Last Updated on April 28, 2023 by Karl Thompson
Education policies is the largest topic within the sociology of education module. It can be a little overwhelming, and the best step is to learn the basic details of the policies first (taking a historical approach) and then focus on how each policy has influenced things such as equality of opportunity and standards of education.
This brief posts covers the main aims, policy details and evaluations of the main waves of UK education policy – including the 1944 Butler Education Act, the introduction of Comprehensives in 1965, the 1988 Education Act which introduced marketisation, New Labour’s 1997 focus on academies and the 2010 Coalition government’s Free Schools.
The 1944 Tripartite System
- Selective education – students would receive a different education dependent on their ability. All students would sit a test at age 11 (the 11+) to determine their ability and sift them into the right type of school.
- Equality of opportunity – All students in England and Wales have a chance to sit the 11 + . Previous to 1944, the only pupils who could get a good, academic equation were those who could afford it.
Details of the Act
- Students took an IQ test at 11, the result of which determined which one of three three types of school the would attend:
- The top 20% went to grammar schools, received an academic education and got to sit exams.
- The bottom 80% went to secondary moderns. These provided a more basic education, and initially students didn’t sit any exams.
- There were also technical schools which provided a vocational education, but these died out fairly quickly.
- There were class inequalities – grammar schools were mainly taken up by the middle classes and secondary moderns by the lower classes.
- The IQ test determined pupils futures at a very young age – no room for those who developed later in life.
- Some of the secondary moderns had very low standards and labelled 80% of pupils as failures.
- Gender inequalities – in the early days of the IQ tests girls had to get a higher score to pass than boys because it was thought they matured earlier than boys!
- Equality of opportunity – one type of school for all pupils
Details of the act
- The Tripartite System was abolished and Comprehensive schools established.
- Local Education Authorities would maintain control of schools.
- There were poor standards in some schools – especially where progressive education was concerned.
- Banding and streaming occurred along social class lines – the working classes typically ended up in the lower bands and vice versa for the middle classes.
- Parents had very little choice in education – it was nearly impossible to remove their children from the local school if they wanted, because it was thought that all schools were providing a similar standard of education.
The 1988 Education Act
- To introduce free market principles (more competition) into the education system
- to introduce greater parental choice and control over state education
- Raising standards in education.
- These are the aims associated with Neoliberalism and The New Right.
Details of the act
- Marketisation and Parentocracy (schools compete for pupils parents are like consumers)
- League Tables – so parents can see how well schools are doing and make a choice.
- OFSTED – to regulate and inspect schools.
- National Curriculum – so that all schools are teaching the same basic subjects
- Formula Funding – funding based on numbers of pupils – which encourages schools to raise standards to increase demand.
- Competition did increase standards – results gradually improved throughout the 1990s.
- Selection by mortgage – the house prices in the catchment areas of the best schools increased, pricing out poorer parents.
- Cream skimming – the best schools tended to select the best students, who were predominantly middle class.
- The middle classes had more effective choice because of their higher levels of cultural capital.
- League tables have been criticised for encouraging teaching to the test.
Further Information in these Class notes on the 1988 Education Act.
1997 – New Labour
- To respond to increased competition due to globalisation
- Raising standards
- More focus on Equality of opportunity than the original New Right
- Increasing choice and diversity
Details of policies
- Increased funding to education
- Reduced class sizes, introduced literacy and numeracy hour
- Introduced Academies
- Sure Start – Free nursery places for younger children 12 hours a week and advice for parents
- Education Maintenance Allowance – EMA
- Tuition fees introduced for HE
- Early academies rose standards in poor areas a lot (Mossbourne)
- Generally better at improving equality of opportunity than the New Right
- Parents liked Sure Start but it didn’t improve education (improved health)
- Tuition fees put working class kids off going to university (connor et al)
More details can be found in these class notes on New Labour and Education.
2010 The Coalition Government Government
- Same as the New Right
- To reduce public spending on education due to the financial crisis.
Details of policies
- Cut funding to education (Scrapped EMA)
- Forced academisation – failing schools had to become Academies
- Free Schools – charities/ businesses/ groups of parents given more freedom to set up their own schools
- Pupil Premium – schools received extra funding for SEN and Free School Meals pupils.
- Standards have carried on improving
- Academisation and Free schools are both ideological – no evidence they improve standards more than LEA schools
- Free schools – advantage the middle classes/ duplicate resources
- Pupil Premium – too early to say!
Further information in these class notes on Coalition Education Policies.
Tory Education Policy 2015 – 2019
- Continue the marketisation of education
- Continue the neoliberal agenda of keeping government spending on education relatively low.
Details of Policies
- Austerity and funding cuts of an average of 8% for schools
- Continuing the rapid conversion of LEA schools to academies and introducing more free schools
- Increasing the number of grammar schools and thus selective state education (subtly and largely by stealth)
- Continuation of the Pupil Premium
- Encouraging schools to shift to the EBacc.
- Introduction of T Level Qualifications (16–19s)
- We now have a fully blown education market in education meaning possible lack of democratic oversight from Local Education Authorities.
- Grammar schools have increased but these only advantage the middle classes = more educational inequality.
- The Ebacc potentially narrows the curriculum
- T Levels increase choice and diversity (one positive)
To find out more please see: Tory Education Policy 2015 – 2019.
Covid Education Polices
Details of Policies
- In response to the Covid-19 Pandemic schools were locked down Mid March to June 2020 and then from January to late March 2021 and home based, online learning became the norm.
- GCSE and A-Level exams were cancelled in 2020 and again in 2021. Teachers awarded their own grades and in 2021 45% of pupils were given an A or A* grade compared to only 25% back in 2019 (when students had sat exams).
- The Catch Up Premium was introduced in 2021: £650 million paid directly to schools and £350 million for a national tutoring programme.
- Post-covid funding for schools is set to increase by 7% per pupil by 2024-25.
- This resulted in a ‘covid education gap’ with children who missed school during Covid falling behind previous cohorts in the progress in maths and reading.
- There was also a covid disadvantage gap: poor pupils fell further behind wealthier pupils because of differences in standards of home-support during lockdowns from schools. Students from the least deprived schools did almost three hours more work per week during lockdown compared to students from the least deprived schools.
- Teacher Predicted Grades were obviously extremely generous, to the extent that we entered fantasy land. This gave an unfair advantage to those students receiving these compared to students who will be sitting their exams in 2023.
- Funding increases to education from 2023 do not cover the rising costs of living.
To find out more please see: Education Policy Since 2020.
Education Policies – Signposting and Find out More
These very brief, bullet pointed revision notes have been written specifically for students studying towards their A-level Sociology AQA Education exam. For more detailed class notes on each policy please see the links above or further links on my main sociology of education page.
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