Most UK schools have introduced trousers for girls into their uniform codes in the last twenty years, but some continue to ban them and will send home any girl who turns up wearing trousers, at least according to Trousers for All, which campaigns to give girls the option to wear trousers as part of their school uniform.
Trousers for all notes that ‘The ban on trousers for girls covers the entire spectrum of schools: primary, secondary, public and private, faith and non-faith”.
While it might seem like a throwback to the 1970s, or even the 1870s, this really does go on today – take this 2016 Mumsnet discussion as an example:
Despite the above, there does seem to be widespread support (there certainly is on Mumsnet) for schools adopting uniform policies which either stipulate a ‘skirt ban’, so that that both boys and girls must wear trousers only, or that girls at least have a choice over whether they wear trousers or a skirt.
The following arguments have been put forward for allowing girls the freedom to wear trousers:
Firstly, it seems to be a pretty blatant breach of the government’s own 2010 equality act, and while it hasn’t been tested in court yet, it seems unlikely that if a parent mounted a legal challenge against a school banning their female child from wearing trousers, the school would lose – I mean, it’s been a workplace norm for 40 years now after all!
Secondly, forcing girls to wear dresses restricts their sense of freedom (Guardian Opinion Article (2017), and it does seem somewhat hypocritical that schools are expected to inspire in children a sense that ‘they are free to achieve anything they want’, except for wearing trousers in school for the next few years, if you’re a girl.
Thirdly, according to Becky Francis: “The stipulation that boys wear trousers while girls must wear skirts promotes messages that boys are active, while girls should be less active, decorative, and ‘demure’.” (Professor Becky Francis, Director of UCL Institute of Education).
Trousers for All takes this a step further, suggesting that… ‘Schools forcing girls to wear skirts is equivalent to states forcing females to wear a veil and to companies forcing females to wear high heels. All of these are expressions of sexism.’
What do you think: is it right for schools to ban girls from wearing trousers?
Deeper Analysis: will a gender neutral clothing policy end the ‘policing of girls’ bodies in schools’?
Laura Bates (of Everyday Sexism) makes the argument that whether we have a gender neutral clothing policy in schools or not, girls bodies are still going to be ‘policed’ in school more than boys, citing examples of girls being sent home for wearing skirts deemed to be too short (and distracting to boys and teachers), and even examples of girls who have been sent home for wearing trousers which were too tight.
New Labour increased funding for education and expanded the number of standard assessments for pupils and targets for schools. They introduced academies, specialist schools, sure start, education action zones and the education maintenance allowance.
When they first came to power in 1997, Tony Blair, the leader of Labour Party (dubbed ‘New Labour’*) announced that his priorities were ‘education, education and education‘.
The main objectives of New Labour’s education policy were to raise standards in order to create a skilled labour force to compete in the global knowledge economy and to achieve greater equality of opportunity by making education more inclusive and improving the experience of education for all.
New Labour and the Third Way
The 1997-2010 New Labour party/ government wanted to change the image and perspective of their party so they could appeal to more 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.
Hence they renamed themselves ‘New’ Labour‘ to reflect the fact that some of their beliefs were in line with “New Right” views which are more commonly associated with the Conservative Party, and some continued with traditionally ‘Old’ Labour or Social Democratic views.
Antony Giddens has characterised New Labour as being ‘the third way’ between traditionally left and right wing ideas, and when we look at their education policies we can see that some were influenced by Neoliberalism and the New Right and others by more social democratic ideals.
New Labour education polices inspired by the New Right
The New Right emphasised the importance of introducing free-market principles into education in order to make schools more competitive and give parents more choice.
New Labour carried this on by keeping all of the main policies associated with marketisation (league tables, OFSTED etc.) and by increasing the number of specialist schools; they also increased the role of the private sector in education through academies and Private Finance Initiatives.
They increased expenditure on vocational, work-related training, which was also in line with New Right ideas that education should prepare children for the world of work.
New Labour also introduced a range of new vocational education policies, but that will be dealt with in a future post.
New Labour education policies inspired by the Social Democratic perspective
The Social Democratic view of education emphasised improving equality of opportunity and tackling social disadvantage through state education.
New Labour introduced many policies to promote equality of educational opportunity, or in New Labour’s new terminology to promote ‘inclusion’: one of the Key Buzz Words of the period.
The main policies introduced to achieve these goals included Academies, Sure Start, Education Maintenance Allowance and also a general increase in state-expenditure on education.
Curriculum Reforms under New Labour
There were a number of basic curriculum reforms introduced under New Labour
There was a renewed emphasis on the teaching of essential skills – such as literacy, numeracy and I.T.
There was an increased focus on personalised learning to address individual learning needs of students
Citizenship classes were introduced to help address increasing social fragmentation.
The nationals curriculum was made more flexible with more vocational elements being added in as options.
A Levels were modernised and made modular with the introduction of AS Levels
Vocational diplomas were introduced for 14-19 years olds and many more vocational courses made available to 16-19 year olds.
