results have improved since marketisation, but at the expense of teaching the test and widening class inequalities.
In this post I provide 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.
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.
This topic is part of the ‘perspectives on education’ topic and ‘education policies’, links to both can be found on the education home page.
1 in 3 sixth formers now receive at least one unconditional offer from a university. 117 000 students received a university offer with at least one unconditional element last year, compared to just 3000 five years earlier. (Guardian article, Jan 31st 2018).
And according to the latest UCAS figures, there are 20 universities which are fuelling the trend. Nottingham Trent is at the top of the list – 40% of its offers last year were unconditional.
Russel Group universities are much less likely to make unconditional offers, although of these Birmingham has an 11% unconditional rate.
Of particular concern to UCAS is the rise of so called ‘conditional unconditional offers’ which is where universities make an unconditional offer to a student so long as they make that university their first choice.
At root we have a competitive, free-market higher education system: universities have to compete for students and making unconditional offers is one way universities can make themselves more appealing (I mean, who wants to actually have pass exams to get in?!)
It could also be due to the increasing amount of apprenticeships looking more appealing than university. There are hundreds of thousands of these after all and surely a 1-2 year apprenticeship where you actually paid is going to be more appealing than a 3 year degree and £30K of debt at the end?
Finally, it’s worth noting that unconditional offers are more likely to be handed out by the lower end universities, most of the Russel Group universities make very few unconditional offers, and students generally have to pass their exams to get in.
Problems with unconditional offers…
As I see it, there are three main problems…
Firstly, these may not be in the students’ best interest. They may reduce stress for you in your exam year, but they may lead you into a three year degree that has little value at the end of it. Worse, an unconditional offer may attract you to doing the wrong degree and saddle you with £9K of debt after one year with nothing to show for it.
Secondly – it’s likely to have a detrimental affect on school and college results that the more unconditional offers their students get then the worse the A level results are going to be – why work when you’re going to get in anyway?
Thirdly, it doesn’t seem fair on those students who get standard offers….. at least not in the final exam year when they’re under stress. In the long run, these students may be better off with better A-levels and having got into better universities!
Could this be a topic for a ‘horrible’ methods in context question: look at the strengths and limitations of ‘A method’ for researching the increase in unconditional university offers’ – it’s horrible, but VERY relevant to the majority of sociology students.
I say either ban unconditional offers absolutely, or ration them to a handful per institution, which have to be ‘sponsored’ by the pastoral team, and backed up with hard evidence that there is a need for them (due to severe deprivation, abuse, emotional issues), in the name of equality of educational opportunity.
Also, it’s 2019 now, time for 18 year olds to apply to uni AFTER they get their A-levels results in mid-August?
This is one possible example of a 10 mark ‘with item’ question which could come up in the AQA’s A level sociology paper 2: topics in sociology (section B: beliefs in society option).
Read the item, and then answer the question below.
Karl Marx famously argued that religion was the ‘opium of the masses’ and Simone de Beauvoir argued that religion compensated women for their second class status. Both theorists believed that religion was an ideological tool which pacified the oppressed.
These views have, however, been criticized:
Applying material from the item, analyse two criticisms of the view that religion is merely a tool of oppression (10)
Firstly, Marxist and Feminist views tend to downplay the positive functions of religion.
As Functionalists have pointed out, it is quite likely that some form of religious belief and organisation is functional (i.e. beneficial for the individual and society) given that religion is practically universal (i.e found in nearly all societies).
Functionalists have pointed to many positive functions of religion – such as helping people deal with death and societies deal with transition and times of uncertainty. Rather than this being about simply keeping inequality in place, it could be that religion benefits everyone by keeping society stable.
Furthermore, people still practiced religion in secret in communist countries when religion was banned, suggesting that they actively wanted religion for their own comfort, rather than it simply being something forced on them by elites.
You could argue that a similar thing is found with religion today in the form of ‘civil religion’ – where people find comfort in quasi-religious ceremonies such as Football matches and Royal Weddings… again this seems to be a matter of choice, and because attendance is optional, it’s hard to argue that these ‘shallower’ forms of religion have a sinister social control function like Marxists and Feminists suggest!
