Academies in England and Wales

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Types of Academy

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

Sponsored Academies

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

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

Converter Academies

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

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

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

Free Schools

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

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

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

A History of Academies

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

Academies under New Labour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mossbourne Community Academy

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

Mossbourne Academy students lining up before lessons

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

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

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

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

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

By 2010 there were 203 Academies up and running.

Academies under the Coalition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Academies since 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

The growth of Academies in England and Wales

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

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

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

Growth of academies in England and Wales 2009 to 2020

Key for the above table:

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

There are more secondary than primary academies…

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

Multi Academy Trusts

Source: FFL datalabs

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

Approximately:

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

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

Evaluations of Academies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Signposting and Relevance to A-Level Sociology

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

Sources/ References

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

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

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

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

The academy trusts failing their schools

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Neoliberal Policies harming Children

In 2005 New Labour liberalised the gambling the laws, ending the ban on T.V. advertising, which is in line with neoliberal policies of decreasing state regulation of private companies.

12 years later and we have a situation where endless T.V. adverts glamorise gambling and hook new converts, and where online gambling companies such as 888 Sport and Paddy Power are targeting children with their online gambling games – exploiting a loophole in the law in which allows online games to advertise to children, but not casinos etc.

Toxic Childhood.png

According to the industry’s own regulator, the Gambling Commission, around 450 000 children, or one in six of all those aged 11-15 now gamble at least once a week.

It seems that in this case, the right of gambling companies to make a profit trumps the well being of our children (*), and there’s also a nice example of Toxic Childhood here…. not only do our kids now have to deal with information overload, the contradictions of staying thin while being surrounded by junk and the pressures of over-testing, they’ve now got to deal with a potential life time of gambling addiction.

*Come on, that was good.

Education Policy Under New Labour

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

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

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

New Labour education policy

New Labour and the Third Way

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

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

New Labour education polices inspired by the New Right

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

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

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

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

New Labour education policies inspired by the Social Democratic perspective

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

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

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

Curriculum Reforms under New Labour

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

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

Increased focus on Assessments and Targets

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

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

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

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

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

Specialist Schools

Labour greatly expanded the role of specialist schools 

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

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

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

Academies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sure Start

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

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

Four core aims of Sure Start Centres included:

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

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

By 2010, there were over 3300 Sure Start Centres.

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

Every Child Matters

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

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

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

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

The five common outcomes for children emphasised by ECM were:

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

Education Maintenance Allowance 

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

The Expansion of Higher Education

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Education Policies under New Labour

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

Education Action Zones 

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

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

Excellence in Cities

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

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

Evaluation of New Labour’s Education Policies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Signposting and Related Posts

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

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

Sources:

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

Haralmabos and Holborn (2013) Sociology: Themes and Perspectives

Office for National Statistics – Education: Historical Statistics

Education Policies – A Summary

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

Main aims

  • 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.

Evaluations

  • 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!

1965 Comprehensives

Main aims

  • 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.

Evaluations

  • 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

Main aims

  • 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.

Evaluations

  • 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.

Further Information in these Class notes on the 1988 Education Act.

1997 – New Labour

Main aims

  • To respond to increased competition due to globalisation
  • Raising standards
  • More focus on Equality of opportunity than the original New Right
  • Increasing choice and diversity

Details of policies

  • Increased funding to education
  • Reduced class sizes, introduced literacy and numeracy hour
  • Introduced Academies
  • Sure Start – Free nursery places for younger children 12 hours a week and advice for parents
  • Education Maintenance Allowance – EMA
  • Tuition fees introduced for HE

Evaluations

  • Early academies rose standards in poor areas a lot (Mossbourne)
  • Generally better at improving equality of opportunity than the New Right
  • Parents liked Sure Start but it didn’t improve education (improved health)
  • Tuition fees put working class kids off going to university (connor et al)

More details can be found in these class notes on New Labour and Education.

2010 The Coalition Government and the Conservative Government

Main aims

  • Same as the New Right
  • To reduce public spending on education due to the financial crisis.

Details of policies

  • Cut funding to education (Scrapped EMA)
  • Forced academisation – failing schools had to become Academies
  • Free Schools – charities/ businesses/ groups of parents given more freedom to set up their own schools
  • Pupil Premium – schools received extra funding for SEN and Free School Meals pupils.

