Academies in England and Wales

Academies were first introduced under New Labour in the year 2000 to drive up standards and improve equality of opportunity. However academies under the coalition and the new Tories have been more about creating a quasi market in education.

Academy schools are state funded schools which are independent of Local Education Authorities (LEAs), unlike ‘community schools’ which are subject to more Local Education Authority control and receive their funding from them.

Academies receive their funding directly from the government and have the freedom to manage their own budgets, fire and hire staff, set their own daily timetable and term dates and do not have to follow the national curriculum.

Every academy is required to be part of an academy trust (AT), which is a charity and company limited by guarantee. They can seek additional funding from companies, philanthropists, charities or religious organisations, and are non-profit organisations.

They were first introduced under the New Labour Government in the late 1990s and have gradually replaced schools managed by Local Education authorities.

Some academies are run as part of a multi-academy trust (MATs) such as Harris-Academies where several schools are run under one centralised management structure.

Most of the early academies chose to become academies, but some have been forced to convert away from LEA control to academies following an ‘in need of improvement’ grading by OFSTED, many of these converter academies having to choose an MAT to manage them.

Like community (LEA) schools academies are inspected by OFSTED and follow the same nationally imposed rules regarded exclusions and Special Educational Needs provision.

Types of Academy

There are three main types of academy schools: sponsored, converter and free schools.

Sponsored Academies

Sponsored academies were the first type of academy, established under New Labour in the year 2000. They are typically underperforming schools which have failed an OFSTED inspection and have been required to move away from LEA control and become academies.

In the early days sponsors were businesses, philanthropists, charities or religious organisations but today well established successful academies or MATs can be sponsors and take over failing schools.

Converter Academies

These are already existing schools under Local Education Authority control which have voluntarily chosen to become academies.

There are certain advantages to a school becoming an academy – more control over its affairs and the fact that they save on 15% VAT on goods and services which they don’t pay, unlike LEA schools.

Converter academies are the main type of academy today and account for 2/3rds of existing academies.

Free Schools

Free Schools are newly created schools which are run as academies.

Free Schools were introduced under the Coalition Government in 2011 and are typically established by local interest groups who want a better standard of education for their children.

So far they have been established by groups of parents, teachers, charities, businesses and faith groups.

A History of Academies

City Academies were first introduced in the year 2000 under New Labour and then saw a rapid expansion under both the Coalition (2010-2015) and Tory governments (2015 to present day).

Academies under New Labour

Academies were first launched as ‘city academies’ in 2000 under the New Labour (1997 to 2010) government, and Lord Adonis, then education advisor to the Labour government, is credited with their establishment.

Most early academies were ‘sponsored academies’ – they were failing LEA schools in deprived urban areas which were shut down and then re-opened under new management as academies and in the early 2000s huge amounts of capital funding was injected into these early academies.

In 2002 the prefix ‘city’ was removed to allow schools in non urban areas to join the academies programme.

The rationale behind academies was that they would raise educational standards through increasing diversity and choice and encouraging competition between schools – and they are thus an expansion of the ‘marketisation’ of education introduced by the previous Tory government.

Early academies were founded and governed by sponsors including businesses, charities and universities, with funding initially capped at £2 million per school. (This cap was lifted in 2009).

New Labour’s early academies had a greater intake of Free School Meals students and the hope was that by making them independent of LEA control and introducing private sponsorship they would encourage a culture of high aspirations among students and thus break the cycle of deprivation.

This focus on combining marketisation and social justice concerned is very characteristic of the third way ethos which lay behind many of New Labour’s policies.

Mossbourne Community Academy

An example of a successful early academy is Mossbourne Academy in Hackney, which was opened in 2004 with a capital budget of £23 million being spent on shiny new school buildings.

Mossbourne Academy students lining up before lessons

The first headmaster of Mossbourne Academy was (now) Sir Michael Wilshaw, who went on to become the chief inspector for OFSTED. He instigated a regime of high expectations of all students with strict rules about not only attendance and punctuality but also strict dress code.

Teachers were required to work long hours as were students deemed to be in need of extra help to reach their target grades with additional after school lessons and Saturday lessons part of the weekly regime for those who required them.

The school also set up a range of extra curricular activities emulating private schools such as a debating and rowing club – increasing access to cultural capital for those students who took up these opportunties.

Mossbourne was extremely successful in getting its students excellent grades but there is a question mark over how much of this was down to the extreme amount of initial funding injected into this flagship academy project.

By 2006 there were 46 academies established, half of these in London, which had capital and operating costs of £1.3 billion.

