The Tories have had the money to spend on making school building safe. Instead they have chosen to spend the money of new free schools. This appears to have been a political decision to please mainly middle class parents.
Of course the Tories, and especially Rishi Sunak say they are not to blame. However in this case they appear to be just plain lying. The data suggest the opposite: that Tory education policy has failed leading to mass school closures. This was totally preventable.
Unsafe schools closing due to crumbling concrete
More than 100 schools are fully or partially closed this September 2023 due to crumbling concrete. The problem is that some of the buildings in these schools were built in the 1950s using reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC). This concrete is now passed its use by date and is crumbling.
Back in 2018 a ceiling collapsed in a staffroom made from this concrete. Had people been in the room at the time it could have killed someone. This prompted a review of the safety of school buildings. In 2020 a senior education civil servant at the time advised improving 200 schools a year. However the now Prime Minister, then chancellor Rishi Sunak made the decision to only improve 50 schools a year.
The DFE’s own data shows the Torys have been chronically underfunding schools. It was estimated in 2021 that £5 billion would be needed for capital investment in schools. However only £3 billion was allocated.
Compared to the previous New Labour government the Tories have spent one third less on education investment during their time in power.
The data above is taken from this BBC News Article which is worth a watch to summarise this issue!
The Tories: putting the middle classes first?
Instead of choosing to make existing schools safe the Tories have instead chosen to spend almost £1 billion buying land for new Free Schools. Almost half of these have created spare capacity in already existing schools in local areas.
One interpretation of the above is as follows:
Tory education policy and funding has prioritised pleasing middle class parents. (These are typically the people who benefit from free schools). This has been at the expense of pupils attending schools with crumbling concrete.
So the Torys are prepared to put (probably poorer) pupils at risk of injury and death. All so middle class pupils can have a slightly better quality of education in free schools.
youth transitions in postmodern society are full of uncertain choices and constrained by government policy and social class.
The transition from youth to adulthood in modern Britain is a very gradual one, spanning a period from 15-24 years of age if we take the United Nations definition of youth and longer in some cases.
This gradual transition isn’t natural, it is a consequence of structural changes associated with the shift to postmodern society and government policies which have largely been a reaction to these societal level changes.
There are three main transitions associated with moving from youth to adulthood (following Furlong and Cartmel, 2006):
The transition from school to work: from compulsory GCSEs through further and possibly higher education or training to full time paid employment.
The domestic transition away from one’s parental family to establishing a primary relationship with one’s own intimate partner
The housing transition which involves moving from the family home with parents to living alone or with a partner.
The period of youth involves a lot more than just these three transitions, it is also a time when one ‘grows into’ or finds one’s own independent self-identity.
Transitions to adulthood involve young people in making more choices today than ever, but these are not necessarily entirely free choices for every individual: social class, gender, ethnicity, sexuality and locality can all limit opportunities and make certain transitional choices for some impractical, undesirable or just impossible.
(For example if you fail your GCSES, you probably aren’t going to be able to choose to become a medical doctor!)
Structural changes affecting youth transitions
Economic globalisation since the 1970s have resulted in significant changes in the labour market in the UK. Cheaper labour costs abroad have resulted in manufacturing moving to countries such as China and India and meant a decline in the number of factory based jobs for life which many working class youth could have expected to go into.
Instead of jobs for life young people today are facing the prospect of being portfolio workers, and can expect to change jobs many times throughout their working lives, and this is especially true early on in their careers. There are also many more informal gig economy jobs in the service sector which are often filed by young people.
As a result the experience of work today is a lot more fragmented and a lot more uncertain than it used to be.
Cultural globalisation has meant a huge increase in both the amount of knowledge, information and leisure products purely for entertainment and the consequences of this are that young people have to make choices about what knowledge and products to consume.
In education this means relying on advice to make choices at 16, 18 and 21 if you pursue the ‘standard’ school, further education, then higher education route, but even that is a choice, alongside vocational options such as apprenticeships.
Outside of education there is a fantastic array of leisure options available… music, style, travel, who to watch and follow on instagram, gaming, sports, so many options to shape one’s identity and also possible routes to making money if you position yourself well.
The cost of housing in the UK is also a factor, not helped by the recent cost of living crisis and increase in interest rates: this makes the prospect of living at home with one’s parents a financial necessity for many which can shape the experience of youth.
Finally there is the continuous reality of global crises: if it’s not a financial crisis (2008, 2022-23) it’s a pandemic, if it’s not a pandemic, it’s a war or wars, and even without any of these we’ve got an ongoing environmental crisis, and on top of this a political elite in Britain that seems incapable of managing these problems.
All of these structural changes mean that young people today face a lot of more uncertainty but also a lot more choice, and (following Giddens) they have to be a lot more reflexive: finding one’s way in the transition from youth to adulthood involves a lot of reflection, constructing one’s identity becomes a constant project which requires constant effort.
Society also becomes a lot more individualised. Experts (for example careers advisors) and ‘self proclaimed not really experts’ on YouTube may well offer advice but it’s on the individual to make their own choices in life. There are no clear, objective right decisions that anyone can make, individuals have to decide what is right for them, and this means we are operating under conditions of risk and uncertainty (following Ulrich Beck).
