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Only societys bourgeoisie had the means of accessing education prior World War II. Following WW2, education transformed from elite to mass education mainly because of technology enhancement and with the industrial society developing there was a greater need for skilful workers (Lowe, 1988). Additionally, Britain wanted to keep society in control due to the mass revolutions that were taking place around the world. Some were opposed to the mass education due to various reasons; for example, churches did not like the fact that evolution was being taught because it was going against the belief of God (Young, 1998).
Following the introduction of mass education, changes were made in the educational system and the 1944 Butler Education Act was implemented consisting of a tripartite system. The system consisted of three types of schools where children were sent after sitting an exam at age 11. Secondary schools were segregated into three different groups: Grammar schools, Technical Schools and Modern Schools. Children were assigned to one of the schools according to how they did on the 11+ exam. The 11+ examination consisted of English, mathematical and IQ questions; those who did not pass were thought to be 'less academic'. One was only able proceed to grammar schools if they pass the 11+ exam; grammar schools were more highly academic as opposed to the other schools. Those who did not pass progressed to either technical or modern schools. Majority of those who attended grammar schools belonged to Britain's elite; however a very few scholarships were given. Those who attended technical schools were those who were domain in technical things such as engineering and architecture. Lastly, those who did not possess academic or technical skills went to secondary modern schools destined to have non skilled jobs (Bartlett and Burton, 2012).Nonetheless, those from working class who attended grammar schools still found it extremely expensive due to all the equipment and resources they had to buy (http://www.earlhamsociologypages.co.uk/tripcomp.html)
There were many problems with the tripartite system and therefore was abolished when the labour party came into power. For one, Children at the age of 11 were seen to be too young to have an examination that could determine the rest of their lives. Secondly, society gave more significance to those who went to grammar schools (Covington, 2008). Families were alienated into believing that there was a meritocracy within the system because education was available to everyone and provided 'parity of esteem'. Lastly, the questions asked were seen as sexist and ethnocentric as they only focused on white male middle class culture. (http://www.earlhamsociologypages.co.uk/tripcomp.html)
Women in the past were at a disadvantage when it came to education; the curriculum was sexist towards girls because in addition to the curriculum, girls had an extra subject they had to learn; housewifery. They were encouraged to select subjects that were considered 'less academic' and some were failed purposely when taking the 11+ exam, as it was seen to be a waste considering they would just end up being housewives. Similarly, some of the working class students did pass but were told they did not because they mainly wanted middle-class students to attend grammar schools. (Aldrich, 2006)
The tripartite system was dominant under the conservative government up to when the labour government came into power and abolished the system in 1976. Subsequently, the labour government introduced the Comprehensive System which is still operating today. The aim of the introduction of comprehensive schools was mainly to introduce more equality and parity to all (Covington, 2008).It did not discriminate between the elite and working class; furthermore, 11+ examinations was abolished due to its inconsistency and CSE examination was introduced in order for everyone to have an equal opportunity to leave school with a qualification. Additionally, it aimed to improve diversity between pupils by encouraging them to acknowledge and understanding of people from different backgrounds. Ideologically, comprehensive schools were created to break social class barriers and create a diverse society by promoting equality of opportunity via one's talent and travail. This links in to the consensus theory of schools being a meritocracy, by rewarding one's hard work and effort. (Chapman, 2002)
According to the consensus theory, society's institutions are interdependent on each other. It is the belief that society operates just like the human body, so; if one was to get rid of one organ, it would have a major impact on the body. This biological analogy relates to social institutions because if they don't perform the way they should and do what there made for our whole society would suffer (Covington, 2008). Moreover, functionalists Parsons and Durkheim came up with the idea of role allocation when describing education. This means that schools act as a sorting agency whereby they sort the children and allocate them to where they belong in terms of their abilities and talents. Those who are seen with more academic abilities will be encouraged to pursue careers in medicine, law or any other highly academic careers. Whereas those who are less able will be encouraged towards non skilled work and what is seemed as less academic. (Chapman, 2002)
Marxists believe that this is not to serve society as a whole but only to serve society's bourgeoisie. Moreover, it is about the belief that whatever position one ends up in is not the result of how hard one has worked but what social class they belong to. It is the belief that society is a set of institutions which socialise us and keep us in order for the good of the ruling class and that the rich want to keep their wealth as well as wanting more. They believe in redistribution of wealth, just like the famous example of Robin Hood. (Chapman, 2002)
Socialisation is the process at which we learn norms and values that we are expected to do. We will all receive primary socialisation first, which mainly takes place at home. After this we have secondary socialisation mainly takes place in schools and our peers. Schools enable an individual to prepare for the adult role by teaching us social norms through the hidden curriculum. According to the conflict theory, education teaches us how to be obedient and prepare us for later life and for the world of work. In schools, we learn not to break the rules or question those in a higher position than us and if we do then there are penalties one would face; this therefore favours society's elite. (JONES & JONES, 2012)
Though the evolution of education has come a long way, there are still some concerns towards what is being taught today. According to the conflict theory, society is stratified into social classes; this is also applied in educational institutions today. Subjects like English, Maths and Science, are given more significance by society as opposed to other subjects like sociology, drama and arts. Furthermore, Vuilliamy (1978) states that there is a culture clash in topics being taught such as classical European composers being taught in music and is encouraged whereas R'n'B, blues and country are opposed. This supports Marxist's view point that society is controlled by the government and the elite. (Livesey & Lawson).