Secondly, The above theories assume that people simply passively accept an elitist interpretation of religious doctrines. There is plenty of evidence that this is not always the case.
Liberation theology is a good example of this: where Catholic Church leaders in Latin America took the side of the landless peasants, and argued against the elitist interpretation that inequality was God’s will: instead helping the poor fight back against inequality and elite institutions and attempting to bring about a more equal society.
This is supporting evidence for the Neo-Marxist view that religion is not simply controlled by elites, but is relatively autonomous, thus meaning it can be a tool for social change.
From an Islamic Feminist point of view, Nawal el Sadawi argued that Islam was not inherently patriarchal, but rather that it had been interpreted in a patriarchal way in patriarchal societies (patriarchy comes first, if you like!). She further argued that it was perfectly possible for women to challenge Patriarchal interpretations of Islam, as she herself did, thus meaning it doesn’t have to be a tool of social control and pacification.
A postmodern analysis of religion further supports the ‘active intepretation’ criticisms of Marxism and Feminism – today people are much more likely to pick and mix their religious beliefs, and reject anything they don’t like, and use religion at selected times when they find it useful. This is hardly religion controlling and pacifying the population!
This is one possible example of a 10 mark ‘with item’ question which could come up in the AQA’s A level sociology paper 2: topics in sociology (section B: beliefs in society option).
Read the item, and then answer the question below.
Feminists have criticized many traditional religions such as Christianity and Islam for being patriarchal: positions of power within the traditional institutions of both religions are largely controlled by men, an both tend to support traditional roles for men and women.
Feminists have also suggested that the New Age Movement appeals much more to women because it celebrates many aspects of femininity that traditional institutions seek to repress.
Applying material from the item, analyse two reasons for gender differences in the membership of religious organisations (10)
Simone de Beauvoir suggested that Christianity offered women spiritual compensation for accepting their inferior roles in society as housewives and mothers.
However, now that more women are in work, and they place less emphasis on the importance of such traditional gender roles, there is less need for such spiritual compensation, hence why the numbers of women attending church may be declining.
Middle class women especially may find the New Age Movement appealing because it allows them to ‘shop’ for their particular therapy, and demands very low levels of commitment.
the NAM is also less focused on social roles, and allows women (and men) a much greater degree of freedom to express their feminine sides – it celebrates nurturing and caring and emotion in a much more ‘fun’ way than traditional churches tend to, which again might appeal to postmodern women more.
It is also more accepting of diversity and thus much less likely to look down on women who are divorced.
Secondly, traditional religious organisations tend to encourage the repression of female sexuality: Catholicism for example is anti-abortion and anti-contraception.
This does not fit in age of female sexual liberation and greater sexual promiscuity. Since the contraception and the pill (what Giddens calls ‘plastic sexuality’), which may explain why women are turning away from the church.
In contrast, the New Age Movement actually celebrates female sexuality. This may also explain why men don’t feel that attracted the the NAM, maybe they are threatened by empowered women, reflecting a crisis of masculinity.
Finally, the New Age Movement, in its pick and mix approach and celebration of diversity, is more likely to appeal to gender diverse individuals, as it is not against homosexuality like more traditional religions tend to be.
Applying material from item A and elsewhere analyse two reasons why marketization policies may have increased inequality of educational opportunities for some students (10)
What you need to apply the hooks to
Since the 1980s, a major aim of government policy has been to increase parental choice in education. In order to increase choice, the government introduced Open Enrolement, allowing parents to choose more than one school and league tables on school performance were also made publicly available.
However, critics of marketization argue that such polices have increased inequality of educational opportunity.
The first way is that although open enrolement gave parents the right to choose more than one school, technically giving all parents the right to choose the ‘best schools’, middle class children have more effective choice than working class parents.
Development/ analysis: This is because middle class parents have more cultural capital than working class parents – they are more comfortable with reading school literature, attending open evenings and filling in multiple application forms (where they can use their elaborated speech skills), while working class parents are less confident and just end up sending their children to the local schools.
