Educational policy refers to the plans and strategies for education introduced by government through Acts of Parliament together with instructions and recommendations to schools and local education authorities. With growth through industrialisation the need for a more educated workforce increased and from the late 19th century the state became more involved in education. Acting on the recommendations of the 1987 Black Report, the British government brought in the 1988 Education Act (Baker Act). Parents became ‘customers’ and pupils became both clients and ‘products’. What is especially important about this act is that it involved increased state control, not over the form of education but also of its content. This act was supported by the New Right (Conservatives), influenced by their functionalist perspective, the main aims of the act were:

1. To match education more closely to economic need through a host of policies which collectively were New Vocationalism , as well as introducing mandatory work experience along with the creation of Vocational qualification such as the NVQ and GNVQ.

2. Raise the standards of education in the UK by applying “free market” principles.

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With the new right thinking heavily influenced by their faith in free market principles, the laws of supply and demand were introduced through ‘Marketistaion’ , which they argued would lead to competition between providers (schools) and was seen as the most efficient and rational way of encouraging quality and value for money, even though these principles successfully applied to the business world the Conservatives saw no reason why it could not be applied to public services such as healthcare or education. The Key Market principles would be delivered through efficiency, quality and competition.

The principles:

1. Increase competition between education suppliers.

2. Give customers product choice.

3. Regulate the product.

4. ‘Bad’ product will be eliminated by the market.

5. Result: greater efficiency and improved product and customer satisfaction.

With the implementation of marketisation, a great deal of emphasis was placed on ‘parent power’ which was giving the parents and student the ability to choose schools rather than the other way around. Before the 1988 Act, entry to schools was based on catchment areas where schools did not have to compete for children, however after 1988, catchment areas still existed but parents had the right to go outside them. This essentially meant that schools became service providers and parents and children were the customers with the ability to choose where they shop. This led onto ‘formula funding’ being put in place where schools were allocated money on the basis of the amount of students they attracted. It was thought that in doing this standards would be raised for all schools. As we can see the driving force behind marketistaion was parental choice, but for this to be effective the 1988 act introduced a number of measures aimed at making schools more accountable and the fact that schools were now required to publicise their performance through the following measures:

1. Standard Assessment Tasks (SATs) taken at the age of 14 (and later extended to ages 7 and 11) – these tested progress in the core subject areas of English, Maths and Science.

1. League Tables, which to be published annually, ranking schools by their results in SATs, GCSEs and A-Levels.

2. The introduction of OFSTED (the Office for Standards in Education), a government watchdog whose responsibility is to formally inspect schools on a regular basis and report their findings in publicly available reports.

3. Prospectuses produced by schools and made available to all parents on request.

These core view point aimed to give parents more accurate and reliable information when deciding on a school and thus ensuring their choice was meaningful and driven by the idea of marketisation. Along with more choice for parents, government also encouraged different types of schools aiming to introduce diversity to the educational marketplace and expand the amount of choice available for the parents. The most prominent of these new schools were:

Grant-Maintained Schools- Schools were allowed to ballot parents and – assuming that sufficient votes were cast- “opt out” of LEA control. Governors and Head teachers in these schools were given funding directly by the government, affording them additional power over employment of staff, curriculum and purchase of goods and services. In addition, these schools could chose to specialize in particular subjects or types of student – often “the more academically able”

City Technology Colleges (CTCs) – established for 11 to 18 year-olds, mainly in inner city areas. These were setup with a combination of government funds and money provided by business and industry, and specialised in Maths, Science, and Technology. The aim of these colleges was to provide the highly skilled technical workforce which was needed by an economy responding to the invention of new

technology, such as computers. CTCs were allowed to select some of their students by aptitude.

Assisted Places Scheme (actually established in 1980); should a parent decide to send their child to a private school, they were able to apply for a grant to cover some of the fees incurred.

Although marketisation was seen as the main theme of the 1988 education reform act, legislation also structured education in a number of important ways but importantly was the introduction of the National Curriculum which consisted of:

1. Core Subjects (those which are assessed in the SATs): English, Maths and Science.

2. Foundation Subjects: Personal Social Health and Religious Education, Technology, a Modern Foreign Language and PE.

3. Optional Subjects (only compulsory until the age of 14): History, Geography, Art, Music and Drama.

Along with the national curriculum came the examination and qualification system, the existing CSE and GCE examinations were combined, to create a unified qualification taken by all students the General Certificate of Secondary Education, or GCSE. Later, this examination was broken into stages.

A series of vocational qualifications were introduced to complement this new academic certificate including the NVQ and GNVQ.

