Evaluating the New Right’s Perspective on Education

In this post I offer four pieces of evidence students can use to evaluate the New Right’s perspective on education, particularly their claim that Marketisation policies since 1988 have raised standards for all pupils.

Item A: GCSE Pass Rates

Probably the strongest piece of supporting evidence for the New Right’s policies on education is that they have worked to improve GCSE results nearly every year for the last 30 years:

The latest reports focusing on the long term trend are a bit dated, such as this one from The Guardian, but it clearly shows a long term improvement in grades at GCSE:

Despite recent dips in top grades, this 2013 report from Full Fact, which also focuses on the long term trend in results since 1988 points out that:

  • The pass rate for grades A*-C has increased by almost two-thirds from 42.5% in 1988 to 68.1% in 2013.
  • A*/A grades have almost trebled from 8.6% in 1988 to 21.3% in 2013.

However, the report also recognizes that some of this is due to grade inflation as this increase in performance is not mirrored by English and Welsh students in international tests, such as PISA BELOW.

Item B: PISA international league tables

(http://www.oecd.org/pisa/aboutpisa/)

The PISA league tables demonstrate how the neoliberal/ New Right idea of ranking educational achievement has gone global – Since the year 2000 we now have International Education League Tables.

Since the year 2000, every three years, fifteen-year-old students from randomly selected schools worldwide take tests in the key subjects: reading, mathematics and science, with a focus on one subject in each year of assessment. In 2012, some economies also participated in the optional assessments of Problem Solving and Financial Literacy.

Students take a test that lasts 2 hours. The tests are a mixture of open-ended and multiple-choice questions that are organised in groups based on a passage setting out a real-life situation. A total of about 390 minutes of test items are covered.  Students take different combinations of different tests.

PISA is unique because it develops tests which are not directly linked to the school curriculum. The tests are designed to assess to what extent students at the end of compulsory education, can apply their knowledge to real-life situations and be equipped for full participation in society.

The students and their school principals also answer questionnaires to provide information about the students’ backgrounds, schools and learning experiences and about the broader school system and learning environment.

The UK currently ranks 23rd for English and Maths.

Item C: Stephen Ball (2003)

argues that government policies of choice and competition place the middle class at an advantage. They have the knowledge and skills to make the most of the opportunities on offer. Compared to the working class they have more material capital, more social capital – access to social networks and contacts which can provide information and support.

Ball refers Middle class parents as ‘skilled choosers’. Compared to working class parents (disconnected choosers) they are more comfortable with dealing with public institutions like schools, they are more used to extracting and assessing information. For example, they use social networks to talk to parents whose children are attending the schools on offer. They collect and analyse information about GCSE results, and they are more used to dealing with and negotiating with administrators and teachers. As a result, if entry to a school is limited, they are more likely to gain a place for their child.

Ball also talked of the school/ parent alliance: Middle class parents want middle class schools and schools want middle class pupils. In general, the schools with more middle class students have better results. Schools see middle class students as easy to teach and likely to perform well. They will maintain the schools position in the league tables and its status in the education market.

Item D: Sue Palmer – The Problems of Tests, Targets And Education

Sue Palmer Is usually introduced in Families and Households module. She argues that technological and social changes have made modern childhood ‘toxic’, and testing in education (because of league tables and The New Right) is part of this problem. Sue Palmer writes…..

‘As long as league tables exist, in a risk averse society most people daren’t ignore them. Primary schools at the top of the league (which, by a strange coincidence, tend to be in the wealthiest areas) have a reputation to maintain; those at the bottom have to try to claw a little higher. The status of all interested adults (teachers, governors, parents) depends on how their Year Sixes perform in national tests.

So from four years of age, our children now live in the shadow of SATs. ‘No time for play in the reception class now,’ one teacher told me ruefully. ‘As soon as they arrive, it’s fast forward to the Key Stage One test.’ The curriculum is dominated by the core subjects of English, Maths and Science, broken down into a series of discrete‘learning objectives’ – closely matched to ‘assessment criteria’ – to be ticked off as children progress through the school.