Increased focus on Assessments and Targets
Labor Increased the Number of Assessments and Targets schools were subjected to.
New Labour largely welcomed the testing and assessment regime introduced by the Conservatives. They increased the number of targets schools had to reach, as well as the amount of information which schools had to publish in league tables.
League Tables were changed so that schools had to publish data on ‘value added’ – the difference between the level of achievement students came into a school with (measured through SATs) and what they left with (ultimately still measured by GCSEs).
New Labour continued to assess schools regularly using a range of ‘target indicators’ such as pupil achievement Key Stage Tests, GCSEs and A Levels, OFSTED inspections and also truancy and exclusion rates.
These measures were applied differently depending on how a school was performing. For those which received an outstanding grade there was a light touch inspection regime, meaning partial inspections, but those deemed to be unsatisfactory were forced into being taken over by better performing schools or Academy Trusts.
Labour greatly expanded the role of specialist schools
State secondary schools can apply to become specialist schools in one or two of ten specialisms (e.g. maths, science, sports etc.). In order for their application to be successful, they need to raise £50 000 from private sector sponsors, which will be matched by the government. Specialist schools are allowed to select 10% of their students who show an aptitude in the school’s specialist subjects (which relates to the selective education topic, this is a form of selection by aptitude).
Specialist schools demonstrate New Labour’s rejection of the Old Labour idea of the ‘one size fits all comprehensive school’. Specialist schools provided diversity and offered more parental choice, fitting in with the New Right’s marketisation agenda. According to the then education secretary Estelle Morris ‘ Specialist schools and Colleges will have a key contribution to make in raising standards and delivering excellence in schools’. (Chitty 2002)
In 1997 New Labour inherited 196 specialist schools from the Conservatives. Then years later, there were over 2500 specialist schools, over 75% of all specialist schools.
The academies programme introduced by New Labour was primarily aimed at failing schools and by May 2010 there were 203 academies in England. New Labour thought that Academies could both raise standards and tackle inequality of educational opportunity simultaneously.
Traditionally schools have been overseen by local education authorities who have managed funding of local schools, admissions policies, term dates, pay for staff and other aspects of education in their areas, and they have provided a number of services to schools as well.
New Labour broke this control by Local Education Authorities by setting up the first Academies in 2000.
Academies are schools which receive their funding directly from central government and are completely independent from local councils and can set their own term dates, admissions policies; staff pay levels and much more. It is argued the extra freedom for schools gives allows them raise standards.
Academies are sponsored by an organisation which is responsible for overseeing the running of the schools. Sponsors could include businesses, charities and faith groups. For example, Lord Harris, the owner of “Carpet Right”, runs the Harris Academies which now operate 23 schools, including the Harris Academies in Purley, Crystal Palace and Merton. Commercial sponsors which take over schools must provide £2 million of additional finance.
A 2010 study by Stephen Machin (Machin and Vernoit 2010) found that academies that had been open for at least 2 years had 3% more students who achieved 5 GCSEs at grades A-C.
However, critics of academies say that the only reason they achieve better results is because they take fewer pupils with special needs or behavioural problems.
Sure Start Children’s Centres are responsible for delivering services for children under 5 and their families.
The core purpose of Sure Start Children’s Centres are to improve outcomes for young children (primarily aged 2-4) and their families, with a particular focus on the most disadvantaged families, in order to reduce inequalities in child development and school readiness.
Four core aims of Sure Start Centres included:
To provide high quality and affordable early years education and childcare.
To raise Parenting aspirations, self esteem and parenting skills.
To improve child and family health, primarily through providing education and information about local health services.
To acting as a hub for the local community, building social capital and cohesion.
In centres in the 30% most disadvantaged areas extra the centres provides childcare for a minimum of 10 hours a week, while in more affluent areas, support was limited to drop-in activity sessions for children, such as stay and play sessions.
By 2010, there were over 3300 Sure Start Centres.
A major evaluation of Sure Start programmes examined over 7,000 families in 150 Sure Start areas and found that while parents valued them, there was little measurable improvement in child development, with the exception of lower levels of childhood obesity.
Every Child Matters
There were a number of high profile child abuse cases in the 1990s and early 2000s, which had raised public concern about failing child welfare services which should have prevented such cases.
An example of these failures was the death of Victoria Climbie: a report into her death found that it was avoidable had different welfare services which had been in contact with her and her family communicated more effectively with each other.
This led to the Children Act of 2004 and the publication of Every Child Matters: Change for Children which stated that children should be put at the centre of public services and those services built around their needs, rather than the other way around.
Every Child Matters meant that teachers were expected to liase more with other child professionals as necessary and it also paved the way for a massive expansion of learning support departments which saw an increase of additional support staff in schools working with pupils.
The five common outcomes for children emphasised by ECM were:
Enjoying and achieving
Making a positive contribution
Achieving economic well-being.
