For many years children with disabilities were denied the right to receive an education. Children with disabilities, whether it be behavioral or intellectual were once locked away in institutions never to be seen again. Special education has come a long way from what it once was, but still has a long way to go in order for the field of special education to equally and positively affect all the students that need these services.
The unequal representation of minority students in special education was and continues to be a widespread, troubling, problem that is continually researched and debated on. It took parents, and caregivers to advocate in order for the children with disabilities to gain an opportunity for education as those students that do not have a disability. The 101 United States Congress enacted the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, to provide children with disabilities an education (Brannen 2018). Even though Congress passed a law to provide special education services to the children that need these services, there are still children that suffer due to the unequal and unfair representation of minority students all over the world. It is unfair, that the students have to deal with the unjust treatment; there should be an equal opportunity for all of the students in special education globally no matter what cultural background, social class, or ethnicity the student is.
According to Livingston 2017, the primary recipients of special education services in Quebec and Ontario Canada were students of color and those of lower socioeconomic status (Livingston 2017). In fact, a large percentage of minority students from impoverished economic backgrounds had some sort of behavioral problem or intellectual disability (Livingston 2017). This seems to be an issue in countries all over the world. It is an unfortunate problem that exists and continues to exist in the field of special education.
Certain children seem to struggle to receive an equal opportunity in special education. Individuals that tend to fall short of receiving the proper education that will help the students reach their full potential are minority students, students that come from a lower socioeconomic class, students that lack the parental support and students that lack community support (Peters, Kranzler, Algina, Smith,
Impact of Policy Changes to Education by Conservative and New Labour Governments (1970-2010)
Did the policy changes introduced by the Conservative and New Labour Governments (1970-2010) have a positive influence on schools and pupils in the UK?
Prior to the 1979 general election, a tripartite system was used in education. Pupils would take an 11 exam, with the upper quartile going to Grammar school, whilst the bottom 75% were spread amongst secondary moderns and technical schools. However, places in Grammar schools were largely occupied by more affluent families, with places in other schools being dominated by working-class children (Crook, 1999), as they generally struggled to pass the 11 exam. This selective process attracted criticism from politicians for the perceived role it played in aggravating the existing class divide in schools (Banks, 1955). This system also angered parents, who feared the lack of places available in Grammar Schools would consign their children to places in Secondary Moderns, which were clearly regarded as ‘second best’ (Ball, 2008). When the Conservatives returned to power in 1979 (under Margaret Thatcher), they felt a great need for education reform. Unemployment rate in the UK had risen to 5.6% (Labour market statistics, 1996), its highest in almost 40 years. This was predominantly due to the alarming increase in the number of young people leaving school lacking the skills and grades needed to work. The country was ruled by this Conservative government until 1997, when Tony Blair took charge with his ‘New Labour’ government. He put a great emphasis on Education, even going as far as saying that ‘Education is our best economic policy’. Whilst Blair wanted to take Education in a new direction, there were numerous similarities between his Education policies and the Conservative government’s that preceded it. He stated that ‘Some things the Conservatives got right, we will not change them’, referring to Thatcher’s introduction of parental choice and market principles into Education. This essay will firstly outline and evaluate each of the key education policy changes that took place under Thatcher’s Conservative Government, before moving on the changes executed by Tony Blair’s New Labour government. It will discuss the key benefits and drawbacks of the major Conservative and New Labour education policy changes, namely the implementation of market principles into education, parental choice and the increased diversity of schools in the UK. The essay will argue that despite the apparent issues associated with some of these changes – specifically the concerns of increased socio-economic segregation in schools, the long-term benefits such as the increase in school and teaching standards, mean that the impacts of most of these policy changes were more positive than negative.
Most of the key Conservative education policy changes took place in both the 1980 and 1988 Education Acts. These acts introduced the UK to the concept of market principles in education. The idea was that parents across the UK would have a right to express a preference as to what school their child attends. School exam results would now be published, to enable an easy form of comparison between schools for all parents, not just parents from more advantageous backgrounds. A new funding formula for schools was introduced (per capita funding), where schools would be paid a set amount of money per pupil. This meant that schools would now be forced to compete to try to attract families from all backgrounds, to generate the funds necessary to not only keep them open, but also to help market themselves to parents (Ball, 1994), something schools did not have to concern themselves with in previous years, as their costs were funded by the government. This meant that schools would have to improve its facilities and raise teaching standards to meet the higher expectations of parents, also meeting the needs of the country’s economy. As a result, poorer schools would struggle to stay open as fewer parents would be interested in choosing that school for their child, resulting in a lack of funds under the new funding formula. Good schools would prosper, in theory leaving parents with fewer ‘bad’ choices of schools for their children. The only potential issue here is that these more popular schools will be unable to expand to meet the demands of the people. As a result, these schools can become more selective, picking and choosing whatever students they feel will be a good fit for the school. (Webster, 2018). This selective way of thinking in schools concerned many politicians and parents alike, with growing fears that schools would deliberately select students from middle-class families, who are more likely to succeed. These claims are reinforced by Bartlett (1993), who says that these new financial pressures have led to schools ‘cream-skimming’, a process where schools select higher ability students who are more likely to obtain the best results and cost less to teach. Similarly, he argues that schools may choose to offload students with learning difficulties as they will cost substantially more to teach without acquiring particularly good results.
