Assess the view that education policies since 1988 have improved equality of educational opportunity (30)

Last Updated on May 22, 2023 by Karl Thompson

If you get a question on education policies, the chances are you will be asked about ‘education policies since 1988’. This post is designed to get you thinking about how you could use the info on the New Right’s 1988 Education Act and New Labour’s policies from 1997 onwards to answer an exam question in this area.

The New Right’s 1988 Education Act

Not interested in equal opps, mainly interested in raising standards… 

• Parentocracy – parents get to choose schools
• Marketisation – schools have to compete like businesses for students
• League tables to be published
• The above should raise standards as no parent would send child to failing school
• National Curriculum – ensures all schools teach core subjects
• OFSTED inspections

How 1988 worsened equality of opportunity… 

• Middle classes had more choice – cultural capital/ skilled choosers
• School/ parent alliance (Stephen Ball)
• Also selection by mortgage
• Polarisation of schools – sink schools

New Labour’s Policies

More interested in equal opps  

• Academies (Mossbourne) – set up in poorer areas
• Sure start
• Expanded Vocationalism

Other aims of New Labour/ criticisms of the idea that New Labour’s policies raised standards

• Sure start didn’t work
• EMA did work but the Tories have now scrapped it
• Academies did work but new Tory academies are more selective
• Vocationalism offers more opportunities to the lower classes, but it is regarded as inferior.

The coalition government

  • Introduced the pupil premium which was extra funding for schools to take on disadvantaged pupils, with the funding being spent specifically on disadvantaged pupils.
  • HOWEVER in the long run there is mixed evidence the pupil premium works as the funding sometimes gets spent generally, rather than on disadvantaged pupils.
  • The coalition scrapped the EMA, one of the few policies which seemed to have worked to promote equality of opportunity.

The Tory government since 2015

  • T-levels may promote equal opportunity by offering more choice for non academic students, this may also help raise the status of academic subjects, breaking the traditional view that they are inferior to academic A-levels.
  • Lockdown policies harmed equal opportunities as poor students lost out on more learning than rich students and then covid-catch up policies were insufficient to actually help students catch up.
  • Funding cuts to education over several years harm equal opportunities as state schools fall further behind private schools.
  • The tories expanded grammar schools by stealth – this harms equal opportunities as grammar schools are over-attended by the the middle classes.

Other Information you could include…

• Compensatory Education – lots to say here….

• You could talk about Gender and Ethnicity too….

Conclusions: have education policies promoted equality of opportunity?

  • The main policy of the last 40 years has been marketisation which allows middle-class parents more freedom to exercise their cultural, material and social capital to get their children into the best schools, which works against equality as it favours the rich.
  • There have been policies such as the EMA/ Sure Start and Pupil Premium designed explicitly to tackle inequality but these have mostly been short lived or underfunded and failed to make any significant difference.
  • However the attainment gap overall has decreased slightly which suggests that these policies haven’t harmed equal opportunities too much.
  • The continued existence of private schools is the policy which harms equality the most as these institutions are vehicles of privilege for the wealthiest to hot house their average kids into the best grades and the top jobs they don’t deserve.

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