin shows one of four different images; the English rose, the Welsh leek, the Scottish thistle and the Northern Irish shamrock emerging from one stem within a royal coronet.
Prior to the introduction of the new pound coin was that of the new polymer five pound note, and then last month the new polymer ten pound note. These notes outraged vegans as they contain animal fats in their production. Although these notes will not be withdrawn, the Royal Mint are currently working on using either coconut or palm oil in the production of the new twenty pound notes, when they are replaced in 2020.
The notes, like the new coins, are much harder to fake, and very difficult to damage or destroy, so not only should the forging of money decrease, but so should the high cost of replacing old and out of service damaged notes.
Any old notes or coins you have left now may only be valuable for antiquity, or you could see if your bank may take them in exchange for the new tender. But time must be running out, if it hasn’t already!
Ever since Leonardo Da Vinci and then Isaac Newton first came up with the idea of a car, man has had a love affair with it. We’ve built cars that are faster, bigger, cheaper, smarter and more economic ever since.
The first real cars were built at the end of the nineteenth century by classic car makers such as Daimler and Benz. There was a time when the top speed was 12mph ( ironically, these days the top speed in many of our congested cities is not far off that! ). But it wasn’t long before cars got faster. Between 1894 and 1914 a car’s top speed rose to 120 mph. And in the true spirit of adventure, as with scaling mountains, exploring space and diving down into the oceans, so too man has continued to advance his quest for greater speed. This ambition has been measured in various ways, and times, so to speak, have changed; It’s 4,500 miles from New York to Los Angeles, but whilst in 1903 it took a fast car 63 days to travel this distance, the current record time is just over 28 hours ( but don’t ask about speed limits ).
In the twentieth century one family dominated the ‘speed news’- Donald Campbell and his father Malcolm. Between them they achieved 10 land speed records. Donald also attempted to break speed records on water. Tragically he died during one of these attempts, with famous news footage of his craft – the ‘Bluebird’ ( as portrayed above) – bearing witness to the accident. At the time Bluebird was seen as a triumph of British engineering but ultimately it was beaten to its final record by an American car called ‘The Spirit of America.‘ There are all sorts of measures of speed – and cost. The fastest production car is said to be a Bugati which was featured in an episode of ‘Top Gear’, travelling at quite ludicrous speeds.
The car with the fastest acceleration takes 2.3 seconds to go from 0 – 60 mph. The world’s most expensive car, meanwhile, costs a staggering £ 4.8 million. The most recent ‘fast car’ is in fact a prototype for a jet plane. The ‘Bloodhound’ has been unveiled recently in Cornwall and put through its paces at a ‘cruising’ speed of 200 mph. It’s a cooperative venture between the UK, Germany, Italy and Spain and the idea is to prepare it to go much faster. It will soon be “unleashed” in South Africa, where it will attempt to break the current land speed record of 800 mph – And to go beyond that!
It would be good to think that projects The Bloodhound will help us continue international cooperation as well as to make progress with scientific, engineering and maybe even ecological research.