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.

Lockdowns harmed child language development

10% more children now need extra help with their language skills because of lockdowns.

The Number of year 1 students who need extra support with their speech and language skills in school has increased as a result of lockdown according to some BBC analysis conducted on government data in November 2022.

The number of 5 and 6 year olds receiving speech and language support in their first year of primary school increased by 10% in 2021-22 compared to 2020-21…

This was the cohort of children who started reception in the previous year and so had their schooling massively disrupted by the government’s lockdown policies, their chosen response to the Covid-19 Pandemic.

This kind of increase cannot be attributed to an increase in the child population or an increase in detection rates of students needing this kind of support, rather it reflects the harmful effects lockdowns had on some students.

The charity Speech and Language UK point to Lockdown as the cause of this regression in child development, suggesting that Lockdowns resulted in students missing being isolated and socialising less, thus losing opportunities to practice and develop their speech and communication skills.

The statistics above back up what teachers and speech and language therapists have been saying for more than a year now.

Primary school teachers have reported increases in the number of primary school pupils starting the year with poor communication skills, some of them pointing to objects rather than saying what they are because they are too anxious about getting the words wrong.

One thing that can help schools to help students catch up is the Nuffield Foundation’s Early Language Intervention Programme

However, this is already full for the current academic year and it seems to involve learning on Learning Support Assistants to help students catch up, just adding more to their work load.

Signposting/ Relevance to A-Level Sociology

More students starting school with poor speech and communication skills reminds me of Bernstein’s concept of restricted speech code which is a form of cultural deprivation.

This is worrying for these students because recent research from Leon Fenstein has found that if a student starts out school with poor language skills it is usually very difficult for them to catch up and he found a correlation with having poor speech at age three and lower income in later life, which sounds very much like what we have here.

It’s most likely that those students who have been hardest hit by the government lockdowns are from lower class, poorer households as it is generally these households who lack the cultural capital to help their children develop those early language skills.

While the government has committed to spending £180 million on early years development, this doesn’t sound like it’s going to be a sufficient amount of money to help ALL the students who need it.

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The Neoliberal Perspective on Education

Neoliberalism holds that education systems should be run according to free market principles. Neoliberals believe that education should be privatised both endogenously and exogenously, parents and students given more choice and voice and they also advocate for more top down surveillance and performance management.

Neoliberalism has been the dominant economic ideology shaping social policy in Britain and many other countries since the early 1980s.

This post outlines four key ideas associated with a neoliberal view of education including:

  1. Competition between schools (‘endogenous’ privatisation)
  2. External (exogenous) privatisation of education
  3. Choice and voice for parents and pupils
  4. Surveillance of teachers and top down performance management.

Neoliberalism has influenced education in Britain since the New Right were in power from 1979 to 1997, during New Labour (1997 to 2010) and since the Coalition and Conservative reign which started in 2010 and continues to this day with the recent coronation of the unelected multimillionaire and darling of the neoliberal global economic elite Rishi Sunak.

While neoliberal ideas have transformed education in Britain over the last 40 years, although we are nowhere near having a pure free-market system in education system, and many neoliberal ideas have been ‘restrained’ by more social democratic (left wing) thinking.

Endogenous Privatisation

Endogenous privatisation is where public sector organisations are made to work in a more business like way by creating ‘quasi-market systems’.

The main policy which introduced endogenous privatisation in England and Wales was the 1988 Education Reform Act, enacted by the New Right government under Thatcher who was strongly influenced by Neoliberal ideas.

The Reform Act introduced League Tables and gave parents choice over what school to send their children to. Schools then had to compete for pupils as funding was linked to how many pupils they attracted (known as formula funding).

The problem with this type of endogenous privatisation was that it led to cream skimming and polarisation:

The best performing school in league tables were oversubscribed and skimmed off the higher ability students, the worst schools had to just take the lower ability students that were not chosen by the best schools. This resulted in the better performing schools getting better and the lower performing schools getting worse (polarisation).

Another problem was that in the late 1980s and early 1990s the better schools would exclude any students who were naughty to keep their results high.

