Education is important for individuals’ personal development, socialisation and future career prospects, and also for providing a skilled workforce to meet the needs of society. Key changes in the development of education; such as the tri-partite system, comprehensive schools and the national curriculum shall be discussed, as well as the particularly significant acts of parliament that have shaped the education system. Up until 1880 educational opportunities were extremely limited, and education was only available to the wealthy as they could afford to pay; however even then it was mainly boys who were educated.
Girls’ education was largely neglected as it was thought unnecessary; as they were to be married off, rather than enter a career. The Mundella Act was introduced in 1880 and made education compulsory for children between the ages of five and ten, though still not free; it was not until 1891 that education was provided for free by the state. An initial problem with making education compulsory was that it was not well enforced to begin with, (Sociology. org) and many people of the working class were unhappy with the new legislation.
This is because at the time children were an ‘economic’ asset and could be sent out to work; which provided poorer families with some much needed additional income. Furthermore some employer were opposed to compulsory education also as children were profitable to employ; as they could be paid less. Despite this, the government continued to make provision for education; industrialisation had created the economic need for a more skilled workforce. In 1899 the school leaving age was raised to the age of twelve and the Balfour Education Act, which came in 1902, brought in the provision of secondary education for the ‘deserving’.
Local Education Authorities were appointed by the act in place of the previous School Boards. This act was quite a significant step as it allowed for schools to be financed through local rates, (local taxation). In 1918 the school leaving age was raised again, to the age of fourteen; thus expanding the access to secondary education. Whilst these policies were of great significance, as they shifted children from work, into education provided free by the state; the wealthy were still at an advantage as they could afford to send their children to private schools, which had much better performance.
An additional inequality was the gendered subjects; boys were taught technical skills to prepare them for a future in work, and girls were taught domestic competence to prepare them for the role of wife and mother. Furthermore, the school children attended greatly affected their education as schools had the independence to choose what was taught, so long as they included the three R`s; reading, writing and arithmetic.
In 1944 the Butler Education Act once again raised the school leaving age, to fifteen, and very significantly introduced the tri-partite system of education; on the argument that there were different types of intelligence, all being equally admirable, but requiring a different kind of education. The three schools which made up the tri-partite system were grammar schools; offering an academic education and the opportunity to obtain qualifications, secondary modern schools; which educated pupils in practical skills, and secondary technical schools; which taught mechanical and scientific subjects.
The schools were intended to have ‘parity of esteem’, (to be different, but equal). The eleven plus exam was used to allocate pupils to one of the three schools; around twenty percent went on to grammar schools, the greater majority went on to secondary moderns, and the remaining few were allocated to secondary technical schools. The tri-partite system was intended to raise equality by providing an education suited to students’ individual needs and abilities, regardless of their background and financial resources.
It was also intended to meet the needs of the economy by providing fully trained technicians, general workers and intellectuals, (Wikipedia. org). However the system became fraught with problems; one being the inequality it sustained. Grammar schools became disproportionately middle class, whilst the majority of working class children were allocated to secondary moderns; which did not offer the chance to obtain qualifications as the grammar schools did. Some argued that this was due to the eleven plus exams unfairly having culturally biased questions to which middle class pupils would find easier to answer.
Furthermore the children of affluent parents were still able to obtain an academic education for their children if they failed the eleven plus exam, as they could afford private education; whereas working class children would have no such option if they failed the exam. Additionally, despite the schools initially having ‘parity of esteem’, grammar schools quickly came to be thought of as ‘better’, and so those who were allocated to secondary modern schools carried the stigma of educational failure. Another problem was that the system was never fully tri-partite, as there was a major lack of secondary technical schools.
Despite the good intentions of the tri-partite system, it inevitably failed due to these problems; the government, (mainly Labour) became concerned with introducing a new, more equal, educational system. Comprehensive education was introduced in England and Wales in the 1960’s and 70’s, (though there were some earlier than this). In comprehensive schools all children of an area could attend regardless of their class or intellectual ability, and have equal opportunities to gain qualifications, whilst all being educated under one roof.
It was introduced to remove the inequalities evident in the tri-partite system, and end the eleven plus examinations; and it was also hoped that educating all pupils under one roof would help to break down class barriers. The comprehensive system succeeded at creating a more (but not entirely) equal education for children than that provided by the previous system. There are some criticisms of the comprehensive system; for example, it was introduced very gradually, and in some areas not at all, due to the ability of schools to ‘opt out’.