The idea of marketisation and parental choice was denounced further by politicians, who claimed that some parents had the freedom and ability to ‘choose’ whilst others did not. Bowe (1995) argues that those with a higher level of education and greater incomes (i.e.: Middle-class families) can access more in-depth information about schools. Poorer families would struggle to retrieve the same data and be forced to make a less informed decision as to what school best suits their child. This opinion is reinforced by Ball (2008), who states that ‘‘Choice policies’ create social spaces within which class strategies and ‘opportunistic behaviours’ can flourish and within which middle-class families can use their social and cultural skills and capital advantages to good effect’. The biggest concern for many was that, as a result, middle class parents would acquire most of the available places at the best schools, as they are statistically more likely to achieve the best results (OECD, 2017). This leaves working-class pupils in schools with inferior teaching standards and facilities, thus reducing their chances of obtaining the grades and skills needed for them to gain work in the future. Whilst it’s difficult to argue against these claims, no-one has yet managed to propose a solution which provides equality of opportunity for parents from all backgrounds and maintains the higher standards of education we have today. (Webster, 2018)
Another issue people had with marketising education, was that it would further exacerbate the already existing socio-economic divide in schools. Gewirtz (1995) argues that segregation in schools was on the rise, and that the implementation of market principles into education had had a massive effect. This claim is backed by Burgess (2006), who say that more choice for parents leads to greater segregation on class and ethnic lines. However, there is not any concrete evidence backing these allegations. With the objective of finding this evidence, Gorard and Fitz (2000) explored the impact of the introduction of market principles on segregation in England and Wales. They felt that prior to this introduction, the primary cause of segregation in schools was the use of catchment areas and selection by mortgage. This system provided choice only to those who could afford it. However, Thatcher’s newer system has extended this privilege from the elite, to the majority. Their findings showed that in fact, segregation in England and Wales had declined from 36% (before the introduction of market principles) to 30%. These results rebuff the claims of many that oppose marketizing education and show that it had a positive influence on segregation at this time.
Marketising education has also been blamed by many for the role it has played in the increasing financial pressures that schools are forced to manage. They now had little choice but to invest heavily in marketing themselves to parents (Ball, 1994), in order to attract the volume of pupils necessary to secure its long-term future. However, schools were not by any means the only ones under strain. Teachers were now to experience standard appraisal and assessment from organisations such as Ofsted and were to be considered more accountable than ever before, particularly with the expanding significance of student’s test results. Poorer exam results meant a lower position in the newly-published school league tables, and with it an increased challenge to attract parents. Despite the increased pressure on teachers, this strategy assisted in the development of improved education across the UK. Whilst the ‘bad’ teachers would be filtered out from schools, the ‘good’ educators would procure better occupations in high-performing schools, obtaining the training and support they need to further enhance themselves as educators. (Webster, 2018)
When Tony Blair’s ‘New Labour’ came into power in May of 1997, he promised a revolutionary approach to education, with a significant increase in spending, reduced class sizes and a new national curriculum at the top of his government’s agenda. Whilst Blair did fulfil most of his promises of transforming the education system, many of his policies had a resemblance with the Conservative policies that preceded them. Blair’s government showed a continued commitment to school choice, and market principles in education were further implemented with the aim of giving parents more power than ever before. However, it was the resumption of the diversification of school types that really caught the attention of the British public. In his tenure as Prime-Minister, Blair introduced the UK to Specialist schools, City Academies and Faith schools, whilst also increasing the involvement of the private sector in education. The introduction of these schools significantly enhanced the diversity of secondary education in the UK, arguably presenting parents with a greater opportunity to find a school type that better suits their child’s social and pedagogical needs. However, Blair’s Labour government attracted a great deal of criticism when these changes were introduced. Teachers across the country had growing concerns that Specialist schools would create inequalities in academic and social mix in the inner cities, as they had the ability to select up to 10% of their intake based on a child’s aptitude in the school’s subject specialism. Professor Peter Mortimore (1998) was also critical idea that schools could select on aptitude without also selecting for general academic ability. He says ‘What seems to emerge is a general ability to learn which is often, but not always, associated with various advantages of coming from a middle-class home. How can a headteacher know if an aptitude of a ten-year old for German shows anything more than their parent’s ability to pay for language lessons’. This statement reinforces the concerns of many that middle-class families have more opportunity to gain access to these places in specialist schools as they can use their financial powers to help give their children an improved chance of gaining knowledge, for example with home tutoring. Others were also anxious that hierarchies would emerge amongst specialist schools, with schools specializing in certain subjects such as maths, faring better than schools with alternative specialist subjects. However, in their 2005 report, Ofsted commented that the rate of improvement in pupils’ performance in the specialist subjects was levelling off.