By 2010 there were 203 Academies up and running.

Academies under the Coalition

The Coalition identified academies as one of their main education policies for simultaneously raising standards and improving equality of educational opportunity by narrowing the achievement gap.

The Coalition government pursued the setting up of academies even more enthusiastically than the previous New Labour government, their aim being to make it the norm for all state schools to be academies, rather than just for failing schools and schools in deprived areas as had been the case previously.

The new Coalition Education Secretary Michael Gove wrote to all head teachers in 2010 informing them that all secondary and primary schools would be invited to convert to secondary school status, and schools with and OUTSTANDING status from OFSTED would be fast tracked through the process of conversion.

In 2011 the academy conversion process was extended to all schools doing well, and other schools not classified as doing well good convert to academies if they joined already existing academy chains which were doing well.

Fast tracked schools were required to support at least one weaker school, the idea being that better schools would partner with weaker schools and help them improve.

The Coalition also continued with ‘forced academisation’, in June 2011 the government announced that it would be forcing the weakest 200 schools to become academies, under new management, typically an already existing well-performing academy or academy trust.

The 2010 academies act also made it a requirement for all new schools to be either academies or free schools (see below) – this prevented the Local Education Authorities from setting up new schools.

Michael Gove also introduced legislation which allowed for the establishment of Free Schools – entirely new academies which allowed teachers, parents or religious groups (for example) to set up a new school in their own area if they were not satisfied with local provision. By the end of the Coalition government 254 Free Schools had been opened.

All through the five years of the coalition government the academies programme continued at a rapid pace – by the end of the New Labour government in 2010 there were 203 academies, and within nine months of the coalition this had doubled to 442 academies.

By the time of the general election in 2015 there were just over 5000 academies in England and Wales, which was 40% of all secondary schools.

The rapid rise of academies during the Coalition is down to two factors primarily:

  1. The streamlined application process made it a lot faster to convert
  2. There were financial benefits to becoming academies – independent control of budgets (rather than LEA control) made finances easier to manage and there was additional central funding available, all during a time of austerity which made converting very appaling.

West and Baily (2013) have suggested that while New Labour saw academies as a way of solving the problem of failing schools the Coalition used setting them up en masse to enact system wide change towards a more marketised education system.

Academies since 2015

When the Tories came to Power in 2015 David Cameron’s stated aim was to achieve full academisation, that is he wanted ALL schools to become academies.

A 2016 white paper proposed that all schools had to start converting to academies by 2020 and that any that hadn’t would be instructed to do so by 2022, the idea being that the Local Education Authorities would have no role in management education by 2022.

However, there was resistance to this forced academisation, especially by primary schools which were doing well and were reluctant to hand over control to relatively new Multi Academy Trusts and these plans were relaxed and the government focused its efforts on ‘encouraging’ LEA schools to convert voluntarily rather than forcing them.

Even so the number of academies continued to increase rapidly under the Tory government and by 2020 the number of academies had risen to over 9000, an increase of around 1000 per year, and most of these converter academies.

There are also new national structures in place now to regulate academies:

  • The Education and Skills Funding Agency regulates funding
  • The Schools Commissioners Group made up of eight regional commissioners for schools monitors academies in their regions.

The growth of Academies in England and Wales

The total number of academies in England and Wales has grown rapidly since 2010, although the rate of growth has slowed in more recent years.

  • In 2009 to 2010 there were a total of 133 academies
  • By 2019/ 2020 there were a total of 9200 academies

The total number of academies increased by 5% between 2018/2019 to 2019/2020, but this figure would have been lowered because of the impact of Covid, as schools focused on dealing with safe re-opening and helping pupils catch up rather than converting to academy status.

Growth of academies in England and Wales 2009 to 2020

Key for the above table:

  • Dark blue = sponsored academies
  • Light blue = converter academies
  • Mid blue (smallest) = Free Schools.

There are more secondary than primary academies…

  • In 2020 78% of secondary schools were academies, 22% where LEA run schools
  • This compares to 36% of primary schools being academies, 54% remain under LEA control.

Multi Academy Trusts

Source: FFL datalabs

The number of schools in MATs has increased since 2018, with the largest increase being for schools in trusts with 6-10 schools, with 25% of schools being in trusts of 6-10 schools.

Approximately:

  • 15% of schools are single schools
  • 40% are in small trusts of 2-9 schools
  • 25% are in large trusts of 10-19 schools
  • 20% are in very large trusts of 20+ schools

The average number of schools in a trust has increased from 5 to 7 schools in the last four years to 2022 and the largest trust today has 75 schools in it.

