Education - policies and perspectives

Policies Before 1979 1/2

1870 Education Act (made most schools free of charge and introduced school boards), 1918 Education Act (age increased to 12, took out specific fees and increased teacher pensions)

1944 Butler Act: introduced free secondary education from the age of 5 to 15, aimed to provide equal opportunity for all in education regardless of background – a meritocratic system, reforming education into the selective tripartite system, allocating places based on achievement in the 11+ exam

Grammar Schools – taught the most able (middle class, 20% of all) pupils traditional academic subjects for university. Secondary Modern Schools – the other 80% of pupils were taught basic education and allowed to study vocational subjects without academic qualifications, expected to leave and do traditional working-class jobs. Technical Schools – intended to teach vocational skills, e.g. engineering and design

Criticisms: grammar schools were dominated by middle-class pupils, pupils were labelled as academic or non-academic at the age of 11, by a culturally biased exam– working class pupils underachieved - in some areas, it was easier to get into grammar schools as there were more places, and the system overall was not meritocratic.

1 of 8

Policies Before 1979 2/2

1965 Comprehensive Schools Act: the Labour Government of the 1960s wanted to get rid of the selective Tripartite System and replace it with a fairer Comprehensive system, to teach all pupils regardless of class or ability an academic curriculum. Schools were mixed – boys and girls, different social classes would be taught together - opposed by Conservatives, but by 1974 80% of pupils attended a comprehensive. The idea was that everybody should have the same opportunity; working-class pupils shouldn’t be excluded from high-quality education, different genders/classes should mix.

Criticisms: the New Right believed the most able were held back, the standards of the old grammar schools weren’t matched, comprehensive schools didn’t succeed in mixing social classes, most underachieving comprehensive schools were in working-class areas and staying on rates post-16 are low in some areas, there are significant differences in pass rates depending on the type of area the school is in (middle-class areas have higher pass rates) and thus Comprehensives didn’t produce meritocracy.

However: more working-class pupils left school with good academic qualifications, comprehensives were in competition with private schools – in many areas private schools take the ablest pupils.

2 of 8

Policies After 1979 1/2

1988 Education Reform Act - Thatcher in 1979 led to policies called the ‘New Right’, with ideas similar to those of functionalist theory - education should rank pupils and produce a skilled workforce. Thatcher believed comprehensive schools were failing to address the needs of the economy, producing young people with poor skills.

Chubb and Moe believed that schools should be run more like businesses, arguing parents should be given a choice of school to send their children to and schools should be accountable to parents, suggesting parents should be given money vouchers and that schools should compete to attract the best pupils. Those that failed should be closed.

Introduced: National Curriculum, National testing – to raise standards pupils were tested at ages 7, 11, 14 by SATs/at 16 by GCSEs —, key stages to make it easier to monitor pupil progress, OFSTED, parents were encouraged to choose the best school for their children (choice was seen as a key factor as it would make schools more accountable),  League Tables, power was taken away from LEA’s by giving Headteachers control over budgets; schools opt out of Local Authority control.

Bowe, Ball and Gerwirtz found: the changes favoured middle-class parents as they had the knowledge and status to take advantage of choice, schools were in competition with each other - increased choice for parents and league tables meant schools were reluctant to share resources and help each other -, teaching became focused on those pupils who would give the school a good ranking in the league tables - so special needs education suffered

3 of 8

Policies After 1979 2/2

New Vocationalism - Vocational education = link between education and work. Thatcher believed vocational education needed to be strong so Britain would have a skilled workforce. In the mid-1980s unemployment was high (4 million), she believed education and training should help promote economic growth.

A number of measures were introduced: less able pupils in schools were to be taught practical skills, youth Training Schemes (YTS) were introduced for school leavers (the government paid companies to train young school leavers, wages were low and it was cheap slave labour with no guarantee of employment at the end) NVQ and GNVQ’s were introduced in 1993 as equivalents to GCSEs, Training and Enterprise Councils (TEC’s) were run by local businesses in 1990 to train people to meet the economy’s needs.

Other policies: student loans, Polytechnics became Universities, increased numbers going into HE, introduced Grant Maintained Schools outside of LEA control who could select pupils, and an assisted place scheme to help working-class pupils pay fees for private schools.