Successive education policies up until the present day have had to ‘tweak’ the above competitive education system to try and stop schools from excluding weaker students and to encourage a wider range of schools to take on lower ability students.

Two ways they have done this is to modify League Tables so they now show ‘value added’ – what a school adds to a student’s ability based on where they started, rather than ‘pure grades’, and they’ve linked funding to how long a student stays in school to try and cut down on exclusions.

The Pupil Premium also encouraged schools to take on higher numbers of disadvantaged students who typically have lower academic performance by linking more funding to those students.

Exogenous Privatisation

Exogenous privatisation is privatisation from the outside through new providers – it where private companies take over services which had previously been run by the public sector.

Exogenous privatisation was advanced mainly under the New Labour government (1997 to 2010) and the Coalition and Tory government and has been a gradual process which continues to this day.

An example of exogenous privatisation in education is Connexions career services taking over career advice from schools. Careers advice had previously been done in-schools through in-house careers advisors who were on the payroll of the schools and thus the state. Today more and more schools ‘outsource’ their careers services to connexions which is a privately run company which operates for a profit.

Another example is companies such as Pearsons playing a more central role in producing text books and running GCSE and A-level exams.

Exogenous Privatisation isn’t purely a free-market activity as it doesn’t involve parents and pupils paying money directly to companies like Connexions and Pearsons. Rather, it is where the government takes tax payers money and gives it to these companies rather than the government employing people directly and paying them to run these services.

The theory is that companies can run aspects of educational services more efficiently than the government.

Increased choice for Parents

Given parents choice is necessary for there to be an education market. Parents need to be able to choose which schools to send their children too in order for schools to compete for pupils.

The general idea is that increased competition will incentivise schools to raise standards.

But New Labour and the New Conservatives (from 2010) have also been pushing an increase in both diversity of school provision and personalisation of learning, which both reflect a move towards a late-modern consumer culture within education.

Increasing school diversity

Two main policies have increased school diversity – the introduction of academies in the late 1990s under New Labour and then the introduction of Free Schools under the Coalition Government.

Academies increased diversity by getting a much wider range of companies involved with running schools. England and Wales now have dozens of academies and academy chains, and well over 50% of secondary schools are now academies.

Free Schools took diversity and choice to a new level – any group of parents, charity, organisation can apply to run a free school and as long as they come up with a viable model and there is demand they will be approved.

There are currently over 500 Free Schools in the United Kingdom, offering able parents the most choice they’ve ever had in running their own school.

Increased personalisation of learning

Teachers are now expected to tailor their teaching to individual students. You see this most obviously in independent learning plans and learning agreements and periodic reviews of progress with individual students.

Top Down Performance Management

A final aspect of neoliberal education policy is top down management which involves more surveillance of teachers and pupils.

Many academies are huge chains with one ‘super head’ at the top, some on salaries of hundreds of thousands of pounds. The super head is effectively the CEO of the academy chain and he or she monitors the performance of all the schools in that chain.

And the heads of individual schools monitor the performance of their staff within their own schools.

If one school within the chain is underperforming, the management may well be sacked and a new manager/ headmaster shipped in, possibly from another school in the chain.

All of this has meant increased surveillance of schools, teachers, pupils, so that regular assessments of progress can be made by those at the top and suitable interventions made to tackle underperforming schools and individuals.

Taking over of failing schools

One aspect of increased surveillance is that schools deemed to be failing or even ‘acceptable’ in OFSTED reports are subject to forced acadamisation. This was a big thing under the Coalition government from 2010.

This meant that failing or acceptable LEA schools (funded through local government) were handed over to existing academy chains to be run by them, and to have their budgets managed by the academy chain rather than the local authority.

Signposting and Related Posts

The requirement to learn the neoliberal perspective on education was introduced to the education topic within the AQA A-level sociology specification in 2015.

Neoliberalism is closely related to the New Right, and I think it’s accurate to say that the former informed the later, but Neoliberalism is broader than the New Right, so it is NOT CORRECT to say they are the same thing, as you will find to be the case in the 2016 edition of Haralambos.

