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.
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)
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).
By 2013, there were 3,304 academies in England – almost 15 times as many as in May 2010, when there were 203 academies, and today more than two-thirds of all secondary schools are now either open as academies or in the pipeline to become 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.
Evaluation of Academies
There is little evidence to suggest that academies today do better than LEA schools when you compare like with like.
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.
Evaluations of Free Schools
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.
Further and Higher Education
The Coalition also raised the limit on tuition fees for Higher Education to £9000.
Policies Designed to Tackle Inequality of Educational Opportunity
The Pupil Premium
Introduced in 2011, the Pupil Premium involved giving schools extra funding based on the number of FSM pupils they took in – worth approximately £600 per FSM pupil.
One criticism of the Pupil Premium Policy was that it did not necessarily get spent on FSM pupils.
Further and Higher Education
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.
In Higher Education, the government required all universities to promote fair access to HE and introduced a fees bursary scheme for students from the very lowest income households.
Overall Evaluations 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.
Harlambos and Holborn (2013) Sociology Themes and Perspectives
New Labour were in power from 1997-2010, and during those years they certainly introduced an impressive range of new education policies – some of which were inspired by New Right principles and focused on enhancing marketization: increasing competition between schools and choice for parents, and others which were inspired by old social democratic principles, focusing more on improving equality of educational opportunity and helping the disadvantaged.
New Labour also introduced a range of new vocational education policies, but that will be dealt with in a future post.
New Labour polices inspired by the New Right
The New Right emphasized 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 marketization (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 PFI initiatives; and they 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.
Specific details of how neoliberal ideas influenced New Labour education policy
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 seletive education topic, this is a form of selection by aptitude).
Specialist schools demonstrate New Labour’s rejection of the Old Labour idea of of the ‘one size fits all comprehensive school’. Specialist schools provided diversity and offered more parental choice, fitting in with the New Right’s marketization 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 schols from the Conservatives. Then years later, there were over 2500 specialist schools, over 75% of all specialist schools.
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.
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.
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 policies inspired by the Social Democratic View of education
The Social Democratic view of education emphasized improving equality of opportunity and tackling social disadvantage through state education. 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.
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.
Aan 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 Citiies programme gradually replaced EAZs, targetting local education authorities in deprived areas. The main initiatves 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.
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.
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 school have been overseen by local councils who have managed 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. In return, schools have given councils 10% of their funding. This ensured uniformity across a council area and meant the provision of education could be managed effectively.
Academies are schools which are no longer controlled by local councils and they get to keep 10% extra funding for their schools. More importantly, academies 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 behavioral problems.
The 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.
Evaluation of New Labour’s Education Policies
In short, 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.
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.
Haralmabos and Holborn (2013) Sociology: Themes and Perspectives
*The 1997-201 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.
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.
Core Aims of The New Right in Education
The New Right’s core aim for education was to improve standards through marketization, which in turn required giving parents more choice over where their children went to school.
Marketisation – Refers to aim of making schools compete with one another for government funding i.e. the better a school does the previous year the more money a school receives the following year. This essentially makes schools into “businesses” competing with one another i.e. making an education “market”. Schools that provide parents and pupils with what they want – such as good exam results – will thrive, and those that don’t will go out of business and either close down or be taken over by new management who will run things more efficiently.
Parentocracy – The New Right’s views education and parents as the customers. 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.
A second core aim of education was to improve efficiency in schools, which should automatically be achieved by making schools more competitive 0 therefore reducing the education budget.
(A third aim of the New Right in education was to ensure that education equipped children with the skills for work, thus contributing to economic growth, but for more on this see the post on Vocational education.)
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.
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 1988, 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.
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.
Open Enrolment and selection
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.
Arguments and Evidence for the 1988 Edudcation Act
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.
Having said all of the above, just because powerful governments have expanded marketization, 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
Focusing on exam results and league table position causes stress…. Concern has been expressed over the harmful effects of over-testing on pupils, especially younger pupils.
League Tables distort teaching and learning
schools increasingly ‘teach to the test’ – In order to look good in league tables which may stifle children’s creativity and broader learning and expand again
Schools put more emphasis on core subjects than on creative subjects
The League Tables give no indication of the wider social good a school is doing beyond getting students results.
The Middle Classes have more effective choice because of their higher incomes – this works as follows…
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.
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.
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.
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.
Inequality of Education Opportunity increases – the best schools get better and the worst get worse. Polarisation of schools occurs because…
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.
Sources used to write this post
Information in this post was derived from a selection of the main A-level sociology text books.
The New Right introduced league tables into the UK education system in 1988, and today they are part of the ‘education furniture’, but what are the pros and cons?