Evaluations

  • Standards have carried on improving
  • Academisation and Free schools are both ideological – no evidence they improve standards more than LEA schools
  • Free schools – advantage the middle classes/ duplicate resources
  • Pupil Premium – too early to say!

Further information in these class notes on Coalition Education Policies.

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.

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

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 Neoliberal Approach to Education Reform

Stephen Ball argues that there are four central mechanisms through which neoliberalism has transformed the British education system (these are also the mechanisms of public service reform more generally):

  1. Top down performance management
  2. Greater competitivenss and contestability
  3. Choice and voice
  4. Measures to strengthen the capability of public servants to deliver improved public services

 All of this leads to a self-improving system.

neoliberal-education

A lot of discursive work has gone into making the case for public service reform. Challenges and changes in public attitudes make reform necessary. Lister (2000) argues this is a discourse which has no opposition.

These four policy genealogies run through from the conservative government of 1979 to New Labour and can be traced into the Coalition government. Although there is no simple, linear relationship between government to government, overall there has been a gradual weakening of the welfare model of public service provision.

The initial moves can be traced back to certain neoliberal think tanks and individuals such as Joseph Seldon, Hayek, the Inst for Ec Affairs, Centre for Policy Studies, Adam Smith Institute, and later on the following:

  • Giddens – The Third Way
  • Michael Barber – World Class Education (NB MkKinsey)
  • Tom Bentley – Creativity
  • Charles Leadbeater – Personalisation
  • Andrew Adonis – Academies/ Selection
  • David Halpern/ Social Capital/ nudge economies

Ideas underpinning the policy commitment of the ‘new’ conservatives are supported and reinforced by the existence of a sprawling and highly interconnected network of influence. (NB – there is an awfully huge sum of money in the UK education system!) Ball and Exely 2010

These ideas also chime with various gateways of centre right thinking

  • Conservative Home CEsociety
  • Ian Duncan Smith – Welfare Reform/ Social Justice
  • Philip Blond
  • Sheila Lawlor Anti statiism Traditionalism
  • Policy Exchange

There are biases that emerge from think tank policy making – urban/ London/ middle class.

 Top Down Performance Management

Has its origin in the Ruskin Speech – the notion that education was no longer seen as fit for purpose – the profession being seen as both resistant to change and too progressive. The construction of the untrustworthy teacher and the mediatisation of policy – Tyndale School – Lead to the National Curriculum and the 1988 Education Act – and here starts the long history of the denigration of teachers.

Introduction of league tables in 1992 – providing market information to parents and national and local press- coverage has now become ritualistic (Warmington and Murphy 2004) – public discourse now centres around good and bad schools.

New Labour took these ideas much further – standards being one of the buzzwords of 1998. Ministers started to judge themselves by standards, and meeting national targets.

The setting of national targets is indicative of the reconceptualisation of the education system as a single entity and as a fundamental component of national economic competitiveness.

Ozga (2008) describes regimes of audit, inspection, evaluation and testing and the use of measurement and comparison as governing by numbers and as forms of governing knowledge that constitute a ‘resource through which surveillance can be excercised’.

We now have a discourse which centres around around failing and underpefrorming schools and Fresh Start Schools governed by Superheads

The Coalition took up governance-by-numbers (Ozga 2010) and changed key performance indicators – E-bacc, eliminated 2000 courses from GCSE indicators, and raised benchmark targets.

It also made strategic comparisons between unreformed and progressive schools.

Macguire 2004 – we now have a cycle of problem, solution, success and new problem…

 Competition and Contestability

Hatcher (2000) refers to endogenous and exogenous privatisation – The first of these was emphasised by early conservatives – making public sector organisations act in a more business like way by creating quasi-market systems – mainly through linking funding to recruitment and thus consumer choice and devolving managerial and budgetary responsibility…. and publishing league tables.

Then tweaking to avoid cream skimming/ exclusions.

There are three main aspects to the ‘drivers’ embedded in the theory of quasi market competition –

  • efficiency – more focus on performance, assumes outputs are appropriate
  • market failure – taking over failing schools
  • bringing in choice as a competitive force.