However, for the sake of the mid-level sociology student aiming for a C or B grade, you can probably mix the two up and treat them as the same in any essay question on the New Right and/ or Neoliberalism and still get a B grade (you could probably even get an A grade) for the essay as there is considerable overlap between the two!

If you’re interested in reading my take on the difference read this post: The New Right and Neoliberalism: An Introduction.

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Sources

This post is a further summary of The Neoliberal Approach to Education Reform which is itself a summary of Stephen Ball’s (2013) The Education Debate.

2022’s A-level Grades aren’t real, but then again they never were….

Unsurprisingly this year’s 2022 A-Level results are considerably worse than the previous two years with only 82.1% of entries gaining a grade C or above compared to 88.2% in 2021.

This is because this year’s results are based on students having sat actual exams rather than the results from 2021 and 2020 when the results were simply taken from what is euphemistically referred to as ‘Teacher Predicted Grades’, although maybe ‘Teacher Fantasy Grades’ would be a more accurate term.

The overall results haven’t slumped all the way back down to the pre-pandemic levels of 2019, the last time students sat actual exams under normal conditions, but they are around half way back to where they were…

I want to say this ‘feels’ about right – it feels right that we are now back to half way between 2019 and the ‘fantasy grades’ of 2020-2021 which were gifted by teachers – and it feels right because students had ‘advanced information’ this year so that they knew some of the specific topics they would be tested on in their exams.

So it makes sense that the grades are better than the previous norm.

But one of the most interesting quotes surrounding this year’s results is from Dr Jo Saxton, the chief regulator of Ofqual….

To my mind this implies that Ofqual has simply set the grade boundaries for this year so that they fall midway between last year’s fantasy results and the last set of pre-pandemic results.

NB – this setting of grade boundaries is done AFTER all the papers have been marked in terms of number grades and the A* to E boundaries are stretched to broadly fit last year’s percentages, so in normal years we’re unlikely to see a radical spike or fall in the amount of any students getting certain grades.

And what they’ve done here seems to be pretty much the only thing they could have done to stop the whole exam system losing credibility – bring them crashing back down to 2019 levels and it makes the Teacher Predicted Grades into literal Teacher Fantasy Grades (which they are but us humans are quite good at kidding ourselves), keep them the same as last year and it makes a total mockery out of the pre-pandemic standards.

So they are left with a ‘staging year’ – bring the results 50% back down and then next year we’ll be back probably to within 1% of 2019 levels with ‘credibility restored’.

Do A-level Results lack validity..?

Well clearly YES, SOME of the teacher-given results from 2020 and 2022 are just false – they are NOT what some students would have achieved under regular exam conditions and the teachers and students probably knew this.

This year’s results have more validity than the previous two years because at least students sat some kind of test – in fact I’m inclined to say that maybe the 2022 results have MORE validity because students had an idea what was coming up – meaning they could be better prepared for the exams, rather than having to take a broad-based approach and revise EVERYTHING less thoroughly.

If we look at the last FOUR years of results taken together what they really lack is RELIABILITY – students not being assessed in the same way across any of the four years 2019-2022 means we can’t compare results fairly from across these four years.

But is this a problem….?

It most certainly is for universities who will currently have students on their courses who shouldn’t be because of TFGs – and I think this years’ cohort who just got their 2022 results will be negatively affected too as they are having to compete probably harder with a higher proportion of students with TFGs who would have deferred from last year.

And employers are going to have a mess with figuring out who the best candidates actually are because they can’t make accurate comparisons between 2019-2022 A-level graduates based on their grades which are measuring different things.

However let’s not forget that education has a value in itself, an intrinsic value and exam results are only a small factor, and in the grand scheme of things the important thing is that all of these students over the last four years would have learnt hopefully some useful knowledge, it’s only their paper results that are messed up, and that’s not the end of the world!

Children on Free School Meals earn less as adults

New research from the Office for National Statistics suggests more support for the long term impact of material deprivation on the educational outcomes and future earnings potential of poorer students compared to richer students.