There are ‘voluntary’ SATs for each year group, so children’s progress (and teachers’ competence in coaching their pupils) can be checked every summer. Then, in Year Six, come several months of concentrated exam practice, ‘booster classes’ during the Easter holidays for those who might not scrape the required mark, and sleepless nights for 11-year-olds terrified of ‘letting themselves down’ on the day.

Not surprisingly, this regime leaves far less time for creative but unquantifiable experiences, like art, drama and music, which through the millennia have nurtured children’s imaginations and contributed incalculably to their emotional and social development. Less time also for the active, hands-on learning children need if they’re genuinely to understand the concepts underpinning the tests.

Last year researchers found that the conceptual understanding of today’s 11-year-olds lags two to three years behind their counterparts in 1990. While performance on pencil-and-paper tests of has soared over this period, children are apparently less likely to understand the principles they’ve been trained to tick boxes about.

Research published recently by the independent Alexander Review of primary education shows that – on tests other than those for which children are coached – there have been only modest improvements in mathematics, and little change in literacy standards. And in last month’s PIRLS survey of international achievement in literacy, England had actually gone backwards, slumping from 3rd to 19th place.

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Postmodernism and Education

How has education changed in the age of postmodernity?

Postmodern society is more diverse, consumerist, fragmented, media-saturated (hyperreal) and allows individuals much more freedom of choice than in the previous modern society. You might like to review this article on modern and postmodern society before continuing.

A few examples of some of the ways education could be said to have responded postmodernisation include:

Schools are more ‘consumerist’ and provide more individual choice

With the introduction of marketisation and open enrollment, parents now have more choice over which school to send their child to.  Marketisation has effectively made schools into businesses and parents/ pupils into consumers. When choosing primary or secondary schools, parents and pupils now get to peruse school prospectuses and attend open evenings, ‘browsing’ for the school of their choice. Parents are also free to enroll their children at alternative schools, or home educate if their ‘consumer needs’ are not met by their current school.

Education has become more individualized

Teachers are expected to use a variety of teaching approaches in their delivery of lesson, to take account of the variety of ‘learning styles’ of students, and where possible ‘facilitate’ lessons so that they are learner centered.

Tutors also spend time working out ‘learner pathways’ with students, so that their educational path is tailored to suit their future career aims.

Education is more diverse

Since New Labour the U.K. has seen an increasing diversity of school types – there has been an increase in ‘specialist schools’ which specialise in one subject in particular (such as maths), many more faith schools, and more recently a dramatic increase in the number of academies and free schools.

There are also many more education providers today – the dramatic increase in apprenticeship places in the last decade means that there are now thousands of employers offering training to 16-24-year olds.

Increasing Fragmentation

Despite the national curriculum, the experience of education has become more fragmented – privately educated school children generally enjoy a very cosy education, with clearly structured lessons and school years meaning they can realise their full potential by the time they leave school. At the other end of the social class spectrum, children mostly from lower working-class backgrounds feel alienated by a middle-class school system and they may experience disruption to their learning from badly behaved students.

The recent increase in home-schooling is also a good example of education becoming more fragmented.

Education is more ‘Hyperreal’

A fairly obvious example of this that schools are making much more use of ICT in education, and students are increasingly being directed to online sources for learning support, or even as the main source of tuition for some courses.

Relevance of the postmodernisation of education to A-level sociology

It’s fairly unlikely that you’ll get an exam question asking you directly about postmodernism and education, the most likely use you can make of the above material is to criticise the functionalist view of education – for example, if education is more fragmented, it is unlikely that education can perform the function of creating value consensus in a society!

Inside the school’s cuts crisis

This 2019 Panorama documentary is a case study in the effects of education funding cuts on one primary school in a deprived area of the U.K. in 2019.

school funding cuts effects.PNG

Summary        

This 30 minute documentary follows one primary school in a deprived area exploring the impact of cuts to education funding since 2010, and investigating the strategies adopted by the school management to deal with these funding cuts.

This particular school seems to have been hit especially hard because of its location in an area with high levels of material and cultural deprivation, meaning it educates a high proportion of disadvantaged children.

The main strategy adopted by the school is to reduce the number of support staff – a number of special education needs (SEN) pupils require additional support in class and we see how the school is facing the possibility of cutting up to seven support staff.

