GOVERNMENT AND INSTITUTIONS
Government. The United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy [F1] [I1] [ES1], even though it has no written constitution and the monarchy has no real power today.
The monarchy [F1] [ES1] today has no effective control over government affairs. The role of the current monarch, Queen Elisabeth II, can be summed up in this sentence "she reigns but she does not rule". In fact the role of the monarchy is purely symbolic: as the head of the state, the Queen opens and closes Parliament, she confers honours to worthy and eminent people, she can also refuse to give the Royal Assent to a law passed by her Parliament, but no on has refused to do so in the last centuries.
Parliament. Parliament is made up of the House of Lords and the House of Commons.The member of the House of Lords are not elected and their main occupation is that of debating and amend the bills sent from the House of Commons. However, the House of Lords has less power than the House of Commons, which consists of 659 members of Parliament. The party that wins most seat during the elections, has the right to form the government. The Prime Minister and the other ministers decide the government policy, while the Opposition forms a Shadow Cabinet, which has to control and criticize the official government decisions.
Mr. Tony Blair is the current leader of the British government. The main tasks of a Prime Minister are that of making new laws, controlling the financial affairs of the country and control the foreign policy. The Cabinet ministers instead are responsible of areas such as Defence, Home Affairs, Finance, Health and Education.
Law. The British legal system is very different from the ones in other European countries as there are no written codes. In fact English law is based on two factors: Common Law and legislation.
Common Law is the number of decisions taken by judges through the years. Other laws are made by Legislation, which consists of Acts of Parliament. When a judge deals with a new case and has any doubts, he/she has to seek advice from the decisions taken in the past in similar situations. If the judge cannot find any help, he/she will have to make his/her own decision which will constitute a new precedent.
Another important characteristic of this judicial system, is the fact that they use a jury in criminal cases. The jury is made up of men and women who have to decide whether a person is guilty or not. Only if they decide that a suspect is guilty, the judge will pronounce a sentence against him/her.
School System In Britain compulsory education [E1] [E2] [F1] begins at the age of 5. But before that, children can attend nursery schools. British primary schools give the first basic instruments to communicate: here children have to learn the "3 Rs", that is Reading, Writing and Arithmetic. Besides these essential subjects, children also learn History, Science, Geography, Music, Art and Physical Education (PE).
Instead the system of secondary education is rather different: kids go there when they are 11, and leave when they are 16. Most British kids go to comprehensive schools (a state school where text books and exercise books are given for free.), but if they pass a special exam at the age of 11, they can go to grammar school.
Comprehensive schools are very similar to each other, in fact during the first two years of comprehensive school all the students study the same subjects. The "core subjects" (that is the most important subjects) are English, Maths and Science. In their third year at school, students choose the subjects they are good at and begin to specialize. If at the end of the school these students decide to go on studying, they specialize even more.
The school year is made up of three terms, and even if pupils are not very good, they don't have to repeat the year. Students' uniforms are a special feature of British schools: each one has its own colours or symbols that its students have to wear (and there are strict rules about that!). A school uniform is usually made up of a tie, a shirt, a jacket, a skirt for girls and trousers for boys. But some schools have also particular coats, scarves or even hats. One of the purposes of wearing uniforms is that of removing all the differences amongst students. Yet, some kids don't like wearing them, because this way they cannot express their personality. On the other hand uniforms can create a strong sense of belonging, so that each student can be proud to wear the colours of his/her school and feel closer to his/her schoolmates.
When pupils are 16 they can either leave school or they can study for two more years in the sixth form and then go to university or to another college of higher education.
At 16 British pupils can go to Public schools as well. Despite the adjective "public", these kind of schools are private, or independent schools. This means they do not depend on state support like the majority of British schools, but they are supported or sponsored by private institutions or by the families who choose to send their children there. These schools may offer excellent education, but they are very expensive, as they can cost thousands of pounds a year. These schools are exclusive as they draw together the children of very powerful (and rich) families. In fact their students are likely to become diplomats, important businessmen or eminent politicians in their future. Just an example: both Prince Harry and Prince William of Wales - the future king of United Kingdom - have attended Eton, one of the most prestigious public schools.