This paper will focus on reforms and mechanisms which have been introduced to the quasi-market in school education. It will evaluate the changes which has taken place in relation to parental choice and competition between schools to raise education standards. With the introduction of market - based mechanism in the education system there are bound to be advantages and disadvantages. In this essay I will discuss when markets were introduced into education and how they differ from traditional markets. Then I will critically evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of market forces in terms of raising standards through competition between schools, parental choice and school selection.
The Conservation government between 1979 and 1997 had education at the heart of their agenda. All areas of education were targeted with numerous education acts introduced during this period to tackle perceived problems in the education system (Docking, 2000). During the 1980's two government reforms created market-orientated system (West and Pennell, 2002). These reforms encouraged schools to compete by introducing the power of parental choice, diversity (new types of schools) and allocating budgets to schools meaning that this was based on the number of pupils enrolled. Diversity introduced new types of schools such as grant-maintained schools/ technology colleges which were free from local authority control. They also allowed secondary schools to specialise in subject areas and allowed intake based on ability. Parental choice introduced 'quasi-markets' they were now able to choose schools they wanted their child they desire for their children and could appeal if they were unsuccessful. As funding was now based on pupil numbers schools were now able to provide the provisions which parents wanted. The government also put ownership on schools meaning they became more accountable however, they were still measured by OFSED to ensure they were meeting the standards required. When the Labour party came into power in 1997 they also had education at the heart of their agenda and 'â€¦was committed to elements of Thatcher's economic policiesâ€¦' (Ward & Eden, 2009: 22). Chitty & Dunford (1999) state that New Labour have continued the conservative government agenda. However they aimed to achieve equality through strong social services not through the education system.
The Conservative Party reforms were designed to bring market-forces to the education system to make it consumer orientated. Their philosophy was 'consumer choice' and the belief that 'superiority of market-forces' was a means to of organising education and society. (West and Pennell, 2002: 209). According to Ward & Eden (2009: 19) Neo-liberal economics meant introducing competition which makes private business successful and in schools will drive up quality and standards through the use of competition. This means that education has become a commodity which can be bought or sold and parents and children are now consumers. This has created an 'internal market' in the sense of competition between schools. Ward & Eden (2009) continue to state that in education 'â€¦the provider tells you what you want and that's what you will get' whereas 'in a free market people buy good they wantâ€¦' The markets in education sector appear to differ from traditional markets. Le Grand and Bartlett (1993) state that they differ in terms of supply and demand.
The 1988 Educational Reform Act introduced the National Curriculum this was to ensure that all children would learn the same curriculum, while at the same time 'â€¦creating conditions for a free market in education' (Ward & Eden , 2009: 20). Parents were offered a choice in the state system forcing schools to compete to fill their places. This objective has been pursued through quasi-market policies (Docking, 2000). Ward & Eden (2009: 20) states that this theory as used in business and production 'â€¦drives up quality, so quality in education would be driven up'. National testing has been used as tool to enable parental choice as well as league tables. Parents can then compare and choose a school based on their results. This has allowed public schools to attract students meaning they can extend their capacity extend their catchment area so they can remain open (Whitty, 1997).When considering parental choice as a market-mechanism it seems that this has a differential impact on those it affects. Not only do parents fall within this topic of choice but also schools by having more autonomy in selecting students.
On key advantage to parents is they are able to choose a provision which is consistent with their family values and heritage (Ball, 1993). This means that family's traditional values will not only be taught with the home but also at school, many parents find this an extremely appealing factor. Parents who are highly educated take advantage of their social positioning when seeking out appropriate schools. However, some parents and children and not equipped to choose in the education market due to lack of understanding school achievement reports or lack of interest and time in their child's education (Tooley, 1996).
With new government polices giving parents more rights in the type of schools their child attends, Docking (2000) states that there are not enough schools to meet the demand. Schools have limited number of places and frequently parents are not able to obtain a place in their favoured school. Many families also struggle to get their children to school further away from their homes limiting their choices. However, this can significantly benefit to middle-class families who have more social mobility than working class families meaning they are able to afford to move to areas within a catchment area of 'good schools' so their child can attend a better school if the schools in the current area in which they live does not meet their requirements. Tooley (1996) points out this creates inequality in state education, as it is making it more difficult for families without the capital to move so they have to settle with sending their children to undesirable schools. Another effect this could possibly have on working-class families especially if they reside in an area of good quality schools, an influx of middle-class families could mean that schools could become more selective favouring the middle-class children, due to higher attainment and who bring less social problems working-class children could be pushed out of a quality forcing them to attend lower achieving schools and putting them at further a disadvantage.