Analysis of long term data trends by the ONS shows that students who have been in receipt of free school meals are less likely to go onto university and less likely to go onto higher paid graduate jobs as a result, compared to students who have not been in receipt of free school meals.

The researchers compared the earnings of people who were aged 30 between April 2016 and April 2019 (but not published until August 2022), and found that the median income of independently schooled children was twice that of Free School Meals children in state schools…

  • Free School Meals (FSM) pupils had a median income of £17 000
  • Non FSM (State school) pupils had a median income of around £20 000
  • Independently schooled pupils (where there are no Free School Meals) had a median income of around £35 000.

They also looked at what the top 1% of earners were earning….

  • The top 1% of non FSM pupils earned £63 000
  • The top 1% of non FSM pupils earned £85 000
  • The top 1% of independently schooled children earned £180 000.

So ‘class differences’ in earnings are large in the middle (median) and get larger when you get towards the top of income earners, at least at age 30.

This is a useful update for A-level sociology students studying the education module, typically as part of their first year.

You can find details of the full research, analysis and data sets here: ONS: Why Free School Meal Recipients Earn Less Than Their Peers.

Why do Free School Meal Students earn less than Independently Schooled Students?

This longitudinal analysis was able to look at several factors together to try to explain why FSM students earn less at age 30 that non-FSM and independently school students and concluded that the two main factors were:

  • FSM students were much less likely to go to university than their non FSM and independently schooled peers.
  • FSM students had accrued less labour market experience by age 30 than their peers.
  • 5% of the differences in earnings at age 30 remained unexplained.
  • NB the study also noted that it didn’t have the data to explore the role which social and cultural capital and direct class discrimination may have played in the above.

Selected Data from the Study….

IMO this data belongs firmly in the ‘punishingly depressing’ category. For starters FSM kids are around 3 times less likely to go to university than their independently schooled peers…

Only 16.2% of FSM kids go onto university compared to 57.2% of privately educated kids. The differences get larger when we go up to Masters and PhD level…

Possibly even more depressing is the data below….

Graduates from independent schools at age 30 earn twice as much as graduates who had been in receipt of free school meals.

However the differences are smaller once we get beyond degree level…

Limitations of this research study

The primary limitation is that this study uses historical data from 2016-2019 and thus may not be relevant to our current post-16 educational landscape.

The introduction of tuition fees for University and the rapid increase in Apprenticeships over the last five years could mean this situation is already changing.

And as the researchers say they are limited to a relatively narrow set of quantitative data – there is no ‘rich data’ that enables us to measure factors such as the role of cultural or social capital.

But despite these limitations this is another important, if punishingly depressing reminder that by age 30 average independent school pupils are earning as much as bright FSM pupils, so maybe this is yet more support for the continued relevance of the Marxist perspective on education…?

Why has Competition for the Top University Places Increased…?

According to The Guardian, over 10 000 A-level students who are predicted to get three Bs in their A-levels this summer haven’t got a firm offer at any university – they will be relying on clearing.

This is because competition for those top places has increased this year, and there are two main reasons for this it seems…

In the short term, universities were forced to take on more students in the last two years because of grade inflation from Teacher Predicted Grades so they are chock-full already.

Universities have responded to this by increasing their required grades this year, because they don’t want to risk being over-subscribed for a third year in a row. They are simply being more cautious!

In the longer term there are also more 17-18 year olds applying to university now because of the (small) baby-boom in the mid 2000s – those babies are now coming to the age where they are applying for university…

The sad news for today’s younger teenagers is that the competition for places is going to be fierce for a few more years yet because this year’s university application cohort were born in 2005, and that ‘mini boom’ doesn’t peak until 2011….

Of course if the Pandemic doesn’t come back and get responded to with another chosen lock-down then Universities might be able to gradually increase capacity over the next few years to meet the increasing numbers of applicants, it’s not a severe spike after all, just a combination of factors causing a squeeze for this year.

In the meantime if you’re not getting your first choice It might be an idea to take a year or two out, you can always do a degree later on in life, and it’s becoming increasingly questionable whether they are worth doing anyway!

