Education & Social Policy

Social policies are introduced by the government. Successive governments have introduced policies to change and shape the education system in England and Wales. However, one thing remains the same despite these changes: middle class students benefit the most.

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  • Created by: Amy
  • Created on: 09-05-12 21:37

The Education Act 1944

The EA’44 introduced the tripartite system: three types of secondary school based on a pupil’s ability as shown in an 11+ exam.

If the pupil passed their 11+ they would go to a grammar school to follow n academic course. If they failed the 11+ they would go to a secondary modern school, with few exams and only a basic level of education.

Schools were intended to have parity of esteem – i.e. be viewed equally by parents, teachers, employers etc.

Performance in the 11+ would have a lifelong impact on the pupil’s future. 

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Criticisms of the tripartite system

·         It created a social divide. Middle class pupils were more likely to pass the 11+ because they had greater cultural capital (knowledge required for education). Therefore, grammar schools tended to have middle class pupils; secondary modern schools tended to be working class pupils

·         The label of ‘failure’ affected many working class pupils long after finishing school

·         A waste of working class talent: failing 11+ meant they were denied the chance to develop their education

·         No parity of esteem: grammar schools seen as best

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Comprehensive education

In 1965, the Labour government decided to end the tripartite system and introduce comprehensive schools. All pupils would go to one school, regardless of ability. There was no entrance exam.

It was hoped this would reduce the social class divide created by the tripartite system. However, pupils were streamed in comprehensive schools, and this often reflected social class: middle class pupils in the high streams, working class pupils in the low streams.

However, the education achievement of all pupils increased in comprehensive schools.

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The New Right and the Education Return Act 1988

The New Right greatly influenced the Conservative Government in the 1980s, and their ideas shaped the Education Reform Act 1988. (Their views also influenced New Labour education policies 1997-2010).

The New Right and education:

The New Right believe that market forces of competition between schools and consumer choice, make education more efficient. This was known as marketisation. This means schools are run like businesses which compete with other schools to attract consumers (i.e. parents). The more pupils a school attracts, the more money it receives. This competition should improve standards at all schools: best schools get most pupils and most money; the poorest performing schools get fewer pupils, less money and eventually close.

This creates a parentocracy: in an education market, the power shifts from the providers of education (i.e. schools) to the consumers (i.e. parents). This power through choice should encourage all schools to improve. 

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The Education Reform Act 1988

The ERA’88 introduced various new policies based on the New Right view of education. These include

Publication of Ofsted reports/league tables = information for parents

Formula funding: all schools receiving the same amount of money for each pupil

• Competition between schools

• Schools to ‘opt out’ of local authority control

Education vouchers (New Right= Chubb + Moe: parents ‘buy’ education from a school of their choice, the vouchers are the school’s main source of income)

National curriculum (with 3 core subjects)


Standardised exams to compare results between schools

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1.       League tables reflect the ideas of the New Right because it reiterates the idea of schools must compete each other for pupils. Better results equate to better schools. Formula funding also reflects the New Right view, as the constant competition for pupils motivates the marketisation of schools.  

For every pupil, the schools gain a fixed amount of money. Thus, the more pupils, the more money. Education vouchers motivate the school to become their very best and try and attract students, so they can gain more money.

2.       Formula funding and league tables may produce inequality as the schools may be overwhelmed with pupils wanting to join. These schools may choose the middle class students over the working class students, as they tend to get better results. This will make the middle class thrive, as the working class will be at a disadvantage, as they are sent to lower performing schools.

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Myth of parentocracy

Ball criticises the ERA’88.

He argues that it does not create a parentocracy: instead it is middle class parents who are best able to take advantage of the choices available to them.

1.       When Ball came up with the term of ‘the myth of parentocracy’ , he meant that not all parents have the freedom to choose which school they send their children to. Only the middle class parents do.

2.       In reality, middle-class parents have more economic and cultural capital (knowledge&money) so are better able to take advantage of the choices available. They can also afford to move into the catchment areas of more desirable schools. Therefore, the schools are more likely to choose the middle class children. 

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New Labour 1997-2010

New Labour mentioned many of the marketisation policies of the ERA’88. However, they also had two further aims: to reduce the inequality and promote diversity and choice.

Education Action Zones: the government identified those poor performing schools in the most deprived areas and invested money into those schools to improve resources. – This ensures that all children – no matter what class - have access to good, well funded schools.

Aim Higher: To encourage students to consider university especially those from social groups who are under-represented in higher education (i.e. lower working class.)

Education Maintenance Allowance: money for students from low income households to encourage them to remain in education after 16. – This ensures that all students can carry on with their education and get good jobs, where lower class children usually drop out.

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Increasing leaving age to 18to reduce number of NEETs (Not in employment, education or Training) – often lower working class with fewer qualifications. This ensures that all teenagers can get better and more qualifications so they can do well in life.

National Literacy Strategy: to raise the literacy and numeracy skills of all pupils, especially those from the lower social class. This ensures that every child has the potential to do well in school.

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Criticisms of New Labour Policies

·         The Labour government has not abolished selective grammar schools or fee-paying private schools, which benefit middle class pupils most

Although Labour introduced policies to reduce inequality, the introduction of tuition fees may encourage inequality as it may prevent students from lower/middle income households to go to university 

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Promoting Diversity and Choice

Labour introduced two new types of school:

-specialist schools: secondary schools that specialise in particular subjects (e.g. Maths, Science etc.), increasing choices for parents

-academies: underperforming comprehensives that are often dominated by working class pupils

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very helpful :)

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