Education in England:
a brief history

Introduction, Contents

Chapter 1 600-1800
Chapter 2 1800-1860
Towards a state system
Chapter 3 1860-1900
Class divisions
Chapter 4 1900-1944
Taking shape
Chapter 5 1944-1951
Post-war reconstruction
Chapter 6 1951-1970
The wind of change
Chapter 7 1970-1979
Recession and disenchantment
Chapter 8 1979-1990
Thatcherism: marketisation
Chapter 9 1990-1997
John Major: more of the same
Chapter 10 1997-2007
The Blair decade
Chapter 11 2007-2010
Brown and Balls: mixed messages
Chapter 12 2010
What future for education in England?

Chapter 13 2010-2015
Gove v The Blob
this is a draft of a chapter which will form part of the revised version currently in preparation


Organisation of this chapter

A miserable inheritance

New faces, same policies
School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Act 1991
Further and Higher Education Act 1992
Education (Schools) Act 1992
The 'Three Wise Men' Report

Choice and diversity
'Selection' becomes 'specialisation'
Education Act 1993

National Curriculum
Dearing Review
Warwick Evaluation

Other legislation
Education Act 1994
Education (Student Loans) Act 1996
Education Act 1996
Nursery Education and Grant-Maintained Schools Act 1996
School Inspections Act 1996
Education Act 1997

Other developments
Vocational qualifications
Middle school closures
The Labour Party and selection



Education in England: a brief history
Derek Gillard

copyright Derek Gillard 2011
Education in England: a brief history is my copyright. You are welcome to download it and print it for your own personal use, or for use in a school or other educational establishment, provided my name as the author is attached. But you may not publish it, upload it onto any other website, or sell it, without my permission.

You are welcome to cite this piece. If you do so, please acknowledge it thus:
Gillard D (2011) Education in England: a brief history

In accordance with the conventions set out by the Society of Authors and the Publishers Association, you should seek my permission to reproduce

  • any extract of more than 400 words;
  • a series of extracts totalling more than 800 words, of which any one extract has more than 300 words; and
  • an extract or series of extracts constituting a quarter or more of the original work.
For shorter extracts you do not need my permission, provided the source is acknowledged as shown above.

In references in the text, the number after the colon is always the page number (even where a document has numbered paragraphs or sections).

Where a document is shown as a link, the full text is available online.

Crown copyright material is reproduced with the permission of the Controller of HMSO and the Queen's Printer for Scotland.

Chapter 9 : 1990-1997

John Major: more of the same

A miserable inheritance

When John Major (pictured) became Tory leader and prime minister in November 1990, he inherited from Thatcher an education system which had suffered a massive decline in investment and a vast increase in inequality.

Public expenditure on education as a percentage of GDP had reached a high point of 6.5 per cent in 1975-6 under Callaghan's government. By 1983-4 it had fallen to 5.3 per cent and it remained below that level under both Thatcher and Major. By 1993-4 capital spending on schools was less than half what it had been in the mid-1970s (figures from Glennerster 1998:37, quoted in Jones 2003:112).

To make matters worse, schools faced huge problems caused by increasing social polarisation. When Thatcher had come to power in 1979 about ten per cent of children lived in households whose income was less than half the national average. By 1993, the figure was 33 per cent (figures from Oppenheim and Lister 1997:24, quoted in Jones 2003:112). In 1997 Ofsted noted that state schools with large numbers of children from poor homes were by far the worst performers at GCSE.

New faces, same policies

Many in education hoped that a Major government, with Kenneth Clarke (pictured) as the new education secretary, would be less harsh than its Thatcher predecessor.

They were to be disappointed: the Major administration was equally committed to selection and elitism; equally determined to continue undermining the local authorities; and equally destructive in its attitude to the teaching profession.

Thus the new government:

1991 School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Act

The School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Act (25 July 1991) established a teachers' pay review body but gave the secretary of state extensive new powers.

  • Download the School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Act 1991 (pdf text 172kb).

    1992 Further and Higher Education Act

    The Further and Higher Education Act (6 March 1992):

    • established the Further Education Funding Councils (FEFCs) (Section 1);
    • removed further education and sixth form colleges from LEA control (11);
    • unified the funding of higher education under the Higher Education Funding Councils (HEFCs) (62);
    • introduced competition for funding between institutions; and
    • abolished the Council for National Academic Awards (CNAA) (80).
  • Download the Further and Higher Education Act 1992 (pdf text 1.6mb).