This is not the only criticism levelled at increasing diversity in schools. Gorard and Taylor (2001) argue that specialist schools take fewer pupils from poorer backgrounds than non-specialist schools, a trend that is likely to exacerbate segregation in schools. They also argue that specialist schools receive greater funding and are more likely to be single-sex than non-specialist schools, which would have a further negative impact on socio-economic segregation in schools. As these schools tended to be more well-funded than ‘bog-standard’ non-specialist schools, parents and teachers alike were concerned that non-specialist schools would be seen to be ‘second best’, and that more and more middle-class families would seek to get their children a place in specialist schools with more money and improved exam results. These claims are reinforced by Jesson (2003), who argues that specialist schools out-perform non-specialist schools in exam performance, especially in schools which are in areas of high levels of disadvantage.
Specialist schools weren’t the only schools receiving criticism either. City Academies were introduced in 2000 by Blair’s New Labour government with the aim of raising attainment of deprived inner-city areas and were originally seen by many to be great way of adhering to market forces and social justice. However, there were some parents and politicians that remained unconvinced by this new dimension of education. Like specialist schools, City Academies required significant investment from sponsors to run successfully. These sponsors ranged from large-scale businesses to private benefactors. It is in fact these sponsors that attracted most of the criticism from parents, with increasing concerns over some of these sponsors’ intentions, beliefs and values, as well as the influence that they had on the daily running of these schools. For example, the Emmanuel School Foundation is a trust that has been involved in educating some of the most socio-economically deprived parts of the UK for over 30 years. However, its sponsor Peter Vardy was accused in 2002 of forcing teachers within his foundation to encourage Creationist beliefs to its students. Amid these growing concerns, Tony Blair approved of new changes to Education policy stipulating that governing bodies in schools required an increased amount of parental representation. These changes helped to allay the fears of many that sponsors had too much say on how schools should be run, reducing the power and influence that they previously had in City Academies and Specialist Schools.
By the time of Tony Blair’s appointment as Prime-Minister in 1997, there were growing concerns from parents and politicians regarding the grades attained by pupils leaving primary school, particularly in Maths and English. In primary school tests taken in 1997, just weeks before the general election, 63% of 11-year-olds reached the expected levels in English, with 62% achieving the desired standard in Maths (DfES, 1997). With an already clear emphasis on driving up standards in schools, Blair’s government set the ambitious target of increasing the number of 11-year-olds reaching the expected levels in English and Maths to 80% by the end of 2002. To help achieve this goal, he introduced the National Numeracy and Literacy strategies to schools across the UK. This strategy required primary schools to teach a minimum of one hour of numeracy and literacy every day to its pupils. Whilst progress started off slow, test results did improve significantly by the end of Blair’s tenure in 2006, with 79% of pupils having reached the required levels in English, and 76% achieving the same in Maths (DfES, 2006). Whilst many politicians criticised the New Labour government for failing to achieve their original target of 80%, their accomplishments must surely be seen to be a major step forward in the standard of primary education in schools.
There is obviously a great divide in the attitude of individuals towards the key education policy changes that took place in this 40-year period. Beginning with the Conservative policy changes, there is little doubt that Margaret Thatcher had good reason for education reform, with rising unemployment rates and the consistent underachievement of working-class children a growing concern for the UK’s economy. However, by the end of Thatcher’s reign in 1990, unemployment rate in the UK had risen to 7.2% (Labour Market Statistics, 2014), leading many to the conclusion that the alterations made by Thatcher’s Conservative government: namely the introduction of parental choice and market principles into education, have had an adverse effect on schooling in the UK. Whilst this essay acknowledges that parents of less advantageous backgrounds do not have the same level of choice as their middle-class counterparts, the introduction of parental choice has given all parents a superior opportunity to find a school which better matches their child’s social and pedagogical needs. This essay concludes that the launch of market principles into education has brought numerous benefits to this country. Competition between schools has brought about a vast improvement in school standards, giving pupils across all socio-economic backgrounds an improved opportunity to succeed in education than they did in the previous tripartite system. Similarly, the changes made by Blair’s New Labour government attracted a lot of criticism from teachers and politicians alike. Whilst it is very difficult for those in opposition to Blair to challenge the success of the implementation of the National Numeracy and Literacy strategies, it is far easier to condemn the further diversification of school types in the UK. Despite the promises made by David Blunkett in 1996, when he declared that there would be ‘no selection, either by interview or by examination under a Labour Government’, this Labour government introduced schools that had the ability to do just that. The implications of these changes: namely the exacerbation of socio-economic segregation and the obvious disadvantages to those from working-class backgrounds, makes for grim reading. However, this essay believes when one combines all the key Labour policy changes that took place, particularly when one considers the increase in the number of teachers in the UK and the significant improvement of curriculum test scores as a result of the National Numeracy and Literacy strategies, that overall, they had a positive impact on schools, children and education.
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