However, the selection process can benefit schools. Being more selective has advantages such as retaining higher results in league tables so that a schools market position remains strong. More oversubscribed schools are in a position choose their students this, being competitive this has encouraged schools to become increasing selective (Whitty, 1997). They are able to favour the best students who will require least investment. Schools are choosing individuals who are more able which makes life easier for the school and ensures good attainment outcomes, then can then turn away less desirable students with expensive learning needs particularly children with special educational needs. This enables then to spend money on resources for higher ability students which in turn will then satisfy the parents (Ball, 1993).
Tooley (1997: 105) reveals that there are also large amounts of 'â€¦low income and minority familiesâ€¦' who favour choice when they are able to take advantage of this. For example they are able to choose more desirable school. In a study by Witte (1996) found that a programme in the US provided financial assistance to disadvantaged families to enable their children to attend private schools. The above point can appear to be very important factor to those who will benefit. These mechanisms'â€¦disadvantages majority of working-class schools and communities' (Ball, 1993: 12). What is happening is schools are able to pick and choose certain types of students where as others will have to take what they can get. So less deriable students are having choice taken away from them (Ball, 1993). The use of competition between schools is used a lever so that all schools raise their standards offer more equal education opportunities.
The introduction of assessment tests, league tables and schools inspections by OFSED are all mechanism that have been imposed on schools by government so that they can compete for pupils. This information is published so that parents are able to make informed choices (Glennerster, 1993). Simply the schools, who are performing well, will gain pupils and resources and others will decline or fail. Tony Blair believed that to create real competition in education there must be diversity (Ward & Eden, 2009). There is a belief that competition will produce improvements in the quality of its service which will enhance the economy bringing gains to the least well off and those who are more advantaged (Whitty, 2002). I will further evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of competition between schools and whether this mechanism raises education standards.
The concept that competition between schools will raise educational attainment and improve overall standards research has suggested that the evidence is somewhat confusing and conflicting (Whitty, 2002, Docking, 2000). In a study by woods et al (1999, cited in Docking, 2000) it was found that standards increased above national average where there was 'â€¦ little or no competition', in another study by (Bradley et al 1999 cited in Docking, 2000) using different methodology they found the opposite. However, Bradley and Taylor (2007) studied whether competition in urban areas raised standards and found that there were improved exam results in some schools in response to improvements made at other schools in area, however their stud fail to find that this was the same in rural areas. Whether better standards can be achieved by making schools compete evidence seems not be overwhelming this will depend of different factors such as geographic location and types of schools avaliable in particular areas.
Chubb & Moe (1988) carried out a study to discover whether political control or market responsiveness results in better schools. They argue that the market controls which are used in private schools are superior to political control in public schools as they have a need to meet parent's demands and concerns. They continue to support the idea that market control produces more effective schools. If this is the case then this will advantage all children in the education system from all social backgrounds and they would receive a better education. However there is not enough evidence to suggest that all advantage.
Robinson (1997 cited in Docking, 2000) make an extremely thought provoking suggestion that no policy involving anything other than tackling child poverty will raise educational standards. Child poverty has been linked to educational attainment in many studies (Glennerster, 1998, Middleton, 1999, Thomson, 1996 cited in Docking, 2000) this is to just name a few. This suggests that using market-mechanism will not in fact raise educational standards, and unless this issue is tackled then we will not see huge improvements in attainment levels. Docking (2000) also states that although attainment levels have improved since 1998 it is not the introduction of market forces which has contributed to this achievement as examinations results were improve before these were introduced.
For competition to raise education standards the schools must benefit. School have incentives to ensure that they fill places as this generates capital, empty spaces means that schools loose funding. The knock on affect particularly for a failing school that are losing pupils could have the potential to loss facilities, staff or worse close. Competing to raise standards is what drives schools to remain open, they need to make themselves attractive so they can survive and make profit (Allen & Burgess, 2010).
Through research it has been found that there are both advantaged and disadvantages in introducing market-oriented mechanism to the education system in regards to choice and competition, Allen & Burgess (2010: 26) state 'â€¦research evidence to support the idea that competition in education will raise attainment is not overwhelming' In existing studies it appears that 'â€¦at best a weak and inconsistent effect of increasing school choice'. Those who will gain from this will highly depend on your social standing. As Tooley (1997: 104) and to name others (Ball, 1993; Bowe et al, 1994; Edwards and Whitty, 1992) rightly states 'â€¦parents responses to choice will vary across social class and ethnicity, hence choice reinforces social division'. Market-orientated policies such as choice and competition are tailored to benefit middle-class. The working-class are left at a disadvantage by factors outside their control preventing them to make the same choices as middle-class families this appears to limits their ability in choosing schools. The objection found in a vast amount of educational literature is that markets will not provide equality or equity in terms of opportunity (Tooley, 1996; Ball, 1993).