Evaluations of Academies

There has been criticism of how far New Labour’s early academies managed to break the cycle of deprivation (Gorand 2009, Pricewaterhouse Coopers, 2008)

Under the coalition the Local Education Authority system of provision of schooling was dismantled – this involved democratically elected bodies planning appropriate educational provision for a local area. This has now been replaced with a greater diversity of provision, increased competition between schools and greater involvement of non-elected officials (sponsors) in how local schooling is run (Walford 2014)

As a result there is now a lack of accountability to the local communities in which academies exist because there is no LEA control.

Funding arrangements for academies are agreed between the secretary of state and the management company of the academy – this means there is no ‘democratic oversight’ of funding arrangements – sponsors are effectively operating outside of the democratic process (Ward and Eden (2009).

While the government speaks of ‘diversity and choice’ another way of looking at this is that they have created a fragmented education system – when there is no local planning for provision you get overlap and inefficiencies, especially where Free Schools are concerned!

Multi Academy Trusts vary in their degrees of competence, and for those schools which are still under LEA control, they may be better off remaining so, BUT LEAs now get much less funding because so much of it has been siphoned off to the academy trusts, so they may not be able to offer as much support in the future.

In short, it’s possible that academisation has gone so far and now LEAs are so weakened that full academisation is possibly now inevitable.

Signposting and Relevance to A-Level Sociology

This material is primarily relevant to the education aspect of the AQA’s A-Level Sociology specification.

Sources/ References

Barlett and Burton (2021): Introduction to Education Studies, fifth edition

Academy Schools Sector in England Consolidated Annual Report and Accounts For the year ended 31 August 2020, HC 851

Education Data Lab – stats on academies in England and Wales.

Politics.co.uk on Academies – a useful summary of some of the Key Facts about academies.

The academy trusts failing their schools

The schools census information for October 2018 showed that more pupils now study in academies than in maintained LEA schools (50.1% to 49.9%). Academies were first introduced under New Labour and are something the Conservatives expanded massively in the last decade.

how many pupils academies.png Most of these schools are part of a ‘multi academy trust’, and once a school joins one of these trusts, then it no longer exists as a legal and financial entity in its own right – it is wholly ‘incorporated’ by the Trust.

In terms of standards and results, this is generally advantageous when a Trust is performing well, but when a chain performs badly, individual schools are now just stuck with that trust, with no way out, no means of lifting themselves out of the situation. There’s an interesting Observer article about this here.

There is some case study evidence that suggests some academy trusts are fraudulently claiming money from the government for school improvement works, and then spending considerably less. One example of this is the Bright Side Academy Trust which runs 10 schools in England: it claimed £556 000 to demolish and rebuild some unstable sports hall walls in one school, but then simply installed some steel supports to the existing walls at a cost of £60, 000.

NB – The Bright Tribe Trust also has the dubious honour of being the worst performing academy chain in England at key stage 4.

And what can the individual school in these trusts do about their dire situation? Absolutely nothing. They are basically ‘stuck suffering in the chain’.

This is a feature of the new education landscape I hadn’t really considered before: the possibility of there being ‘batches’ of schools in one trust that end up sinking to the bottom together in certain areas of the country.

Was it ever realistic to expect the academy model to improve failing schools anyway?

The flagship early academies, most notably Mossbourne Academy, was a huge success, getting excellent results with some of the most disadvantaged children in London: but that was 2010, that was the flagship that had £23 million spent on it, and there have been additional motivation from it being a role-model.

Now that academies are generalised, now that they’ve become the norm – it appears that there are good academy chains, and there are bad academy chains, surprise surprise!

in fact this shouldn’t be any surprise. Given that most of the main barriers to educational achievement are all external to the school (such as material deprivation), it was always unlikely that simply changing the structure of how schools are organised )from an LEA to an academies model) was going to make a difference in the long run.

I mean, new academies don’t get any more money than LEA schools, and while they might gain from economies of scale, this can’t make that much difference. It’s not as if they can afford to pay a 50% premium to address the shortage in science teachers for example, and it’s not enough to combat the radical hardships that the bottom 10% or so face at home.

 

School Types in England and Wales – Statistical Overview…

As of 2017, there were over 250 000 children in ‘Converter Academies’, 86, 000 students in sponsored academies, and 170 000 students in LEA maintained schools. This that in 2017 there were twice as many students in converter and sponsored academies combined as there are in LEA funded mainstream schools….