1979 – 1997 Conservatives did controversial things, with a legacy of accountability for schools, increased choice for parents, the National Curriculum, OFSTED

4 of 8

Polices After 1997 1/2

New Labour Policies on Education: Blair in 1997 aimed to raise achievement by helping socially excluded groups in society, however, Labour kept Conservative policies – i.e parental choice, competition between schools, vocational education to provide training needed to compete in a post-Fordist society 

Policies: Fresh Start Policy (failing schools were identified and helped to relaunch using ‘Superheads’), Specialist Schools; City Academies funded by government and private business that select a limited number of pupils; Education Action Zones (EAZ’s) which were partnership between schools/LEA’s/local business to invest in schools in deprived areas by raising funds for equipment and better qualified teachers; Gifted and Talented Programmes to identify brightest 5% of pupils and ensure their needs are met; also a target by 2010 to have 50% of school leavers going to higher education and primary class sizes reduced to under 30

Criticisms: Marxists argue there is little difference between New Labour and Conservatives, too much emphasis on competition and marketisation, (however, policies do assist disadvantaged groups + OFSTED 2003 found standards in primary schools have risen),  EAZ’s were poorly organised and a waste; pupils benefiting from G&T schemes were disproportionately female, white, middle-class, schools in working-class areas underachieved (schools with the most pupils claiming free school meals had 29% gain 5 C-grades at GCSE)

5 of 8

Polices After 1997 2/2

New Labour has been criticised for changing funding for students in higher education - tuition fees and student loans put working-class students off entering HE. In 2002 only 15% of children from poor families went to university compared to 81% of children of professionals. Trowler (2003) argues that Labour was unrealistic in their expectations of what education could achieve in tackling social inequality. 

Coalition Government (2010-2015): cuts to EMA (Education Maintenance Allowance), increased tuition fees, the introduction of student premium for disadvantaged students, raised OFSTED targets, introduced Free Schools and linear A-levels

6 of 8

Perspectives On Policies 1/2

Functionalism: Sees the role of the education system as a positive for both the individual and society, allowing for value consensus to be maintained and a meritocratic system to be established; educational policies benefit individuals and society, they argue policies create a meritocratic system. Other sociologists, however, find persistent inequalities between different groups, suggesting educational policies don’t result in a meritocratic education system. 

New Right: argues only the ablest students should have talent developed and be recruited into the most important jobs, whilst others are prepared for lower-level employment; reflected in conservative and coalition government (2010-2015) policy, they believe in policies that enable marketisation in education, selective schools, increased parental choice, and focus on traditional styles of learning. These policies are criticised for creating bigger gaps between groups and benefitting the middle class, leaving the poor more deprived of a good education.

Postmodernism: society has become increasingly fragmented due to the need for the economy to fulfil the needs of the global market and education is seen to help meet these needs; argues policies reflect the greater choice and individualism in society and explore the way learning now takes place as part of a life long process in a global context. However, Postmodernists don’t explain inequalities that persist as a result of policy, nor do they offer alternative suggestions. 

7 of 8

Perspectives On Policies 2/2

Marxism: education is primarily a means of social control, encouraging young people to be conformists, accept their social position and not to do anything to upset the current patterns of inequality in power, wealth and income. Education reproduces existing social class inequalities and passes them from one generation to the next, and mainstream political parties support the capitalist economy and ideology. Marxists argue that education and the people creating educational policies are the ruling class and therefore policies benefit the ruling class and maintain working class underachievement. However, some policies have been created to help overcome difficulties faced by the poor/underachieving e.g compensatory education, helping social mobility to occur for some, challenging Marxist ideas.

Feminists: the education system is seen to either address inequality or encourage it. They believe either the ‘Future is now Female’ or schools reinforce gender inequalities. Liberal feminists argue policy changes result in greater educational outcomes for girls in school. However, others argue there needs to be a radical change in order to eradicate patriarchy - most policy writers are men, thus reflecting patriarchal ideology. There are still issues for women regardless of equal opportunities legislation and policies in education, e.g girls perform better at school, yet still average less pay at work.  

8 of 8

Comments

No comments have yet been made

Similar Sociology resources:

See all Sociology resources »See all Education resources »