Education Maintenance Allowance
Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) was paid to students aged 16-19 who were from lower income families. Students received the funding if they attended all their lessons and achieved their performance targets.
The funding was designed to help with the hidden costs of education and there was a progressive approach, with the least well of pupils receiving £30 a week and the better off pupils received £20 or £10.
The Expansion of Higher Education
Traditionally Higher Education was entirely funded by the state which paid not only the tuition fees but also maintenance grants for students to live off while studying.
This was fine while the numbers of students attending university were relatively small, but the steady increase in numbers during the 1980s meant that by the early 1990s the funding of universities had reached crisis point and it was no longer sustainable for the tax payer to carrying on funding Higher Education.
From 1990 the Maintenance grants were gradually reduced and replaced by student loans to cover living costs, and the 1998 Education Act abolished grants altogether and introduced student contributions to tuition fees, starting at just over £1000 per year.
Then the 2004 Education Act extended top up fees allowing universities to charge up to £3000, but students did not have to pay this money back until they were earning £15000 a year.
Student contributions for fees were not increased further than £3000 per student under New Labour but by the end of their term in office in 2010 Universities were making it clear that couldn’t carry on delivering a world class education service at the then current levels of funding.
Under New Labour the number of university students increased from 1.2 million to 1.8 million, an increase of 50% in 13 years and they doubled between 1992 and 2016….
Other Education Policies under New Labour
Two other historical policies which fed into the policies above which you should know about include:
Education Action Zones
Education Action Zones were set up to raise the attainment levels of students in low income, inner city areas. By 2003 there were 73 EAZs in England, funded by central government with additional funding from business. An action forum, made up of parents and representatives from local schools and businesses and from local and national government ran each zone.
One OFSTED report on EAZs praised some initiatives, such as homework and breakfast clubs. The report found some improvements in standards at Key Stage 1, but no change at Key Stage 3 or GCSE.
Excellence in Cities
The Excellence in Cities programme gradually replaced EAZs, targeting local education authorities in deprived areas. The main initiatives of EiC were special programmes for gifted students, city learning centres with IT facilities, learning mentors and low-cost leasing for home computers.
Various reports evaluating the EiC programme produced mixed results: in general they indicated only limited success and the EiC programme was ended in 2006.
Evaluation of New Labour’s Education Policies
New Labour successfully raised standards in education, but they were much less successful in reducing inequality of educational opportunity – the ‘attainment gap’ between working class and middle class children remained stubbornly high under New Labour.
Focusing on the successes, it’s important not to understate the importance of this as an achievement – the number of students passing 5 good GCSEs (the early academies helped here), and progression onto Further (EMA helped here) and Higher Education increased steadily under New Labour.
Specialist schools were very successful in raising standards, however, this was largely because they selected a disproportionate amount of middle class pupils.
New Labour’s focus on targets and performance suggests that they believed the causes of educational underachievement lay with the schools themselves, rather than deep seated social issues such as poverty and inequality, and in this sense much of New Labour’s education policy just carried on neoliberal ideas from the previous Tory government.
In terms of tackling social class inequalities, most of their policies failed (except for the early academies and the EMA) – EAZs, EiCs and Sure Start were appear to have ultimately been a waste of money in this regard.
Paul Trowler (2003) argued that Labour were unrealistic in their expectations of what education could achieve in terms of tackling social class inequality. As Trowler sees it, education alone cannot tackle deep-rooted social inequalities.
Ball (2017) notes that the choice policies introduced by New Labour tended to benefit the middle classes more as they were able to use their cultural and material capital to choose the best schools while the working classes who lacked the means to exercise choice ended up having to send their children to the local schools which became sink schools.
Ultimately New Labour’s policies may have just ended up reinforcing social inequalities.
Signposting and Related Posts
This material is extremely important for any A-level sociology student studying the education module as part of the AQA specification.
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.
An introduction to the key features of the UK education system, including details of the Department for Education, OFSTED, key stages, exams, the National Curriculum, and some straightforward definitions of the different types of school in the UK.
I wrote this post to give students studying A-level sociology a more focused intro the topic than the Wikipedia entry on education in the UK, which IMO is a bit too formal, and not focused enough on the things people actually want to know about!
This post mainly deals with education in England, I’ll update with a focus on Wales and Scotland as and when I can…
Education in the United Kingdom is overseen by the Department for Education (DfE), which oversees the delivery of education to almost 12 million pupils aged 5-18 in 21 000 state primary schools, 4100 state secondary schools, as well as hundreds of further education colleges, with a total budget of £84 billion in 2015-16.
The DFE works with a further 17 agencies or public bodies, the most well-known of which is probably OFSTED, which has the responsibility for inspecting schools on a regular basis.
Local government authorities (LEAs) are responsible for state-funded schools and colleges at a local level, but in recent years most LEA schools have converted to Academy status which means they are free from local education control and receive their funding directly from central government and do not have to follow the National Curriculum.
