Education Policy and Inequality

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  • For most of us education takes place in schools.
  • Education is the continuation of the socialisation started in the family.
  • There is a close connection between the economy and skills acquired in education.
  • The kind of work people do is influenced by the kind of education they get.


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The History of Education

  • State education for all has only been available in Britain since 1880.
  • It was made compulsary for all children aged 5-13.
  • There were a number of reasons for the introduction of compulsary education, these were:
  • To create a more skilled workforce.
  • To re-socialise the feckless and poor.
  • To reduce the level of street crime.
  • To ward off the threat of revolution (french revolution scared the brits).


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The Tripartite System

  • 1944: education began to be shaped by the idea of meritocracy.
  • Meritocracy is where individuals achieve status through their own efforts and abilities.
  • The 1944 Education Act brought in the tripartite system.
  • All children were required to take an IQ test at 11 (11+) in order to allocate them to a school that suited their abilities. There were 3 schools that were developed.
  • Grammar School: academic curriculum, access to HE, mainly middle class and they had passed the 11+.
  • Secondary Modern Schools: non-academic 'practical' curriculum, mainly working class and they had failed 11+.
  • Secondary Technical schools - artistic, very few existed.
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The Tripartite System - Problems

  • Rather than promoting meritocracy, the tripartite system and 11+ reproduced class inequalities.
  • This is because two social classes were channelled into 2 different types of school that offered unequal opportunities.
  • The system also reproduced gender inequalities by discriminating against girls, they often had to achieve higher marks in the 11+ to obtain a grammar school place.
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The Comprehensive System

  • 1965 onwards: the comprehensive system was introduced in many areas, designed to overcomne class inequalities and make education meritocratic.
  • The tripartite system and 11+ were abolished and grammar and secondary modern schools were replaced by comprehensives. These would be attended by all pupils in a given area.
  • Although there is evidence that the comprehensive system helped reduce class inequalities. It actually helped reproduce class inequalities in 2 ways: Streaming (where children are seperated into different ability groups or classes), working class streamed lower, and Labelling (the process of attaching a definition or meaning to an individual or group), working class labelled negatively.
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The Comprehensive System ***.

  • Comprehensives also legitimised inequality, especially through the 'myth of meritocracy'.
  • As pupils went to the same kind of school, it made it appear that they had equal opportunites regardless of their background.
  • However, in reality, sociologists found this wasn't the case, due to streaming and labelling of the pupils.
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Marketisation and Parentocracy

  • The most influential legislation since 1944 was the 1988 Education Reform Act - ERA (M. Thatcher).
  • This established the principle of marketisation in education (marketisation is the the policy of introducing market forces of supply and demand e.g. creating competition between schools).
  • ERA crested an education market by reducing direct state control over education and increasing both competition between schools and parental choice of school.
  • The New Right favour the idea of marketisation.
  • Schools have to be run more like businesses that attract customers (parents) by competing with each other.
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Marketisation and Parentocracy ***.

  • Therefore, schools provide customers with what they want - exam success - will thrive and those that don't 'go out of business'.
  • David (1993): describes this phase as a 'parentocracy' (rule by parents).
  • This is because the power shifts from the producers (schools and teachers) to the customers/consumer (parents).
  • This encourages diversity among schools and gives parents more choice, meets the needs of different pupils and raises standards. However parents need to be able to make well informed decisions.
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Marketisation and Parentocracy 3

  • Policies that promote marketisation include:
  • publication of exam league tables and Ofsted inspection reports.
  • business sponsorship of schools (e.g. city technology schools).
  • schools being allowed to opt out of LEA control.
  • schools having to compete to attract pupils.
  • Despite the claimed benefits of marketisation, it is argued that it has increased inequalities between pupils e.g. middle class parents are better placed to take advantage of the available choices.
  • Ball (1994) and Whitty (1998): argue it reproduces inequality through exam league tables and the funding formula.
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Marketisation and Parentocracy - Exam Leauge Table

  • By publishing each school's exam results in a league table ensures schools which achieve good results are more in demand.
  • This will allow such schools to be more selective and to recruit high achieving mainly middle class pupils, this means middle class pupils get the best education.
  • But schools with poor league table positions cannot afford to be selective. They take the less able, mainly working class pupils.
  • This means results stay poor so they remain unattractive to middle class parents.
  • Overall league tables reproduce social class inequalities.
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Marketisation and Parentocracy - Funding Formula

  • Schools are allocated funds by a formula based on how many pupils they attract. This means, popular schools get more funds and can afford better-qualified teachers and better facilities.
  • Such popularity allows them to be more selective and attract more able and ambitious pupils who are generally middle class.
  • While unpopular schools lose income and find it difficult to match the teacher skills and facilities of their successful rivals.
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Marketisation and Parentocracy 4

  • Ball: marketisation gives the appearance of a parentocracy where it seems that parents have a free choice on school, he argues this is a myth and not all parents have the same freedom of choice of which school to send their child to.
  • Gerwitz: middle class parents have more economic and cultural capital and are better informed to make better choice.
  • Leech and Campus: middle class parents can afford to move into the catchment areas of more desirable schools.
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