Educational policy

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  • Created on: 18-05-19 14:07

What is educational policy?

Educational policies are governments strategies for education, introduced through legal changes and instructions to schools. Until the 19th century, education was only provided by church or private schools. However, industrialisation created a need for an educated and trained workforce and this led to the development of compulsory state-run education.

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The development of state education

The tripartite system introduced in 1944 had two main types of secondary school, with selection by the 11+ exam. Most middle-class pupils passed the 11+ and went to grammar schools, which had an academic curriculum. Most working class pupils failed and attended secondary modern schools, which had a practical skills curriculum. That all pupils took the same test legitimated the resultant class inequality. 

The comprehensive system introduced from 1965 abolished the 11+. All pupils attended the same local comprehensive school. But some areas did not go comprehensive and there are still 164 grammar schools in England. 

  • Functionalists see comprehensive as meritocratic because they give pupils longer to develop by not selecting at eleven. Some see comprehensives promoting integration by bringing all social classes together in one school.
  • Marxists see comprehensives reproducing inequality through streaming and labelling. They legitimate inequality by the 'myth of meritocracy', making it look like everyone has an equal opportunity.
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Marketisation policies

Marketisation means introducing market forces of consumer choice and competition into areas run by the state such as education, creating an 'education market'.

Marketisation policies have become a central theme since the 1988 Education reform act. They include league tables, open enrolment, formula finding, opting out of LEA control, free schools, academies, business sponsorship.

Parentocracy Supporters claim these policies give parents greater choice and raise standards.

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The reproduction of inequality

  • League tables mean schools with good results can 'cream-skim' the best (mainly middle class) pupils. Less successful schools end up with less able pupils ('silt-shifting').
  • The funding formula Schools are funded on how many pupils they recruit, so good schools get more money, can improve staffing/facilities and attract more pupils.
  • Parental choice  Gerwitz identifies middle-class privileged skilled choosers with the economic and cultural capital to take advantage of the system; working-class disconnected local choosers who lack capital and have to settle for the nearest school; and ambitious working-class semi-skilled choosers frustrated by the inability to get the school they wanted.
  • The myth of meritocracy Marketisation also legitimates inequality, by making it look as if all parents are equally free to choose a good school
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New Labour policies, 1997-2010

New Labour maintained marketisation policies but introduced policies to reduce inequality. These included city academies, Education Action Zones and Aim Higher programmes in disadvantaged areas; Education Maintenance Allowances for poorer 16-18 year olds and increased spending on state education.


  • The policies are contradictory , e.g. EMAs help poorer pupils stay on post-16, but they now have to pay university tuition fees.
  • New Labour has left the private education system untouched.
  • 'Choice' and 'diversity' are just nice ways of saying inequality - the education market ensures working-class pupils remain disadvantaged.
  • On the other hand, more education spending and a focus on a 'learning society' have been genuine achievements. Evidence that academies have raised standards is mixed - some show improved results, others don't. 
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Conservative policies since 2010

Conservative-led governments from 2010 accelerated the move away from a comprehensive system run by local authorities. Policies have been strongly influenced by neoliberal ideas about reducing the role of the state through marketisation and privatisation.

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Neoliberalism and privatisation

There are two types of marketisation: an internal market within the education system (as set up by the 1988 act) and the privatisation of state education. Here the state ceases to be the provider of education. Instead it commissions private companies to provide services. Privatisation has been a growing trend in recent years.

  • Academies All schools are encouraged to become academies funded by central government. Some academies are part of privately-owned chains. Removing academies from local authority control means loss of democratic accountability.
  • Free schools are state funded but set up and run by parents, teachers, religious groups or businesses.
  • Fragmented centralisation Ball argues that we now have a fragmented patchwork instead of the comprehensive system, leading to greater inequality. Education is also now more centralised: government can require schools to become academies and allow free schools to be set up.
  • Spending cuts Since 2010 there have been major cuts in government spending, e.g. on Sure Start, school building, the EMA, plus increases in univerity fees. In some cases, cuts have cancelled out the Pupil premium schools recieve for disadvantaged pupils.
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The privatisation of education

  • Education as a privatised commodity Ball argues that education is ceasing to be a public good. Instead it is being privatised: turned into a commodity owned by private companies and bought and sold in an education market. Education becomes a source of profit for capitalists, including school building, Ofsted inspections, providing supply teachers, even running entire local education authorities. Hall sees this as the 'long march of the neoliberal revolution'. 
  • Blurring the public/private boundary Many senior public sector employees, such as senior civil servants and head teachers, move into private sector education businesses, bringing 'insider knowledge' to help win contracts.
  • Globalisation of policy Many education companies are foreign-owned. Some UK edu-businesses work overseas, privatising and exporting UK education policy for sale abroad. Nation-states are becoming less important in policy-making, which is becoming globalised.
  • Cola-isation of schools The private sector sells to pupils through vending machines in schools, develops brand loyalty through logos, sponsorships and voucher schemes. However, the benefits to schools are often limited.
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Ethnicity and policy

Policies relating to ethnicity have gone through three stages. In the 1960s and 70s, the aim was to encourage assimilation, e.g. through English as a second language programmes. In the 1980s and 1990s, the aim switched to valuing all cultures through multi-cultural education policies such as black studies in the mainstream curriculum. More recently, the focus has been on social inclusion, e.g. the legal duty on schools to promote racial equality, but Mirza criticises even the more recent policies as being too limited in scope.

Gender and policy There have been a number of important policies aimed at reducing gender inequalities in achievement and at promoting non-traditional subject choices.

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