Further development/ analysis: This is further compounded by the ‘school-parent alliance’ – schools want middle class children because they know they get better results, which
Further development/ analysis: An even more basic reason is selection by mortgage – schools have catchment areas, and the houses which fall inside these catchment areas are more expensive, meaning only wealthier children get selected for such schools.
Further development/ analysis: All of this means that ‘choice policies’ have resulted in unequal opportunities for working class children, because they are less likely to be selected for the best schools, not because of their individual potential, but because the higher levels of material and cultural capital of the middle classes gives them more effective choice and thus a greater opportunity to be selected for the best schools.
A second way is that league tables have resulted in schools tending to focus more on formal academic subjects such as English and maths which possibly disadvantages those children who are not good at formal academic subjects.
Development – Because schools are now concerned about their position in the league tables, which depends on their reports and exam results, they have narrowed the curriculum to focus more on core subjects such as English and Maths, putting more resources into these subjects – this is good for those pupils who like those subjects, but bad for students who are gifted in sports or creative subjects, as these are now relatively less funded, meaning there is no equality of opportunity for all students to fulfil their diverse potentials.
Development – Postmodernists would argue this is especially problematic in a postmodern society which is supposed to be more individualised – surely in such a society, if schools are to provide equality of opportunity then they would diversify the way their resources are distributed rather than focusing them more narrowly on ‘core subjects’ for the sake of going up the league tables.
Evaluation – Having said this, the above point only applies to schools: it is quite possible that students who are more creative or vocational will put less emphasis on the cores subjects and instead take advantage of the greater diversity of ‘learning opportunities’ now available outside school to explore their talents, such as online courses and apprenticeships, which you could say ‘fit in’ with the idea of ‘an education market’.
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.
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:
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…
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.
The Coalition also introduced a new type of school: Free Schools, which took their inspiration from Sweden.
A Free School in England is a type of Academy, a non-profit-making, state-funded school which is free to attend. Free schools are not controlled by a Local Authority (LA) but instead governed by anon-profit charitable trust.
Unlike Academies, Free Schools are new schools, many of which are run by parents. They are not required to follow the national curriculum, as long as they teach English Maths and Science, and they do not have to employ qualified teachers.
Between 2010 and 2015 more than 400 free schools were approved for opening in England by the Coalition Government, representing more than 230,000 school places across the country.
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).
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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:
Enjoying and achieving
Making a positive contribution
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.
The New Right’s 1988 Education Act introduced marketisation to British schools, through league tables and open enrolment. This post explores some of the strengths and limitations of these policies.
The 1988 Education Reform Act was based on the principles of making schools more competitive (marketisation) and giving parents choice (parentocracy). The act introduced GCSEs and league tables and laid the foundations for our contemporary competitive education system.
It is the most significant policy that students need to be able to understand and evaluate within the education module for A-level sociology.
The act was introduced by the New Right and this post starts off by exploring their ideas about education and then covers the specific details of the act itself, before evaluating the impact of 1988 Education Act.
Core Aims of The New Right in Education
The New Right refers to a set of ideas that emerged in the 1970’s. It has significantly influenced the policies of the UK Conservative Party and is a set of political beliefs about how the country should be run. New Right ideas have most been mostly strictly followed by the Conservative when they have been in power in the UK firstly, 1979-1997 and again since 2010.
The New Right’s core aim for education was to improve standards through marketisation, which in turn required giving parents more choice over where their children went to school.
Marketisation means creating an “education “market”. This is achieved through making schools compete with one another for pupils and government funding, in the same way in which businesses compete with each other for customers, sales and profits.
Schools that provide parents and pupils with what they want – such as good exam results – will thrive. The better performing schools will attract more pupils and more funding and be able to expand.
Those schools that don’t perform so well will go out of business and either close down or be taken over by new management who will run things more efficiently.
Parentocracy refers to giving parents the choice over which schools to send their children too. (In literal terms, it means ‘the rule of the parents’.)