This third aspect does not sit well with top down performance management – as pupils are valued differently, with white middle class students generally seen as being the best value.

Labour gave much more emphasis to exogenous contestability – allowing new providers to come in….. Flexible contracting… Outsourcing. Connexions National Strategies. – If public models don’t work the private sector takes over! – Creates diversity of providers.

A final element here is diversity – More faith schools, grammar schools, grant-maintained schools, CTCs, Specialist schools and of course academies alongside a criticism of ‚Bog standard comprehensives‘ and weakening the role of LEAs

The Coalition took this further – extending academies, and introducing free schools.

ALL OF the below respond to glob and choice and voice.

Choice and Voice

This involves power being but in the hands of the service users, and the system is open, diverse, flexible (Blair, 2005). This supposedly provides incentives for driving up standards, promotes equality, and facilitates personalisation – all of which are contestable. Choice and voice are part of the move from a producer to a consumer culture and are about creating citizen-consumers (Clarke et al 2007), although experiements with voucher schemes by the conservatives have not been extended.

2006 legistation offered parents the possibility of ‘personalisation through participation’ – as part of an ‘agenda’ of government to reconfigure the environment for learning with new spaces and time frames both within and outside of the school day and incorporating new technologies. Ball argues that this can be read as a decomposition of a universal system of education – moving towards commodification.

Student participation was made mandatory in the 2002 Education Act and is now part of OFSTED inspections.

He now notes that choice policies increase inequality along class lines – classic Ball!

Choice Policies were accelerated by new labour in order to appeal to its individualistic, middle class voter base, and taken a stage further by the Coalition with ‘Free Schools’.

Choice policies (free schools) reflect a number of different aspects of Coalition Policy – greater choice, more competition, new ways of tackling deprivation, traditionalism, local community involvement and marginalisation or LEAs, and opening up opps for business.

While businesses are calling for more chains, it is unclear the extent to which the profit motive is manifest – it remains unclear. Where academy chains and communities are concerned, there is a tension between neoliberalism and classical liberalism.

Ball cites The New Schools Network,  University Technical Colleges and Studio Schools as examples of where the Coalition government is taking education.

Taken together this involves what Castells (2000) calls ‘reprogramming’ – addressing social problems through philanthropy, social ent and market solutions to supplement or displace state action. This extends to many areas of education – teacher education and development, school management, curriculum development, HE, policy research, NEETs.

These changes are not simply about who does what, they are about changing the forms and purposes of public services.

Capability and Capacity

 Again contains a dual element of intervention and devolution – a further set of moves through a new discourse of leadership, which enhances the roles of public sector managers, crucial agents of change, and the ‘remodelling’ of the teaching workforce as part of a more general strategy of ‘flexibilisation’ and ‘skill mix’ across the public services. This also involves reprofessionalisation (training a new cadre of school leaders) and de-professionalisation – in that teachers jobs are more closely scrutinised, more LA’s and now the abolition of the GTC with the Teaching Agency, tying teacher’s pay more to performance.

Policy moves to bring about improved capability and capacity have three dimensions –

  • Leadership
  • Collaboration/ Partnership
  • Remodelling teachers.

Leadership – Heads play a crucial role in reculturing schools – New Labour’s ideal leader instills responsiveness, efficiency and performance improvement – and they emphasise the above three!

The NCSL – And the Headship Qualification are two relatively new innovations here.

Leaders are managers of performance, not teachers – discourse of school leadership is drawn from Business writing and gurus (see Thomson 2009 and Gunter 2011).

Collaberation/ Partnership – Under the coalition, management has become about competition and co-operation – possibly just rhetoric. Michael Gove sees innovative schools as being models for other schools, these and academies and federations are seen as working together to drive up standards. Partnerships are also part of this – a buzzword of new labour – but this is a slippery word that dissolves the difference between private and public sector while obscuring the relationship between financial relations and power.

Remodelling of teachers – Performance related pay set at an institutional level – teachers are now seen as units of labour to be managed (Mahoney 2004) also academies and free schools allow the appointment of non qualified teachers.

This is transnational – and Smyth et al (2000) argue that they make sense of what is happening to teachers work with practical and emancipatory intent requires a critical theory capable of connecting globalisation to the every day life of the classroom.

