The idea of a system of education has never been fully accepted in England. A more realistic translation of the realities of English education is that of systems of education, folded inside each other. Although it is possible to outline the building blocks of a national system (primary, secondary, further and higher), the political, spatial and contextual elements in the organisation of education over time mean that it is almost impossible to describe the system meaningfully. The idea of an English system is a vernacular device used within the twentieth century to manage the contradictions and diversity of educational provision. In the twenty-first century, even this device is failing to work, as a wide range of providers and a hostile government have systematically disarticulated the idea of a system.