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Marxism Applied to Topics in A-level Sociology

The easiest way for students to prepare for the Theory and Methods parts of the A-Level Sociology Paper 1 and Paper 3 exams is to revise how Marxism applies to the different topic areas usually taught as part of the specification – typically the Family, Education, Religion and Crime and Deviance.

For an overview of these two papers please see my ‘exams advice page’.

This post is a summary of how Marxism applies to these topic areas.

Research Methods Implications

  • Scientific Marxism – The purpose of research is to find out more about the laws of Capitalism to see when revolution is ripe
  • Requires a Cross National Macro-Approach to social research focusing on economics and how the economy affects society
  • Humanistic Marxism – Research can be more varied, focusing on highlighting social injustices in order to make people more critical of Capitalism (Not value free!)

Marxism applied to the family

  • Capitalism, Private Property and The Family
  • The family as a safe haven

More at the Marxist Perspective on the Family.

Marxism and Education

  • The ideological state apparatus
  • Reproduction/ Legitimation of class inequality
  • Correspondence Principle
  • Cultural Capital

More at the Marxist Perspective on Education.

Dependency Theory

  • Colonialism and Slavery
  • The Modern World System
  • Unfair trade rules
  • TNC exploitation

More at Dependency Theory .

Marxism applied to Crime and Deviance

  • Private Property and Crime
  • The costs of Corporate Crime
  • Selective Law Enforcement
  • Criminogenic Capitalism (‘Dog Eat Dog“ Society)

For more see The Marxist Perspective on Crime and Deviance.

Marxism – more advanced theory

Using what Marxists say about the above topic areas is just one way to approach a theory question on Marxism, another way is to use the work of specific Marxists such as Althusser and Gramsci, and of course Marx himself. These ideas are outlined in this revision post: Marxism A-level Sociology Revision Notes.

For more links to Marxist theory please see my Theory and Methods page for A2 Sociology.

The Covid Catch Up Premium – Woefully Inadequate…?

The UK government’s main policy to help students catch up on missed schooling during the Pandemic has been to provide extra funding to schools on a per pupil basis.

The extra funding amounts to around £600 million, which sounds like a lot, but this is only equivalent to £80 per pupil, but with more being allocated for students with special educational needs.

If you are studying for this years A-level sociology exams you should consider and critically evaluate this policy, not only as it should have affected your own life, but also because you should be able to use this in the PAPER 1 exam as ‘education policies’ is the topic selected in the pre-release advanced information – something about Policies WILL come up, most likely an essay, and so you SHOULD be able to use material on covid catch-up policies.

To give you an idea of just how little money this is once it gets to schools check out this policy response document from one school.

So that’s £68 000 for 966 pupils.

Let’s assume that this school is going to focus on the 35% disadvantaged pupils….

So that would be £68 000 for 350 pupils (approximately), each of whom would have missed around 20 weeks of schooling over the last two years.

So what can that $68K buy for the school….

Let’s assume like for like and that they’re going to fund 6 months worth of catch up, then that £68K would buy….

  • About 3 qualified teachers (pay their salaries for 6 months) – with classes of 35 and 5 lessons of an hour a day (to make the maths easier) that could mean an extra 2.5 hours of lesson per pupil per week.
  • With smaller classes of 15-20 that’s 1 hour and 15 minutes a week.
  • Or about 3400 hours of one on one tuition (at £20 an hour) – a total 10 hours each per pupil over 6 months.
  • Or they could pay for around 6 Full time support workers, but the benefits of those are more difficult to quantify.

NB all of the above assumes ONLY the 35% of disadvantaged students getting extra help at the same rate, it doesn’t factor in SEN pupils and assumes 65% of students get nothing.

So TLDR – this catch up funding means 10 hours of extra tuition for disadvantaged pupils for 6 months in smallish classes of around 15 pupils.

So ask yourself – is 10 hours enough to catch up on 20 weeks of missed schooling?

Is it fair that 65% of pupils get nothing? (In my hypothetical model)

Oh and one final thing, if you feel as if you’ve got no extra support to catch up following lessons lost due to Covid, this might explain why!

Relevance to A-level Sociology

This is directly relevant to the Education topic, and should be useful in this year’s 2022 exam!

