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The population of Great Britain (1995 estimate) is about 58,093,000. The overall population density is 238 persons per sq km (616 per sq mi). A small percentage of Britons live in rural areas; 89 percent are urban dwellers. The largest cities in Great Britain are London (population, 1991 preliminary, 6,803,100), Birmingham (934,900), Leeds (674,400), and Glasgow (654,542). Most Britons (94 percent) are either English, Scottish, Irish, or Welsh. The remainder include Indians, West Indians, Pakistanis, Africans, Bangladeshis, Chinese, and Arabs. The country's official language is English. Numerically, the Church of England (or Anglican Church) has the largest number of adherents of any religion in Great Britain, accounting for 48 percent of the population; most members reside in England. The second largest religion, statistically, is Roman Catholicism (16 percent); Catholics reside throughout the kingdom. Other religions include Protestantism (which includes the state religions of both Wales and Scotland), Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, and Sikhism.

For further information on population distribution, principal cities, racial origins, religion, and culture in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, see the articles dealing with the component parts of the kingdom.


Historically, British education has derived much of its prestige from the excellence of its private preparatory schools, called public schools because they were originally established for the children of the middle class, such as Eton College, Harrow School, and Rugby School. The students of the private schools came mostly from the middle, aristocratic, and wealthy classes, although some schools made provisions for the education of poorer children. A system of voluntary schools developed during the 19th century, especially in England and Wales, to extend educational opportunities to the lower classes. After 1833 the voluntary schools, established by charitable and religious organizations, received some financial support from parliamentary grants. Not until the Elementary Education Act of 1870 was passed, however, did the development of publicly provided primary education begin.

By terms of the act the country was divided into school districts, each supervised by locally elected school boards, which were authorized to establish schools in areas where no voluntary schools existed; the boards, at their own discretion, were empowered to require compulsory attendance. The resulting complexity of school administration was eased in 1899 by the creation of a national board of education. Thus, by the end of the 19th century, free elementary education was available to all. Public provision of secondary education was established in 1889 in Wales and in 1902 in England.

The Education Act of 1902 abolished the school boards and placed the responsibility for public education on the councils of local government (counties, county boroughs, boroughs, and urban districts), which were made local education authorities, known as LEAs. The board schools became council schools, and the voluntary schools were subsidized by public funds. The voluntary schools were criticized, however, because they provided religious instruction.

In 1944 Parliament passed an education act that became the basis of modern public education in England and Wales. The LEAs, of which 146 were designated, were made committees of county or county-borough councils, and the council schools became county schools. Each of the local authorities was made responsible for setting up complete facilities for education, divided into three categories: primary education, secondary education, and further education, the last named for those persons under the age of 18 who were not receiving full-time education. After the reorganization of local government in the mid-1970s, LEAs in England and Wales numbered 105 and were the elected councils of counties and districts. The Education Act of 1980 provided for greater representation of parents and teachers on school governing bodies.

Education in Scotland grew vigorously, at first independent of that in the rest of Great Britain. The Education Act (Scotland) of 1872, the counterpart of the English act of 1870, placed schools under the jurisdiction of locally elected school boards. After that date, Scotland carried out its own school reforms. By the 20th century, every locality maintained free elementary schools; secondary schools were widespread in Scotland before they were developed throughout England and Wales. Voluntary schools were not a significant element of the systemonly one-eighth the number of voluntary schools in England were established in Scotland. The Education Act (Scotland) of 1945 applied the provisions of the English act of 1944; it involved fewer innovations, however, because many of the reforms made in England had already been made in Scotland. Following local government reorganization in 1975, the LEAs in Scotland served as elected councils for the nine regional and three island authorities. Education in Scotland is managed by the Scottish Education Department.

Education in Northern Ireland was placed under the Board (later Ministry) of Education by the Education Act (Northern Ireland) of 1923. Counties and county boroughs were designated as LEAs, and education was based on the English system. The Education Act (Northern Ireland) of 1947 imposed reforms similar to those imposed by the English act. The Education and Libraries (Northern Ireland) Order of 1972 established five education and library boards as the LEAs.

All schools in Great Britain are under the general supervision of three government departments: the Department of Education and Science for the schools in England and Wales, the Department of Education for the schools of Northern Ireland, and the Education Department for those of Scotland. Education is compulsory for all children age 5 to 16.

Most of the expenditures in education in Britain come from public funds. In the late 1980s the government instituted a plan by which schools could receive funding directly from the central government. This plan, called Local Management of Schools, gave schools greater control over their finances. Government expenditures in education in the early 1990s accounted for 12.7 percent of the country's annual budget.

British universities, of which there are 89 (including the television-based Open University and the privately-funded University of Buckingham), are completely self-governing, and their academic and financial independence is guaranteed by a committee that disburses to them funds authorized by Parliament. Major universities in Great Britain include three in England; University of Cambridge, University of Oxford, and the University of London; and one in Scotland, the University of Edinburgh. Many new universities and other institutions of higher education have been founded since World War II ended in 1945, and admission policies have been broadened. The Further and Higher Education Act of 1992 gave the former polytechnic colleges university status. The number of secondary schools was increased at the same time. Such changes, however, have not been accepted without controversy. Certain factions within the country believe that mass education tends to lower educational standards.

For information on types of schools and enrollment, see the Education sections of the articles on Wales, England, Northern Ireland, and Scotland.


British visual art began with an interest in ornamentation, influenced by early Scandinavian wood carvings, and after the Christianization of England, painting appeared at first only in illuminated manuscripts. From the 12th to the 16th century, the great cathedrals in the Romanesque and Gothic styles were the most outstanding products of English art. Among the characteristics that distinguished English from European cathedrals were double transepts, rectangular apses, and fan vaulting. Later, such 17th- and 18th-century architects as Inigo Jones and Christopher Wren brought, respectively, Renaissance and baroque architecture to England.

From the beginning of the Renaissance, English painting was influenced by foreign artists, such as the German painter Hans Holbein the Younger in the 16th century and the Flemish painter Sir Anthony van Dyck in the 17th century. Not until the 18th century, with the work of portrait painters such as William Hogarth, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Gainsborough, and George Romney did a distinctive style develop in English painting. English styles in furniture and ceramics, in the work of Thomas Chippendale and Josiah Wedgwood in particular, evolved in the 18th century. In the 19th century John Constable was notable for landscape painting and Joseph Mallord William Turner for seascape painting, and in the 20th century perhaps the best-known artists are the sculptor Henry Moore and the painters David Hockney and Francis Bacon.