In the postmodern transition from youth to adulthood you are free (within reason) to choose your life course and identity, but you also have to accept the consequences of bad decisions that you make: that’s on you!
Government policy and youth transitions
Government policies today prevent youth from transitioning into adulthood before 18 and encourage youth to stay in a state of semi-dependence on their parents until their early 20s:
full time education in school is compulsory until the age of 16, and while 17-18 year olds are allowed to move into full-time work this has to have a training element and so will have a very low wage, which will be insufficient for independent living.
Free provision of education for 16-19 year olds encourages youth to stay on in full-time further education until 18.
The national minimum wage is teired by age so that you cannot earn the full wage until you are 23.
Under 25s are entitled to less Universal Credit than those aged 25 or over: £290 a month compared to £370.
The transition to adulthood as a journey
In the 1960s and 1970s young people boarded trains which set off for different destinations, largely shaped by social class. and gender, and once on these trains they had limited opportunities to change direction because they were already on set tracks.
However, while on these trains the occupants tended to bond with people similar to them (based on class and gender) and could work together to change change the direction they were going if they didn’t like the look of the destination.
The above analogy describes typical youth transitions in the 1960s and 1970s: predictable career paths and class solidarity, but these days are now gone.
Today’s youth get into cars and the driver of the car has no set destination because there are no rails, there is a complex road network and the drivers. of these cars (which are more diverse than the old trains) have to make decisions as they go which will affect the final destination.
Moreover, not all cars are equal: some are much better designed to stay the course, others will crash off and end up with shorter journeys than initially intended.
The later analogy describes the more diverse and uncertain routes young people must negotiate between further education, higher education, and early stage careers.
The school to work transition
Further education has greatly expanded since the 1970s and it is now expected that everyone will stay in education or training until at least age 18, and government policy encourages this by setting the minimum wage for under 18s at a very low rate and making it extremely difficult for under 18s to claim welfare benefits, and also by making education free until the age of 19 (allowing for some flexibility for those who fail GCSEs).
There is also a lot more choice of courses available in 16-19 education, with vocational options such as apprenticeships having expanded greatly over the last two decades, since the year 2000.
On top of this around 50% of the UK population now go on to higher education, usually in university, financed through student loans for both maintenance and fees.
This means the normal time of educational transition to full time paid employment last up until at least age 21 in most cases, longer given that it can take several months to find a graduate job, and indeed many graduates have. to settle for non-graduate jobs for a year or more before finding their way in to a career of their choice.
While there is a lot of diversity within this transition, social class and gender still have an impact.
The domestic and housing transition
This is rarely a straightforward process of people moving out once and into their own home or with their partner for the first time.
It is increasingly common for young people to move into intermediary households in young adulthood, such as student accommodation, and then move back in with their parents when they graduate for a year or more, and then possibly into their own first home as independent adults.
There has been a recent trend towards young adults staying living with their parents for longer. At age 23 60% of males and 44% of females still live with their parents.
Some couples will also go through the unfortunate experience of breaking up and then having to move back into the parental home afterwards.
None of this is helped by the increase in property prices. Only 41% of 18-35 year olds own their own homes today, down from 67% in the 1990s.
Conclusions and evaluations
There is a lot more diversity within youth transitions to adulthood in postmodern society, which reflects the increase in choices that young people have to make.
However this isn’t simply a matter of individuals freely choosing… following late modernism they HAVE to make choices under conditions of uncertainty: they are compelled to choose and face the consequences of any bad decisions they make.
Class and gender continue to shape transitions, especially social class: the middle classes have a lot more opportunities than the working classes.
Government policies also encourage youth to remain in state of at least semi-dependence on their parents until well into their 20s.
This material is mainly relevant to the culture and identity module, normally taught as part of the first yer in A-level sociology.
How have education policies addressed gender differences in society and school?
If we take a longer term historical perspective, education policies have tended to reflect the dominant gender norms within society, and for the most part have served to disadvantage girls in relation to boys.
It wasn’t until Feminism and the 1975 sex discrimination act that research and policy started to address what was then the underachievement of girls.
And since the 1988 Education and the National Curriculum there has been more concern with boys underachievement than girls.
Historical education policies are also very traditional in terms how they deal with gender: they focus exclusively on differences between males and females. There is a serious lack of research on the experiences of LGBTQ pupils in schools and no explicit policy initiatives to improve the experience of LGBTQ pupils.
This post focuses on the history of education policies designed to address gender differences in education from the early 19th century to the 1988 Education Act.
Education and Gender in the 19th and early 20th Centuries
In the 19th Century there was a distinct division between male and female gender roles in society, with men working and women being consigned largely to domestic roles. Women also had no political power as they were not allowed to vote.
In the middle classes women were encouraged to marry at which point they effectively became their husband’s rather than their father’s property, and women were not allowed to divorce.
Education policies for the middle classes reflected these gender power differences. Public and grammar schools were for boys only where boys learned the skills required for politics and/ or work.
Middle class girls were educated at home by governesses, and their education largely consisted of learning the skills to be a lady within society.