There are five stages of education
Early Years Foundation Stage (ages 3–5)
Primary education (ages 5 to 11)
Secondary education (ages 11 to 16)
Further education (ages 16 to 18)
Tertiary education (for ages 18+).
School Leaving Age
Full-time education is compulsory for all children aged 5 to 18, either at school or otherwise. Children between the ages of 3 and 5 are entitled to 600 hours per year of optional, state-funded, pre-school education. This can be provided in “playgroups”, nurseries, community childcare centres or nursery classes in schools.
Students can leave school at 16 but must then do one of the following until they are 18:
stay in full-time education, for example at a college
start an apprenticeship or traineeship
spend 20 hours or more a week working or volunteering, while in part-time education or training
The National Curriculum
The national curriculum is a set of subjects and standards used by primary and secondary schools so children learn the same things. It covers what subjects are taught and the standards children should reach in each subject.
Academies and private schools don’t have to follow the national curriculum. Academies must teach a broad and balanced curriculum including English, maths and science. They must also teach religious education.
Key Stages, and National Assessments/ Exams
The national curriculum is organized into blocks of years called ‘key stages’ (KS). At the end of each key stage, there are formal assessments of how children have progressed:
The General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE)
GCSEs are the main type of exam taken by pupils at the end of secondary education, aged 16, although they may be taken at any age. From 2017, GCSEs will be graded from 9 to 1 with 9 being the highest grade, replacing the old A* to G grading system)
BTECs can also be taken. The difference between BTECs and GCSEs is that the BTEC course is heavily coursework-based.
Most students will sit 8-10 GCSEs or BTEC equivalents.
There are a number of GCSEs available to students – English and Maths are both compulsory, but besides those students can choose from a range of science and humanities subjects, including sociology!
Achieving five or more A*–C grades, including English and Maths, is often a requirement for taking A-levels and BTEC Level 3 at a sixth form college or at a further education college after leaving secondary school.
Types of State-Funded School in England and Wales
The main types of state school include:
Local Education Authority Maintained schools
A local education authority maintained school is one in which the governing body (the head teacher, and governors) are responsible for the day to day running of the school, but the Local Education authority controls the following:
It owns the land and buildings, and is responsible for funding and the school.
It employs the staff and provides support services, for example, psychological services and special educational needs services.
It determines the admissions policies of the school
The pupils have to follow the national curriculum
(Voluntary aided) Faith Schools
Voluntary aided faith schools still follow the national curriculum, but they are free to teach what they want in terms of religious education. There are two important differences with regular LEA schools.
The land and buildings are usually owned by the religious organisation.
The religious organization, through the governing body, has more of a say in employing the staff and setting admissions criteria.
Academies receive their funding directly from the government, rather than through local authorities. In contrast to Local Education Authorities:
Funding goes directly to the governing body of the school from central government.
The governing body employs staff directly and can vary pay and conditions from staff member to staff member.
The governing body can select its own admissions criteria (in line with national guidelines)
The pupils do not have to follow the national curriculum
There are two types of academy: Converter academies – those deemed to be performing well that have converted to academy status; Sponsored academies – mostly underperforming schools changing to academy status and run by sponsors).
Free schools are essentially a type of academy, but ‘any willing provider’ can set up a free school, including groups of parents.
Grammar Schools are selective schools – they select pupils on the basis of academic ability, typically testing at the age of 10 or 11.
93% of schools in England are funded by state (ultimately paid for by the taxpayer), the remaining 7% are Independent, or private schools, funded privately by individuals, mainly by fees paid by the parents of the pupils who attend them.
Independent schools have more freedoms from government control than state schools.
Somewhat confusingly, some independent schools call themselves ‘grammar schools’ and ‘faith schools’.
This was a brief post designed to provide some introductory material on the education system of the United Kingdom, for students studying A-level sociology.
I teach this material as part of an introduction to education, right at the beginning of the sociology of education (SCLY1) module, typically taught in the first year of study.
Official Statistics on schools, teachers and educational achievement provided by the United Kingdom government provide an overview of the education system. They are useful for providing an ‘introduction to the state of education in the U.K’, before embarking on the core content of any sociology of education course and providing a basis for comparing the U.K. education system to the education systems of other countries, which would be relevant to the module on global development.
I will also provide a brief discussion of the validity and representativeness of the official statistics below, tying this into research methods.
I only deal with state-schools in this post, I’ll do a separate post in future on private, or independent schools in comparison to state schools.
Also, the post below deals primarily with England and Wales, I will add in details for Wales and Scotland when I can.
Government spending on Education 2021-2
The government spent a total of £94.9 billion on education in 2020-21, equivalent to 4.5% of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
For 2020-21 expenditure per education sector broke down as follows:
Primary education expenditure – £27.3 billion
Secondary education expenditure – £40.0 billion
Tertiary education expenditure – £4.9 billion
Spending Per Pupil was £6500 in 2019-2020
The above chart, from the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows us education spending in real terms at 2019-2020 places. We can see that in real terms expenditure per pupil has decreased slightly since 2010, when New Labour left office and the Tories came to power.
