Analyse the main ways in which the Labour government has sought to raise educational standards in Britain since 1997
Education is a long standing issue where many changes to the system have been made over time to try to raise educational standards. The issue is so important that Labour stated that it would ‘is central to Labour’s mission to deliver social justice and equality of opportunity’. Labour vowed to reduce class sizes and take on low standards in schools, increase the number of people who continued after 16 years old into higher education, ensure world class universities and widen access to under-represented groups by increasing funding towards education.
However methods of achieving this such as the Tomlinson proposals, measures for specialist school, and further reforms suggested, may not be effective to help standards improve. Former chief inspector of schools, Mike Tomlinson, investigated the 2002 exam fiasco, where more than 50, 000 students had to have their A-level results remarked after 304, 000 papers had grading errors. Tomlinson recommended measures to prevent a similar occurrence in the future. Tomlinson’s report consisted of short-term and long-term recommendations.
In the longer term, Tomlinson suggested that AS and A-levels should be “de-coupled” as two free-standing qualifications as part of the proposed 14 to 19 policy the government outlined in the Green Paper for extending opportunity and raising standards in 2002. It was proposed by critics that so many considerable changes would increase the confusion felt by people and weaken confidence. On the other hand Tomlinson recommended that this structural change to the exam system ought to be done according to a five-year timetable , which could develop and so people would become used to the gradual changes.
Tomlinson concluded that an independent committee should be set up to monitor the standards of A-levels over time to determine if A-levels are becoming easier. Tomlinson set out to raise educational standards by improving confidence in the exam system in the short term and to change the whole system in the long run by suggesting that GCSEs, A-levels, and vocational qualifications should become components of a diploma where students would need to accomplish fixed standards in English, maths and computer skills.
This appears to be a good measure to raise standards of education and to ensure students leave education with skills in order to obtain employment. However some people felt that these measures would reduce confidence in the exam system because this would be such a radical transformation that universities and employers would be confused about what the diploma represents. This could result in reduced standards for higher education and employment.
As an effect of Tomlinson’s attempt to increase education standards the qualifications and curriculum authority, produced a report on standards setting out what is expected for the AS-levels and A-levels. Labour encourages more secondary schools to become specialized and maintain that specialist schools have a central role in raising standards. Specialist schools receive funding to excel in their chosen area in the hope that it will promote better behaviour and more choice for parents as well as enhancing performance across the curriculum as a whole.
The government state that exam results have been improved in specialist schools, more so than the national average, which shows how this approach has increased standards. Children of all backgrounds are also more able to develop their own skills and talents that would be otherwise hidden, and so their interest is held in school. However this system encourages competition among schools for places. The Welsh White paper published rejected specialist schools and argued that schools should not be competitive against each other.
Schools that did not reach specialist status would not receive the extra funding and so would be ‘second-rate’ to the other schools, with lower standards than the rest. This is unfair especially as New Labour pledged to deliver fairness and equal opportunity similarly where education was concerned. Nonetheless, Labour argues that non-specialist schools would have opportunities for high standards as well because they would be involved in other projects to benefit them such as Beacon Schools.
Labour has also planned to introduce a three tiered system to introduce advanced specialist schools and schools moving towards specialist status to encourage schools along to specialist status and give drive for high education standards in their school. On the other hand this proposed three tiered system has been criticised as being too similar to the original tripartite system, which was considered unsuccessful. Labour’s policy on top-up fees is another way in which Labour has attempted to raise standards. Labour have increased university funding by over £1,000 million to try and help achieve the target of getting 50% of young people into higher education. Labour’s planned system means that 50% of student do not need to pay tuition fees and that parents will not pay more than they did under the old system, but students would pay back loans progressively as they earn. Labour states that this new system means that students who can not afford tuition fees will still be able to go to university and for people who have a very low income, they receive maintenance grants, but these have been stated by opposition to be ‘ludicrously low’.
From 2006 higher education institutions, including universities, may be able to charge a fee of between nil and £3,000 for different courses. However students will be repaying their debt for the majority of their lives and will choose courses based on costs. For example a student may choose not to apply for a science based course as they as a standard would be more expensive than say an art based course. Critics say that the Labour has just re-branded the charges of up to £3,000 a year as a ‘fairer’ version of the graduate tax. This does not promote high standards within higher education.
The ineffectiveness of this policy means that less students from poorer backgrounds will go to university due to the massive amount of debt of up to £20,000 they would have to pay back and at the moment only 27% of those at university are form poor backgrounds, and this will as a consequence decrease further. On the other hand Labour’s policy reflects that students do not have to pay the fees if they never earn more than £15, 000 a year and if they do, students would not pay any interest on it so speeding up the debt repayment and still having more of an advantage than if they had not gone to university.
One way in which standards of education can be improved is by solving the problem of teacher shortages. Labour’s way of doing this is to make teaching a more attractive career by offering incentives such as a higher rate of pay, training salaries, loan write-offs, and give teachers more support.. Labour’s proposals to higher standards is to recruit 10, 000 extra teachers who have the chance for promotion and incentives like rewards for achieving excellence and for fast improving schools. Teachers would be encouraged to do a good job by performance related pay.
However the performance related pay proposals have been harshly criticised. The pay of an average teacher has slipped behind that of comparable graduate professions, despite all the promises for higher pay, and so people are still discouraged from entering the teaching profession. Although Labour reports a success in the recruitment of teachers where it has gone up by 18% there is still a serious shortage of teachers and keeping teachers in the profession. Many of the targets set out by the government for improvement of schools rest on teachers, but teachers should not be concentrating on targets but on the education of the children.
Despite Labour’s promises to increase funding on education and that £75 million would be made available over 3 years to promote education and enterprise in schools, many of them are 1000s of pounds in debt and may have to close because of the funding crisis where John Prescott accused councils of withholding £500 million meant for the schools. In conclusion Labour has provided information of higher standards being achieved since 1997, such as remarkable progress with standards up across the board including the best primary school results, however there are still many problems and standards have not been raised enough.
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