The Education Act 1870 made state education free to all pupils irrespective of gender, but the experience of education was gendered, different for males and females, for many years to come.
Even women getting the right to vote in 1918 didn’t do much to change the heavily gendered experience of education
The Tripartite System and Comprehensives
The 1944 Education Act introduced single sex grammar schools, and this introduced a gender divide which benefitted boys because there were more boys grammar schools. Boys thus needed lower 11 plus scores than girls to get into a grammar school.
Some secondary moderns were single sex, but not all, these were more likely to mixed.
The 1965 education act saw the abolition of single sex grammar and secondary modern schools and all pupils were educated in mixed sex comprehensive schools.
However the experience of education still remained very gendered – with girls and boys having different experiences – subjects were often determined by gender stereotypes with girls being pushed into needlework and boys into metalwork, for example!
Education policies designed to address differences in achievement by gender
1970s -80s Feminist inspired research into gender inequalities in schools
From the mid 1970s Feminists started to take an interest in the differential experiences of girls and boys in education, why girls were so much less likely to do hard science subjects and maths, and the underachievement of girls.
Whyte (1975) looked at gender stereotypes in the primary curriculum, finding that the representation of men and women tended to reinforce traditional gender roles.
Sharpe (1976) looked at gender sterotypes in secondary schools and how they encouraged girls to act in feminine ways and develop lower career aspirations.
Spender (1982) researched the marginal position of girls in classrooms, suggesting this reflected their marginal roles in society.
Curriculum Changes in the 1980s
The 1980s saw a few policy initiatives to improve girls underachievement and their low numbers in science subjects.
Girls Into Science (GIST) ran from 1979 to 1983 which investigated the reasons why so few girls were going into science and technology subjects and encouraged teachers to develop strategies to get more girls doing these subjects.
Genderwatch was an initiative which encouraged teachers to monitor gender differences in schools and develop anti discriminatory practices.
The problem with these policies were that while they may have worked for some middle class girls, they were very individualistic, offered very little in the way of real guidance and also provoked a male backlash.
The backlash was partly due to the myth of girls underachievement – despite their low take up of science and maths girls did better in English and Modern Languages at O-level and got better overall O-level Grades at A-C.
Gender and the 1988 Education Act
The 1988 Education Act was not concerned with any kind of equality of educational opportunity, just pure competition.
The publication of GCSE results showed gender differences in achievement more clearly than ever, and from the late 1980s it was clear that girls were outperforming boys in most subjects.
Since the late 1980s both boys and girls have improved in education, with girls generally improving faster than boys, hence the gender policy focus in the 1990s switched to helping boys improve.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of making all students study maths until they are 18?
Rishi Sunak wants every student in the U.K. to study maths up until the age of 18 (1)
In his first speech of 2023 Sunak stated that he wants people to better equipped with numeracy skills so that they are better equipped to deal with an increasingly data-driven society and to manage their personal finances.
A further argument for making some kind of maths or numeracy lessons compulsory until 18 is that doing so should make British students more competitive internationally: many other countries which are higher up the PISA league tables do so, such as Finland and Canada.
Approximately half of 16-18 year olds currently do maths or science subjects at A-level, but most of these are those who achieved lower than a C grade at GCSE and are forced to resit their GCSE.
Only a minority of students who get C and above in maths go on to do a maths related subject at A-level, there are currently at least 400 000 16-18 year olds in Further Education institutions who are qualified to maths or science subjects but aren’t doing them, having opted for humanities subjects instead (20)
The speech was thin on details but the government has ruled out making A-level maths compulsory at 16-18 and has suggested that developing some innovate approaches to teaching numeracy post-16 will probably be required.
Increasing Maths Teaching: Supply and Demand Challenges…
On the supply side, the government is currently 5000 maths teachers short of its recruitment target.
A brief look at the statistics illustrates this: there were only 35 771 Maths teachers in state secondary schools in 2021, compared to 39 000 English teachers, with one in eight maths lessons being taught routinely by a non-specialist.
It seems unlikely that the government is going to be able to recruit more maths teachers given the 24% real terms pay cut teachers have been subjected to since 2010 and the current below inflation 5% pay increase being offered by the government for 2023.
And jobs in teaching are going to be especially unattractive for maths and science graduates, given that maths and science degrees tend to be gateways to higher paying careers.
A related supply problem is that sixth form colleges have seen drastic real terms funding cuts compared to other sixth form providers in recent years, being 20% underfunded in comparison, so these probably don’t have the funds to boost 16-18 math provision effectively.
On the demand side there is the problem that most students simply do not want to do maths related subjects beyond the age 16, and forcing all students to spend an hour or two a week studying a subject they don’t want to is a waste of resources, and so increasing maths provision could come at the expense of teaching students a broader range of subjects that they think will actually be of use to them.
There are a whole load of other subjects students could be usefully taught besides maths, such as critical thinking, political issues and debating contemporary news items civilly, for example.
And besides this A-level maths is actually the most popular subject already, with entries having increased from 83 000 in 2018-19 to almost 89 000 in 2020/ 2021. (3)
Finally, forcing 16-18 year olds to do maths won’t help the 8 million adults in the UK who only have primary levels of numeracy.
students from independent schools did 7.4 hours more schoolwork per week during lockdown compared to students from state comprehensive schools.
