In What Ways Did the 1988 Education Reform Act Reflect the Marketisation of Education and the New Vocationalism
The most far-reaching package of changes to the previously ‘un-meritocrial’ education system was introduced in the 1988 Education Reform Act. As a result, the basic structure of our standing education system was instituted. The biggest of these changes were the ‘marketisation’ of education and the introduction of the ‘new vocationalism’, which led to transformations not only in the way schools were run and the variety of opportunities available to pupils at different learning levels, but how they were viewed by prospective students and their parents.
Marketisation refers to the move towards educational provision being determined by the ‘market’ and is based on the principles of ‘Meritocracy’ and ‘Freedom of Choice’. In theory this would raise the standards and improve the service of schools, as well as allowing parents and children to choose which school they wish to attend; this is referred to as parental choice or open enrolment.
However, this means that school management teams are forced to spend considerable amounts of time on budgets and raising money to ensure that a high standard of teaching and facilities available is maintained, thus theoretically meaning students obtain better results. This is vital in the open enrolment of students, as schools must now compete for ‘clients’ and ‘consumers’; due to the publication of league tables possible consumes can compare results and distinguish which school gains the highest exam grades. This power of choice given to the parent is referred to as ‘Parentocracy’ and results in the competition of schools. On the other hand, this means that schools failing to attract students will be numbers of ‘achieving’ pupils, thus once more forcing schools to compete with one either forced to improve or close, whereas the funding of schools is based on the another.
These ideas of open enrolment were taken from the Austrian economist Hayek and used by the New Right, who wished to move away from monopolistic state provision and make schools more entrepreneurial and efficient, as well as to provide freedom of choice to the consumers.
Critics of education markets draw attention to the fact that the theory of marketisation is very different to the practice of marketisation, and that in reality perhaps schools selective and economic purposes become more important than their pastoral, academic and citizenship roles. This also means that markets can put schools educative purposes at risk, as ‘image’ may become more important than substance, and thus portraying the senior staff as businessmen.
Furthermore, critics, such as Ball, argue that the original idea of meritocracy is lost, as although the consumers obtain the power of choice, the schools with the greatest market capacity will always gain the upper hand. In addition there is not equality of opportunities to begin with, as, for example, schools in middle-class areas with good buildings and resources to begin with are obviously in a better position to attract consumers than schools set up in lower-class areas with poor buildings and resources.
Finally, Ball argued in 1994 that resources are wasted on marketing and testing, as league tables, on which choices are made, use raw data, making simple comparisons impossible. “The implementation of market reforms in education is essentially a class strategy which has as one of its major effects the reproduction of relative social class (and ethnic) advantages and disadvantages.” – Ball, 19941
The idea of the New Vocationalism is that the education system should contribute to economic growth by providing a more skilled and productive workforce through the Government involvement of training pupils for work. Liberal educational values have always stressed the importance of ‘education for its own sake’ and its significance in relation to the individual development. Restricted academic education aims to produce the ‘educated’ person, whereas vocational training aims to either produce trainees with flexible skills useful for a variety of low-skilled occupations or to prepare people for a specific occupation.
However, initial attempts at such a programme received high criticism, with claims that such training schemes were a means of covering up high unemployment figures and supply a source of cheap labour. They were regarded as a ‘con’ by those involved in the training, and simply a way of keeping young people off the street and preventing them from turning to crime. Fortunately the introduction of NVQs and GNVQs in 1991 provided youths with a much broader course schedule relating to a wider range of vocational areas, like health and social care.
Yet a national survey conducted by the Southampton University in 1996 showed that all efforts to improve the scheme had failed. It found that students still regard such qualifications as work-related rather than useful for continuing onto a higher education. The research found that vocationalism is still regarded as a second-rate education, with only a quarter of those taking a vocational qualification even planning to continue through to a higher education.
Supporters of the New Vocationalism argue that it gives the less academic person more opportunities in life, thus allowing them to obtain some form of qualification. It also keeps unemployment levels down, as more post-16 students will leave college with a qualification they are able to use effectively, so keeping more people in work. Finally the scheme socialises students into work life and gives them the first hand experience of work situations, as well as creating a specialised, skilled labour force, resulting in an increase in the competitiveness of the economy.
However, critics of the scheme claim that such work experience doesn’t necessarily always lead to a job and prevent young people turning to crime and is a form of exploitation by providing cheap labour. This consequently leads to profit maximisation.
There is also the argument that although it is supply people with the opportunity of a job, they are only gain the experience in one area of unskilled work. Therefore, it leads them down a narrow path, in which there is no way of turning back unless quitting.
Finally, despite all state efforts vocational training is still viewed and treated as an inferior qualification and is seen as second-rate to A-level qualifications.
Although, the Education Reform Act of 1988 mainly reflected the marketisation of education and the introduction of New Vocationalism, on contemplation this was perhaps not the best option, yet maybe it was the only available one. Even though both lead to much criticism, they did still solve some problems, like giving the working-class the opportunity to a better education before and beyond sixteen. Finally I feel that all schemes like these will always receive criticism from at least one group of theorists, therefore it is up to the Government of the time to decide what is the best way to deal with the problem and follow the national feeling, which, in conclusion, I think was achieved in this case.
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