Education Policies – A Summary

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. 

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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

Main aims

  • 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.

Evaluations

  • 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.

1965 Comprehensives

Main aims

  • 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.

Evaluations

  • 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

Main aims

  • 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.

Evaluations

  • 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

Main aims

  • To respond to increased competition due to globalisation
  • Raising standards
  • Equality of opportunity
  • Increasing choice and diversity

Details of policies

  • Increased funding to education
  • Reduced class sizes, introduced literacy and numeracy hour
  • Introduced Academies
  • Sure Start
  • EMA
  • Tuition fees introduced for HE

Evaluations

  • 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 (connor et al)

More details can be found in these class notes on New Labour and Education.

2010 The Coalition Government and the Conservative Government

Main aims

  • 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
  • Free Schools
  • Pupil Premium

Evaluations

  • Standards have carried on raising
  • 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.

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