Arguments and evidence that league tables have benefitted education
Politicians say that accountability keeps the teaching profession on its toes and drives up standards.
According to Prof Simon Burgess there is some evidence to support this – In 2001 the Welsh assembly stopped the publication of secondary school “league tables” and this resulted in a significant deterioration in GCSE performance. The effect amounted to around two GCSE grades per pupil per year – that is, achieving a grade D rather than a B in one subject.
League tables also give parents information on how the schools they are contemplating sending their children to are performing, and they do offer a very simple way of comparing schools (Easy for everyone to understand!).
Arguments and Evidence against League Tables
League tables do not give a rounded picture of everything going on in each school: they focus exclusively on academic achievement and don’t show whether the school ethos is right for their particular child, or how likely their child is to be safe and happy in that particular school.
Schools at the top of the league tables can create a “property price bubble” where parents will pay vastly inflated property prices to live near a top school, which prices out the majority of parents from the catchment area of the best schools.
School league tables put pressure on schools and students to achieve, this can distort the basic values and principles of education: there is a lot teaching to the test for example.
Schools lower down the league tables suffer a stigma of being branded ‘in need of improvement’ which may have all of the effects associated with negative labelling.
In a memo published in August 2017 a (male) Google engineer suggested that gender inequality in the technology industry in general and Google in particular is not due to sexism, but due largely to biological differences between men and women.
The memo was called “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber” and the guy who wrote it was James Danmore. His short answer to the question ‘is Google sexist’ would be ‘no, in fact quite the opposite – Google subscribes to a leftist ideology and actually practices unfair authoritarian discrimination in favor of women over men’.
This memo is a great example of a New Right view on gender inequality – basically that men are naturally (biologically and psychologically) better suited to the demanding, analytical type of jobs that exist necessarily?) in a highly competitive tech industry.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai responded by saying that the memo suggested harmful gender stereotypes and sacked Danmore. Needless to say this whole incident has provoked a strong response from both the left and the right.
All I’m doing for now in this post is to summarise the key points of the work, to make it more accessible to students, as it’s an excellent example of a New Right point of view on gender roles. At some point I’ll get round to adding in some of the responses and criticisms of Danmore’s work.
Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber – A Summary of the Main Points
Danmore starts off the article by outlining (crudely) the difference between left and right ideologies, before suggesting that his list of possible biological causes of the gender gap (below) are ‘’non-biased”
It’s also worth mentioning that Danmore does qualify a lot of what he says, stating more than once that he doesn’t deny that sexism exists, he also states that there is considerable ‘biological overlap’ between men and women, so there are plenty of women who are biologically predisposed (as he would put it) towards techy jobs and leadership.
I’ve cut out quite a lot of the text, so as to just include the main arguments and evidence (there’s not much evidence cited) – anything in normal text is word for word from the original, anything italicised are my additions.
Possible non-bias causes of the gender gap in tech:
On average, men and women biologically differ in many ways. These differences aren’t just socially constructed because:
They’re universal across human cultures
They often have clear biological causes and links to prenatal testosterone
Biological males that were castrated at birth and raised as females often still identify and act like males
The underlying traits are highly heritable
They’re exactly what we would predict from an evolutionary psychology perspective
Note, I’m not saying that all men differ from all women in the following ways or that these differences are “just.” I’m simply stating that the distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes and that these differences may explain why we don’t see equal representation of women in tech and leadership.
Many of these differences are small and there’s significant overlap between men and women, so you can’t say anything about an individual given these population level distributions.
Danmore includes the following diagrams to make his point:
Openness directed towards feelings and aesthetics rather than ideas.
Women generally also have a stronger interest in people rather than things, relative to men (also interpreted as empathizing vs. systemizing).
These two differences in part explain why women relatively prefer jobs in social or artistic areas. More men may like coding because it requires systemizing.
Extraversion expressed as gregariousness rather than assertiveness. Also, higher agreeableness. This leads to women generally having a harder time negotiating salary, asking for raises, speaking up, and leading.
Neuroticism (higher anxiety, lower stress tolerance) – This may contribute to the lower number of women in high stress jobs.
In this section Danmore cites two journal articles (all other links are not academic so I haven’t included them) to back up his views:
We always ask why we don’t see women in top leadership positions, but we never ask why we see so many men in these jobs.
These positions often require long, stressful hours that may not be worth it if you want a balanced and fulfilling life.
Status is the primary metric that men are judged on, pushing many men into these higher paying, less satisfying jobs for the status that they entail.
