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Despite fundamental changes initiated through the 1944 Act, some critics argued that it didn't deal with grammar schools policy of selection instead; it further institutionalised the gap between rich and poor children given that pupils who passed the 11+ examinations progressed to grammar education and those who failed attended secondary modern schools and, in some cases technical schools. Despite such a claim, Bochel et al. (2002) asserted that the 1944 Educational Reform was seen as a period of political consensus and the consolidation of education.
However, in 1960s and 1970s it was evidenced that there was a significant association between social class and examinations success which has became an important part of social policy debate on the equality and disparity in education as pupils were divided between grammar schools and secondary modern schools in some areas technical schools (Bochel et al. 2002).
Partly, in response to grammar schools policy; the Old Labour government in 1960s stopped the difference between grammar and secondary modern schools and dismantled the 11+ examinations as they saw the existence of grammar schools as being inequitable and divisive. Therefore, they promoted comprehensive educational to give all children equal opportunity in education and vocational education and polytechnics were expanded (Giddens, 2006).
In mid 1970s however, the expansion of a common educational became the subject of criticisms from the New Right Conservative under the leadership of Thatcher and education re-emerged as a major issue of social policy debate. This was due to the UK economy lagging behind its competitors in the world's business as a result of the high levels of illiteracy and innumeracy amongst school leavers. From the Conservative's perspective, the expansion of comprehensive schools in preference to grammar schools significantly contributed in downgrading the standard of education for all pupils. In addition, they blamed teachers' privileged of equality and new teaching methods instead of providing a solid educational foundation to children (Bochel et al. 2009).
Moreover, the Conservative described the provision of comprehensive schools as of being expensive and lacking the understanding of parents' demands including its failure to provide a skilled workforce (Giddens, 2002).
With these criticisms, the Conservative governments focused around choice and market system in order to raise educational standards and therefore; introduced the 1980 Education Legislation which stopped Local Education Authorities (LEA) to pursue the delivery of comprehensive schools and initiated Assisted Places Scheme for brightest pupils from deprived families to have opportunity to attend the fee-paying private schools (Bochel et al. 2009).
From the Conservative perspectives, the introduction of the internal market was a strategy to overhaul public services and in particular education; it was a new approach that would incite competition amongst local state schools in order to attract and retain children. The Conservative also argued that, the internal market would empower parents in choosing different local schools as parents would recompense schools with better achievements by trying to enrol their children in them. While the underachieved schools experiencing difficulties in enrolling pupils would make effort to improve their performances to attract new pupils or otherwise be closed as the funding was allocated to schools per head of pupils. In addition, the conservative argued that the development of a market-like system of state schools would reward schools with better attainments, with more money including teachers and resources (Blakemore & Griggs, 2007).
Despite controversies surrounding the internal market, the Conservative in 1987 pressed ahead with some gradual and very significant and far reaching changes in education and other public services. Through these changes, the conservative aimed to challenge the traditional power and status of professional groups like teachers and to reduce council's powers as the central government agencies were created to oversee and inspect public services with focus on choice of users rather than democratic accountability in the public services (Blakemore & Griggs, 2007)
As a result, the Conservative initiated the 1988 Education Legislation as an unprecedented education policy change in which education was transformed in England and Wales as it reinforced the internal market in the public services and in particular education. The 1988 Act subsequently, introduced the grant-maintained schools for local management of schools and the national curriculum and standard testing in England and Wales. The establishment of grant-maintained schools was to incite schools to come out of LEA's administration in order to set up their own policies including entry and selection. It was also to enable other schools to be managed locally in order to control their own resources, teachers' salaries ... and internal maintenance with LEA having responsibilities for capital costs and service provisions (Bochel et al. 2009).
From the Conservative's argument, schools that obtained grant-maintained status would receive their funding directly from the central government agency and schools that stayed under the control of LEA, would see their budgets reduce. As a result by 1997, 680 secondary schools representing 15% of the total obtained the status of grant-maintained schools, along with 514 primary schools representing 2% of the total in England (Bochel et al. 2009).