As a result, the parents of one pupil with autism have made the decision to pull him out of mainstream education and get him a place in a specialist school, because of the threat of his support worker disappearing, evidence of schools becoming less inclusive.

One of the staff being sacked is the librarian, and so some of the older pupils are being trained up to manage the library.

One of the initiatives the management insist on keeping alive is the school food bank: pupils who have limited food at home (maybe because their parent’s pay check has been delayed) can take home food parcels.

Relevance to A-level sociology

There are several examples of what material deprivation looks like in real life (lack of food etc.) and how this has a negative impact on students’ education.

Useful for adding to analysis of the effects of New Right/ Neoliberal education policy (cuts to education funding)

This is a good example of how education funding cuts have a negative impact on education, having a disproportionately negative impact on SEN pupils and pupils from deprived backgrounds.

However, at the same time this particular case study is an example of how such funding cuts can be managed effectively in order to minimize negative impact. This might suggest support for the New Right – IF we get competent management in schools, we can still provide a decent standard of education with fewer resources.

Having said that, Marxists might argue the selection of this school for this documentary is ideological – it gives the impression that ‘good management’ can still, on the whole, provide an effective education for most students, without the whole system falling apart.

The broader truth could be that the cuts are having more negative effects, but we don’t see this because of selection bias in sampling (we see a school with good management doing OK rather than average management struggling to cope).

Methodological strengths and limitations

Good validity (to an extent) as we get to see the negative consequences of educating funding cuts in one school, however one has to question the selection of content for the documentary – this is entirely focused on the negatives – for every pupil impacted negatively, there might be 10 who have hardly been impacted at all – the later kind of students don’t make for an interesting documentary.

Limited representativeness – this is only one school among thousands, and it’s unlikely the experience of this school will mirror the experience of other schools. The management and staff at this school are probably more competent than in the average school – the less competent you are, the less likely you are to let a film crew in to film you for a few months!

Ironically this documentary aired around the same time as Boris Johnson announced an increase in education funding, so it’s potentially already out of date. However, IF we come out of the EU without a deal this might send the economy into a downward spiral and the squeeze on education funding may continue.

Finally, while useful to ‘bring to life’ complex sociological issues, always keep in mind that documentaries are themselves social constructions, which reflect the biases of the producers.

 

Huge increase in Chinese students studying at UK universities – a funny kind of ‘globalisation’

The U.K. now issues more than 100 000 student visas per year to Chinese students studying at British universities, with the numbers of Chinese students studying in the UK increasing at about 5% a year since at least 2013-14

Chinese students are by far the largest non-European student group living temporarily in the UK for 3 years or so while they pursue their degree courses. The next largest university feeder country outside of Europe is India, but only 20 000 student visas are issued to Indian students per year.

Moreover, if you look at the stats below, taken from the Higher Education Student Statistics Authority (nice ring to it that!) you can see that Chinese students are the only group from outside Europe who are coming into the UK in increasing numbers. Every other country is sending very similar numbers now compared to 2013-14.

Now to my mind this seems to be more a trend towards increasing bilateralism between China and UK universities, and if anything evidence of stagnant or even a decline in the ‘globalisation of British Higher Education’.

Relevance to A-level Sociology 

This is most obviously relevant to the sociology of education module, especially useful as some quite nuanced evidence against the globalisation of education (IF like me you don’t think just two countries enhancing links between them is globalisation)

Does student debt reduce a person’s income and career prospects in later life?

Tech Billionaire Robert F. Smith recently pledged to pay off the student loans of an entire 2019 graduating class of Morehouse College in Atlanta.

NB we’re not talking small amounts of money – the cost of this is $40 million and it means wiping off $100K of debt in some cases.

 

According to Democrats leaving college saddled with debt has a negative impact on future careers. It’s not difficult to reason why: if you’ve got a $100K debt, you might end up getting stuck in a dead-end job to service debt payments rather than being able to do a lowly-paid trainee position for a year or more, which might well be required to get your foot on the career ladder.

Or as Elijah Dormeus (author of the tweet above) put it – he was going to carry on working at AT and T to pay off his debt, now he’s free to help his brother through college and set up a community foundation to help other financially challenged people through education.