Students from higher socio-economic backgrounds had significantly more support from their schools during lockdowns compared to students from lower economic backgrounds.
This is according to the latest findings from a contemporary longitudinal study (1) being carried by the Sutton Trust which is analysing the short and longterm consequences of the disruption suffered by students during the Covid lockdowns.
Social class differences in learning during lockdowns
Better of schools (in terms of FSM provision) were able to adapt much more quickly during Lockdown one to minimise disruption to student learning compared the most deprived schools.
Students attending independent schools (compared to state grammar and state comprehensive) and students attending the least deprived schools by FSM provision were more likely to receive online lessons during lockdowns; more likely to get more frequent online lessons; had more access to teachers outside of lessons; and suffered fewer barriers to learning such as lack of access to laptops at home.
By lockdown three the support offered to students by the more deprived schools had caught up with that of the least deprived schools, but significant differences remained.
For example, by lockdown three:
Students from the least deprived schools were doing 2.9 hours more schoolwork per week than students from the most deprived schools.
71% of students from the least deprived schools reported having 3 or more online lessons per week compared to only 53% of students from the most deprived schools.
Only 6% of pupils from higher managerial backgrounds reported only having a mobile device (rather than a computer) to access learning compared to 14% of pupils from routine/ manual/ non-working backgrounds.
Teacher contact during lockdowns
73% of students from independent schools reported having contact with teachers outside of lessons at least once a week during the first lockdown compared to only 43% of students from comprehensive schools. This gap had narrowed by the third lockdown with 77% of students from Independent schools and 52% of students from comprehensive schools reporting teacher contact.
Students from the most deprived quintile reported more teacher contact than those from the least deprived during the first lockdown and there was almost no reported variation during the third lockdown.
Hours of schoolwork during Lockdowns
Students from independent schools did almost twice as many hours schoolwork per week during the first lockdown compared to students from state comprehensive schools. The gap was narrower during the third lockdown with independent school students reporting 23.7 hours per week compared to 16.3 hours per week for comprehensive school children.
Pupils from the least deprived quintile did 3.2 hours more schoolwork per week during the first lockdown than pupils from the most deprived quintile and 2.9 hours more during the third lockdown.
Provision of online lessons during lockdowns
During the first lockdown 94% of independent schools provided online lessons compared to only 64% of state comprehensive schools. By the third lockdown state comprehensives had caught of a lot but there was still a large difference with 96% of independent schools providing online lessons compared to 87% of comprehensive schools.
By the third lockdown 95% of the least deprived schools (by FSM provision) were providing online learning compared to only 80% of the most deprived schools.
The above differences are significant but if we look at the amount of online learning which took place (immediately below) we find that independent schools and the least deprived schools were much more likely to provide MORE online classes…
How many online classes during lockdowns?
84% of pupils at Independent schools reported having more than three online lessons per day during the first lockdown, compared to only 33% of students from state comprehensive schools. The figures were 93% compared to 59% respectively during the third lockdown.
71% of students from the least deprived quintile reported having access to three or more online lessons a day during lockdown three compared to only 53% of students from the most deprived quintile.
NB this basically means that students attending the more deprived schools were more likely to get very little in the way of online learning, just one or two lessons a day, while students attending the better off schools were more likely to get three or more lessons, closer to a regular school day.
Barriers to learning during lockdowns by social class
Students faced several barriers to learning during lockdowns including:
Minimal provision of online lessons or, in some cases, no online lessons.
Internet connectivity problems.
Inability to access teachers during the lockdown periods.
Lack of access to desktop or laptop computers and having to rely on mobile devices.
Having to share a device with siblings.
A small percentage of students didn’t have any devices to access online learning
Lack of a quiet study space.
Parents who lacked the confidence to help students with learning during lockdowns
Students from lower social class backgrounds were more likely to suffer barriers to learning during lockdowns compared to students from higher social backgrounds.
For example 34% of students from higher and professional managerial backgrounds reported infrequent teacher contact during lockdowns compared to 39% of students from routine/ manual/ never worked backgrounds. The figures for having to share a device were 9% and 15% respectively for these two social classes.
Pupils without a device during lockdowns
Only 2% of pupils from independent schools reported not having access to a suitable device by lockdown three compared to 11% of pupils from state comprehensives.
5% of pupils from the least deprived backgrounds reported no access to a suitable device during lockdown three compared to 19% from the least deprived quintile.
Conclusions and policy implications…
15-18 year olds doing GCSEs and A-levels suffered just as much learning loss as younger students, and students from lower socio-economic backgrounds suffered proportionately more learning loss. Thus the pupil premium should be extended and paid out for 16-19 year olds for a couple of years. ATM Pupil Premium ends with year 11 students.
By lockdown three 30% of all year 11s who needed a laptop had received one, which was significant. However, HALF of all students who lacked a laptop or didn’t have access to one during the pandemic still haven’t received one.
