In May 2010 the Conservative-Liberal Democratic Coalition government came to power. The Conservatives were the more dominant party and their views were correspondingly more strongly represented in educational policy.
An ideological commitment to cutting public spending framed Coalition policy more broadly, and spending on education fell in real terms during this period, reflecting the strong influence of New Right/ neoliberal ideas on education during this period.
Marketization Policies (Choice/ Competition/ Efficiency)
Increasing Academies and Forced Academisation
Whereas New Labour had focused on opening up academies in the most deprived areas of the country in order to improve equality of educational opportunity, the Coalition made it possible for any school to convert to an academy (converter academies)
As the academization process evolved, schools which received a satisfactory or below OFSTED grading were forced to convert to academies even when the majority of parents (90% in some cases) did not want the school to convert to an academy (sponsored academies).
By 2013, there were 3,304 academies in England – almost 15 times as many as in May 2010, when there were 203 academies, and today more than two-thirds of all secondary schools are now either open as academies or in the pipeline to become academies.
The Coalition also oversaw the growth of academy chains – around 2000 schools are now in academy ‘chains’ with around 400 schools leading these chains, working with others to raise standards.
Evaluation of Academies
There is little evidence to suggest that academies today do better than LEA schools when you compare like with like.
A Free School in England is a type of Academy, a non-profit-making, state-funded school which is free to attend. Free schools are not controlled by a Local Authority (LA) but instead governed by anon-profit charitable trust.
Unlike Academies, Free Schools are new schools, many of which are run by parents. They are not required to follow the national curriculum, as long as they teach English Maths and Science, and they do not have to employ qualified teachers.
Between 2010 and 2015 more than 400 free schools were approved for opening in England by the Coalition Government, representing more than 230,000 school places across the country.
Evaluations of Free Schools
The main criticism of Free Schools are that they are a drain on other schools in the local area – if parents withdraw students from other local schools, those schools will suffer reduced funding (following formula funding), which is a problem given the fact that there will be a duplication of resources.
Evidence also suggests that Free Schools benefit children from high income households, but do nothing for children from low income households, thus they are a matter of using tax payer money to increase social class inequalities: Research by Shepherd (2012) found that free schools took in a lower proportion of FSM pupils compared to other local schools, while Rebecca Allen (2010) summarises the Swedish experience of Free Schools as one which benefits children in affluent, middle class urban areas.
Further and Higher Education
The Coalition also raised the limit on tuition fees for Higher Education to £9000.
Policies Designed to Tackle Inequality of Educational Opportunity
The Pupil Premium
Introduced in 2011, the Pupil Premium involved giving schools extra funding based on the number of FSM pupils they took in – worth approximately £600 per FSM pupil.
One criticism of the Pupil Premium Policy was that it did not necessarily get spent on FSM pupils.
Further and Higher Education
The Coalition scrapped the EMA scheme, and replaced it with a £180 million bursary scheme, targeted at those in the very lowest income households, and given directly to schools and colleges, rather than paid to individual students.
In Higher Education, the government required all universities to promote fair access to HE and introduced a fees bursary scheme for students from the very lowest income households.
Overall Evaluations of Coalition Education Policies
- Standards have continued to increase
- The attainment gap (between FSM and non FSM pupils has decreased)
- All this by spending less.
- Free schools reduce funding for other local education authority schools, advantaging middle class parents
- The scrapping of the EMA lowered the stay on rate in Further Education.
- Considerable regional inequalities remain—for example up north and coastal areas.
Harlambos and Holborn (2013) Sociology Themes and Perspectives
Other useful Sources
Earlham’s Sociology Site has lots of information on Coalition Policies