Another 1988 Act characteristic was the league table as the mechanism of measuring schools' performances where schools had to make public their pupils attainment results in order to enable consumers to make comparisons in choosing schools in their locality. However, critics argued that in reality it significantly reflected pupils' backgrounds attending different schools and mentioned little about changes schools have made in their pupils attainments (Bochel et al. 2009).
Moreover, the 1988 Legislation introduced the National Curriculum with aim to teach basic skills across England and Wales as there were growing concerns about the falling of standards of basic literacy and numeracy amongst pupils leaving with no abilities to read, write and carry out basic numeracy. Such an initiative was not welcomed by Head of schools as they expressed concerns over time shortages for children to learn other subjects like drama, music and even sports and games. In addition, issues of multi-cultural and multi-faith society where pupils had a wide range of backgrounds and abilities. Following Head of teachers' divergences, in 1995 the outset version of National Curriculum was amended and schools were given autonomy to choose the non-core subjects by using discretion to reduce the level of targets and monitoring, and encouraging more vocational for some students (Bochel et al. 2009)
Moreover, the 1988 Act introduced Standardised Attainment Tests (SATs) in order to measure educational standards and applied across a range of subjects at various stages in the life of pupils. The Protagonist of the National Curriculum and SATs argued that it would emphasise on traditional values and help raise parents' awareness when choosing a school while opponents argued that, it was concerned with the selection and might identify children as failures at an early age (Bochel et al. 2009).
Moving to New Labour when they were re-elected into government in 1997, they pledged to renew educational policy and provision. As a result education was central to their policy agenda. Enhancing young people's skills and knowledge was the driving force behind Labour's education policy in order to respond to the competitive global market. The key to a successful UK's economy challenge was education and knowledge (Tomlinson, 2005).
With New Labour government, they adopted the Conservative policy of choice and competition, with education expanding as a market commodity driven by needs of users and increased standards. The Labour pursuit of the policy of selection in education between brightest and failed pupils and, with academic and vocational being expanded have contributed to the exclusion of a large number of the working class and low income children including children with the special learning needs from better performing schools (Tomlinson, 2008).
Nevertheless, Labour has attempted to better off life of all community particularly in the most disadvantaged by increasing and subsidising pre-school child care and nursery provisions. In addition, Labour established city academy programmes in parts of the country particularly in the most socially deprived inner-city where the schools were underperforming/failing (Blakemore & Griggs, 2007)
In order to raise teaching standards in schools, Labour initiated the 1998 Schools Standards and Framework Act and gave government powers to intervene where it considered that a LEA had failed to carry out its duties adequately. This may involve naming and shaming or alternative arrangements for private businesses to take control of the LEA's management (Blakemore & Griggs, 2007)
Overall, it can be said that "investment in human resources via lifelong learning, the subordination of education to the economy, and the scapegoating of schools and teachers for failing to deliver enough high quality products underpinned New Labour educational policy in the 1990s" (Tomlinson 2005, p.90).
But, market and choice in education and the subordination of education to business significantly contributed in increasing the inequality in education and social class division as the majority of children from the ethnic minority including children from working class and children with the special learning being disadvantaged. In addition, the diversity in education has privileged white middle and upper class people who have skills and knowledge in choosing schools with good attainments in order to avoid failing schools attend by the majority of pupils from the ethnic minority and children from poorer families (Tomlinson, 2008).
Regarding social mobility, Sutton Trust (2010) found a gap in education as in 2002 10% of young people from disadvantaged families attended higher education (HE) as compared to 44% of children from affluent backgrounds. Of the 20% of the affluent people, 44% obtained degree as compared to 20% of their counterparts, who obtained 10% of degree.
In conclusion, the inequality of opportunity in education which sources division in communities between rich and poor pupils; needs a serious debate by policy makers so that the policy of equality of opportunity in education can be developed where all pupils irrespective of their backgrounds receive equal education. Otherwise, the gap in social mobility will still continue.
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