Cullinane, C., Anders, J., De Gennaro, A., Early, E., Holt-White, E., Montacute, R., Shao, X., & Yarde, J. (2022). Wave 1 Initial Findings – Lockdown Learning. COVID Social Mobility & Opportunities (COSMO) study Briefing No. 1. London: UCL Centre for Education Policy and Equalising Opportunities & Sutton Trust. Available at: https://cosmostudy.uk/publications/lockdown-learning
Personalised learning means listening to student’s needs and tailoring teaching and learning to meet those needs.
Personalised learning involves putting individual students at the centre of the learning experience, listening to their voices, understanding their individual strengths and limitations and tailoring teaching and learning strategies to their individual needs. It also involves working with them to help them realise their full potential and allowing students an element of choice in what they study through flexible learning pathways, which may entail schools working in partnership with institutions outsides of the school.
A useful analogy to help understand the concept of personalised learning is to contrast it to the world of production.
Personalised learning is the equivalent of making bespoke products according to what the individual consumer wants, in contrast to ‘standard education’ which is like mass production – taking a one sized fits all approach by teaching all students the same thing in the same way (like Chalk and Talk).
Personalised Learning in education policy
Personalised Education became a formal part of education policy in 2004 under the the New Labour Government.
At that time the DfES defined personalisation of learning as “a highly structured and responsive approach to each child’s and young person’s learning, in order that all are able to progress, achieve and participate. It means strengthening the link between learning and teaching by engaging pupils – and their parents – as partners in learning (1)
While the above definition is a fairly typical example of government speak – in that it doesn’t really say anything the DfES did at least further identify five key components of personalised learning which give some more specific details of what the policy might look like in practice:
Assessment for Learning – teachers knowing the strengths and limitations of individual students.
Teaching and learning strategies that build on the individual needs of students – for example learning being appropriately paced and stretching those students who need it.
Curriculum choice – flexible learning pathways which encourage students to take responsibility of their own learning.
The whole school taking a student centred approach, taking student voices seriously.
Strong partnership beyond the school – involving local communities and institutions.
Personalised learning is a reaction against the kind of standardised education that many associated with the ‘bog standard’ comprehensives of the 1960s – in which students were required to largely sit there and listen to the teacher, taking notes, with very little in the way of creativity or interactivity occurring.
NB this kind of ‘bog standard education’ didn’t necessarily happen in every Comprehensive school, and it may be something of a stereotype, but at least this image serves the function of showing what personalised learning isn’t!
What does personalised learning look like…?
Ideally it will start with teachers finding out as much as they can about the individual and working alongside them to find a suitable learning pathway.
Another aspect is helping students figure out what their end-goals are (usually cast in terms of career aspirations) and helping them study the right subjects to set them up for their future goals.
It also involves finding out how students learn the most effectively and designing tasks for them to work on that are gong to suit their learning style, part of this will involve encouraging them to work in groups or individually, and most likely a mixture of both depending on the subjects.
In reality the capacity for schools to personalise learning is limited (see below) by available staff and the curriculum demands (schools are still required to be exam factories) so the personalisation of learning may well be reduced to:
occasional guided independent study lessons, days or maybe weeks during the year.
students working with teachers to draw up personalised learning plans for independent study which are reviewed only once or twice a term.
Some lessons maybe more ‘personalised’ with the the teacher acting as a ‘facilitator’ most of the time and students largely getting on with their own project work. You are most likely to see this in post-16 education and in creative subjects such as art and music technology.
Limitations to personalised learning
Firstly there is the fact of the national curriculum and the demand on schools to get students GCSE grades – obviously personalisation isn’t to go as far as to allowing students to simply learn guitar or pain for 6 hours a day 5 days a week, so ‘personalisation’ is limited by the requirement that students have to study English, Maths and the other core subjects.
Secondly there is the limitation of teachers’ time – the higher the ratio of students to teachers the less personalised learning is going to be. Teachers have to get through a certain amount of content and most of the time PowerPoints and group work where all students are focused on the same topic are quicker than allowing students to spend time exploring their own ‘learning pathways’.
Thirdly, schools are required to encourage students to work together, and so while a students might personally prefer to just work entirely on their own, if they are in school, this probably won’t be allowed to happen most of the time – they are going to be in a classroom working with other students.
A 2016 article from Education Week points out that the available research on personalised learning initiatives isn’t robust enough to prove that personalised learning is effective.
The Digital Counter-Revolution blog criticises the concept of personalised learning as being focused on individual academic achievement. In practice a lot of personalised learning has turned into a helping students how to maximise their grades.
in this sense all personalised learning is doing is making individual students compete more with each other, it isn’t about helping them think more critically or about being more creative or just about being better people – it is just a response to the pressures of marketisation and a competitive Higher Education and labour market.
Has Learning in the U.K. become more personalised?
Mainstream education as a whole has become more ‘postmodern’, but the tend has been very slight and mainly on the fringes of the mainstream education.
For the most part our education system remains very ‘modern’ with it being 95% focused on teaching the national curriculum and getting students through standardised exams.
I think the same thing is true for personalisation which is part of the very gradual and slight/ fringe move towards postmodernity, given that individualism, diversity and relativism are a key ideas within postmodernism.