Number Pupils Schools Academies

Free Schools, meanwhile, cater to only just over 3000 students, with studio schools the least popular type of school, with only 1200 students.

Click on the link above, for the (slightly lame) interactive version… NB this is me still trying to get my head around Tableau!

 

Coalition Education Policy (2010-2015)

The coalition government continued the marketisation of education. They introduced Free schools, forced acadamisation, increased university tuition fees, but also the Pupil Premium.

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.

Michael Gove
Michael Gove – The Education Secretary under the Coalition Government – Tended to Listen to Himself rather than Education Professionals.

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.

Most of the Coalitions education policies were designed to introduce more choice, competition and efficiency into the education market (furthering marketisation) such policies include:

  • Forced academisation
  • Free Schools
  • Increasing university tuition fees

Some policies were nominally aimed at promoting equality of educational opportunity, namely:

  • The pupil premium
  • Introducing bursary schemes for some further and higher education students

Although it is debatable how committed the coalition was to improving equality of educational opportunity because their marketisation policies increased inequality and they scrapped some of New Labour’s previous policies such as the Education Maintenance Allowance.

In reality their policies to ‘improve’ equality in education were weak and probably put in place to make it look like they were doing something rather than actually effectively promoting equality of opportunity.

The rest of this post looks at some of Coalitions education policies in more detail…

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), aiming to make academy status the norm for all schools.

Under the Academies Act of 2010, schools graded as outstanding were automatically eligible to convert to academy status (if they wished to do so) and in 2011 this was extended to all schools which were performing well.

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).

Failing schools which were under the control of Local Education Authorities could either be shut down or taken under the sponsorship of already existing academies or Multi Academy Trusts.

The growth of academies under the coalition was extremely rapid…

By 2013, there were 3,304 academies in England – almost 15 times as many as in May 2010, when there were 203 academies. By the time of the general election in 2015 (the end of the Coalition) over half of all secondary schools were 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.

Free Schools 

The Coalition also introduced a new type of school: Free Schools, which took their inspiration from Sweden.

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.

Free schools are covered in much more detail in this post

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.

You can browse Free Schools (and other school types) on Snobe.co.uk, you just have to set the Filter to ‘Free Schools’…

The Fairness Premium

The fairness premium was the coalitions main policy suite to reduce inequality of educational achievement and close the attainment gap.

The fairness premium would be used to fund disadvantaged children aged 2 to 20 and two of the main specific policies to be funded were additional pre-school education and the pupil premium

The Coalition expanded early years education so that disadvantaged two to four year olds were entitled to 15 hours per week of pre-school education, which was in addition to the 15 hours already available to three to four year olds which has been introduced under New Labour.

The aim of this early intervention was to try to address the poor language skills which disadvantaged children generally had before entering school, which represented a significant gap in cognitive development between disadvantaged children and those from wealthier backgrounds. (Research by Fenstein (2003) for example had show a pre-school gap of up to 3 months in reading ability.)

However, the additional 15 hours of schooling a week introduced by the Coalition was really a myth because they cut funding for Sure Start which was effectively doing the same thing as this initiative and so this wasn’t really anything additional at all.

The Pupil Premium 

Introduced in 2011, the Pupil Premium involved giving schools extra funding based on the number of Free School Meals (FSM) pupils they took in. Schools would received an additional £600 for every child (year 1 to year 11) who was eligible for Free School Meals or who had been looked after for six months or longer.

In 2015 the Pupil Premium was extended to include early education years.

Schools were supposed to spend their pupil premium funding specifically on helping disadvantaged pupils – for example on extra lessons for those from disadvantaged backgrounds or more one to one support, which was monitored primarily through OFSTED.

One problem with the Pupil Premium was that by 2015 the government itself admitted that children from disadvantaged backgrounds continued to get worse GCSE results, and so the policy had had limited impact on reducing the attainment gap.

In some parts of the UK more than 40% of pupils receive Pupil Premium funding (2021 figures).

Curriculum Reform

The Education secretary Michael Gove believed that New Labour’s curriculum was sub standard and so initiated a whole curriculum review, and a new curriculum framework was published in 2014

The rhetoric behind this review was that of raising standards (as it always is) but with a renewed focus on traditional subjects and forms of assessment.

Gove’s curriculum review introduced the following changes in 2014:

  • The content of the national curriculum was made more challenging but also narrower, with more of a focus on core knowledge and key skills.
  • The old levels of attainment were scrapped.
  • The Ebacc became a more important measure in league tables, which made arts and technical subjects less important as these were not in the Ebacc.
  • Coursework elements of GSCE and A-levels were scrapped and replaced with exams.
  • A technical baccalaureate was introduced for 16-18 year olds.

