Educational Reforms

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1994: Butler Education Act

  • Introduction of the tripartite system
  • Three types of secondary school: Grammar, Technical or Secondary Modern
  • Children took the 11+ test to decide which school they would go to
  • Aimed to create 'parity of esteem' by providing a stable education for each type of learner, regardless of class or background


  • Few Technical schools were actually built due to equiptment costs.
  • Grammar schools were seen as the most prestigeous type - specialising in acedemic subjects that led to university and a well paid job.
  • Only 20% attended these, leaving the 75% attending secondary moderns to feel like failures - often denied exam entry and so denied oppertunities to progress.
  • Girls generally achieved better marks than boys in the 11+, but their pass mark was higher due to fewer girls' grammar schools. 
  • 2/3 of grammar schools places went to middle class pupils
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Comprehensive Schools

  • In 1965, the Labour government introduced comprehensive schools
  • Aimed to provide a broader curriculum, more sporting and recreational


  • Admissions were based on geographical catchment areas, generally all of one class, so social mixing was limited.
  • The tripartite system continued in some areas.
  • Comprehensive schools organised class by ability (streaming) - higher streams were dominated by middle class pupils, and lower streams dominated by working class students.
  • Hargreaves (1967) and Ball (1981) argued that class divide was reappearing in comprehensive schools.
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1979: New Right Policy

  • Favoured marketisation and competition between schools
  • Conservatives felt that increased youth unemployment was a result of school's failure to teach appropriate work skills.
  • New Vocationalism was introduced to increase skills and awareness of work through Youth Training Schemes


  • Finn (Neo-Marxist) argued that there was a hidden political agenda to the policy. As it provides cheap labour, reduces unemployment figures and was intended to reduce crime.
  • Cohen argued that the purpose of the policy was for young people to accept a likely future of low-paid and unskilled jobs.
  • Those who refused to join a Youth Training Scheme were punished through a removal of benefits.
  • Normally lower-ability students went into a YTS, which only taught jobs in the secondary labour market, therefore mainly working-class.
  • Bushwell argued that the policy reproduced gender inequality - females were chanelled into retail where there is only low-pay or part-time work.
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1988: Marketisation

  • Unsuccessful schools would be faced with improvement or closure.
  • Parents were able to choose where they sent their children.
  • Formation of OFSTED to increase competition
  • Children were tested regularly through the use of SATs, GCSEs and A-Levels to draw up league tables, further increasing competition.
  • The National Curriculum was introduced - a range of subjects that every school would have to teach.


  • Concerns were raised over the possible damaging and stessful effects of testing children so often.
  • League tables were counterproductive - schools may not admit low achievers.
  • Competition forces school's funding to be spent on marketing
  • Very few places at popular schools, so parents had little or no choice in reality.
  • The act reinforced class differences - middle class parents used their cultural capital to get into the best schools.
  • Ball et al. showed that middle class parents were more able to impress at interviews and manipulate the system. They also had the advantage of economic capital to pay for transport if a better school was far from home.
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1997 Onwards

  • Schools specialise in particular subjects, increasing choice, encouraging competition, raising standards and allowing schools to excel in their specialities.
  • 80% of all state secondaries in the UK were specialist in 2007.
  • Raised minimum school leaving age to 18
  • New Labour policies - reduce social exculsion and promote equality of oppertunites through Acadamies:
  • (2001) replacing failing schools by providing high quality education through partnerships with employers and other sponsors. The best teachers are encouraged to work in these schools. Sponsors have a say in how the school should be run and the curriculum. 
  • Sure Start - free nursery education for all, brings together a range of educational and other support services in disadvantaged communities.
  • Educational Maintenence Allowence - Up to £30 a week given to students aged between 16 and 19 in full-time education who are from lower income backgrounds, to encourage them to stay in education.


  • Sally Tomlinson - Middle class students benefit most from these policies, and league tables have caused 'examination techniques, role learning and revision' learning.
  • McKnight et al. (2005) - resources directed towards deprived areas may have resulted in improvements.
  • Labour wanted more (50% of) pupils to go into Higher Education by 2010, which has happened (11-19% of working class pupils and 35-50% of middle class), so has increased for everyone, however class inequality is still present.
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