Topic 6, educational policy

INTRO: Educational policy refers to the plans and strategies for education introduced by government, for example Acts passed through Parliament. Since the late 19th century, the government has taken an active role in providing education for the masses, to ensure Britain can compete on a global industrial stage with policies such as the Forster Act, the Butler Act and the introduction of the Comprehensive system in 1965. This essay will….

Tripartite System

  • After the Butler Act of 1944, government aimed to make the education more meritocratic and more available to the masses. This saw the introduction of the Tripartite system.
  • The aims of the tripartite system were; to provide different education to different types of student and provide an equality of opportunity where ability and not money determined schooling.
  • Examples of this are seen with the establishment of the 11+ where students would sit an exam at the end of primary schooling that would grant them access to higher education in three categories (grammar, secondary modern and technical) to suit their abilities
  • This shows how…
  • However, it reproduced class inequalities due to MC students being more likely to pass the 11+ due to having more cultural capital(knowledge)& economic capital (money to pay for private tutors) & go to grammar schools & get a better education, while WC children went to secondary moderns – got a lower standard of education.

Comprehensive System

  • Under the Labour government of 1965, the comprehensive system was established with the aims to make the education more meritocratic & remove the class inequalities of the tripartite system.
  • This was done with the idea all students went to one type of school (comprehensive) & received the same education.
  • An example of the attempt to remove class inequality is the way in which the system was based on the principle places at schools were based on catchment areas (an area around a school where it takes pupils from). Not intellectual ability or money
  • This shows…
  • Although it helped to reduce the class gap in achievement to some extent. Due to teacher labelling it still reproduces class inequalities.


  • Another principle influenced by policy within the education system is streaming to ensure all abilities were catered for
  • Streaming refers to the class sets that are based upon ability, where once placed in a stream, pupils would remain at that level across all subjects.
  • For example, those of higher abilities would be placed in higher classes while those of a lower ability would be placed in ‘intermediate’ or ‘foundation’.
  • This demonstrates how streaming was introduced with the attempt to cater for all needs for a more equal system.
  • However, there was still a myth of meritocracy within this element of the comprehensive system as no matter how hard you work you still are still in the same set across all subjects preventing pupils to excel in certain subjects.

       Views of the Comprehensive system

  • Functionalists argue: fulfils essential functions such as social integration and brings children from different classes together and promotes social solidarity
  • Marxists argue: serves interests of the R/C, legitimates class inequality, 11+ promotes myth of meritocracy

Marketisation and Privatisation

  • The 1988 Education Reform Act introduced marketisation in the British education system
  • Marketisation refers to the way in which schools could compete for students. It created an education market by reducing state control over education & increasing competition between schools & Parentocracy.
  • Examples of marketisation include, OFSTED reports, league tables & formula funding where funding depended on the number of students a school had.
  • This shows…
  • However, Ball argues that marketisation only benefitted the middle class. Due to the League tables where, top schools can be more selective over their intake- they cream-skim (pick the best students- middle class) & silt-shift (avoid taking in ‘bad’ students – WC), meaning WC students go to underperforming schools.


  • As a result of the marketisation policy and the increase in competitiveness it saw a development of choice for parents described as ‘Parentocracy’ (David 1993) which means rule by the parents
  • This is because schools are increasingly being run like a business, all attempting to attract the most parents to send their children to that school.
  • Examples of this within the publication of the Formula funding enabling the top schools get more money and improving their facilities which will attract more parents.
  • This shows…
  • However, Gerwitz found some parents had an advantage due to this, as of differences in capital created class differences. She identified 3 types of parents – privileged-skilled choosers (MC – use economic & cultural capital to get children into best state schools e.g. paying transport costs or to move house), disconnected-local choosers (WC, lack economic & cultural capital, often send children to local schools) & semi-skilled choosers (ambitious WC, but lack cultural/economic capital to get children into best schools, have to rely on others- social capital).

League Tables

  • The policy of publishing exam results and ranking schools in league tables, means that a huge emphasis is placed on ensuring pupils achieve the best grades
  • Although it has positives of keeping a school ‘on its toes’ it can mean some schools spiral into decline

New labour educational policy

  • New Labour’s policies focused on promoting equality
  • As a result of this the policies aimed to reduce class inequalities and supporting disadvantaged areas
  • These policies included; Education Action Zones – more money to schools in poor areas, Aim Higher – encouraging children from deprived backgrounds to go to university and Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA) – £ to students from low-income families to go to college.
  • This meant…
  • However, some say Labour’s policies were contradictory- they introduced EMA to encourage poor children to go to college, then introduced university fees which may put them off higher education.

Promoting diversity and choice

  • New Labour’s idea of promoting diversity and choice in part, reflects the views put forward by post modernists
  • This is because of Thompsons view that schools need to be ‘customised’ to meet the needs of communities and individuals
  • For example, cities in Britain which have a high level of multi-faith communities should therefore have options of faith schools instead of just comprehensive schools
  • This shows how in creating these specialist schools, parents are able to send their children to a specific school with the areas of interest the child needs
  • However, this postmodernist view of schooling has not been achieved throughout with many schools falling into a modernist approach.

Coalition government policies

  • The coalition focused on two marketisation policies within the education system
  • Although academies were introduced by Labour, more schools were encouraged to become academies by the coalition. They receive money from central government and sponsors, don’t have to follow the National Curriculum (except core subjects) & can set their own term times. As well as introduction of free schools – can be set up by parents, teachers & others. Don’t have to follow the National Curriculum & don’t have to employ qualified teachers.
  • This shows…
  • However, the coalition scrapped EMA and replaced it with bursaries (which less students get) & raised uni fees to £9k- increasing class inequalities.


  • Privatisation involves the transfer of public assets such as schools to private companies
  • This process is seen within education as it becomes a source of profit for capitalists in what Ball calls the Education Services Industry
  • Examples of direct involvement in education include they way private companies build schools and provide supply teachers
  • This process of this privatisation, Ball argues that education has become a commodity to be brought and sold for profit as opposed to provider for educational services
  • In the Marxist view, they claim that privatisation and competition is used to legitimate the turning of education into a source of profit for capitalists – benefitting the R/C

Indirect involvement in education

  • The ‘cola-isation of schools’ – when private companies have a presence in schools e.g. vending machines, having a Costa coffee at ASFC.
  • Education as a commodity – Ball argues that education is now a commodity (something to be bought/sold). Marxists say New Right ideas of marketisation are being used to make profit for companies & take power away from governments.