Higher Education Policies

The Coalition scrapped all direct funding to universities from the government with the exception of some STEM subjects and from 2012 universities were to obtain their teaching income directly from student fees. The coalition raised the limit on tuition fees for Higher Education to £9000 per student.

Tuition fees were largely funded by students loans, which were also available to students to fund their costs of living while studying and these loans were not to be paid back until graduates were earning £21 000 a year.

Most universities ended up charging the full £9000 tuition fees and these changes saw the introduction of a fully fledged market in higher education, with students now being regarded as consumers and more emphasis being put on quality of student experience.

The government also required all universities to promote fair access to HE and introduced a fees bursary scheme for students from the very lowest income households.

There was also concern at the time that a divide would open up between the traditional Russel Group universities which received additional funding from research as well as teaching and the post-1992 old Polytechnic universities which relied much more heavily on tuition fees.

Scrapping the Education Maintenance Allowance

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.

Evaluation 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.

Signposting and Related Posts

Coalition policies are studied as part of the AQA A-level sociology’s Education module.

Please click here to return to the homepage – ReviseSociology.com

Sources 

Haralambos and Holborn (2013) Sociology Themes and Perspectives

Barlett and Burton (2021): Introduction to Education Studies, fifth edition

2010-2015 Government Education Policy, Department for Education.

Other useful Sources 

Earlham’s Sociology Site has lots of information on Coalition Policies

 

Education Policy Under New Labour

New Labour increased funding for education and expanded the number of standard assessments for pupils and targets for schools. They introduced academies, specialist schools, sure start, education action zones and the education maintenance allowance.

When they first came to power in 1997, Tony Blair, the leader of Labour Party (dubbed ‘New Labour’*) announced that his priorities were ‘education, education and education‘.

The main objectives of New Labour’s education policy were to simultaneously raise standards in order to create a skilled labour force to compete in the global knowledge economy and to achieve greater equality of opportunity by making education more inclusive and through improving the experience of education for all.

New Labour education policy

New Labour and the Third Way

The 1997-2010 New Labour party/ government wanted to change the image and perspective of their party so that they could appeal to a wider type of voters.  They wanted to appeal to the middle classes, who traditionally voted Conservative, as well as working classes, who had traditionally tended to vote Labour.   So they renamed themselves ‘New’ Labour.  This meant that some of their beliefs were in line with “New Right” views which are more commonly associated with the Conservative Party, and some continue with traditionally ‘Old’ Labour or Social Democratic views.

Antony Giddens has characterised New Labour as being ‘the third way’ between traditionally left and right wing ideas, and when we look at their education policies we can see that some were influenced by Neoliberalism and the New Right and others by more social democratic ideals.

New Labour education polices inspired by the New Right

The New Right emphasised the importance of introducing free-market principles into education in order to make schools more competitive and give parents more choice.

New Labour carried this on by keeping all of the main policies associated with marketisation (league tables, OFSTED etc.) and by increasing the number of specialist schools; they also increased the role of the private sector in education through academies and Private Finance Initiatives.

They also increased expenditure on vocational, work-related training, which was in line with New Right ideas that education should prepare children for the world of work. 

New Labour also introduced a range of new vocational education policies, but that will be dealt with in a future post.

New Labour education policies inspired by the Social Democratic perspective

The Social Democratic view of education emphasised improving equality of opportunity and tackling social disadvantage through state education.

New Labour introduced many policies to promote equality of educational opportunity, or in New Labour’s new terminology to promote ‘inclusion’ one of the Key Buzz Words of the period.

The main policies introduced to achieve these goals included Academies, Sure Start, Education Maintenance Allowance and also a general increase in state-expenditure on education

Curriculum Reforms under New Labour

There were a number of basic curriculum reforms introduced under New Labour

  • There was a renewed emphasis on the teaching of essential skills – such as literacy, numeracy and I.T.
  • There was an increased focus on personalised learning to address individual learning needs of students
  • Citizenship classes were introduced to help address increasing social fragmentation.
  • The nationals curriculum was made more flexible with more vocational elements being added in as options.
  • A Levels were modernised and made modular with the introduction of AS Levels
  • Vocational diplomas were introduced for 14-19 years olds and many more vocational courses made available to 16-19 year olds.

Increased focus on Assessments and Targets

Labor Increased the Number of Assessments and Targets schools were subjected to.

New Labour largely welcomed the testing and assessment regime introduced by the Conservatives. They increased the number of targets schools had to reach, as well as the amount of information which schools had to publish in league tables.