Note, the same forces that lead men into high pay/high stress jobs in tech and leadership cause men to take undesirable and dangerous jobs like coal mining, garbage collection, and firefighting, and suffer 93% of work-related deaths.
Danmore doesn’t cite any authoritative evidence to back up the views in this section.
The rest of the document
There are four further sections in the document in which Danmore covers:
Non-discriminatory ways to reduce the gender gap – actually he makes some pretty sensible suggestions here IMO, such as making work more collaborative.
A section on the harm of Google’s biases
A section on ‘why we’re blind’ – i.e. why we’re blind to the apparent ‘objective truth’ of the fact that men are leaders because they’re less neurotic etc.
A final section of suggestions – in which he basically suggests that we should be more tolerant of conservative views and not discriminate in ‘authoritarian ways’.
In this TED talk, Sir Ken Robinson argues that our current educational systems are still based on a industrial paradigm of education – education is increasingly standardised and about conformity, and kids, who are living in the most stimulating age in history, fail to see the point of going to school, which is about ‘finding the right answers to pass the tests’ rather than about stimulating divergent thinking.
One of our major solutions to the plague of distracted kids (alienated by a system the don’t identify with) is to medicate them to get them through school, whereas what really needs to change is the system itself – we need a paradigm shift, rather than mere reform.
Current Education systems are not fit for the future
Every country on earth is in the process of reforming its education system. There are two reasons for this:
The first is economic – countries are trying to figure out how to prepare children for work when we simply don’t know what work will look like in the future.
The second is cultural – countries are trying to figure out how to pass on their ‘cultural genes’ while at the same time having to respond to globalisation.
The problem with current processes of educational reform is that we are trying to tackle the future by doing what we did in the past and we are alienating millions of kids in the process, who simply can’t see the point of going to school.
When generation X when to school, we were motivated by a particular story: that if we worked hard and got good grades, we could get to college, get a degree and get a good job. Today’s children do not believe this, and they are right not to: getting a degree means you will probably get a better job, but is no longer guaranteed to get you a decent job!
The education system is rooted in an industrial paradigm
The problem with the current education system is that it was conceived in the cultural context of the Enlightenment and the economic context of the industrial revolution. It emerged in the nineteenth century, which was the first time which compulsory public education, freely available to all and paid for by taxes was established.
The Modern education system was originally founded on an ‘us and them’ mentality as many thinkers in the 19th century seriously believed that ordinary street kids could not cope with it, and it is also founded on an Enlightenment concept of the mind – which favours a knowledge of the classics and deductive reasoning, what we might call ‘academic knowledge’.
The system thus divides people into ‘smart people’ (academics) and ‘non-smart people’ (non-academics) and while this has been great for some, most people have not benefited from this system, in fact Ken Robinson argues that the main effect is that it has caused chaos.
We medicate our kids to get them through education
Statistics on prescriptions for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) suggest that America is suffering from an ADHD epidemic – we are drugging our kids with Ritalin as a matter of routine. However, Robinson suggests that this cannot be an epidemic as the rates of prescription vary from West to East – they are much higher in the East of America, which suggests that this is a fictitious epidemic – it’s the system that’s choosing to medicate a ‘problem’ which is only a problem because the system has labelled it thus.
What’s really happening is that our kids are living through the most information rich age in history – they are bombarded with information from many sources through T.V. and the Internet – they are in a way, hyper-stimulated, and yet our response is to punish them for getting distracted from ‘boring stuff’ in school.
Robinson suggests that it is no coincidence that the incidents of prescriptions for ADHD corresponds closely to the rise in standardised testing.
The increasing use of drugs such as Ritalin to medicate kids means that we are effectively getting our kids through school by anaesthetising them.
The school system is run for the benefit of industry, and in many senses along industrial lines, mirroring a factory system of production in at least the following ways:
We still educate children by batches (‘as if the most important thing about them is the date of their manufacture’).
Increasingly education is about conformity, and you see is in the growth of standardised curricula and standardised testing. The current paradigm is mainly to do with standardisation, and we need to shift the paradigm and go in the other direction.
The education system kills creativity
There was a great study done recently on divergent thinking. Divergent thinking is an essential capacity for creative thinking – it is the ability to see lots of possible ways of interpreting and answering a question; to think laterally and to see many possible answers, not just one.
An example of this simply to give someone a paper clip and to get them to think of as many different uses for the paper clip as possible – someone whose good at this will be able to think of hundreds of uses for the paper clip by imagining that it can be all sorts of sizes and made out of all sorts of different materials.