Teacher net – The teacher workload study – teacher working hours fifty to sixty working hours a week are the norm.

Also mentions teach first as being part of this.

Over time as the effect of these policy moves teachers have been remade within policy and their work and the meaning of teaching have been discursively rearticulated: there is a new language about what teahers do and how they talk about themselves.

Bates 2012 – Coalition publications seem to prepare the ground for increased differentiation within the teaching profession.

Conclusion

What is happening within this ensemble of policies is a modelling of the internal and external relations of schooling and public service provision on those of commercial and market institutions. This involves new relations of power in the way policy is made. This means a wearing away of professional-ethical regimes and their value systems and their replacement with entr-competitive regimes and new value systems. Also involves the increasing subordination of education to the economic and rendering of education into the commodity form.

Education is increasingly for profit and education plays its part in fostering an entr culture and the cultivating of entr subjects. Parents are cast as consumers and offered personalized learning, and schools are expected to compete and yet also cooperate.

This is also a reorientation to economic global competitiveness as part of a global flow of policy based around a shift towards a knowledge based high skills economy, although conceptualisations of this are vague.

Inside classrooms teachers are caught between the imperatives of prescription and the disciplines of performance. Their practise is both steered and rowed. Teachers are not trusted, and exemplars of best practise are standards against which all are judged.

Key to all of this are the league tables, but what is avoided is what these indicators actually stand for. And whether they represent meaningful outputs. Does the adaption of pedagogy actually mean improvement?

Also this is part of a new global policyscape – involving more advocates and pressure groups.

Sources

Stephen Ball – ‘The Education Debate’ (2013)

New Labour and Education Policy

There are three main strands to New Labour’s Education Policies –

  1. Raising standards – which essentially meant building on what the New Right had done previously
  2. Increasing diversity and choice within education
  3. Improving equality of opportunity

1. New Labour Policies designed to Improve Standards

  • Class sizes – were reduced to 30
  • Literacy and Numeracy Hour – one hour per day of reading and maths
  • Extension of school career and the school day – children now start at 4, even younger in Sure Start nurseries and the leaving age is being raised to 18.
  • Tougher Line on Inspection – Expanded the role of OFSTED
  • City Academies – 10% funded by the private or voluntary sector – extra money should help improve standards
  • Higher Education – expanded the number of places available in universities

2. New Labour Policies designed to reduce inequality of opportunity

  • Education Action Zones –  Extra money for schools in deprived areas
  • Sure Start  – 12 hours a week free nursery provision for children aged 2-4
  • Education Maintenance Allowance  – £30 per week to encourage students from low income households to stay on in 16-18 education

3. Polices designed to increase diversity

  • Specialist schools – Specialise in various subjects, providing expertise in areas from sciences to the performing arts.
  • Child centred learning (differentiation within schools) – Teachers are expected to focus more on each child’s individual learning needs and OFSTED focus on this more.
  • Special Educational Needs Provision – there has been a massive expansion of study and support under New Labour to support those with Special needs.
  • Faith schools – expanded under New Labour
  • Evaluating the Impact of New Labour’s policies

Positive Evaluations of New Labour Policies

  • Standards have improved and there is greater choice and diversity –
  • SATs and GCSE scores have improved significantly under New Labour
  • There are now a greater diversity of schools (Specialist Schools, City Academies) and a greater variety of subjects one can study (AS and A levels, Vocational A levels, the mix and match curriculum),  meaning there is more choice for parents and pupils.
  • New Labour have established a ‘Learning Society’ in which learning is more highly valued and created opportunities in which adults are able to relearn new skills in order to adapt to an ever changing economy,

Criticisms of New Labour policies

  • New Labour have not improved equality of educational opportunity
  • The gap between middle classes and working classes achievement continues to grow because of selection of by mortgage, cream skimming etc. (see last sheet)
  • The introduction of tuition fees in Higher Education puts many working class children off going to University
  • The Private school system still means that those with money can get their children a better education
  • City academies enable those with money to shape the curriculum
  • Gilborn and Youdell argue that more students have a negative experience of education in the ‘A-C economy’
  • Schools have become too test focussed, reducing real diversity of educational experience
  • Students are too taught to the test and less able to think critically
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