How successful do you consider the Education Reform Act 1988 to have been?
The Education Reform Act (or ERA) was brought in by the secretary of state Kenny Baker and introduced a national curriculum and a system of testing and assignment for all state schools in England and Wales. This, in turn, gave greater control to schools by reducing the role of LEA’s. This essay will first summarise the pre-ERA situation, then describe the changes brought in by the ERA, before critically evaluating these and concluding that, while it was a step in the right direction, the ERA also had significant disadvantages.
Before the ERA was introduced schools were run under the Butler Act of 1944. The Butler Act presented 3 types of schools: Grammar Schools, which were mainly geared towards middle-class students with academic aptitudes; Secondary Modern schools, for the working class, and Technical Colleges. The Butler Act ended up legitimising and reproducing inequality, with the belief that academic ability is genetic rather than a product of upbringing as the two social classes were channeled into two different types of schools that offered unequal opportunities. When Comprehensive schools were introduced in 1965, their aim was to overcome the class divide produced by the tripartite system and to make schools more meritocratic. However, they continued to reproduce inequality. Grammar schools still existed, and working-class pupils now went to Comprehensives rather than Secondary Moderns. It was merely the myth of meritocracy that made it appear that there were equal opportunities in education, regardless of class background. Teachers would continue to place middle-class children in high streams, while condemning working-class children to lower streams, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.
One of the aims of the ERA was to tackle this problem of self-fulfilling prophecy and to encourage diversity. The Conservative Government at the time, led by Margaret Thatcher, was heavily influenced by New Right and Neo-Liberal perspectives. Therefore there was a prevalence of ideas such as increasing choice and encouraging individual responsibility to raise standards, while wider patterns of social inequality were not considered.
It introduced two new types of schools: Grant Maintained schools and City Technology Colleges. Grant Maintained Schools were financed directly by central government (rather than the local authorities) and were self-governing, with the governors and the head-teachers making decisions about staff employment and the curriculum. City Technology Colleges were also introduced for 11-18-year-olds and were financed by the central government and private sector sponsorship and taught the national curriculum with a specific concentration on maths, science, and technology.
Furthermore, the National Curriculum was introduced by the ERA in 1989. This ensured that the Government had complete control over what would be taught in England and Wales. 5-16 Year olds in...