League Tables were changed so that schools had to publish data on ‘value added’ – the difference between the level of achievement students came into a school with (measured through SATs) and what they left with (ultimately still measured by GCSEs.

New Labour continued to assess schools regularly using a range of ‘target indicators’ such as pupil achievement Key Stage Tests, GCSEs and A Levels, OFSTED inspections and also truancy and exclusion rates.

These measures were applied differently depending on how a school was performing. For those which received an outstanding grade there was a light touch inspection regime, meaning partial inspections, but those deemed to be unsatisfactory were forced into being taken over by better performing schools or Academy Trusts.

Specialist Schools

Labour greatly expanded the role of specialist schools 

State secondary schools can apply to become specialist schools in one or two of ten specialisms (e.g. maths, science, sports etc.). In order for their application to be successful, they need to raise £50 000 from private sector sponsors, which will be matched by the government. Specialist schools are allowed to select 10% of their students who show an aptitude in the schools specialist subjects (which relates to the selective education topic, this is a form of selection by aptitude). 

Specialist schools demonstrate New Labour’s rejection of the Old Labour idea of the ‘one size fits all comprehensive school’. Specialist schools provided diversity and offered more parental choice, fitting in with the New Right’s marketisation agenda. According to the then education secretary Estelle Morris ‘ Specialist schools and Colleges will have a key contribution to make in raising standards and delivering excellence in schools’. (Chitty 2002)

In 1997 New Labour inherited 196 specialist schools from the Conservatives. Then years later, there were over 2500 specialist schools, over 75% of all specialist schools.

Academies

The academies programme introduced by New Labour was primarily aimed at failing schools and by May 2010 there were 203 academies in England. New Labour thought that Academies could both raise standards and tackle inequality of educational opportunity simultaneously.

Traditionally schools have been overseen by local education authorities who have managed funding of local schools, admissions policies, term dates, pay for staff and other aspects of education in their areas, and they have provided a number of services to schools as well.

New Labour broke this control by Local Education Authorities by setting up the first Academies in 2000.

Academies are schools which receive their funding directly from central government and are completely independent from local councils and can set their own term dates, admissions policies; staff pay levels and much more. It is argued the extra freedom for schools gives allows them raise standards.

Academies are sponsored by an organisation which is responsible for overseeing the running of the schools. Sponsors could include businesses, charities and faith groups. For example, Lord Harris, the owner of “Carpet Right”, runs the Harris Academies which now operate 23 schools, including the Harris Academies in Purley, Crystal Palace and Merton. Commercial sponsors which take over schools must provide £2 million of additional finance.

A 2010 study by Stephen Machin (Machin and Vernoit 2010) found that academies that had been open for at least 2 years had 3% more students who achieved 5 GCSEs at grades A-C.

However, critics of academies say that the only reason they achieve better results is because they take fewer pupils with special needs or behavioural problems.

Sure Start

Sure Start Children’s Centres are responsible for delivering services for children under 5 and their families.

The core purpose of Sure Start Children’s Centres are to improve outcomes for young children (primarily aged 2-4) and their families, with a particular focus on the most disadvantaged families, in order to reduce inequalities in child development and school readiness.

Four core aims of Sure Start Centres included:

  • To provide high quality and affordable early years education and childcare.
  • To raise Parenting aspirations, self esteem and parenting skills.
  • To improve child and family health, primarily through providing education and information about local health services.
  • To acting as a hub for the local community, building social capital and cohesion.

In centres in the 30% most disadvantaged areas extra the centres provides childcare for a minimum of 10 hours a week, while in more affluent areas, support was limited to drop-in activity sessions for children, such as stay and play sessions.

By 2010, there were over 3300 Sure Start Centres.

A major evaluation of Sure Start programmes examined over 7,000 families in 150 Sure Start areas and found that while parents valued them, there was little measurable improvement in child development, with the exception of lower levels of childhood obesity.

Every Child Matters

There were a number of high profile child abuse cases in the 1990s and early 2000s, which had raised public concern about failing child welfare services which should have prevented such cases.

An example of these failures was the death of Victoria Climbie: a report into her death found that it was avoidable had different welfare services which had been in contact with her and her family communicated more effectively with each other.

This led to the Children Act of 2004 and the publication of Every Child Matters: Change for Children which stated that children should be put at the centre of public services and those services built around their needs, rather than the other way around.

Every Child Matters meant that teachers were expected to liase more with other child professionals as necessary and it also paved the way for a massive expansion of learning support departments which saw an increase of additional support staff in schools working with pupils.