Furthermore the continuation of private schools means that the wealthy can still pay for a better education, and the classes were not always brought together as intended; because pupils of comprehensives reflect the socio-economic makeup of their catchment area, and some were opposed to the new system on the grounds that those students’ who were academically stronger would be ‘held back’. It has also been argued that due to ‘streaming’ comprehensive schools do not offer an equal education, but rather offers the tri-partite system under the same roof.
The Conservatives came in to power in 1979, and wished to make changes to the now established comprehensive system; as they believed it was failing to provide a sufficiently skilled work force that could meet the needs of the economy. The 1988 Education Reform Act introduced several major changes including, ‘open enrolment’; to allow parents greater choice in what schools to send their children to and the funding of schools became based on how many pupils attended.
The conservatives wanted to create an ‘education market’ in order to raise standards; parents could now choose what schools their children could be sent to (and see how well different schools were performing due to the introduction of published national testing results and league tables), and schools needed to perform well and compete with other schools in order to attract more pupils and receive greater funding.
However the education market created inequality; as schools with a greater intake of middle class pupils achieve better test results which in turn encourages more parents to send their children there, and having done this, will receive higher amounts of funding; thus allowing the school to continue achieving stronger results. Schools with a disproportionately working class intake experience the opposite effect; and so class inequality is maintained.
The 1988 act also introduced a national curriculum in England and Wales; for the purpose of more easily comparing the performance of schools, to identify key subject areas that all pupils should study, and also to allow for more stability; previously if a child changed schools they could be put at a disadvantage as their new school might follow a completely different curriculum.
However it was not implemented everywhere; independent schools were not obligated to follow the national curriculum, and unfortunately certain minority subjects, such as drama, dance and media studies became largely excluded; and some believe that the single curriculum may not prove suitable for all pupils. Both the conservative government and the current Labour government, (since 1997) stress the importance of vocationalism in education and training. A range of vocational subjects and qualifications have been developed since the 1980’s when its importance was highlighted.
There are now ‘youth training schemes’, employment training, city technology colleges and vocational qualifications available such as NVQ’s; which teach specific skills for particular jobs, and GNVQ`s; which were introduced in 1992 and provide a general range of transferable skills. Feminists are concerned however, that vocationalism reinforces traditional gender divisions; as vocational courses such as tourism, beauty therapy, and social care are largely occupied by women, whilst courses in engineering and technology are overwhelmingly dominated by men.
Other criticisms of vocationalism include the belief that training schemes may be partly about hiding the true extent of un-employment; as those placed into training cannot be counted as un-employed. Furthermore training schemes do not create more jobs, and many people may find that they leave further education without the skills and training that are in demand. The labour government views education as being essential to economic success; and chose to keep many of the Conservatives’ policies regarding education, when they came back in to power.
They continued ‘formula funding’, testing, school inspections and league tables; which shows they are keen to maintain parental choice and competition between schools. They also introduced some new polices, such as reducing primary class sizes to no more than thirty pupils, and requiring all primary schools to have literacy and numeracy hours; as they have recognised the need to enhance these basic skills. They also introduced EMA (education maintenance allowance) to encourage young people from less affluent backgrounds to stay on in education after sixteen (and therefore help to reduce class inequalities).
They have also introduced ‘social exclusion units’; and there has been concern that some particular groups are not succeeding in education, (such as African-Caribbean children). Overall however, some would argue that there is relatively little change in the polices implemented by the Conservative and Labour governments; and some would argue that Labour is maintaining inequality in education by continuing the ‘education market’; and there still remains ‘differential educational attainment’; such as the tendency for particular ethnic minorities and the poor to perform less well in school, and be less likely to attend higher education.
There also remains a considerable focus on standards, and measuring them through testing, (which can be very stressful for children), as well as controlling what is taught in schools, which may not allow children to develop their individual abilities. The education system has changed significantly over time and no doubt society has benefitted greatly from it. Educating children is now normal and compulsory whereas it used to be a privilege exclusive to the wealthy.
The tri-partite system was a major development in education, but was eventually abolished in favour of comprehensive schools due to the very apparent inequalities it sustained; the comprehensive system has proved to be far more equal, though not entirely, as evident by the patterns in differential educational attainment of children. Another major development was the implementation of the national curriculum; introduced by the 1988 Education Reform Act which also introduced polices to produce an ‘education market’.
The education market was maintained by the Labour government (who kept many Conservative polices when they came into power): it is believed to help keep standards in education high, but nevertheless is criticised as it is blamed for some of the remaining inequalities in education. Vocational education has continued to gain popularity since around the 1980`s, and there are now many vocational courses available in further education institutions.