Main Phases of educational policy in Britain

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The Tripartite System- 

1944 education act began to shape the idea of meritocracy. This brought in the 11+ exams, which separated children in to 3 different types of schools:

  • Grammar sschools- for children who passed the 11+ exams. They were offered an acamdemic curriculum and access to non-manual jobs and higher education. 
  • Secondary modern schools- offered a non-academic 'practical' curriculum and access to manual work for pupils who failed their 11+ exams. 
  • Technology Schools- These only existed in a few areas due to the lack of qualified teachers and funding. 

This however did not promote meritocracy, instead did the opposite. It reproduced class and gender eqaulity .  

The Comprehensive System- 

This was first introduced in 1965 onwards. It wanted to make education more meritocractic and bring more equality unlike the tripartite system. It abolished the 11+ exams along with grammar and secondary modern schools and replaced them with comprehensive schools that ALL pupils would attend in the area. However the system continued to reproduce inequality by :

  • Streaming- many pupils are streamed into ability groups usually middle class pupils in the top bands and the working class pupils in the lower bands. Douglas believes that streaming leads the self-fulfilling prohecy. 
  • Labelling - Even when streaming doesn't happen, labelling from teachers does, which may lead to working class pupils being labelled negatively and again fulfilling the self fulfilling prohecy. 

Comprehensives also legitmate inequality because even though that pupils all went to the same school unequal opportunities still happened. Not all grammar and secondary modern schools were abolished because it was left to the local education authorities to decide whether to go comprehensive after 1965. There are still 164 grammar schools in England. 

Marketisation and Parentocracy- 

The 1988 education act introduced the marketisation of education favoured by The New Right. Marketisation refers to the process of introducing market forces of consumer choice and competition between suppliers into areas run by the state such as education or NHS. The education reform act created:

  • Reducing direct state control over education
  • Increasing both competition between schools and parental choice of school

Promotions to promote marketisation: 

  • Publication of exam league tables and ofsted inspection reports to give parents full information they need to choose the right school. 
  • Business sponsorship of schools
  • Open enrolment, allowing successful schools to recruit more pupils
  • Formula funding- schools receive a sum of money per student
  • Schools have allowed to opt out of LEA control
  • Schools have to compete to attract pupils
  • Some politicians have proposed educational vouchers

However despite the claimed benefits of marketisation, its critics argue that it has increased inequalities between pupils. Ball and Whitty argue that this system reproduces inequality by exam league tables and the funding formula.

Not only does marketisation reproduce inequality; it also legitimates it by concealing its true causes and by justifying its existence. Ball believes that marketisation gives the appearance of creating a 'parentocracy. That is the education system seems as if it is based on


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