The five common outcomes for children emphasised by ECM were:

  1. Being healthy
  2. Staying safe
  3. Enjoying and achieving
  4. Making a positive contribution
  5. Achieving economic well-being.

Education Maintenance Allowance 

Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) was paid to students aged 16-19 who were from lower income families. Students received the funding if the attended all there lessons and achieved their performance targets. The funding was designed to help with the hidden costs of education and there was a progressive approach, with the least well of pupils receiving £30 a week and the better off pupils received £20 or £10.

The Expansion of Higher Education

Traditionally Higher Education was entirely funded by the state which paid not only the tuition fees but also maintenance grants for students to live off while studying.

This was fine while the numbers of students attending university were relatively small, but the steady increase in numbers during the 1980s meant that by the early 1990s the funding of universities had reached crisis point and it was no longer sustainable for the tax payer to carrying on funding Higher Education.

From 1990 the Maintenance grants were gradually reduced and replaced by student loans to cover living costs, and the 1998 Education Act abolished grants altogether and introduced student contributions to tuition fees, starting at just over £1000 per year.

Then the 2004 Education Act extended top up fees allowing universities to charge up to £3000, but students did not have to pay this money back until they were earning £15000 a year.

Student contributions for fees were not increased further than £3000 per student under New Labour but by the end of their term in office in 2010 Universities were making it clear that couldn’t carry on delivering a world class education service at the then current levels of funding.

Under New Labour the number of university students increased from 1.2 million to 1.8 million, an increase of 50% in 13 years and they doubled between 1992 and 2016….

Other Education Policies under New Labour

Two other historical policies which fed into the policies above which you should know about include:

Education Action Zones 

Education Action Zones were set up to raise the attainment levels of students in low income, inner city areas. By 2003 there were 73 EAZs in England, funded by central government with additional funding from business. An action forum, made up of parents and representatives from local schools and businesses and from local and national government ran each zone.

One OFSTED report on EAZs praised some initiatives, such as homework and breakfast clubs. The report found some improvements in standards at Key Stage 1, but no change at Key Stage 3 or GCSE.

Excellence in Cities

The Excellence in Cities programme gradually replaced EAZs, targeting local education authorities in deprived areas. The main initiatives of EiC were special programmes for gifted students, city learning centres with IT facilities, learning mentors and low-cost leasing for home computers.

Various reports evaluating the EiC programme produced mixed results: in general they indicated only limited success and the EiC programme was ended in 2006.

Evaluation of New Labour’s Education Policies

New Labour successfully raised standards in education, but they were much less successful in reducing inequality of educational opportunity – the ‘attainment gap’ between working class and middle class children remained stubbornly high under New Labour.

Focusing on the successes, it’s important not to understate the importance of this as an achievement – the number of students passing 5 good GCSEs (the early academies helped here), and progression onto Further (EMA helped here) and Higher Education increased steadily under New Labour.

Specialist schools were very successful in raising standards, however, this was largely because they selected a disproportionate amount of middle class pupils.

New Labour’s focus on targets and performance suggests that they believed the causes of educational underachievement lay with the schools themselves, rather than deep seated social issues such as poverty and inequality, and in this sense much of New Labour’s education policy just carried on neoliberal ideas from the previous Tory government.

In terms of tackling social class inequalities, most of their policies failed (except for the early academies and the EMA) – EAZs, EiCs and Sure Start were appear to have ultimately been a waste of money in this regard.

Paul Trowler (2003) argued that Labour were unrealistic in their expectations of what education could achieve in terms of tackling social class inequality. As Trowler sees it, education alone cannot tackle deep-rooted social inequalities.

Ball (2017) notes that the choice policies introduced by New Labour tended to benefit the middle classes more as they were able to use their cultural and material capital to choose the best schools while the working classes who lacked the means to exercise choice ended up having to send their children to the local schools which became sink schools.

Ultimately New Labour’s policies may have just ended up reinforcing social inequalities.

Signposting and Related Posts

This material is extremely important for any A-level sociology student studying the education module as part of the AQA specification.

If you’re simply here to game the A-level sociology education exam, then please click here for the abbreviated revision version of these class notes. 

Sources:

Barlett and Burton (2021): Introduction to Education Studies, fifth edition

Haralmabos and Holborn (2013) Sociology: Themes and Perspectives

Office for National Statistics – Education: Historical Statistics

The Privatisation of Education

Covers exogenous and endogenous privatisation as well as arguments for and against the privatisation of education.

Introduction: What is Privatisation?