Criticisms of the 1988 Education Reform Act:

Marketisation introduced market forces of supply and demand into areas run by the state, in this case education. The 1988 Education Reform Act began marketisation of education by encouraging competition between schools and offering choice for parents. Marketisation implemented funding formulas, exam league tables and competition which led to the selection of pupils through cream-skimming and silt shifting. The funding formula involved giving schools the same amount of funds for each pupil, however has been seen to affect working class children’s education as some schools would have a higher fund due to them being more popular as a result of better exam results. Working class children, therefore unlikely to be able to get a placement at the more popular school so they will be silt-shifted to a less popular school which has lower exam results because of its lack of funding due to its lack of pupils.

However, this idea can be confusing because if an unpopular school gets bad reviews they will be put into special measures by OFSTED, which then gives them more funding to try and help improve the school, if this is achieved then the schools popularity will improve. Silt-shifting involves the school offloading pupils such as those with learning difficulties who are expensive to teach and get poor results. Which in turn benefits middle class pupils as troublesome students are removed from their school and means the teachers have more time for them to help improve their grades thus making the school more popular because of their rank in the league tables then letting them cream-skim and improve the school further. Consequently, this means the less successful schools have the less able, working class students putting them in a spiral of decline. Cream-skimming is when a higher achieving school selects higher ability pupils, who gain the best results and cost less to teach.

This then means they have more money to pay for better equipment and more facilities for the students to achieve higher thus keeping up the standards of the school allowing the school to cream-skim the very best pupils making the school more popular due to it having a better rank in the exam league tables. Exam league tables rank each school according to its exam performance but it makes no allowance for the level of ability of its pupils. This means that the schools that cream-skim have a better image compared to the schools that have all the less able students silt-shifted into their school, but in reality the lower achieving schools pupils have probably made a lot more progress through school than in the higher achieving school.

Middle class parents also use exam league tables to help choose the better school for their child so they can almost guarantee that their child will achieve more, whereas working class parents just want their child to have a placement, even if they did try and go for a better school they are likely to be turned down because the schools will cream-skim to reduce the amount of competition they have. With the introduction of marketisation, competition among schools to attract students has increased, lower achieving schools have more competition because they have lower exam results meaning they are less popular so they have less funding to pay for better teachers and more facilities so they get lower exam results and so on, but it’s the opposite for higher achieving schools even though they do have competition from other high achieving schools.

Gillborn and Youdell agreed with this by saying that funding formula, league tables and competition all contribute to why schools are under pressure to select more able, middle class pupils, who would therefore gain the school a higher ranking in the exam league tables. This then makes schools with a good league table position better placed to attract more able, middle class students, thus improving the schools results and making it more popular, and increasing its funding. This increased popularity will enable the school to select and choose from a larger variety of applicants and recruit the most able pupils and therefore improving its results once again, thereby excluding ‘difficult’ pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, unpopular schools are obliged to take them and effectively result in unpopular schools getting worse results, becoming less popular and therefore having their funding further reduced.

The above pressures have resulted in increased social class segregation between schools. Gillborn and Youdell referred to this sorting of pupils as ‘educational triage’ through which teachers divide students into safe cases, cases suitable for treatment, and hopeless cases and ration resources to focus on those students most likely to improve a school’s test scores. This then helps schools achieve higher in their exam results and improving the popularity but in an unpopular school this is hard because they have more cases suitable for treatment and hopeless cases than in a popular school but in the same instance they have less funding to put into those pupils meaning they can’t achieve as high.

Geoffrey Walford’s (1991) research on city technology collages (CTCs) found that even though they intended to provide vocational education in partnership with employers and to recruit pupils from all social backgrounds, in practice they became just another route to elite education. Middle class parents became attracted to them because they were seen as the next best thing to traditional grammar school. Similarly John Fitz’s (1997) study of grant maintained schools which were allowed to opt out of local authority education control, found them reinventing tradition and concluded that the reason most schools adopt a traditional image is to attract middle class parents. Stephen Ball et al (1994) found schools had to spend more marketing themselves to parents often at the expense of spending on special needs or other areas. Overall evidence suggests that marketisation and selection processes have invented a polarised education system, where on one extreme we have the popular, successful, well resourced school with an able largely middle class intake and the unpopular, failing, under resourced schools with mainly working class low achieving pupils at the other. Sheila Macrae (1997) found a similar pattern in post-16 education. At the top are highly selective sixth form colleges attracting middle class students and providing academic courses leading to university and professional careers. Then come general further education colleges catering for mainly working class students and offering largely vocational courses and at the bottom are the government funded training organisations offering low level courses leading to low income jobs.