Education has a vital role in society's economy and the introduction of comprehensive system wanted to break the sexism in the work force by allowing an increase number of women to work and receive the same education as men and due to technological changes, more educated workers were needed.
Although both the conflict and consensus seem like polar opposites, they essentially say the same thing; that the role of education is to place individuals in their place to serve society. However it should take into consideration that times have changed and although there is to some degree a power struggle in society, it is evident that people are given a fair chance in schools no matter where they come from. Despite this, there are still huge groups of people from lower economic backgrounds who are talented and bright but for one reason or another they don't get to university level or get the job they are capable of doing. (Jones & Jones, 2012)
Teaching is an extremely varied job, one of the reasons being the differences in terms of context. Getting students to want to learn is an absolute battle that teachers face with their pupils. Before all the Acts were implemented, only educationalists had the power of controlling and regulating the content of what should be taught in schools. Lord Eccles called this 'the secret garden' meaning that no-one should intervene; in spite of this, the government started to interfere with education because of concern of the economy; businesses and industries needed skilful workers.
There has always been a constant power struggle regarding the interest of schools between politicians and educationalists. Today, education is controlled and regulated by politics; and with the constant change in educational policies, teachers are finding it hard to get students to meet all the curriculum's criteria and still get pupils to pass due to the various abilities in classrooms as well as extra content being added in the curriculum. The curriculum can also be labelled as Eurocentric as the subjects such as history only focus on British culture as opposed to cultural diversity (GALTON, & MACBEATH, 2008). Many argue that only teachers know what is best for their student whereas all politicians are worried about is what is best for the economy. 'Curriculum research and development ought to belong to the teacher'. (Stenhouse, 1975)
According to politicians, the reason of constant change in educational policies is because they want to improve society's economy by creating skilful workers. Whitty (2002) states that today, individuals are not treated as citizens but as consumers. The current education secretary, Michael Gove has radically changed the system since he stepped in. According to some he is arguably conveying mayhem in the system, all he is interested in is serving the elite and society's economy. Under the rule of Gove, schools are now turning more like businesses because he wants the system to go back to the old way of teaching as he believes by enforcing laws from his experiences, it is the right way to bring out skilled individuals. (Hitchens, 2010)
Despite the negativity with politicians making radical changes in education, they are trying to do what is 'best' for society, and try to restore what was once a wealthy country by creating well-educated and skilful workers. However, many see it as unfairness because these changes seem to favour society's elite by keeping those in power high, and those lower at the bottom (Galton & MacBeath, 2008).
With change in the system, it can be positively said that the curriculum today has abolished the gender specific gender subject choices. Girls no longer have to do 'housewifery' as a compulsory subject, and both girls and boys are given the choice of what subjects they would like to pursue and making 'academic' subjects like maths and English compulsory for all (Salisbury & Riddell, 2000).
Having said this, the report ''how fair is Britain'' reveals that there is a problem with meritocracy in regards to gender in our schools. It says that 72% of girls tend to do better in education, problem solving and reasoning and then in social and emotional development compared to 53% of boys. The whole article reveals that girls succeed more than boys in school not because they are much cleverer but because there might be a problem by the schools operate. In our education system, white girls who come from wealthy backgrounds are the ones that tend to do better. The ones that do worse in our education system are black males and Bangladeshi males that come from poor backgrounds, but interestingly enough black females tend to do very well. So this suggests that there's more to education; people's backgrounds, the teachers, the school, people they socialise with all play a factor in their success. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2010/oct/10/britains-divided-school-system-report)
All things considered, ever since the government have laid their hands on the education system, both the labour and conservative governments have made drastic changes to the educational policies and procedures which have had both positive and negative influences. Education is commonly known to be closely related with society's economy and employment as it has become more focused on preparing young individuals for their future. Having said this, those who come from a higher social class are more at an advantage because they attend private schools and might have extra tuition. Places in the home might also be an influence because a middle class family might have all the resources as well as space whereas working class family might not have any. So without education, it is very difficult to find self-fulfilling jobs and one may end up sitting at home and claiming income support as they haven't got the qualifications required for them to pursue a career.