Education reform

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Various people have or have had the view that the main reason for educational reform over the years has been for the people outside the system (parents etc… ) to have more of a direct say and part in the way that the educational system is run and controlled. This essay will be assessing how successful this view is, and will also be looking at the various possible reasons for this happening, for example, the various reform acts over the years, and also, this essay will be assessing whether or not politics has had a key role in all of this.

One of the main debates about this issue is whether or not the main principle of education reform has actually been about the government and industry having a tighter grip over the system, because of the strong links and alliances with various associations. One of the earliest influences on this was the act of deciding to have more comprehensive schools around the country. This was introduced in about 1965, when the labour government called for all LEA’S to submit their plans for a comprehensive education.

This meant that there would now be a comprehensive schooling system that would educate all pupils, regardless of ability, ethnicity, gender or even social class, and this would all be done under one roof. A lot of money was spent on upgrading existing facilities and teacher training, so that schools could not only maintain high standards, but they could improve on them and offer a broader choice of things for pupils to partake in. With this, the labour government also took it upon themselves to work on higher education, creating more universities and things like that.

All of these were basically aimed at giving the working and lower classes more of an opportunity at higher education. But, the disproportionate access to Oxbridge still remained intact. In 1967, there were six Educational Priority areas set up in the most poverty stricken parts of the UK, and these received more cash and teacher training for primary education, however, this scheme was abandoned in the 1970’s, as it didn’t show many signs of success.

Next, one of the most influential education acts to be introduced since the 1944 act was the 1988 education reform act. It had lots of new plans to shake up the education system, and also to make education more accessible for children. One of the first things to come from this was the expansion of the assisted places scheme; this aimed to make the scheme that already assisted those who were less able to get into education more accessible and available to those who were more deprived than others.

One of the biggest changes to do with the 1988 reform act was the introduction of a National Curriculum; where the average school student would study all of the basic subjects like English, Maths and Science, and then the core subjects like RE, ICT, and PSE, but they would also have ‘options’ where there could choose which subjects to study, out of things like History, Geography, Drama and Art etc… The aim of this was to allow students to have a broader choice in the possible Qualifications they would get at GCSE, the new qualifications replacing O Levels and CSE.

Pupils would also be required to sit SATS at ages 7, 11, and 14, and the results would be placed in a national league table to inform parents of how the school was doing in general. Schools were also given the opportunity to manage their own budgets if they wished, and they could also become ‘grant maintained’ schools, and recruit pupils on the basis that they wished, even if it meant recruiting them according to ability.

Marketisation was also popularised, because parents could now choose which school they could send their child to, and entry restrictions were banned, and schools were encouraged to compete with each other in order to maintain high standards, but one of the criticisms of this was that schools could become too overly competitive, and those schools that weren’t as good as others were shut down, sometimes causing overcrowding. Lastly, City Technology colleges were to be introduced, and these were specialised colleges that were taking in kids from the inner cities to build them up with special skills.

There were criticisms of this, one of the main ones being that many critics though that it was more concerned with reducing the power of the local Education Authorities, and there were some concerns about the effects of stressful testing on pupils. And there was an added myth in ‘Parental Choice’ because there weren’t as many extra places in schools as people were led to believe. Also, league tables were felt to be biased, because schools weren’t wanting to enter the lower ability pupils, for fear of having their results affected, so this lead to low self esteem among the lower abilities.

But, this wasn’t a complete bad thing, because the National Curriculum has since been slimmed down, as has the extent of testing, much due to parents’ grave concerns about the extent of this. And, in the 1990’s, the Conservative Party decided to turn their attentions to Post 16 Education. In 1992, they removed FE colleges from LEA control, and there was a report issued in 1996 about curriculum reform. When the New Labour Party came to power in 1997, it issued a very memorable motto: ‘Education, Education, Education! and brought forward many of the values that it had inherited from it’s predecessors.

For quite some time, Post 16 students had been criticised for being too narrowly skilled and they were accused of lacking the proper skills that were needed for higher education and employment. Also, the vocational and academic divide was seen to be depriving industry of the brighter students because there was a lack of ‘parity of esteem’ on students studying different vocational levels.

With the actual introduction of curriculum 2000, there has been more of a unity with vocational and academic qualifications, and the amount of courses has been widely expanded. Students now have the option of studying four or five AS Levels, and then dropping one and studying their A Levels a year later. The purpose of this was to provide students with better qualifications and hopefully give them training in the field of work that they wished to participate in, and then there would be more of a skilled workforce that also had proper qualifications.

But, there has been criticism of vocational education and training, pointed out by Finn in 1987, where he said that there was a hidden agenda in that it provided cheap labour to employers, kept working pay rates low, and reduced the unemployment levels, and it exploited workers because of the low pay and long hours they were doing. Phil Cohen (1984) argued that real purpose of vocational training was to create good attitudes towards work, and then this would probably make children accept a likelihood of a lowpaid, overworking job.

Overall though, I think the general thrust of educational reform has been not to let those outside of the system to assert control, but rather to let the children have a broader choice in what they wish to do with their futures, because schools have now got much more closer links with industry through things like GNVQ’S and work experience, and also they have given children a broader study base because they have better subjects, and more incentives to study at Post 16, like EMA.

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