This ‘natural experiment’ offers education researchers an interesting opportunity to do a comparative study of  the future career choices and prospects of the 2018 and 2020 classes, who will both be suffering debt on graduation, compare to this now debt-free class of 2019.

It seems like a good college to choose for such a ‘natural experiment’ as writing off loans should make a lot of difference given that the student body at Morehouse is all-male (so no gender differences to skew the results), predominately black (so one main ethnic group) and typically from poor backgrounds.

It would have been pointless doing this with a wealthy college where students are less likely to be debt conscious .

It will be interesting to see how this experiment unfolds, and I’ll be sure to keep you all posted!

The University of Cambridge appoints first female black head of a college

Jesus College Cambridge recently appointed the first ever black female as its head. This is the first time in British history that either a female or a black person has been the Master of an Oxbridge College.

Sonita Alleyne is 51 years old studied Philosophy at Cambridge 30 years ago and went on to establish a successful career in journalism and has been awarded and OBE. She is a real champion for diversity and inclusion.

black woman cambridge.png

At first sight this seems like a very progressive move to promote equality and diversity, especially when Oxbridge universities have been under so much criticism recently over their disproportionately low numbers of black students and staff.

However, critics might suggest this is an ‘easy trophy appointment’ – what do Heads of Colleges do after all? They’re basically figure heads who liaise with other educational establishments, businesses and the wider communities.

Surely addressing the lack of black female staff (and especially professors) would have more of an impact in promoting equality and diversity?  I mean these are the people who students interact with on a day to day basis, so surely appointments to these positions would have more of a role-model effect, and surely make a difference to the lives of more people (i.e. the people appointed and the students they might inspire.

This appointment is progress, yes, but maybe not the most effective way of promoting equality and diversity

Relevance to A-level sociology 

This is most obviously relevant to the sociology of education. You can use this as contemporary evidence against the view that elite universities are institutionally racist.

Sources/ find out more:

Guardian Article (2018) – Oxbridge faces criticisms over lack of black students.

Article (2017) – List of black female professors in the UK (54 at time of writing, 6 of them in Sociology!)

Vogue Article – we urgently need more black female professors in UK universities (it’s not just Oxford and Cambridge!)

Picture source – BBC – https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-cambridgeshire-48413098

The consequences of cutting bursaries for student nurses…

Cutting free tuition and bursaries for student nurses seems to be a good candidate for the one of the worst social policy decisions of the decade…

The NHS is currently critically short of nurses, with 42 000 posts in England unfilled.

This seems to be due to a decision by the Tory party in 2015 to remove free tuition and bursaries for those undertaking nursing courses, requiring nursing students to take out loans to cover their fees and costs of living while studying.

It appears that the prospect of starting a nursing career up to £50K in debt has but people off applying for nursing in droves. Since 2016 nursing applications have dropped by one third, and they are down 40% among mature students.

There seems to be a direct correlation here between the removal of bursaries and people deciding to not do nursing courses, which makes sense given that nursing is a low paid, stressful and low status career: who would want to start out £50K in debt?

In 2015, it was projected that the policy would have saved £1 billion a year, but this is almost certainly not going to be the case as it is estimated that nearly 50% of loans to student nurses will be written off because they will never earn above the repayment threshold, and because of the requirement to hire nurses through more expensive agencies.

It is estimated that replacing agency nurses with regular full-time nurses would save the NHS £560 million a year.

Why did the Tories introduce this policy?

It could be due a total disconnect between elite Tories and the kinds of people doing nursing degrees. Most Tories will have no idea what it’s like living on marginal wages and  the difference bursaries can make down at the bottom of the pay scale.

Or it might be ideological – deliberately done to put the NHS in crisis and make it more expensive to run, justifying (in a downward spiral) the further outsourcing and selling off for profit later. Tories don’t need it after all, they have private health care.

It can’t be due to any rational decision making as this policy clearly makes no financial sense on any level.