So YES mainstream education in the U.K. has become more personalised, but personally I’d say most schools pay lip-service to this personalisation, with students having little real choice over what they study until post-GCSEs (they are not allowed to ditch English and Maths for example and have to resit it post-16 if they fail it at GCSE level).
This material is mainly relevant to the education topic within A-level Sociology.
From 2015 the conservatives cut funding for education, carried on with academisation and the pupil premium, supported more state selective education, encouraged the EBacc and introduced T Levels.
In 2015 the Tory Party were returned to power with a single party majority having won an unexpected but significant victory in the May general election, and for education policy this meant a continuation of the conservative policies pursued under the previous Coalition government.
The Tory government continued the austerity policies which had been started under the coalition and while education budgets weren’t as badly cut as other areas of public spending, education policy from 2015 onwards can only be understood in the context of their being less money available than previously.
The National Curriculum was changed – the content of GSCEs was made more academically demanding and coursework and modular assessments replaced with end of year exams.
The grading system for GCSEs was also modified with the 1-9 grading system replacing the traditional A* to G grades from 2017 onwards.
Progress 8 was introduced as a measure of schools performance in 2016 which measured the average progress a school’s students make compared to the national average of students with the same prior achievement across eight approved subjects.
Leckie and Goldstein (2019) caution that school performance measures derived from pupil scores that do not allow for variation in pupil background favour schools with more educationally advantaged pupils in their intakes. Thus schools with higher proportions of disadvantaged students are more likely to have lower Progress 8 scores.
The rest of this post considers some of the major policy changes introduced under the Conservatives…
NB for ‘Education Policy and the Pandemic’ will be dealt with separately via a different post.
Conservative Education Policy from 2015: A Summary
The main education policies enacted by the conservative government from 2105 were:
Austerity and funding cuts of an average of 8% for schools
Continuing the rapid conversion of LEA schools to academies and introducing more free schools
Increasing the number of grammar schools and thus selective state education (subtly and largely by stealth)
Continuation of the Pupil Premium
Encouraging schools to shift to the EBacc.
Introducing T Level Qualifications (16–19s)
Austerity and Education
The Social Mobility Commission’s 2019 Annual State of the Nation Review noted that since 2010 school funding has been cut back by 8%, by 12% for 16-19 year olds (per pupil), and hundreds of children’s centres have been closed.
While funding cuts don’t technically involve doing anything, this is still a policy choice and the fact that schools had 8% less funding in 2019 compared to 2010 has meant it has been more challenging than ever for schools to maintain standards.
Ebacc and technical education
The Tory government has majorly promoted the EBacc and intends for 95% of pupils to be following it by 2025.
The Ebacc has had a significant impact on other subjects in curriculum, with there being a reduction in the uptake on non Ebacc subjects such as P.E.
T Level Qualifications were introduced in 2020 for 16-19 year olds who wished to pursue a technical education rather than A-levels.
Pupil Premium funding continued under the Tory government from 2015.
Pupil Premium funding is additional funding to schools awarded for every pupil on Free School Meals.
Schools are monitored by OFSTED to make sure they are spending the money specifically on helping disadvantaged students who are underperforming compared to their peers.
Academies and Free Schools
The Tories continued to encourage the conversion of LEA schools to academies and conversion continued apace from 2015 until the Pandemic in 2020 when it slowed due to schools having to focus more on managing a ‘safe return’ to school after lockdowns and now helping pupils catch up.
The government initially wanted ALL schools to become academies by 2022 but gave up on this goal following strong resistance from mainly well performing primary schools who saw no advantage to leaving LEA control for relatively new Academy chains.
Free schools also expanded under the tories, adding on around another 200 Free Schools between 2015 to 2022, of which there are now just over 500 in England and Wales.
After 22 years of academisation 80% of secondary schools are now academies, accounting for 79% of all pupils, which means we effectively have an education market outside of the control of LEAs.
Primary schools are lagging behind – only 39% of primary schools are academies, accounting for 40% of all pupils.
The Tory party has been in favour of opening more selective state grammar schools.
Since 2010 successful Grammar Schools have been allowed to expand by establishing ‘annexes’ in other close-by towns and cities.
An example of this is Tonbridge Grammar school in Kent establishing an ‘annexe’ in Sevenoaks, 10 miles away, which is effectively a new school serving students in that area.
Grammar schools have also been able to expand by becoming sponsors of failing schools which reopen as academies under a multi-academy-trust headed by the grammar school.
Gorard and Siddiqui (2018) suggest that there are three main claims which are made in support of the policy of increasing the number of grammar schools.
Pupils at selective grammar schools get better results than those at non selective schools.
The poorest students at grammar schools do exceptionally well compared to their peers in non selective schools.
Grammar schools have no harmful effects on other schools in the local area.
HOWEVER, Gorard and Siddiqui (2018) also say there is NO EVIDENCE to support any of these claims….
Grammar schools perform better than non selective schools on the Progress 8 measure of achievement but this measure does not take account of other ‘environmental factors’ such as material deprivation – once you factor in these, grammar school performance is no better than non selective schools.