The ‘Adultification’ of Black Children in Schools

Black children are still three times as likely than white children to be excluded from school according to a recent report by the Commission for Young Lives.

One of the main reasons for this is what the report calls the ‘adulfication’ of black children – where teachers (and other authority figures such as the police) tend to see black children as being older and less innocent than children from other ethnic minority backgrounds. This enables those in power to justify treating black children more harshly.

This recent research is relevant to the sociology of education, and especially the continued relevance of labelling theory in explaining differential exclusion rates.

Different exclusion rates

Exclusion rates saw an overall increase in the decade up to 2019, before the socially chosen reaction to the Pandemic (i.e. Lockdown which included school closures) made comparisons of such trends more difficult.

Immediately prior to the Pandemic, some types of student were much more likely to be excluded than others.

Depressingly not that much seems to have changed since the 1990!

Why are some children more likely to be excluded than others?

There are different reasons depending on each case, but one thing the report highlights is the ‘adultification’ of black children.

This is where authority figures such as teachers tend to see black children, both boys and girls, as more grown up and less innocent than white children. Thus they think they are more responsible for their actions and this can justify the harsher punishments they receive for deviant behaviour, such as being excluded.

The report also includes a story from a mother of a boy with Autism which documents his journey of being labelled with ‘behavioural difficulties’ in school, to being temporarily and then permanently excluded.

The boy moved to a Pupil Referral Unit, then back to mainstream education, but his mother and the school kind of lost track of him during the Pandemic somehow, he got involved with ‘the wrong friends’, possibly gang and drug connected, and ended up murdering someone before he turned 16.

in this case the mother claimed that the school system let her son down through inadequate provision for his special educational needs.

The consequences of being excluded

While it’s not a path set in stone the report notes that 60% of young people getting court orders and 60% of those in prison have been excluded from school.

But this doesn’t necessarily mean one causes the other, there are multiple factors at work in such pathways!

Sources:

Commission for Young Lives (2022) All Together Now: Inclusion not exclusion: supporting all young people to succeed in school.

Advanced Information for the AQA A-level Sociology exam 2022: Education Paper 1

The [pre-release information](https://filestore.aqa.org.uk/content/summer-2022/AQA-7192-AI-22.PDF) for Paper 1 has selected the broad topic of education policies as the one which students will DEFINITELY be tested on…

the significance of educational policies, including problems of selection, marketisation and privatisation, and policies to achieve greater equality of opportunity or outcome, for an understanding of the structure, role, impact and experience of and access to education; the impact of globalisation on educational policy’.

The problem is, this is very broad topic, probably best further broken down into a number of separate bullet points:

There are FOUR broad types of policy:

  • selection policies
  • marketisation policies
  • privatisation policies
  • policies to achieve greater equality of opportunity or outcome,

You need to be able to consider all of the above policies have affected the social structure and other institutions, the way in which (different types of) student experience school, and how they have affected equality of access to education, and educational outcomes (who gets what results.

In addition to all of the above you also need to be able to discuss and evaluate the impact of globalisation on educational policy!

Phew!

NB I don’t think there are any quick fixes with this topic area, it’s just going to be a hard grind of revision trying to cover all the material!

Where I covered these topics on ReviseSociology.com

NB the exam board has been asking students to focus on policies ‘since 1988 for several years’ so I think it’s reasonable to expect the same

  • Every student should know in depth the 1988 Education Reform Act – which introduced Marketisation.
  • New Labour’s policies carried on with Marketisation (choice) and introduced more policies to do with equality of opportunity
  • The Coalition’s Policies included Free Schools (more choice) and the Pupil Premium – the later an attempt at
  • Selection Policies include the tripartite system from the 1940s, but the linked post in this bullet point covers more recent selection policies and concepts such as ‘selection by mortgage’
  • Privatisation polices come in two ‘broad types’ – endogenous and exogenous, covered in this linked post.
  • Globalisation and Education is covered here

You will find more links to posts on education policies on my sociology of education page.

Good luck with the 2022 exams and happy revising!

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