There are 32, 163 schools in the U.K.
There are almost 21000 primary schools
There are almost 4100 secondary schools
This means primary schools are lot smaller in scale in that each of them has, on average, fewer pupils in them, and should be more ‘locally based’ for most parents.
Secondary schools are a lot larger, will have many more pupils in them, have more of an ‘education factory’ feel to them and be more widely dispersed, meaning children will have to travel further to them.
This is despite the fact that there are more secondary school aged pupils compared to primary school aged pupils.
There were 10.5 million school pupils in England and Wales in 2020-2021
There were 5.5 million secondary school pupils
There were 4.1 million primary aged pupils
This reflects recent demographic trends in the United Kingdom – a baby boom which started in the mid 2000s has seen an increase of 400 000 pupils in the school system as a whole (primary and secondary).
There were 11 600 pupils in Pupil Referral Units in 2021
The number of pupils in PRUs fell from over 15000 in 2015/16 to just just 11 000 by 2020/21
A total of 12.6% of pupils have Special Education Needs in 2021-2022
And four percent of these have a formal statement.
There has been a slight increase in the number of Special Education Needs pupils since 2015/ 16 – a 1% increase in all SEN pupils and a 1.2% increase in SEN pupils with statements.
I’ve left the following historical data in place following a recent update of this post (updated October 2022) as I think it demonstrates how such statistics in particular are socially constructed…
Between 2010 to 2015 the number of pupils with special educational needs fell from 21% to 15%
NB – if you read this in conjunction with the ‘types of school chart’ above, then it suggests that special educational needs (SEN) students are becoming increasingly segregated into special schools and/ or pupil referral units, rather than being dealt with in mainstream secondary schools.
You might also want to think about the extent to which ‘Special Educational Needs’ and ‘Special Educational Needs with statements’ are socially constructed.
Looking back at 2007, 20% of pupils were officially characterised as SEN, but by 2021 this had fallen to 12.6%.
According to labelling theory this is more likely to be because the formal criteria and processes according to which pupils are given the SEN label have changed over the past 15 years, rather than any underlying changes in the actual number of pupils with Special Educational needs.
At the end of 2020 the proportion of 16-18 year olds in education and work-based learning was 81.2%
This proportion has been stable (around the 80% mark) since at least 2015.
At age 17 the rate was 90.5%.
At age 18 it was 62.3% (almost 30% are in work with just under 10% being classified as NEET )
Overall only 6.4% of 16-18 year olds are classified as NEET (Not in Employment, Education or Training.
11% of 16-24 year olds classify as NEET
NEET stands for ‘Not in Education, Employment or Training’ and the government keeps records of the proportion of 16-14 year olds which fit into this category.
The medium term trend in NEETs is that the proportion has fallen from 16% of 16-24 year olds in 2013 down to 11% in 2017.
The NEET figure has been relatively stable for the last five years, holding at around 11% up until today in 2022.
There were 2.4 million students in UK Higher Education Institutions in 2019-2020
The number of full time equivalent students studying their first degrees or post graduate degrees has been increasing steadily over the past few years.
Around 1.9 million students are studying undergraduate degrees or equivalent while 0.5 million are studying towards a Postgraduate degree.
The vast majority of students studying towards their first degree are British, almost 80% in fact, but around 40% of students studying PostGraduate degrees in UK institutions are from abroad, and most of those from outside the UK!
There were 465000 Teachers (FTE) in the UK in 2021/22
There were 465 000 Full Time Equivalent (FTE) teachers employed in England and Wales in 2021/22.
There were 503 000 Full Time Equivalent support staff
The total FTE number of staff employed in schools in 2021/22 was 968 000.
30% of teachers drop out after 5 years of qualifying
12.5% of teachers drop out after just one year of qualifying
Just over 30% drop out within five years.
How useful are these education statistics?
Such statistics are a useful starting point if we wish to make cross-national comparisons between the U.K. education system and the rest of the world, which would be useful for students of global development, given that education plays a key role in development. Indeed if we wish to compare the relationship between education and development in several countries, statistical rather than qualitative comparisons may be the only way of doing so.
From an arrogant, modernisation theory perspective, these statistics provide an indication of the level of investment required in terms of expenditure and teachers, and the types of outcome that less developed countries should be aiming for.
Most of the education statistics above count as ‘hard statistics’, i.e. there’s little room for disagreement over the ‘social facts’ which they show – for example, it’s hard to argue with the stats on ‘number of schools’ and ‘number of qualified teachers’.
However, others are much softer, and have more validity problems, and can be criticised for being social constructions rather than reflecting underlying reality: the statistics on special educational needs clearly come under this category – there is simply no way the underlying numbers of students with ‘SEN’ have decline from 21 to 15% in 5 years while the number of certificated SEN kids have increased – what’s really happened is that the number of kids which schools categorise as having Special Education Needs has decreased in the last 5 years, probably because the Tory’s cut previously existing funding for this category of student in 2010 (ish).
