The UK’s education policy has changed frequently during the post war years to reflect the needs and circumstances of the population and economy as perceived by successive governments.  Immediately after the Second World War, the priority was reconstruction and the national government was influenced by the Beveridge Report that laid the foundations for a welfare state, which would tackle the five “evils” of ignorance, idleness, sickness, homelessness and poverty.  A new system of education free to all children from 5 to 15 was introduced by the Butler Act in 1944.  It was recognised that the country would need literate people with traditional skills to supply the factories, mines, shipyards and foundries as well as those able fill professional, administrative and managerial roles.  A tripartite structure was established consisting of grammar schools, technical and building schools and Secondary Modern schools. All children attended non-selective primary schools from 5 to 11.  Segregation into girls and boys schools started at 11.  There was further segregation determined by the outcome of the examination called the 11+. Approximately 20% of children were selected for Grammar schools, only boys went to Technical schools and the rest went to Secondary Moderns.  Boys in the modern schools were prepared for an apprenticeship in whatever trades were needed in a particular area and girls were prepared for jobs in nursing, office work , domestic science.  Retailing and factory work.  Operating the tripartite system in rural areas proved problematic and so some County education authorities created Comprehensive schools to cater for all abilities.  In the urban and metropolitan areas, the new system was seen to be socially divisive and left pupils who failed the 11+ to feel they were failures in life.  It was not helped by the fact that the bar was set quite high with only around 20% of children obtaining a Grammar school education.  During the 1970s, Labour governments introduced Comprehensive schools and although some Grammar schools survived, most Grammar and Technical schools were converted into Comprehensives for both girls and boys.

Current Education Policy

Global deindustrialization is thought to have started in the late 1960s when newly independent states with a surplus of cheap labour began to manufacture goods previously made in the developed economies. Deindustrialisation particularly affected manufacturing and heavy industries in the UK and elsewhere in Europe although not to the same extent. The traditional manufacturing based apprenticeships went into decline at the same time as the system of comprehensive schools were introduced A radical reform of education took place in 1988 with the Education Reform Act which saw the beginnings of  Government control of education which continues to this day.  First, it saw the introduction of a national curriculum, second it saw the introduction of the local MANAGEMENT of schools and thirdly it reduced the powers of local education authorities, which in 2017 have almost no role, or powers.  There was much criticism of the comprehensives, the child centred approach and falling standards but the criticisms of education are greater now than they have ever been.

Some education milestones since 1988 have been the National Curriculum, the introduction of standards, the creation of OFSTED, the grading of schools, the publication of grades and league tables the imposition of centrally determined standards at every level of education from pre-school; through to further and higher education colleges and universities, the introduction of Academies removing control of education from LEAs to private trusts. The Academies first introduced by the Labour Government as a means of helping failing schools to improve under the Conservative Government of 2010 all schools were encouraged to become academies to ensure they were directly funded by central government, could employ their own staff – qualified or not and to ensure the end of local government control of schools . The 1988 act had already removed local government from Further and Higher education by creating Further and Higher corporations to run institutions of Further and Higher Education and New Universities. Schools and all Educational organisations are now businesses managed by chief executives and boards.  The process of academisation was a gradual transfer as Comprehensives were encouraged to move to Academies by offering financial incentives to schools.  By 2016 most Secondary Schools had been converted.  In order to speed up the process, Government decreed that all new schools were to be Academies. 

In 2016, a referendum on whether we should leave the European Union resulted in a narrow victory opting to leave.  This was followed by the resignation of the Prime Minister David Cameron and the emergence of a new Prime Minister Theresa May. Further changes in education were announced including a return to grammar schools and the creation of free schools again with financial support from the Government of £26 billion and a target of 500 new free schools by 2022.  This change of policy direction from academies was supported with extra money for new schools but occurred at a time when general funding for education was falling in real terms, funding per pupil was falling, class sizes were rising, there was a teacher shortage and many teachers were leaving the profession.  The key issues educationalists are left grappling with are;-

  • Maintaining Standards with Reduced Funding – How can schools maintain academic standards when massive cuts in Government funding is taking place?  The Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) has written a briefing note entitled “The short- and long-run impact of the national funding formula for schools in England”, which finds that Government is undertaking the single most largest reform within the last 25 years.  The IFS say, “School funding per pupil has been frozen in cash terms between 2015–16 and 2019–20, resulting in a real-terms cut of 6.5%.  This would be the largest cut in school spending per pupil over a four-year period since at least the early 1980s and would return school spending per pupil to about the same real-terms level as it was in 2010–11.  Any losses schools face as a result of the National Funding Formula (NFF) come on top of this cut”.
  • The English Baccalaureate (Ebacc) – Is the Government’s introduction of the English Baccalaureate (Ebacc) raising standards?  Government say that the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) is a school performance measure, but what do pupils and teachers think?
  • Special Educational Needs – Schools face an increasing challenge in respect of students who have complex and severe needs, including emotional, social and mental health concerns, or who appear on the behaviour spectrum, spanning persistent low-level disruption to knife crime and sexual assault.  Government demands are putting an extra strain on resources while budgetary pressures on a very costly area of education provision are inadequate.
  • Teacher Recruitment is an overarching issue and OFSTED’s micro managing of teachers is claimed to be a major cause.  Teachers state they are over managed in an attempt to raise standards.  Prior to the 1988 Education Act, there was no National Curriculum and teachers worked to the curriculum of the examination boards of which there were several. Pupils were not continually assessed and examinations were set at the end of the year and at the exit point of 16 (GCEs) and 18 (A Level). The national curriculum has been changed by successive governments since its inception.  Professionals do not need to be told how to do their jobs down to the finest detail.  Doing so takes away their professional judgement thus DoE professionalising them.  Teachers are increasingly reluctant to take on extra responsibilities because of the demands of increased paperwork, even though in some cases it may mean a £10,000 a year increase.  There is a shortage of head teachers and this will get worse as the numbers of head teachers due to retire in the next 10 years is approximately 20 % not including earlier retirements and resignations.
  • School Governors are changing as Academy and Free school trusts can determine their own composition.  In addition, there is a trend to co-opting more business governors.

One teacher, Tim Paramour has written a blog, entitled “The Holidays don’t make up for this”.  It is one teacher’s story of the teaching crisis.  A week later, after the story was printed in the Independent, it has subsequently has gone viral on social media receiving around 120,000 hits within days of being written due to so many teachers telling similar stories.  This is the link we were sent

A sudden decision by the Prime Minister in the winter of 2016 to call a general election after only 10 months in office means further changes are likely to be in store!!!  See the manifestos of the major parties for their policies on education.