FSM pupils may well do better at grammar schools but there are relatively few of them. It is likely that these are the exceptional few who are exceptionally motivated. FSM students at grammar schools are not representative of FSM students as a whole.
This is just nonsense – the other schools around grammar schools become secondary moderns – grammar schools increase social and economic segregation in local areas.
Despite the flaws of grammar schools by allowing them to set up satellite schools the Conservatives have laid the grounds for the expansion of selective state education
30 hours free childcare for 3-4 year olds
In 2017 the Conservative government introduced a new policy allowing working parents to claim an additional 15 hours of free childcare per week for children aged 3-4 years for 38 weeks a year (the same as school). This means that eligible parents would have access to 30 hours of free childcare a year for their 3-4 year olds rather than the 15 hours free care which everyone gets.
To receive the additional 15 hours both parents (if there are two parents in the household) have to be working for at least 16 hours per week and earning between the minimum wage and £100 000 a year. Those earning more than £100K (net) a year aren’t eligible to apply.
Those NOT eligible for the additional 15 hours include…
Any household where one or more parent isn’t working more than 16 hours a week.
Any household where one or more parent is on benefits (those on disability benefits are eligible)
The idea behind this is clearly the classic line of ‘make work pay’ – where both partners are working they get more childcare, where both or one parent isn’t working the assumption seems to be that the other partner will be around to do the childcare.
Criticisms of this policy
The Sutton Trust point out that the above policy gives more support the relatively advantaged.
Under this policy households with working parents earning anything from (approximately) £6000 per year (£12000 if there are two parents in the household) up £200K per household per year would get the additional 15 hours of state funded childcare.
However The Sutton Trust also estimates that 80% of households in the bottom 30% by income would NOT be eligible because these are the households where one more partner is either working for less than 16 hours a week or on benefits.
It follows that the majority of children from the poorest third of society are getting LESS childcare than those in top two thirds of households, and missing out on the educational input which would come with that care.
Thus, this policy will probably increase the pre-school educational achievement gap.
Evaluations of Tory Education Polices since 2015
Tory policies since 2015 have primarily been about encouraging further marketisation which has been achieved primarily through the establishment of more academies and free schools.
We now have an education market in England and Wales with so few secondary schools left under LEA control that it’s difficult to see how we can ever go back to local democratic oversight of schools at a county or regional level.
The Tories have largely seemed concerned to please the middle classes by encouraging more grammar schools, despite evidence that they do no better on average than non-selective schooling.
In terms of raising standards the government is focussing on encouraging more students to take up the EBacc, but this potentially will result in a narrowing of the curriculum.
The establishment of T Levels seems to be about the only thing which is positively about improving diversity and choice for students, but it remains to be seen how successful these will be!
Education Policies are an integral part of the Education option for A-level sociology students studying the AQA’s specification.
10% more children now need extra help with their language skills because of lockdowns.
The Number of year 1 students who need extra support with their speech and language skills in school has increased as a result of lockdown according to some BBC analysis conducted on government data in November 2022.
The number of 5 and 6 year olds receiving speech and language support in their first year of primary school increased by 10% in 2021-22 compared to 2020-21…
This was the cohort of children who started reception in the previous year and so had their schooling massively disrupted by the government’s lockdown policies, their chosen response to the Covid-19 Pandemic.
This kind of increase cannot be attributed to an increase in the child population or an increase in detection rates of students needing this kind of support, rather it reflects the harmful effects lockdowns had on some students.
The charity Speech and Language UK point to Lockdown as the cause of this regression in child development, suggesting that Lockdowns resulted in students missing being isolated and socialising less, thus losing opportunities to practice and develop their speech and communication skills.
The statistics above back up what teachers and speech and language therapists have been saying for more than a year now.
Primary school teachers have reported increases in the number of primary school pupils starting the year with poor communication skills, some of them pointing to objects rather than saying what they are because they are too anxious about getting the words wrong.
However, this is already full for the current academic year and it seems to involve learning on Learning Support Assistants to help students catch up, just adding more to their work load.
Signposting/ Relevance to A-Level Sociology
More students starting school with poor speech and communication skills reminds me of Bernstein’s concept of restricted speech code which is a form of cultural deprivation.
This is worrying for these students because recent research from Leon Fenstein has found that if a student starts out school with poor language skills it is usually very difficult for them to catch up and he found a correlation with having poor speech at age three and lower income in later life, which sounds very much like what we have here.
It’s most likely that those students who have been hardest hit by the government lockdowns are from lower class, poorer households as it is generally these households who lack the cultural capital to help their children develop those early language skills.
While the government has committed to spending £180 million on early years development, this doesn’t sound like it’s going to be a sufficient amount of money to help ALL the students who need it.
The Covid Crisis in the UK increased inequalities in several different ways such as:
School closures disrupted the education of poorer students more than students from wealthier backgrounds.
Lockdowns and social distancing meant less work for the less well educated and those in lower paid jobs compared to those in more middle class jobs.
and in the longer term missed schooling and less work experience could mean the disadvantaged fall even further behind in years to come.