Signposting and Related Posts
As mentioned above this is introductory material for the education topic. For more posts covering theories of education, education policies and educational inequalities by class, gender and ethnicity, please see my sociology of education page.
Links to statistics on education in the United Kingdom:
Most of the statistical sets below are updated yearly, or more frequently.
Education and Training Statistics for the U.K. – published by the department for education. In this source you’ll find data on the number of schools, teachers, and teacher-pupil ratios as well as basic educational achievement data by Free School Meals, gender and ethnicity. Published annually in November.
Key statistics on education in America, and the key features of the American education system including primary, secondary and tertiary education, the national curriculum and the examinations system.
This is part of a new set of posts designed to help students assess how developed countries are in terms of some of the key indicators of development such as economics, inequality, education, health, gender equality, peacefulness and so on…
Kindergarten, Primary, and Secondary Education in America
Schooling is compulsory for all children in the United States, with every child being entitled to a minimum of 12 years publicly funded education. Some states add on an additional year of pre-primary ‘Kindergarten) education, and the school leaving age also varies from state to state: some states allow students to leave school between 14–17 with parental permission, other states require students to stay in school until age 18.
Children attend primary school from the ages of 6-11 where they are taught basic subjects, typically in a diverse, mixed ability class, with one teacher.
Children attend secondary school from the ages of 12-17, which is subdivided into junior high-school and senior high school. Here students are typically taught in different classes for different subjects and are allowed some degree of freedom to choose ‘elective subjects’.
While there is no overarching national curriculum, education in secondary school generally consists of 2–4 years of each of science, Mathematics, English, Social sciences, Physical education; some years of a foreign language and some form of art education, as well as the usual PSHE.
Many high schools provide ‘Honors classes’ for the more academically able during the 11th or 12th grade of high school and/ or offer the International Baccalaureate (IB).
The National (And Hidden) Curriculum
While there isn’t a national curriculum in America, there are some very detailed national common core standards in subject areas such as English and Maths – so why schools aren’t told what books they should actually get students to read, or how to teach maths, the standards dictate that they must spend a certain amount of time teaching these and other subjects…. When I say detailed, they really are – the standards on English stretch to over 60 pages.
In terms of the Hidden Curriculum – 50% of schools require their students to pledge allegiance as part of their daily routine, which I guess is an attempt to enforce a sense of national identity.
If you’re American I imagine this gives you a warm glowing feeling, if you’re not you’re probably fluctuating between an uncomfortable feeling of nausea and wondering WTF this has got to do with ‘liberty’. NB note the doting parents looking on, and that YouTube is full of this sort of thing.
Differential Educational Achievement in America
The education system clearly doesn’t work for everyone equally – around 3 million students between the ages of 16 and 24 drop out of high school each year, a rate of 6.6 percent as of 2012.
Unsurprisingly, there are considerable ethnic differences in educational achievement in America, as this data from 2009 suggests:
The main aims, policy details and evaluations of the main waves of UK education policy – including the 1944 Butler Education Act, the introduction of Comprehensives in 1965, the 1988 Education Act which introduced marketisation, New Labour’s 1997 focus on academies and the 2010 Coalition government’s Free Schools.
Education policies is the largest topic within the sociology of education module. It can be a little overwhelming, and the best step is to learn the basic details of the policies first (taking a historical approach) and then focus on how each policy has influenced things such as equality of opportunity and standards of education.
This brief posts covers the main aims, policy details and evaluations of the main waves of UK education policy – including the 1944 Butler Education Act, the introduction of Comprehensives in 1965, the 1988 Education Act which introduced marketisation, New Labour’s 1997 focus on academies and the 2010 Coalition government’s Free Schools.
The 1944 Tripartite System
Selective education – students would receive a different education dependent on their ability. All students would sit a test at age 11 (the 11+) to determine their ability and sift them into the right type of school.
Equality of opportunity – All students in England and Wales have a chance to sit the 11 + . Previous to 1944, the only pupils who could get a good, academic equation were those who could afford it.
Details of the Act
Students took an IQ test at 11, the result of which determined which one of three three types of school the would attend:
The top 20% went to grammar schools, received an academic education and got to sit exams.
The bottom 80% went to secondary moderns. These provided a more basic education, and initially students didn’t sit any exams.
There were also technical schools which provided a vocational education, but these died out fairly quickly.
There were class inequalities – grammar schools were mainly taken up by the middle classes and secondary moderns by the lower classes.
The IQ test determined pupils futures at a very young age – no room for those who developed later in life.
Some of the secondary moderns had very low standards and labelled 80% of pupils as failures.
Gender inequalities – in the early days of the IQ tests girls had to get a higher score to pass than boys because it was thought they matured earlier than boys!