Cites a Longitudinal study (taken from a book called ‘Break Point and Beyond) in which Kindergarten children were tested on their ability to think divergently, and 98% of them scored at ‘genius level’; the same children were retested at ages 8-10, but only 50% of them scored at genius level, and again at 13-15, where hardly any of them scored at genius level.
This study shows two things: firstly, we all have the inherent capacity for divergent thinking and secondly it deteriorates as children get older.
Now lots of things happen to these kids as they grow up, but the most important thing is that they have become educated – they’ve spent 10 years being told ‘that there’s one answer and it’s at the back, and don’t look and don’t copy’.
The problem we have is that the industrial-capitalist mode of education is deep in the gene-pool of the education system, it is an educational paradigm which will be hard to shift.
Shifting the Education Paradigm
We need to do the following to shift the industrial-capitalist education paradigm:
Firstly, destroy the myth that there is a divide between academic and non academic subjects, and between the abstract and the theoretical.
Secondly, recognize that most great learning takes place in groups – collaboration is the stuff of growth, rather than individualising people which separates them from their natural learning environment.
Finally, we need to change the habitual ways of thinking of those within the education system and the habitats which they occupy.
Relevance to A-Level Sociology
This can be used to criticise New Right approaches to education, as well as New Labour, The Coalition and the present Tory government – because all of them have kept in place the basic regime of testing introduced in 1988.
Robinson seems to be suggesting we have a more post-modern approach to education – freeing schools and teachers up so they can encourage more creativity in the classroom rather than being constrained by the tyranny of standardised testing.
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):
Top down performance management
Greater competitivenss and contestability
Choice and voice
Measures to strengthen the capability of public servants to deliver improved public services
All of this leads to a self-improving system.
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
Sheila Lawlor Anti statiism Traditionalism
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 – 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.
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.
The Troubled Families Programme is a good example of a New Right social policy aimed at tackling criminality by targeting the so called underclass, it basically involves local authority workers intervening in so called troubled families in order to get them to take responsibility for their behaviour.
Following the riots in 2011, a new government initiative, the Troubled Families Programme (TFP), was announced, which set out to ‘turn around’ the 120,000 most ‘troubled families’ in England by May 2015.
The second phase of the TFP is now underway, following the ‘successful’ completion of Phase 1. The ‘massive expansion’ of the programme, to include 400,000 more ‘troubled families’, with wider-ranging criteria for inclusion, was announced in July 2013, when only 1 per cent of ‘troubled families’ had been ‘turned around’.
The concept of ‘troubled families’ came into the public consciousness in the aftermath of the English riots in 2011. Structural factors, such as poverty and racial inequality and injustice, were eschewed as possible factors behind the riots in favour of an explanation of ‘pure criminality’. Rioters were, in Cameron’s words, ‘people with a twisted moral code, people with a complete absence of self- restraint’. The blame for the riots, in the governments’ eyes, was split between poor parenting and anti-social families, and an overly generous welfare system that encouraged delinquency
In December 2011, the TFP was launched to help realise Cameron’s ambition to ‘turn round’ the lives of the 120,000 ‘troubled families’
The TFP then, was a policy response designed to not just address the problems caused by ‘troubled families’, but to also completely change the way the state interacted with them. Local authorities were expected to deliver the programme using a ‘family intervention’ approach (DCLG, 2012a) which had been rolled out to 53 areas in England under the previous Labour government’s Respect agenda. This approach sees a single ‘persistent, assertive and challenging’ (ibid) key worker working intensively with the family ‘from the inside out’ to address their problems, encouraging them to take responsibility for their circumstances.
‘Troubled families’ were officially defined as those who met three of the four following criteria:
Are involved in youth crime or anti-social behaviour
Have children who are regularly truanting or not in school
Have an adult on out of work benefits
Cause high costs to the taxpayer
Payment by Results
All 152 local authorities in England ‘signed up’ to take part in the TFP which was to be run on a Payment by Results basis, with local authorities paid an attachment fee for each ‘troubled family’ they worked with, and a further allocation of funding dependent on certain outcomes being met.
Families were deemed to have been ‘turned around’ if:
Educational attendance improved above 85%, youth crime reduced by 33% and anti-social behaviour reduced by 60% across the family, or
A family member moved off out-of-work benefits and into continuous employment for three or six months, depending on the benefits they were initially receiving (ibid)
Claims for ‘turning around’ ‘troubled families’ were submitted by local authorities on a quarterly basis.
In August 2014, further detail was announced on the expansion of the programme. The ‘new’ ‘troubled families’ were families that met two out of the following six criteria:
Parents and children involved in crime or anti-social behaviour
Children who have not been attending school regularly
Children who need help
Adults out of work or at risk of financial exclusion and young people at risk of worklessness
Families affected by domestic violence and abuse
Parents and children with a range of health problems
In May 2015, the government published figures that showed that local authorities had ‘turned around’ 99 per cent of ‘troubled families’. David Cameron called it a ‘real government success’.