The national curriculum has also been criticised as being a key factor in educational achievement among different ethnic groups. Troyna and Williams (1986) argue that the national curriculum is ethnocentric which gives higher value to white British culture, history, English and European language which undermines ethnic minority cultures, language, history. Bernard Coard (1971) also agrees as he says that Black culture is seen as inferior. This undermines black children’s self-esteem leading to underachievement. Stephen Ball (1994) also criticised the National Curriculum as ignoring culture and ethnic diversity whilst promoting and attitude of “little Englandism”. He argued that the history curriculum tries to recreate a “mythical age of empire and past glories”, while ignoring the achievements of black and Asian history.

Miriam David (1993) describes the National Curriculum as a “specifically British” curriculum that teaches the culture of the host community, while overall ignoring non European languages, literature and music. Conrad Macneil (1988) described the national curriculum from a black perspective, arguing it excluded the significance of black people. He backed his claims arguing history in the curriculum solely emphasised British history whilst ignoring Afro-Caribbean, Asian and African history. In relation to language he noted that there are 12 languages in the United Kingdom spoken by 100,000 people yet language taught in the curriculum focused on European languages such as French and Spanish while discouraging Asian languages. He also found in literature the culture of ethnic minorities was completely ignored and the emphasis placed on English writers such as Shakespeare, Milton, Hardy and Dickinson.


The impact of Education Reform Act has been beneficial to some degree, as the regulations since have become more equal in comparison to the regulations established before 1988. As in the pre-industrial era, an exam had determined the future of the generations, if a child had passed their exam they were given the privilege of attending a grammar school while if they had failed they were sent to a secondary modern school. This level of inequality was unfair as it exposed them at a tender young age to their future, a student who attended grammar schools would be destined to great things, while the working class student would be prepared for manual labour, this was seen as an unequal opportunity as it did not cater for every students individual needs.

With the introduction of SATs (Standard Attainment Tests) through the 1988 act, pupils are tested at the end of each Key Stage rather than after the age of 11. There has also been justice for girls who haven’t had equal opportunity and have been given the chance of pursuing a successful education as well as a successful working job. However, the disadvantages would also have to be taken into consideration as it is still unfair for the working class families, there are many aspects which contribute to this argument a few having been already mentioned, parents not having enough economical capital to compete with the wealthy and parents not having sufficient amount of knowledge regarding the schools available for their children.


Revise Sociology (2011). Education from 1988 onwards. [ONLINE] Available at: [Last Accessed 12 February 2013].

HARALAMBOS M,HOLBORN M & HEALD R, (2008). ‘Education ‘. In: Haralambos (ed), Sociology Themes and Perspectives. 7th ed. Hammersmith, London: HarperCollins. pp.598-661.

The Academies’ Programme -introduced by labour (2002)

Labour launched the academies programme in 2000 to reach the significant minority of children leaving school without basic qualifications. David Blunkett the then education secretary, said academies would “target seriously failing schools” and “break the cycle of underperformance and low expectations”.

Under the terms of the City Academies Programme, as it was originally called, City Academies were to be originally built in areas of urban deprivation but the programme was extended to deprived suburban and rural areas and renamed as “The Academies programme.” It was seen as one significant aspect of Labour’s strategy to address the adverse effects of economic and social deprivation on educational opportunity. The first three Academies were opened in 2002 and the programme expanded significantly such that the government hoped to have 200 Academies in operation by 2010. In March 2006 Tony Blair confirmed that 27 Academies had been opened and a further 73 under construction.

Original objectives of the Academies Programme:

1. Academies will contribute to driving up standards by raising achievement levels for their own pupils, their family of schools and the wider community by breaking the cycle of underachievement and low aspirations in areas of deprivation with historical low performance.

2. Academies will be part of local strategies to increase choice and diversity in education. They will have innovative approaches to one or more of governance, curriculum, staffing structures and pay, teaching and learning, structure of the school day and year, using Information and communication technology.

3. Academies would be inclusive and mixed ability schools.

Key features of the Academies programme:

1. Academies are new schools which sometimes but not always replaced existing schools who were deemed to be failing, where less than 30% of pupils were achieving 5 or more A*-C GCSE pass grades.

2. The idea was to have all age, primary and sixth form Academies at some point.

3. Academies are seen as “Independent state schools”, which are founded as charitable companies by business, faith or voluntary groups and local education authorities.

4. The charitable company founding an Academy contributes £2M to the capital cost of building the school with the remaining capital costs and current costs contributed by the government.

5. The charitable company has considerable freedom to determine the spending priorities employment terms, ethos and teaching strategies of the Academy but it is also subject to important government regulations. Thus the Department for Education and Skills states that “The sponsors are bound by charity law to act in the interests of the school and are subject to a strict funding agreement’’.