    The Further and Higher Education Act thus did for further education and sixth form colleges what the 1988 Education Reform Act had done for grant-maintained schools: it removed them from the control of local authorities and gave their governing bodies the status of 'further education corporations'. They would be subjected to 'quango-funding and control through a privatised market' (Benn and Chitty 1996:14).

    This made it harder for local authorities to develop strategic plans - which was the intention: 'there were to be no local systems, only individual education "businesses" competing with one another for "customers" within the centrally controlled legislative framework' (Benn and Chitty 1996:14).

    1992 Education (Schools) Act

    The Education (Schools) Act (16 March 1992) made provision for the establishment of Ofsted (the Office for Standards in Education).

    The agency was to employ private contractors to inspect schools and its reports on individual schools would be published. Every inspection team was to include at least one member 'without personal experience in the management of any school or the provision of education in any school' (Schedule 2). These became known as 'lay inspectors'.

    Voluntary aided faith schools were subject to two complementary inspections: a 'Section 9' inspection (which became Section 11 in 1996) covering the National Curriculum and other matters such as equal opportunities and health and safety, and a 'Section 13' inspection (Section 23 in 1996) covering the religious education under the control of the governors and foundation bodies.

  • Download the Education (Schools) Act 1992 (pdf text 404kb).

    The establishment of Ofsted caused teachers' morale to plummet. The amount of paperwork and form-filling which a school had to complete before an inspection was grotesque; staff were suspicious of the motives and abilities of the private contractors; the week of the inspection itself was extraordinarily stressful; and there were concerns about the accuracy and fairness of some of the published reports - which was understandable, given that teachers' careers were at stake.

    Teachers did manage to find amusement in some aspects of the process, however, such as the inclusion of a 'lay inspector' in every inspection team. The joke in school staffrooms was that to be a lay inspector you had to know nothing about education.

    The situation wasn't helped by the appointment of Chris Woodhead (pictured) as HM Chief Inspector of Schools and head of Ofsted in September 1994. He appeared to take a positive delight in criticising teachers and as a result he became something of a hate figure in schools up and down the country. Morale among teachers suffered further when government ministers began using Ofsted reports as a basis for 'naming and shaming' so-called 'failing' schools.

    The 'Three Wise Men' Report

    Major faced his first general election in April 1992. He was expected to lose: all the polls suggested that Labour, led by Neil Kinnock, would win by a small majority. The Tories decided that a return to streaming and more formal teaching methods in primary schools would be a popular campaign policy, so in February 1992 Kenneth Clarke commissioned Robin Alexander, Jim Rose and Chris Woodhead to produce what became popularly known as the 'Three Wise Men Report'.

    Written in just one month, Curriculum Organisation and Classroom Practice in Primary Schools: A discussion paper argued that:

    • there was evidence of falling standards in some 'important aspects of literacy and numeracy' (DES 1992:1);
    • Piaget's notion of 'learning readiness', as set out in the Plowden Report, was dubious and the progress of primary pupils had been 'hampered by the influence of highly questionable dogmas' (DES 1992:1);
    • the teacher should be an instructor rather than a facilitator;
    • teachers should use a range of organisational strategies including individual and group teaching, but there should be more use of whole class teaching;
    • while there was a place for well-planned topic work, more emphasis should be put on the subjects of the National Curriculum;
    • pupils should be grouped by ability in subjects ('setted') rather than as a whole class ('streamed') but 'teachers must avoid the pitfall of assuming that pupils' ability is fixed' (DES 1992:27);
    • many primary teachers were not equipped to teach subjects effectively and there was an acute shortage of specialist expertise;
    • there should be greater flexibility in the deployment of staff as specialists, generalists, semi-specialists and generalist-consultants;
    • there should be more specialist teaching in the upper years of Key Stage 2;
    • initial training, induction and in-service training should all take account of these needs;
    • heads should set and monitor INSET policies, should lead by example, and should teach;
    • the National Curriculum should be regularly reviewed to ensure that it made appropriate demands on pupils of different ages and abilities and that it was manageable in terms of the time, resources and professional expertise available in schools.
    The report caused much controversy. Teachers who had been brought up on Plowden regarded it as an attack on their most dearly-cherished values and practices. The two reports shared some things in common, however. Both were products of their age - Plowden, the progressive sixties; Alexander, Rose and Woodhead, the new age of National Curriculum subjects and testing. Both, too, were widely misquoted and misrepresented.

    Whether the publication of the Three Wise Men report affected the outcome of the election is open to debate. It was certainly not, as Major and Clarke had hoped, a resounding endorsement of traditionalist views.

    In the event, to most people's amazement - and many people's profound disappointment - Major won the general election on 9 April 1992 with a Commons majority of 21. In the view of most commentators, his victory was a result of Kinnock's poor judgement in staging, on the eve of the election, a triumphalist rally in Sheffield which many found distasteful.