Sources 

https://www.rcn.org.uk/news-and-events/news/removing-the-student-nurse-bursary-has-been-a-disaster

The Week

 

 

 

Exam advice from the AQA’s Examiner Reports from 2018

The AQA produces an examiner report after every exam, and it’s very good advice to look at these reports to see common mistakes students made last year, so you can avoid making the same mistakes this year!

AQA sociology examiner report 2018.png

Below I’ve selected FIVE choice pieces of advice based on the two most common errors from the 2018 Education with Theory and Methods paper.

  1. For the short answer questions, make sure you get your ID and Development the right way round – for example, last year’s 4 mark question was on ‘two reasons why marketisation policies may create social class differences in educational achievement’ – many students started with a policy rather than a reason, they should have started with a reason and then illustrated with a policy.
  2. The six marker was ‘outline three reasons for gender differences in educational achievement – the report says that many students did not get a second mark because they failed to be specific enough in their application to gender or educational achievement, so be specific!
  3. For question 5 – the methods in context question – the best answers used the hooks in the item, so use the item!
  4. At the other end of the paper – the final 10 mark theory and methods and question, a lot of students seemed to run out time to answer this, so make sure you get your timing right. Remember that it’s almost certainly going to be easier to get 4/10 for a 10 mark question than to go from 12/20 to 16/20 on a methods in context question – the bar’s lower after all!
  5. Focussing on the final 10 marker – if you get another ‘criticise a theory’ type question’ then the best answers simply used other perspectives to develop their criticisms.

It seems that the 10 marker with item and 30 mark essay question were OK!

Sources 

All information taken from the AQA’s 7192/1 examiner report.

You can read the full report here.

You can view the 2018 paper here.

Outline three ways in which pupil identities may come into conflict within school

A possible 6 mark question in the sociology of education exam. Unlike many 6 markers, this one lends itself to research studies!

Paul Willis: Learning to Labour – found that the traditional working class male identity came into direct conflict with the norms of the school – for the ‘lads’ he studied being male for them meant being cool, and not caring about school work. For them ‘real boys didn’t try hard at school’ and they were more interested in dossing around.

Louise Archer –found that girls that didn’t conform to traditional gender identities (passive and submissive) came into conflict with the school. For most of the girls, constructing and performing a heterosexual, sexy feminine image was the most important thing to them. Each of the girls spent considerable money and time on their appearance, trying to look sexy and feminine which gave the girls a sense of power and status. The peer group policed this.

Mac an Ghail argued that the African Caribbean community experienced the world in very different ways to white people – namely because of institutional racism in the college and he argued that any anti-school attitudes were reactions against this racism. He mainly blamed the school rather than the students

The globalisation of education

Three examples of the ‘globalisation of education’

The globalisation of education refers to how a ‘global system’ of education is emerging, beyond the level of individual countries. Three examples of this are:

  1. PISA league tables rank countries according to how well pupils’ score on English and maths tests.
  2. International companies are increasingly providing educational services in Britain and abroad.
  3. Private schools and universities are expanding abroad and offering services to fee-paying parents/ students.

Below I will briefly consider each of these aspects of the globalisation of education in more depth, applying some sociological perspectives to provide some analytical depth.

PISA league tables rank countries according to how well pupils’ score on English and maths tests.

From a New Right/ neoliberal perspective this encourages competition between countries – with each country trying harder to raise standards. The UK ranks in the mid 20s for most of the tests for example and so should be under pressure to do better!

International companies are increasingly providing educational services in Britain and abroad.

One example of this is where companies such as Apple and Microsoft provide educational software to schools all over the world.

A second example is International exam boards providing assessment services and text books to different countries.

From a neoliberal perspective, this makes sense as these companies are efficient and in a better position to provide such services than especially governments in poorer countries (who tend to lack money).

From a Marxist perspective, this is a process of mainly Western companies gaining power and control over the education systems of poorer countries

U.K. private schools and universities are expanding abroad and offering services to fee-paying parents/ students

From a neoliberal perspective this is very good for the UK education sector, it increases profits and more money flows into the UK.

From a Marxist perspective, looked at globally, these institutions only really benefit the elite, they do nothing for the poor, so this will just perpetuate global inequality.

Related posts

You might also like to consider this post on how globalisation more generally has affected education in the UK, and how education policy has responded to this.