Privatisation is where services which were once owned and provided by the state are transferred to private companies, such as the transfer of educational assets and management to private companies, charities or religious institutions.

The UK government spends approximately £90 billion on education, which includes to costs of teacher’s salaries, support workers, educational resources, building and maintaining school buildings, and the cost of writing curriculums, examinations and inspections (OFSTED), which means there is plenty of stuff which could potentially be privatised.

Most aspects of education in the UK have traditionally been run by the state, and funded directly by the government with taxpayer’s money, managed by Local Education Authorities (local councils). However, with the increasing influence of New Right ideas on education, there has been a trend towards the privatisation of important aspects of education, both in the UK and globally. In other words, increasing amounts of taxpayer’s money goes straight to private companies who provided educational services, rather than to Local Education Authorities.

The Increasing Privatisation of Education

The privatisation of education started under the New Right Government (1979-1997), and continued under New Labour (1997-2010) and under the Coalition/ Conservative Government (2010 – Present Day).

Exogenous and Endogenous Privatisation

Ball and Youdell (2007) distinguish between exogenous privatisation (privatisation from outside) and endogenous privatisation (privatisation within the education system)

Exogenous Privatisation is all of the material on the previous page, but another important aspect of privatisation is endogenous Privatisation, which is basically marketisation

Both British and international companies taking over different aspects of the UK education system, some examples of this are:

Exogenous Privatisation

  • The setting up of Academies. Since New Labour, the establishment of Academies has meant greater involvement of the private sector in running schools. Academies are allowed to seek 10% of their funding from businesses or charities, which increases the influence of private interests over the running of the school, and some recent academy chains such as the Academies Enterprise Trust are run by private companies, and managed by people with a background in business, rather than people with a background in teaching.
  • The Building and maintaining school buildings – Under New Labour A programme of new buildings for schools was financed through the Private Finance Initiative (PFI). Private companies did the building, but in return were given contracts to repay the investment and provided maintenance for 25-35 years. The colleges, schools or local education authorities had to pay the ongoing costs.
  • Running examination systems – The UK’s largest examinations body Edexcel is run by the Global Corporation Pearsons. Pearsons runs the exam boards in over 70 countries, meaning it sets the exams, it pays the examiners, it runs the training courses which teachers need to attend to understand the assessment criteria, and increasingly it writes the text books.
  • The Expansion of the Education Services Industry more generally. This is related to the above point – There are more International Corporations involved in education than ever before – two obvious examples include Google and Apple, both of which are well poised to play an increasing role in providing educational services for a profit.

Privatisation within Education (Endogenous Privatisation)

Privatisation within education refers to the introduction of free-market principles into the day to day running of schools. This is basically marketization and includes the following:

  • Making schools compete for pupils so they become like businesses
  • Giving parents choice so they become consumers (open enrolment)
  • Linking school funding to success rates (formula funding)
  • Introducing performance related pay for teachers
  • Allowing successful schools to take over and managefailing schools.

Refer to the post on the 1988 Education act for the strengths and limitations of this type of privatisation!

Arguments for Privatisation

The main perspectives which argue for privatising education are Neoliberalism and The New Right.

The Neoliberal/ New Right argument is that state-run education is inefficient. They argue that the state’s involvement leads to ‘bureaucratic self-interest’, the stifling of initiative and low-standards. To overcome these problems the education system must be privatised, and New Right Policies have led to greater internal and external privatisation.

  • The basic argument for internal privatisation is that the introduction of Marketisation within education has increased competition between schools and driven up standards.
  • The basic argument for external privatisation is that private companies are used to keeping costs down and will run certain aspects of the education system more efficiently than Local Education Authorities, even if they make a profit. Thus it’s a win-win situation for the public and the companies.

Arguments against the Privatisation of Education

The main perspective which criticises Privatisation is Marxism.

  • See the hand-out on Marketisation for criticisms of internal privatisation.
  • If private companies have an increasing role in running the education system this may change the type of knowledge which pupils are taught – with more of an emphasis on maths and less of an emphasis on critical humanities subjects which aren’t as profitable. Thus a narrowing of the curriculum might be the result
  • Stephan Ball has also referred to what he sees as the cola-isation of schools – The private sector also increasingly penetrates schools through vending machines and the development of brand loyalty through logos and sponsorships.
  • There might be an increasing inequality of educational provision as private companies cherry pick the best schools to take over and leave the worst schools under Local Education Authority Control.

Find out more

For more links to my posts on the sociology of education please see this page, which follows the AQA A-level specification.

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