For marketization to work parents must have a choice of where to send their children. Parental choice directly affects the school budget – every extra pupil means extra money for the school. For example, if a school is guaranteed the 500 local children will attend their school their would be minimal competition between schools i.e. minimal competition for funding the policy won’t work unless parents a choice over which school to send their pupils to! To make this word schools have been required to publish a prospectus which includes their examination and test results since 1988.
Private schools have always operated on these principles – they charge fees and compete with each other for customers. The New Right believed that state schools should also be run like this except that it is the government that funds the schools, not the fee-paying parents.
The New Right’s theory was that marketisation would improve efficiency in schools, which should automatically be achieved by making schools more competitive 0 therefore reducing the education budget.
(NB another aim of the New Right in education was to ensure that education equipped children with the skills for work, thus contributing to economic growth)
The New Right’s 1988 Education Reform Act put in place the policies which aimed to achieve the goal of raising standards. This is the act which more than any other has shaped the modern education system. The 1997 New Labour and the 2010 Coalition Government which followed kept to the basic system established in 1988.
The 1988 Education Act: Specific Details
The New Right introduced school league tables in which schools were ranked based on their exam performance in SATs, GCSES, and A levels. The tables are published in many newspapers and online. The idea behind league tables was to allow parents to easily assess which schools in their local areas are the best. A bit like “What car?” magazine, but for schools.
Back in 1988 these League Tables were only available as government publications and in school’s prospectuses, but obviously today these have evolved so that they are now searchable for any school online!
The New Right theorised that League tables would force schools to raise standards because no parent would want to send their child to a school at the bottom.
The National Curriculum
The national curriculum required that all schools teach the same subject content from the age of 7-16. From 1988 all schools were required to teach the core subjects English, Maths, Science etc at GCSE level. GCSE’s and SAT’s were also introduced as part of the National Curriculum.
The logic behind league tables was that with all schools following the same curriculum it made it easier for parents to compare and choose between schools (parentocracy), and GCSE and SATs meant every student, and more importantly, every school was assessed using the same type of exam.
Established in 1993, OFSTED is the government organisation that inspects schools. OFSTED reports are published and underachieving school are shut if they consistently receive bad reports. The aim of OFSTED is to drive up standards. The aim of this policy is to raise standards
OFSTED Raised standard because a poor inspection could result in new management being imposed on underperforming schools.
Open Enrolment (parental choice)
Open Enrolment is where parents are allowed to select multiple schools to send their children too, but only specifying one as their ‘first choice’.
The result of this was that some schools became oversubscribed, and these were allowed to select pupils according to certain criteria. The government stipulated some criteria (children with siblings already at the school got preference for example, and those closest to the school also got preference) but eventually the government allowed some schools to become ‘specialist schools’ where they were allowed to select 10% of their intake due to aptitude in a particular subject – maths, music or sport for example. Also, faith schools were allowed to select on the basis of faith.
From 1988 funding to individual schools was based on how many pupils enrolled in that school. Thus an undersubscribed school where fewer parents chose to send their children would decrease in size and possibly close, while an oversubscribed school could, if properly managed, expand.
The declining power of Local Education Authorities
The 1988 Education act gave more power to parents to choose which school to send their children too and more power to heads of school to manage their own budget, and these two changes together meant that Local Education Authorities lost a lot of their control over how education was managed at the county level.
Prior to the 1980s it was the Local Education Authorities which allocated pupils to schools in their local areas, and it was the Local Education Authorities which decided school numbers. Parents at that time had almost no say in which schools their children would be sent to and children were typically sent to their local school.
From 1980 parents were allowed to express a preference for the school they wanted to send their children too, the first time parents were realistically able to consider sending their children to schools miles away from where they lived. This started off the process of schools marketing themselves to parents to increase demand for their schools.
Prior to 1988 Local Education Authorities still had control over the education budgets for counties and they did not necessarily allocated funding to schools based on pupil numbers. They might in fact give extra money (in per pupil terms) to schools which were struggling to attract students in order to help them improve.
