The History of Education Policy
"The ecology of education, what it looks like, when and where it happens, is being changed and, as a result, so too is the learner." Stephen J. Ball
This page includes a summary of the history of educational policy. Much of it has been taken from Stephen J. Ball's 'The Education Debate' which offers an excellent and comprehensive account, but for the purposes of my exploration of academic as opposed to vocational education, I shall be selective in my summation. Even though this historical tour of education policy has no direct reference to the new diplomas, I think it would be impossible to understand new initiatives in education like the diplomas without first understanding and contextualising the relationship between politics and education.
Ball highlights several issues in the history of education policy but the one I think that is most pertinent to understanding the diploma and the reasons for its creation, and threats to its success, is the one involving the issue of class. Ball splits education policy of state schools into four distinct periods:-
1870 - 1944
1944 - 1976
1976 - 1997
1997 - 2007
1870 - 1944
Ball highlights how state education was founded upon dual, class divided needs. On the one hand, new urbanisation of the population meant that the new inner city working-classes were feared and therefore, needed to be "managed" (Ball, p56) whilst on the other, the middle-classes' growing social and political aspirations had to be "accomodated" (Ball, p56). Thus what developed early on was what R.H. Tawney described as "the hereditary curse of English education [being organised] along the lines of social class." (1931, p142)
The motivations behind early education policy can further be divined in Matther Arnold's speech made as part of the 1861 Newcastle Commission,
"The education of each class in society has, or ought to have, its ideal, determined by the wants of that class." (Arnold, 1864/ 1969, p112, quoted in Ball, p61)
The Newcastle Commission, along with the Clarendon Commission of 1864, and The School's Inquiry Commission of 1868 helped found three different school systems. The elementary for the working classes, secondary for the middle-classes and private public schools for the ruling class. What motivated this segregation was as Brehony suggests was a "powerful fear of the working-class", (1985, p270) leading to reform and centralisation of control, such as the creation of compulsory education in 1870. As Ball states (p63) this lead to much moral training and applicable skills in the elementary schools, whereupon, as Keith Joseph (Conservative Sec of State for Education, 1981-1986) stated in an interview with Ball in 1989, "we tyrannise children to do what they don't want, and we don't produce results." (Ball, p64)
1944 - 1976
In this period, "schooling reflected gradations of society" (Ball, p65) and following The 1944 Education Act, drawn from Norwood (1943) and Spens Reports (1938) schools became divided into grammar, secondary modern and technical schools. The latter, however, were never built, "British, especially English, culture seemed unable to accord vocational and technical achievements the same respect as academic ones." (The Guardian, Tuesday 19 October 2004 02.08 BST Donald McLeod)
The act was also criticised by Fred Clarke for being class prejudiced and part of the class project began by Matthew Arnold (McCulloch, p273) highlighting the "continual political commitment to class division" (Ball, p67). Several reports in the 50s and 60s complained about this class division in education, and how it created "wasted talent", and reflected how little real change was attempted in this regard. Much of this has been put down to successive governments within that time seeing education as something to be managed rather than "requiring its leadership" (Johnson, p32)
1976 - 1997
According to Ball, the third period in education policy occured following Prime Minister James Callaghan's Ruskin College speech on education in 1976. Callaghan raised several key points, but one with echoes in the creation of the diploma, was the one regarding the skills needed by employers, and how they were not being adequately taught by schools. Callaghan used the interesting phrase, "the secret garden of the curriculum" (Ball, p73) alluding to the idea that schools delivered knowledge according to their own, somewhat mysterious agenda. Ball makes it clear that although there were these criticisms and Callaghan's call for a great debate on education, aimed at improving the secondary education system "little of substance happened" between 1976 and 1979.
Following Margaret Thatcher's Conservative Party election in 1979, a new approach was instigated but many felt was really nothing new from the 19th Century. Hall and Schwartz felt that New Right education views, merely reproduced "colonial patterns around race and ethnicity." (1985, p30) However, with a much more market lead philosophy, the Conservative's attitudes to the state would invariably have very deep impacts upon state education. In 1988 this came to fruition in the Education Reform Act which articulated several themes, but one of interest in particular, it established a national curriculum, which "would entrench traditional subjects" (Ball, p80) to the detriment of 'misguided relativism' and multiculturalism. A back to basics of numeracy and literacy was typical of the Conservatives belief in a "real" knowledge as opposed to school's too often desire for an "ideological curriculum" (see Knight, 1990). Thus, with a strong defence of the traditional academic curriculum and the introduction of a national curriculum the Conservatives embedded further the "curricular divisions" (Ball, p83) began in the middle of the C19th. The Conservatives also introduced the Manpower Services Commission, as funders for the Technical and Vocational Education Initiative, which heralded a further market reorientation of schools and education, intending to make them more technical and vocational.
1997 - 2004
The relationship between education and politics has sped up since Tony Blair's famous pre-election speech, "Education, education, education" speech in 1996. Ball uses Blair's one time speech writer Peter Hyman's quote, "modern politics is all about momentum" (Ball, P2), to highlight the massive changes New Labour has promoted in the world of education, called "hyperactivism" by Dunleavy and O'Leary (1987). This language of change and dynamism has carried over into current Prime Minister Gordon Brown's "new approach" to education policy too.
Even though the Labour Party were re-elected in 1997, it was a very conservative and Conservative influenced New Labour that took government. The market lead, competition driven, state that the Conservatives introduced into education policy was adapted by Tony Blair's government who stated in his 1997 election manifesto, "Some of the things the Conservatives got right. We will not change them." (Labour Party Manifesto, p3) This might well allow us to see education policy in modern times as still hugely influenced by the past, and sensing how very little has changed. Ball does see some differences from Thatcher to New Labour, however. Most notably a desire, not for a return to a traditional or heritage based "fantasy" as Ball calls it (p83), one reliant upon "Victorian myths and inventions of Ethnic Englishness" (p83) but a "project of modernisation."
This project of modernisation has resulted in a staggering amount of new policy, particularly in regards to education, which New Labour "directly relates to the demands and inevitabilities of globalisation." (Ball, p8) New Labour's education policy can be discerned up to the present from their White Paper 'Excellence in Schools' (DfEE, 1997) and in it are some very traditional arguments. That of the importance of the basics of numeracy and literacy, an attack on low standards, typically based on poor numeracy and literacy in schools, and the gradual honing down of the inspection of these standards, an even greater degree of choice being offered to parents. This latter has influenced the birth of a great diversity of schools in the UK this century. This has been severly attacked in many quarters, such as by Ball who sees it as a pandering to the "interests, fears and social skills of the middle class (Ball, p93) and by journalist Nick Davies (The Guardian Unlimited, 12th July) who argued that such a policy is " a triumph for class politics, for the power of British middle-class to corner what is best for its children, much of it disguised as the exercise of parental choice."