Equality of opportunity – one type of school for all pupils
Details of the act
The Tripartite System was abolished and Comprehensive schools established.
Local Education Authorities would maintain control of schools.
There were poor standards in some schools – especially where progressive education was concerned.
Banding and streaming occurred along social class lines – the working classes typically ended up in the lower bands and vice versa for the middle classes.
Parents had very little choice in education – it was nearly impossible to remove their children from the local school if they wanted, because it was thought that all schools were providing a similar standard of education.
The 1988 Education Act
To introduce free market principles (more competition) into the education system
to introduce greater parental choice and control over state education
Raising standards in education.
These are the aims associated with Neoliberalism and The New Right.
Details of the act
Marketisation and Parentocracy (schools compete for pupils parents are like consumers)
League Tables – so parents can see how well schools are doing and make a choice.
OFSTED – to regulate and inspect schools.
National Curriculum – so that all schools are teaching the same basic subjects
Formula Funding – funding based on numbers of pupils – which encourages schools to raise standards to increase demand.
Competition did increase standards – results gradually improved throughout the 1990s.
Selection by mortgage – the house prices in the catchment areas of the best schools increased, pricing out poorer parents.
Cream skimming – the best schools tended to select the best students, who were predominantly middle class.
The middle classes had more effective choice because of their higher levels of cultural capital.
League tables have been criticised for encouraging teaching to the test.
In response to the Covid-19 Pandemic schools were locked down Mid March to June 2020 and then from January to late March 2021 and home based, online learning became the norm.
GCSE and A-Level exams were cancelled in 2020 and again in 2021. Teachers awarded their own grades and in 2021 45% of pupils were given an A or A* grade compared to only 25% back in 2019 (when students had sat exams).
The Catch Up Premium was introduced in 2021: £650 million paid directly to schools and £350 million for a national tutoring programme.
Post-covid funding for schools is set to increase by 7% per pupil by 2024-25.
This resulted in a ‘covid education gap’ with children who missed school during Covid falling behind previous cohorts in the progress in maths and reading.
There was also a covid disadvantage gap: poor pupils fell further behind wealthier pupils because of differences in standards of home-support during lockdowns from schools. Students from the least deprived schools did almost three hours more work per week during lockdown compared to students from the least deprived schools.
Teacher Predicted Grades were obviously extremely generous, to the extent that we entered fantasy land. This gave an unfair advantage to those students receiving these compared to students who will be sitting their exams in 2023.
Funding increases to education from 2023 do not cover the rising costs of living.
Education Policies – Signposting and Find out More
These very brief, bullet pointed revision notes have been written specifically for students studying towards their A-level Sociology AQA Education exam. For more detailed class notes on each policy please see the links above or further links on my main sociology of education page.
A summary of endogenous and exogenous privatisation in England and Wales since the 1988 Education Act, and evaluations.
Education in England and Wales has become increasingly privatised since the 1980s. The 1988 Education Act introduced endogenous privatisation through marketisation and New Labour, the Coalition and the Tories since 2015 have pursued exogenous privatisation through setting up academies and getting more private companies involved with running educational services.
This post covers the following:
what is privisation?
State and private education in the U.K.
Exogenous and Endogenous education
Arguments for the privatisation of education
Arguments against the privatisation of education.
What is Privatisation?
Privatisation is where services which were once owned and provided by the state are transferred to private companies, such as the transfer of educational assets and management to private companies, charities or religious institutions.
The UK government spends approximately £90 billion a year on education, which includes to costs of teacher’s salaries, support workers, educational resources, building and maintaining school buildings, and the cost of writing curriculums, examinations and inspections (OFSTED), which means there is plenty of stuff which could potentially be privatised.
Most aspects of education in the UK have traditionally been run by the state, and funded directly by the government with taxpayer’s money, managed by Local Education Authorities (local councils). However, with the increasing influence of Neoliberal and New Right ideas on education, there has been a trend towards the privatisation of important aspects of education, both in the UK and globally. In other words, increasing amounts of taxpayer’s money goes straight to private companies who provided educational services, rather than to Local Education Authorities.
Private and State Education in the UK
The U.K. has always had private schools, also known as independent schools. These are fee paying schools which are entirely funded by the parents (or other wealthy benefactors) who pay annual fees to send their children to them.
Only the very wealthiest of parents (7%) can afford to send their children to independent schools and most parents (93%) rely on state funded education, which is funded tax payers, which has been the case since the Foster Act introduced free education for all children from the age of 10 in 1870.
Successive education acts gradually expanded the scope of state education throughout the late 19th and early to mid 20th centuries and by the 1970s Britain had one of the most broad ranging comprehensive education systems in the world, delivering free education to every 5-16 year old entirely funded and delivered by the state and managed by Local Education (government) authorities.
During this time Independent schools continued to exist and wealthy parents were free to send their children to them if they could afford the fees, so we’ve always had a ‘purely private’ education system, just only available to the minority.
