Neoliberalism in Conservative and New Labour Education Policy (1979-1997)

The resurgence of neoliberalism between 1979 to 1997 resulted in a rolling back of the collectivist principles of welfare state and a return to Victorian era individualsim, a reassertion of the twin pillars of individual liberty defined as freedom to choose and market forces, or the discipline of competition.

Throughout this period, conservative economic policy was reoriented towards the neoliberal agenda of deregulation, privitasation and and liberalisation.

Neoliberalism under the conservative government (1979-1997)

Ball points to six key elements of the conservative (neoliberal) framework for education, the main platform for which was the 1988 Education Reform Act:

  • The establishment of a national curriculum – (What Ball refers to as revisionist – a Victorian fantasy with Britain at the centre as a benign power lighting the way for others)
  • Suspicion of teacher professionalism – accountability and control
  • ‘Teacher-proof’ evaluation – more market information
  • Offering parents choice
  • Devolution of budgets from LEAs to schools
  • Enhancement of roles of governors and headteachers in local management systems.

These elements tied together as a reform package that provided the infrastructure for an education market and the neoliberal vision of the education system focused on market reform, which also had six key elements:

  • Choice for parents
  • Per capita funding meant schools were driven by recruitment
  • Diversity of provision
  • Competition
  • League tables
  • New organisationl ecologies – management modeled on business – focusing on ‘efficient’ use of resources and budget maximisation.

Further features of the neoliberal education system include:

  • A complex infrastructure of testing
  • A discourse of othering – constructing inner cities as a problem in need of correction, for example.
  • The TVEI was also established to reorient schools to the needs of employers. This was intended to make colleges more vocationally oriented, provide job-related training to 14-18 year olds and steer students into boom industries.

 Neoliberalism under the New Labour Government (1997-2010)

When New Labour cam to power in 1997 there were three further shifts or ruptures which were subtle yet distinct inflections of the period of Thatcherism or neoliberalism:

  • A further move in political terms towards the knowledge economy
  • A reassertion of the state as the ‘competition state’
  • A re-articulation of values to new labour values Following Jessop (2002) a competition state ‘aims to secure economic growth within its borders and/or seek competitive advantage for capitals based in its borders’ by promoting the economic and extra-economic conditions necessary for competitive success.

There was a corresponding refocusing of funding so it was increasingly related to performance and competitive success and a move away from public funding to contract funding through private, voluntary or quasi-public bodies.

 Specific policies to drive up standards included:

  • priortiorising literacy and numeracy
  • performance tables were amended to show student progress
  • every school was to be inspected every six years
  • failing schools were to become fresh start schools
  • there were more standards and effectiveness units and task forces

Policy also became increasingly complex/ diverse and dynamic – it talked of culture of success, and the economic imperative became absolutely clear – which represented a change in tone of policy making.

Ball refers to New Labour’s third way as warmed-over neoliberalism. The Third Way preferred a flexible repertoire of state roles and responses (following Eagle 2003) rather than being into market fundamentalism…. but ultimately the aim of the state was not to replace the market, but to make sure it worked properly.

Later on through the agendas of increasing diversification, differentiation and personalisation of learning we see policy being adapted to the interests/ fears and skills of the middle classes.

There was a new emphasis on modernisation, flexibility and dynamism – responding to globalisation – Schools should be innovators

There was a move away from the discourse of the comprehensive school, minimum standards and the start of what Kenway (1990) calls a ‘discourse of derision’ – bog standard comprehensives were stereotypically portrayed as bad – in order to undermine public services.

Sources

Post sumarised from Stephen Ball’s (2013) – The Education Debate

The New Right’s View of Education

The New Right believe in Marketisation (schools competing like businesses) and Parentocracy (parental choice) and they are well known for introducing league tables, GCSEs and OFSTED in the UK as part the 1988 Education Reform Act.

This post covers the underlying principles of New Right thought and should be read along with this post on the 1988 Education Act which outlines specific New Right education policies

The New Right is closely associated with Neoliberalism, and this post (Neoliberalism and the New Right – An Introduction) covers the similarities and differences between them.

Underlying principles of the New Right

  • They believe the state (government) cannot meet people’s needs.

  • The most efficient way to meet people’s needs is through the free market – through private businesses competing with each other.

  • Economic growth is an important overall goal – to be achieved by allowing individuals the freedom to compete with each other.

Key ideas of The New Right on Education

  1. The New Right created an ‘education market’ – Schools were run like businesses – competing with each other for pupils and parents were given the choice over which school they send their children to rather than being limited to the local school in their catchment area. This lead to the establishment of league tables

  1. Schools should teach subjects that prepare pupils for work, Hence education should be aimed at supporting economic growth. Hence: New Vocationalism!

  1. The state was to provide a framework in order to ensure that schools were all teaching the same thing and transmitting the same shared values – hence the National Curriculum

Evaluation of New Right ideas on Education 

  • Competition between schools benefited the middle classes and lower classes, ethnic minorities and rural communities ended up having less effective choice – refer to the handout criticising the 1988 Education Act

  • Vocational Education was also often poor – refer to the HO on Vocational Education

  • There is a contradiction between wanting schools to be free to compete and imposing a national framework that restricts schools

  • The National Curriculum has been criticised for being ethnocentric and too restrictive on teachers and schools

The Neoliberal and New Right view of education 

You might also like the mind map below – a more up to date summary of neoliberalism and the new right

Neoliberal new right education.png

Education Revision Bundle CoverIf you like this sort of thing, then you might like my sociology of education revision notes bundle – which contains the following:

  1. 34 pages of revision notes
  2. mind maps in pdf and png format – 9 in total, covering various topics within the sociology of education
  3. short answer exam practice questions and exemplar answers
  4. how to write sociology essays, including 7 specific templates and model answers on the sociology of education

 

Related Posts 

Neoliberalism and the New Right – An Introduction

The 1988 Education Reform Act – Class Notes

The Functionalist Perspective on Education

The Marxist Perspective on Education

The New Right View of the Family