6. With regard to employment conditions it has been argued both that Academies may pay higher salaries which attract good teachers away from other state schools and that terms of employment may actually be worse in some Academies than in the rest of the state system.

7. Academies are not compelled to teach the National Curriculum but they must teach the core subjects and must also carry out Key Stage 3 assessments in English, Maths and Science.

8. Academies will share their facilities with other local schools and with the local community more generally.

Some academies have proved to be successful such as Mossbourne where nearly half of the pupils were on free school meals and 30 per cent had special needs, but 84 per cent of 2009’s group gained five A*-C grades in their GCSEs, including English and maths. It also topped the league tables in value added- the measure of improvement since pupils started at the school. Other academies haven’t fared so well, such as those under The United Learning Trust (ULT), an Anglican charity, running 17 academies and in 2009 was the country’s largest sponsor. In the summer of 2008, three of its London academies were at the bottom of their local tables in GCSE results. In Sheffield Ofsted recommended special measures for one of its academies and told another that “teaching and learning are inadequate.” In November 2009 ULT was told by the government that it couldn’t expand further until its existing schools improved.

Operation of existing Academies has attracted several criticisms:

1. Academies Programme is being expanded too rapidly without sufficient prior assessment of its likely effectiveness.

2. Academy buildings are expensive and that their designs are often inconsistent with the specific requirements of school buildings.

3. It has been argued that too much money has been spent on the expensive Academy Programme to the detriment of the rest of the education system.

4. It has been argued in relation to 2 Academies founded by Sir Peter Vardy in the North East that many parents oppose the emphasis given to Creationism in these Academies.

5. Some sponsors controlling Academies have little or no experience of educational management and therefore can make little strategic contribution to the running of the Academies.

6. Academies which are replacing unsuccessful schools soon begin to take smaller proportions of children eligible for Free School Meals. Supporters of Academies claim that when this does occur the reason is that Academies attract a greater number of pupils so that the number of pupils eligible for FSM may increase even if the proportion falls.

7. Examination results in operational Academies have not improved sufficiently to justify the high levels of expenditure on them and that these examination trends call into question whether the rapid expansion of the Academies programme should continue. Some Academies have failed to improve on the results of the Schools which they have replaced and one Academy has failed its OFSTED inspection.

In relation to this final point it is no easy task to assess the examination performance of the operational academies. Bearing in mind that they are located in areas of deprivation, they take disproportionate numbers of pupils eligible for free school meals and they have sometimes replaced schools which were achieving relatively poor results, it should not come as a surprise that several Academies are achieving results significantly below the national average. However there is some evidence that in some Academies results are improving at a faster rate than nationally and that even where there is little improvement it may be reasonably argued that the Academies have not yet had enough time to generate significant improvements.

Reports from OFSTED and the Price Waterhouse Evaluation cautiously suggest that there is some evidence of improvement but that the Academies programme has not been in operation long enough for a full assessment to be made. Meanwhile former Labour Secretary of State Ruth Kelly did argue that the apparent success of the rather similar City Technology Colleges originally introduced by the Conservatives suggests that the Academies programme is working and that it has been necessary to press ahead with the Academies programme to improve the educational opportunities of disadvantaged pupils and that other school buildings are also being improved via funding from the School Building programme. The Academies programme was a rather ambitious initiative which formed a major part of Labour’s attempts within its education policy, to tackle disadvantage and raise attainment. The programme relied partly on the private sector being in partnership with the state, another key theme in New Labour policy-making. The scheme was deemed successful enough to continue and indeed to accelerate its expansion towards a target of at least 400 Academies. However, there have been various criticisms of the programme, especially concerning the role of the sponsor and a potential democratic deficit arising from a lack of local authority involvement.


Lisa Freedman (2010). Do academy schools reaaly work?. [ONLINE] Available at: [Last Accessed 8 February 2013]

Curtis A, Exley S, Sasia A, Tough S and Whitty G, (2008). The Academies programme: Progress, problems and possibilities., pp.87


Announced in 1998 by the then Labour government, Sure Start was a large scale government effort to enhance the health and development of children under 4 years and their families in socially deprived communities in England, with the idea of halving child poverty by 2010.Through area based initiatives, the programme now covers all children up to the age of 16, Sure Start Children’s Centres forming a key part of the delivery of early year’s services by Local Authorities. From 2007 children’s centre services should become permanent mainstream community services, with the active involvement of parents, carers and the local community.

