Education Essays - Educational Lottery

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Is it really the harder you work the further you get in education or is it an "educational lottery" whereby your academic future is pre-determined before birth.


This paper aims to look at the extent that the education system in the UK can best be regarded as a meritocracy based on hard work and diligence or a social lottery whereby students are channeled into socially pre-determined roles and levels of achievement. In order to organise my research in a way that is commensurate with methodological and expositional integrity I will attempt to test my hypothesis through a typical thesis-antithesis-synthesis structure; detailing firstly the history surrounding state education, secondly the various strains of Liberal pedagogy that assert its meritocratic character and thirdly how Marxist and Neo-Conservative theory refutes this and views state run education as a mechanism of social control and workforce filtering.

Throughout I will place these theoretical notions into a current political context using a variety of sources that includes data concerning the amount of preschool places available to children in inner city and poor areas, the educational disparities between the races and genders and the levels of Higher education funding that is allocated by bodies such as the AHRC. I will also make use of the many government papers and documents that have been published since 1997.

Introduction:  State Run – State Issues

The Introduction to this paper will focus on the particular problems and issues that arise when education is inducted into the state. The modern education system, in Britain, can be said to have begun with the Elementary Education Act of 1870 (Haralambos and Holborn, 2004; Curtis and Boultwood, 1967), it was this Act that first advocated a system of school boards that oversaw the curricula and pedagogy of local schools and led eventually to the Fisher Act of 1918 that made school compulsory (McKibbin, 1998).

The recent government documents Youth Matters (2005) and the framework for the National Skills Academy (2005) exemplify what is a constant antagonism in British pedagogical policy; on the one hand asserting the primacy of a Liberal educational foundation and on the other the need to produce a workforce for all the various levels of employment strata. This section of the paper will examine this antagonism as it manifests itself in current government thinking, drawing on these two recent policy documents as well as other key sources (Salisbury and Riddell, 2000; Cole, 2000; Smithers and Robinson, 2000; Levinson, 1999).

It is hoped that this introduction will give a firm grounding in current Government policy and will also provide a stable basis for the discussion to come.

Chapter One: The Liberal Ideal

This chapter will provide the thesis element of my paper and will take the form of an exposition upon Liberal educational theory and how it is reflected in the modern system. In many ways the Government’s Youth Matters (2005) document can be seen as an entry point into such Liberal theory that centers around notions originally developed by John Dewey in the early part of the twentieth century (Dewey, 2005; Dewey, 2000 etc.).

This viewpoint not only asserts the intrinsic value of education but also sees advancement as a product of hard work and diligence irrespective of gender, class or race (DfES, 2005: 9). Commensurate with this debate is the critique of the tripartite system of education that comprised of grammar, secondary modern and technical colleges and that formed the basis of the work of Halsey, Floud and Anderson (1961).           
In order to test such theories I will examine Government statistics on not only exam results (DfES, 2004) but also the National Curriculum assessments (DfES, 2005 [Provisional]), Student Loan information (DfES, 2005), Higher Education Grants (DfES, 2005) and a host of other Government published papers that assert the proliferation of what I have termed the ‘Liberal Ideal’. This chapter aims, through a discussion of Liberal policy, to highlight the extent that current education system does indeed mean that the harder you work to further you get.

Chapter Two: The Education Machine

This chapter aims to take a contrary position to preceding one and thus provide the antithesis to the thesis. Through an exposition of the theoretical framework of Marxism and Conservatism I will assess the extent that the British education system is designed to facilitate the proliferation of an ideology that places the creation of a workforce above the wishes of individual students to remain in education. Under such a notion, the education system does indeed become a lottery, based upon pre-determined factors like class, race and gender.   

The theoretical base for this chapter will be drawn from such studies as Paul Willis Learning to Labour (1978), Bowles and Gintis’ study Schooling in Capitalist America (1976) and the Neo-Marxist theories of Glenn Rikowski (1997, 2001). I will also, however make some mention of the functionalist ethos (Durkheim, 1982; Giddens, 1971; Black, 1961 etc.) that sees the education systems as fulfilling a vital need in the economy of an industrial society by providing a stratified workforce; a concept that can be seen to be reflected in both the Conservative policies of the 1980s and the Blair administration’s National Skills Academy (2005).   

In order to place such notions into context I will look in particular at the funding given to those students wishing to attend Higher educational establishments (such as the grants awarded to postgraduates from bodies such as the AHRC) and the Government’s new commitment to providing non-academic training to young people via the new apprenticeship scheme (Learning and Skills Council, 2005).


My conclusions will be drawn from not only the theoretical base of this paper but also the research data in the form of corroborating statistics. The structure I have chosen to build this paper around offers us ample opportunity to examine the theoretical base and the current situation in tandem; placing the Government’s own education shaping policy within the context of sociological theory and the empirical data. It is hoped that it is in the combination of these three elements that I shall be able to fully test my research hypothesis and draw worthwhile conclusions.


Bowles, Samuel and Gintis (1976), Schooling in Capitalist America, (London: Routledge)
Cole, Mike (2000), Education, Equality and Human Rights, (London: Falmer Press)
Curtis, S.J. and Boultwood, M. (1967), An Introductory History of English Education Since 1800, (London: University Tutorial Press)
Department of Education (2005), Youth Matters, (London: HMSO)
Department of Education, (2005a), National Skills AcademyFramework, (London: HMSO)
Dewey, John (2000), Experience and Nature, (London: Dover)
Dewey, John (2005), Democracy and Education, (London: Digireads)
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Rikowski, Glenn (1997), “Scorched earth: prelude to rebuilding Marxist education theory”, published in British Journal of Sociology of Education, Vol. 18.
Rikowski, Glenn (2001), The Battle in Seattle: Its Significance for Education, (London: Tufnell Press)
Salibsury, Jane and Riddell, Sheila (2000), Gender, Policy and Educational Change: Shifting Agendas in the UK and Europe, (London: Routledge)
Smithers, Alan and Robinson, Pamela (2000), Further Education Re-Formed, (London: Falmer Press)
Willis, Paul (1978), Learning to Labour, (London: Arena)