From a Neoliberal and New Right perspective the above is fundamentally flawed logic as it means that successful schools which are attracting more pupils are subsidising worse performing schools and so the 1988 Act required that LEASs hand over their money directly to schools based on pupil numbers (formula funding) which removed the power of LEAs to control local budgets.
It was this that then set the scene for successful schools to be able to expand and failing schools to collapse (and, following further policy changes later on under New Labour and other successive governments) to be taken over by successful schools.
The 1988 Education Act: Evidence that it Worked…
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.
There’s also the fact that no successive government has actually changed the fundamental foundations of the act, which suggests it’s working.
Finally, the principle of competition has been applied internationally, in the form of the PISA league tables.
However, an important point to keep in mind is that correlation doesn’t necessarily mean causation – GCSE results may have improved over the last 30 years WITHOUT marketisation policies.
Also, just because powerful governments have expanded marketisation on a global scale, this doesn’t necessarily mean it works for everyone, and there are plenty of criticisms of the negative consequences of the 1988 Education Act – as below…
Criticisms of the 1988 Education Act
Below I summarize EIGHT criticisms of the 1988 Education Act
League Tables distort teaching and learning
There has been criticism that the curriculum in schools has become more narrow over the years. as schools devoted more time to teaching core subjects which are assessed in SATs such as English and Maths and less time teaching creative subjects such as music and art.
schools increasingly ‘teach to the test’ – In order to look good in league tables which may stifle children’s ability to think critically and laterally.
The League Tables give no indication of the wider social good a school is doing beyond getting students results.
SATS harm children’s mental health
Concern has been expressed over the harmful effects of over-testing on pupils, especially younger pupils. Focusing on exam results and league table position causes stress for pupils as more pressure is put on them to perform well in SATS
The Middle Classes have more effective choice because of their higher incomes
Selection by mortgage -houses in the catchment areas of the best schools are more expensive, meaning those with money are more likely to get into the best schools
Transport costs – middle class parents more able to get their children to a wider range of schools because they are more likely to own two cars.
Cultural Capital gives the middle class more choice
The Middle classes have more effective choice because of their greatercultural and social capital
Stephen Ball (2003) refers to middle class parents as ‘skilled choosers’ – they are more comfortable dealing with schools and use social networks to talk to parents whose children are attending schools on offer. They are also more used to dealing with and negotiating with teachers. If entry to a school is limited, they are more likely to gain a place for their child.
Ball refers to working class parents as disconnected choosers – lacking cultural and social capital they tend to just settle for sending their children to the local school, meaning they have no real choice.
The best schools cream skim
Schools become more selective – they are more likely to want pupils who are likely to do well
Stephen Ball talks 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.
Inequality of Education Opportunity increases – the best schools get better and the worst get worse.
The best schools become oversubscribed – often with four or more pupils competing for each place. This means that these schools can ‘cream skim’ the best pupils – which means they get better results and so are in even more demand the next year. Schools are under pressure to cream skim because this increases their chance of rising up in the league tables.
Building on the above example… The next best school then skims off the next best students and so on until the worst schools at the bottom just end up with the pupils who no one wants. The schools at the bottom turn into sink schools…they just get worse and worse as no one chooses to go to them.
The experience of schooling becomes very negative for failing students
More testing means more negative labelling for those who fail
Schools put more effort into teaching those in the top sets to improve their A-C rates
Students who go to sink schools stand little hope of doing well.
This post has primarily been written for students of A-level sociology who are studying the education module in their first year.
This act is the major policy change of the last 50 years in British education, and associated with the ideas of the New Right.
The main aims, policy details and evaluations of the main waves of UK education policy – including the 1944 Butler Education Act, the introduction of Comprehensives in 1965, the 1988 Education Act which introduced marketisation, New Labour’s 1997 focus on academies and the 2010 Coalition government’s Free Schools.
Education policies is the largest topic within the sociology of education module. It can be a little overwhelming, and the best step is to learn the basic details of the policies first (taking a historical approach) and then focus on how each policy has influenced things such as equality of opportunity and standards of education.