The Privatisation of State Education
When the New Right conservative government came to power in 1979 they looked at State education, thought it was inefficient and sub-standard compared to the quality of education being delivered by independent schools.
They started a process of privatising state education and this process continued under New Labour (1997-2010) and the Coalition Government (2010 – 2015) and has been carried on to the present day under the current New Right Conservative government.
Endogenous and Exogenous Privatisation
Ball and Youdell (2007) distinguish between endogenous privatisation (privatisation from outside) and exogenous privatisation (privatisation within the education system)
Endogenous privatisation involves the establishment of a market in education – giving parents the right to choose which schools to send their children to and making schools compete for pupils in a similar way to which companies compete for consumers.
Exogenous Privatisation involves both British and international companies taking over different aspects of the UK education system, so the government gives money to private companies to run services related to education rather than the state running these services directly.
Endogenous privatisation refers to ‘privatisation within the education system’ – it involves the introduction of free-market principles into the day to day running of schools. This is basically marketization and includes the following:
Making schools compete for pupils so they become like businesses
Giving parents choice so they become consumers (open enrolment)
Linking school funding to success rates (formula funding)
Introducing performance related pay for teachers
Allowing successful schools to take over and manage failing schools.
Broadly speaking endogenous privatisation was achieved through the 1988 Education Act, and was just tweaked to run more efficiently in following decades (for example by allowing successful academies to take over failing schools and by tweaking league tables so that schools couldn’t ‘game’ them).
Exogenous privatisation is where private companies take over the running of aspects of educational services from the state.
Exogenous privatisation is what we’ve seen a lot more of since the New Labour government came to power in 1997 and introduced academies and then went on to outsource a lot of education services to private companies, a process which has been continued since and to the present day.
Examples of exogenous privatisation include…
The setting up of Academies. Since New Labour, the establishment of Academies has meant greater involvement of the private sector in running schools. Academies are allowed to seek 10% of their funding from businesses or charities, which increases the influence of private interests over the running of the school, and some recent academy chains such as the Academies Enterprise Trust are run by private companies, and managed by people with a background in business, rather than people with a background in teaching.
The Building and maintaining school buildings – Under New Labour A programme of new buildings for schools was financed through the Private Finance Initiative (PFI). Private companies did the building, but in return were given contracts to repay the investment and provided maintenance for 25-35 years. The colleges, schools or local education authorities had to pay the ongoing costs.
Running examination systems – The UK’s largest examinations body Edexcel is run by the Global Corporation Pearsons. Pearsons runs the exam boards in over 70 countries, meaning it sets the exams, it pays the examiners, it runs the training courses which teachers need to attend to understand the assessment criteria, and increasingly it writes the text books.
The Expansion of the Education Services Industry more generally. This is related to the above point – There are more International Corporations involved in education than ever before – two obvious examples include Google and Apple, both of which are well poised to play an increasing role in providing educational services for a profit.
Arguments for Privatisation
The main perspectives which argue for privatising education are Neoliberalism and The New Right.
The Neoliberal/ New Right argument is that state-run education is inefficient. They argue that the state’s involvement leads to ‘bureaucratic self-interest’, the stifling of initiative and low-standards. To overcome these problems the education system must be privatised, and New Right Policies have led to greater internal and external privatisation.
The main argument for endogenous privatisation is that the introduction of Marketisation within education has increased competition between schools and driven up standards.
The main argument for exogenous privatisation is that private companies are used to keeping costs down and will run certain aspects of the education system more efficiently than Local Education Authorities, even if they make a profit. Thus it’s a win-win situation for the public and the companies.
Arguments against the Privatisation of Education
If private companies have an increasing role in running the education system this may change the type of knowledge which pupils are taught – with more of an emphasis on maths and less of an emphasis on critical humanities subjects which aren’t as profitable. Thus a narrowing of the curriculum might be the result
Stephan Ball has also referred to what he sees as the cola-isation of schools – The private sector also increasingly penetrates schools through vending machines and the development of brand loyalty through logos and sponsorships.
There might be an increasing inequality of educational provision as private companies cherry pick the best schools to take over and leave the worst schools under Local Education Authority Control.
If we want universal education for all in our current very unequal society, the state probably has to be involved in some way. If we abandoned state education altogether and moved to a purely independent school system based on fees then millions of children would get no education at all because millions of parents lack the means to pay fees because they are too poor.
Simon et al (2022) (1) compared for profit early years providers with not for profit early years providers in England and Wales during the period of 2014-2018. They found that private providers were far more likely to have high levels of debt, poor accounting and spent less on wages proportionate to the funding they received from government.
They theorised that for profit nursery chains were deliberately putting nurseries at risk of bankruptcy in order to extract government money to parent companies. (Presumably if the nurseries did go bankrupt the government would just have to bail them out!).
The main perspective which criticises the privatisation of education is Marxism.
For more links to my posts on the sociology of education please see this page, which follows the AQA A-level specification.