The Sure Start principles:

Sure Start supports families from pregnancy right through until children are 14, including those with special educational needs and for those with disabilities up to age 16. The guiding principles – drawing

on best practice in early education, childcare and Sure Start local programmes are:

Working with parents and children:

Every family should get access to a range of services that will deliver better outcomes for both children and parents, meeting their needs and stretching their aspirations.

Services for everyone:

But not the same service for everyone. Families have distinctly different needs, both between different families, in different locations and across time in the same family. Services should recognize and respond to these varying needs.

Flexible at point of delivery:

All services should be designed to encourage access. For example, opening hours, location, transport issues and care for other children in the family need to be considered. Where possible we must enable families to get the health and family support services they need through a single point of contact. Starting very early:

Services for young children and parents should start at the first antenatal visit. This means not only advice on health in pregnancy, but preparation for parenthood, decisions about returning to work (or indeed, starting to work) after the birth, advice on childcare options and on support services available.

Respectful and transparent:

Services should be customer driven, whether or not the service is free.

Community driven and professionally coordinated:

All professionals with an interest in children and families should be sharing expertise and listening to local people on service priorities. This should be done through consultation and by day to day listening to parents.

Outcome driven:

All services for children and parents need to have as their core purpose better outcomes for children. The Government needs to acknowledge this by reducing bureaucracy and simplifying funding to ensure a joined up approach with partners.

The Sure Start Programme Outline:

Early education for all – free part-time early education for three and four year olds.

1. Helping children learn through the Foundation Stage – the part of the National Curriculum which supports the development of children aged three up to six.

More and better childcare – at least 250,000 new childcare places by March 2006.

1. making childcare happen – new full or part-time childcare places with start-up grants for childminders, nurseries and after school activities

2. making childcare better quality – working with OFSTED to inspect and approve early education and childcare, recruiting and training people to work with children

3. making childcare more affordable – there will be £325 million available per year to help with childcare costs within the Working Tax Credit

4. helping parents find out what’s there – through local Children’s Information Services and a national information service for parents

5. linking employment advice to information on childcare.

Local programmes making a difference – children’s centres where they are needed most.

1. Establishing children’s centres where they are needed most – in disadvantaged areas – to offer families early education, childcare and health and family support with advice on employment opportunities. Children’s centres will link up local Sure Start Programmes, Neighbourhood Nurseries and Early Excellence Centres and extend their success.

Ongoing Sure Start local programmes:

1. Sure Start local programmes will continue to deliver community based services in disadvantaged areas. 400,000 children will get access to 522 Sure Start local programmes by March 2004.


Huge claims were made for Sure Start in its early years that it would cut child poverty, reduce social exclusion, and even save money by creating well-balanced youngsters who would be less likely to get involved in crime. It was hoped the programme would also bring benefits to health, education and family life. But 12 years after the first Sure Start centres opened, one leading academic who was part of the government’s official evaluation of the scheme says there is still no clear evidence it has helped children. Sir Michael Rutter Professor of Developmental Psychopathology at King’s College, London was critical of the sure start programme arguing there was hardly or no evidence to prove that significant changes in the improvement in the lives of those living in Sure Start areas. Asked if sure Start was helping children, Sir Michael replies “We don’t know – that is still lacking.”

One major problem, he says, was that ministers have ignored calls for a properly controlled evaluation of the programme in which children would have been randomly assigned to a Sure Start or a non-Sure Start group. He accused the Labour government of deliberately ignoring the possibility the programme might not work:

“Academics were I think pretty unanimous in their view that a randomised controlled trial was the way ahead. But government vetoed that – I guess probably because evidence that it was less than perfect would be unwelcome.

A study published in 2010, comparing five year olds in Sure Start areas and non Sure Start areas, found there were fewer obese children in the areas where the programme had run. And parents felt there had been a number of benefits they said their children were healthier and better behaved.

But the study found no measurable improvement in Sure Start children’s assessment scores when they started school. And mothers in Sure Start areas were actually more likely to report depressive symptoms, while parents covered by the scheme were less likely to attend school parents’ evenings.

The study compared children in Sure Start areas with children in similarly-poor non-Sure Start areas.

Professor Edward Melhuish of Birkbeck College, London, who leads the National Evaluation of Sure Start, says there has been some progress. But he admits the evidence could have been more positive: “I wouldn’t say it was a complete ringing endorsement.”

“We’ve been operating Sure Start for roughly ten years. We’ve overcome some of the problems, but still there’s a great deal of room for further improvement.”


(2003). Sure Start. [ONLINE] Available at: [Last Accessed 8 February 2013].

Fran A (2011). Sure Start: Are children really benefiting?. [ONLINE] Available at: [Last Accessed 5 February 2013].


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