This brief posts covers the main aims, policy details and evaluations of the main waves of UK education policy – including the 1944 Butler Education Act, the introduction of Comprehensives in 1965, the 1988 Education Act which introduced marketisation, New Labour’s 1997 focus on academies and the 2010 Coalition government’s Free Schools.
The 1944 Tripartite System
Selective education – students would receive a different education dependent on their ability. All students would sit a test at age 11 (the 11+) to determine their ability and sift them into the right type of school.
Equality of opportunity – All students in England and Wales have a chance to sit the 11 + . Previous to 1944, the only pupils who could get a good, academic equation were those who could afford it.
Details of the Act
Students took an IQ test at 11, the result of which determined which one of three three types of school the would attend:
The top 20% went to grammar schools, received an academic education and got to sit exams.
The bottom 80% went to secondary moderns. These provided a more basic education, and initially students didn’t sit any exams.
There were also technical schools which provided a vocational education, but these died out fairly quickly.
There were class inequalities – grammar schools were mainly taken up by the middle classes and secondary moderns by the lower classes.
The IQ test determined pupils futures at a very young age – no room for those who developed later in life.
Some of the secondary moderns had very low standards and labelled 80% of pupils as failures.
Gender inequalities – in the early days of the IQ tests girls had to get a higher score to pass than boys because it was thought they matured earlier than boys!
Equality of opportunity – one type of school for all pupils
Details of the act
The Tripartite System was abolished and Comprehensive schools established.
Local Education Authorities would maintain control of schools.
There were poor standards in some schools – especially where progressive education was concerned.
Banding and streaming occurred along social class lines – the working classes typically ended up in the lower bands and vice versa for the middle classes.
Parents had very little choice in education – it was nearly impossible to remove their children from the local school if they wanted, because it was thought that all schools were providing a similar standard of education.
The 1988 Education Act
To introduce free market principles (more competition) into the education system
to introduce greater parental choice and control over state education
Raising standards in education.
These are the aims associated with Neoliberalism and The New Right.
Details of the act
Marketisation and Parentocracy (schools compete for pupils parents are like consumers)
League Tables – so parents can see how well schools are doing and make a choice.
OFSTED – to regulate and inspect schools.
National Curriculum – so that all schools are teaching the same basic subjects
Formula Funding – funding based on numbers of pupils – which encourages schools to raise standards to increase demand.
Competition did increase standards – results gradually improved throughout the 1990s.
Selection by mortgage – the house prices in the catchment areas of the best schools increased, pricing out poorer parents.
Cream skimming – the best schools tended to select the best students, who were predominantly middle class.
The middle classes had more effective choice because of their higher levels of cultural capital.
League tables have been criticised for encouraging teaching to the test.
Education Policies – Signposting and Find out More
These very brief, bullet pointed revision notes have been written specifically for students studying towards their A-level Sociology AQA Education exam. For more detailed class notes on each policy please see the links above or further links on my main sociology of education page.
If you get a question of education policies, the chances are you will be asked about ‘education policies since 1988’. This handout is designed to get you thinking about how you could use the info on the New Right’s 1988 Education Act and New Labour’s policies from 1997 onwards to answer an exam question in this area.
The New Right’s 1988 Education Act
Not interested in equal opps, mainly interested in raising standards…
• Parentocracy – parents get to choose schools • Marketisation – schools have to compete like businesses for students • League tables to be published • The above should raise standards as no parent would send child to failing school • National Curriculum – ensures all schools teach core subjects • OFSTED inspections
How 1988 worsened equality of opportunity…
• Middle classes had more choice – cultural capital/ skilled choosers • School/ parent alliance (Stephen Ball) • Also selection by mortgage • Polarisation of schools – sink schools
New Labour’s Policies
More interested in equal opps
• Academies (Mossbourne) – set up in poorer areas • EMA • Sure start • Expanded Vocationalism
Other aims of New Labour/ criticisms of the idea that New Labour’s policies raised standards
• Sure start didn’t work • EMA did work but the Tories have now scrapped it • Academies did work but new Tory academies are more selective • Vocationalism offers more opportunities to the lower classes, but it is regarded as inferior.