Criticisms of the Troubled Families Programme
The Centre for Crime and Justice is very sceptical about the success-claims made by the government . They actually suggest 10 reasons why we should be suspicious of the 99% success rate, which they call a social policy impossibility, especially in an era of government cuts, but I’m going to focus on just two criticisms, which taken together seem to strongly suggest that the government is simply lying about the effectiveness of the TFP – I mean as in not just manipulating statistics, just literally lying.
Firstly – ‘Troubled Families’ are not actually that troubled
How ‘troublesome’ are ‘troubled families’?
In contrast to the image of ‘troubled families’ as ‘neighbours from hell’ where drug and alcohol addictions, crime and irresponsibility ‘cascade through generations’, an interim report from the national evaluation of the TFP (DCLG, 2014b) shows that in ‘troubled families’:
85% ‘had no adults with a criminal offence in the previous six months
97% had children with one or zero offences in the previous six months
84% had children who were not permanently excluded from school
26% had at least one adult in work
93% had no adults clinically diagnosed as being dependent on alcohol
The only characteristics shared by the majority of ‘troubled families’ are that they are white, not in work, live in social housing and have at least one household member experiencing poor health, illness and/or a disability. Crime, anti-social behaviour and substance abuse, even at relatively low levels, are all characteristics which relate to small minorities of official ‘troubled families’.
Secondly, we don’t actually know if lives really been ‘turned around’?
When many ‘troubled families’ experience unemployment and poor health, and some of them also experience issues such as domestic violence, it is unclear to what extent their lives will have been ‘turned around’ by the programme.
Only 10 per cent of all ‘turned around’ families gained work and, as noted above, no detail is known about the quality or security of that work.
Changes to educational attendance and anti-social behaviour/crime levels within households accounted for around 90 per cent of the ‘turned around’ families, but government figures show that the majority of ‘troubled families’ had children who were already attending school and were not committing large amounts of crime or anti-social behaviour on entry into the programme.
Furthermore, we do not know how many ‘turned around’ families are still experiencing domestic violence, poor mental health or other issues such as poor quality or overcrowded housing, poverty or material deprivation, because this information has not been reported by the government.
Further problems with assessing the effectiveness of the TFP
Basically, we don’t have the data to make an accurate assessment, hence why I say above that the government must be lying when they claim a 99% success rate.
Also, at present we are also not aware of whether the families consider their lives to have been ‘turned around’ by their involvement with the programme, or whether their lives remained ‘turned around’ after the intensive support was withdrawn.
It should also be noted that many families will not know that they have been labelled as ‘troubled families’ because many local authorities choose not to inform them of this and use different names for their local programmes.
Charles Murray’s Underclass Theory – the idea that there is a ‘hardcore’ of a few hundred thousand families and individuals who are welfare-dependent and responsible a disproportionate amount of crime in society has a long history:
In Victorian times there was a concern about a ‘social residuum’, and shortly afterwards it was ‘unemployables’ who were the target of social reformers and politicians.
The Eugenics Society was influential in promoting the ‘social problem group’ in the 1930s and the idea of ‘problem families’ in the years following the Second World War.
In the 1960s, Oscar Lewis, the cultural anthropologist, popularised the heavily racialised ‘culture of poverty’ theory in the USA.
Sir Keith Joseph, former Conservative MP, raised the issue of a ‘cycle of deprivation’ in the 1970s.
In the 1980s and 1990s, American academic Charles Murray suggested that a ‘plague’ had crossed the Atlantic in the form of an ‘underclass’.
New Labour expressed concern about 2.5% of people who were ‘socially excluded’ in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
The development of the Respect agenda in the 2000s raised the issue of ‘problem families’ once again.
However, these ideas have flourished, despite no robust evidence which supports the idea of an ‘underclass’, whatever it is called. Professor David Gordon, who led the recent Poverty and Social Exclusion in the United Kingdom study, the largest ever research project of its kind, has offered the following view of such concepts:
These ideas are unsupported by any substantial body of evidence. Despite almost 150 years of scientific investigation, often by extremely partisan investigators, not a single study has ever found any large group of people/households with any behaviours that could be ascribed to a culture or genetics of poverty … any policy based on the idea that there are a group of ‘Problem Families’ who ‘transmit’ their ‘poverty/deprivation’ to their children will inevitably fail, as this idea is a prejudice, unsupported by scientific evidence. (Gordon, 2011)