This is according to a recent report from the Institute of Fiscal Studies released in December 2021, which is VERY RELEVANT for any student studying the Education Module as much of the increasing inequalities referred to are due to school closures.
It’s worth noting that from a policy perspective, the report sees Covid catch up policies as ‘papering over the cracks’ of the widening inequalities caused by the Pandemic, the government isn’t doing enough in the short term, and almost nothing for the longer term implications.
NB this topic – policies and educational inequality is also on the advanced release information from the AQA for the 2022 Sociology exams!
This post summarises some of the key points of this study.
School closures and increasing inequality during Covid
Schools closed for two periods during the Pandemic – for 10 weeks in the Spring of 2020 and then for 9 weeks in the Winter of 2022.
School closures removed the ‘equalising’ affect of schools – by removing for a total of 19 weeks (half a school year) standardised curriculums and learning environments and replacing them with heterogeneous (different) home environments.
This meant that those students from lower income households studied less at home once home education was introduced – basically because lower class parents have less cultural capital and are less able to support home learning than middle class parents…
Once schools re-opened, schools in poorer areas were less likely to offer support for students who were off school and isolating at home (remember there was still a lot of disruption through absences even after schools reopened:
University/ Apprenticeships and Declining job Opportunities
The report notes that University learning suffered minimal disruption – online learning is well established there and the switch to ‘lockdown mode’ was relatively easy.
However, there was massive disruption to apprenticeships, most of which require people to be at work – new apprenticeships during the Pandemic fell by around 30% overall.
Something else to keep in mind is that because it is mainly lower class jobs that have suffered during the Pandemic (middle class jobs kept going through furlough and homework) there is now MORE COMPETITION for lower class jobs than before the Pandemic – meaning a further reduction in opportunities for the lower classes….
The Affect of the Pandemic on Education and Inequalities: Final Thoughts
It seems that disruption to education, apprenticeships and the job market has increased inequality because the disruption was greater for the lower classes.
And it feels unlikely that the government is going to put in place policies with sufficient funding to close these increased gaps.
The Pupil Premium provides extra funding to schools to improve the educational outcomes of disadvantaged children in England and Wales.
Both Local Education Authority Schools and Academies in England and Wales get the following Pupil Premium Funding (2022 to 2033 figures)
£1385 (primary) or £985 per pupil who is eligible for Free School Meals (or who has been eligible within the last six years)
£2410 (primary and secondary) per pupil who has been adopted from care or left care,
£2410 (primary and secondary) per pupil who is looked after by the Local Authority.
Payments for the first two above are paid directly to the school ( the later to the LEA) and school leaders have the freedom (and responsibility) to spend the extra funding as they see fit.
Approximately two million school children qualify for the Pupil Premium:
How the Government expects schools to spend the Pupil Premium?
There are three suggested areas:
General teaching – school leaders are allowed to just spend money from the Pupil Premium on recruiting more teachers or support staff, or training.
Targeted Support for disadvantage pupils – this is probably what you imagine the funding being spent on – things such as extra tuition in small groups for specific children, probably those who generate the Pupil Premium
Wider areas – such as Breakfast Clubs or helping fund the cost of educational trips
Schools are required to publish online statements outlining how they have spent their Pupil Premium Funding.
Pupil Premium: The Theory
The pupil premium is the main government policy to tackle the educational underachievement ‘caused’ by material deprivation.
This educational policy recognises the fact that children from disadvantage backgrounds face more challenges and achieve lower grades than children from more affluent backgrounds.
Children who are eligible for Free School Meals are from the lowest 15 – 20% of households by income, so they will probably be living in relative poverty, and some of them will be experience material deprivation.
The government gives most of the money straight to the schools with such disadvantaged children, allowing school leaders to pick a strategy that they think will work best for their school, as one solution won’t work for every school!
The Pupil Premium: Does it Work?
This 2021 Parliament Briefing summarises seven reports on the attainment gap and the effectiveness (or lack of it) of the Pupil Premium.
On the positive side, it notes that the attainment gap (between disadvantaged and non disadvantaged children) has come down in the last ten years, since the Pupil Premium was introduced, BUT this trend alone doesn’t necessarily mean it was the Pupil Premium which led to this.
Moreover, the report notes that the recent school closures following the government’s choice to lockdown the nation as a response to the Pandemic have almost certainly impacted disadvantaged children more, and it’s unlikely that the Pupil Premium will be sufficient to make up for this.
Besides this vaguely positive note, there is a lot of criticism of the Pupil Premium too, and four stand out:
Firstly, a lot of schools are spending the money to plug gaps in school funding, so not targeting it at disadvantaged students, but just spending it on general school needs.
Secondly, many reports point out that lack of school funding is the problem and the Pupil Premium doesn’t make up for this.
Thirdly, a lot of the money, where targeted, is being spend on Learning Assistants, but apparently this isn’t the most efficient way to help disadvantaged students.
Finally, some reports criticise the accountability aspect, schools don’t have to be too specific in outlining how they spend the money.
It is also relevant to the education and social class topic, but be careful as the Pupil Premium is only designed to tackle material deprivation, not class inequalities or differences more broadly, and relative deprivation/ material deprivation are only one aspect of the more broader concept of social class.