    Choice and diversity

    'Selection' becomes 'specialisation'

    Following the election, John Patten (pictured) replaced Clarke as education secretary and the Department of Education and Science (DES) was renamed the Department for Education (DFE).

    Patten was as keen as the prime minister to undermine the comprehensive system but he realised that public support for comprehensive schools was a problem - one which even Thatcher had been unable to solve. There had been widespread parental opposition to the reintroduction of selection in the wake of the 1979 Education Act, which allowed LEAs to maintain selective systems. Her response to this opposition had not been hugely successful: few schools had chosen to adopt grant-maintained status and few firms had agreed to sponsor city technology colleges.

    So Major and Patten now sought other means to damage the comprehensive system and weaken local authority control of education. Their strategy was to convert 'selection' into 'specialisation'.

    In an article in the New Statesman and Society (17 July 1992) Patten argued that:

    Selection is not, and should not be, a great issue of the 1990s as it was in the 1960s. The S-word for all Socialists to come to terms with is, rather, 'specialisation'. The fact is that children excel at different things; it is foolish to ignore it, and some schools may wish specifically to cater for these differences. ...

    Such schools are already emerging. They will, as much more than mere exotic educational boutiques, increasingly populate the educational landscape of Britain at the end of the century, a century that introduced universal education at its outset; then tried to grade children like vegetables; then tried to treat them ... like identical vegetables; and which never ever gave them the equality of intellectual nourishment that is now being offered by the National Curriculum, encouraged by testing, audited by regular inspection. (Patten 1992:20-21, quoted in Chitty and Dunford 1999:27)

    The independent National Commission on Education, funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and chaired by Lord Walton of Detchant, was worried. Its final report, Learning to succeed: a radical look at education today and a strategy for the future, published in 1993, condemned the Major government's obsession with creating 'a greater variety of secondary schools' and warned that 'as we see it, there is a serious danger of a hierarchy of good, adequate and "sink" schools emerging within the maintained system' (NCE 1993:180). The aims of giving all children access to 'high-quality' schooling and of creating greater choice and diversity were simply not compatible:
    As we see it, the main task for the future will not be to concentrate on producing highly educated elites, but to achieve higher learning outcomes for all, and particularly for those in the middle and lower bands of attainment ... At present, there is a conflict between, on the one hand, moves towards a greater diversity and choice of schools and, on the other hand, an ideal of equal access for all children to 'high-quality' education ... Laudable principles for schools may often work against each other: serving a local community and catering for all abilities as in the comprehensive ideal; or encouraging choice of secondary school. For example, a community school where the neighbourhood is not socially mixed may not have a broad enough social or ability range to operate in a truly comprehensive manner. Choice, when exercised, is often used to escape from the local school, thereby working against the community school ideal. Similarly, those parents who are exercising their choice are tending to use it in favour of schools with other pupils of a similar and 'appropriate' background. (NCE 1993:181-2)
    Others warned that giving parents the choice of a diverse range of schools would ultimately result in selection of pupils by the schools themselves. Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach, then chair of SEAC, admitted as much. 'If you give parents real choice in the system, it is inevitable (and probably desirable) that the schools themselves will demand to choose the kind of pupils that come' (reported in The Times 3 February 1992, quoted in Chitty 2004:71).

    But Patten wasn't listening. His 1992 white paper Choice and Diversity: A new framework for schools formed the basis of the 1993 Education Act.

    Uniformity in educational provision presupposes that children are all basically the same and that local communities have essentially the same educational needs. The reality is that children have different needs. The provision of education should be geared more to local circumstances and individual needs: hence our commitment to diversity in education. (DfE 1992:3-4)
    The white paper aimed to break up the comprehensive system by encouraging specialisation, and to diminish the role of local education authorities by promoting grant-maintained schools.

    1993 Education Act

    The 1993 Education Act (27 July 1993) was the largest piece of legislation in the history of education. Its first five parts covered:

    • I Responsibility for education (roles of the secretary of state and funding authorities; new rules about school places, admissions and religious education);
    • II Grant-maintained schools (changes in funding and new rules to make it easier for schools to become grant-maintained);
    • III Children with special educational needs (legal definition, Code of Practice on the Identification and Assessment of Special Educational Needs - came into force in 1994);
    • IV School attendance (attendance orders, parental choice of school);
    • V Schools failing to give an acceptable standard of education ('special measures').
    Part VI Miscellaneous covered a huge range of matters including:
    • establishment of new schools by local authorities and other 'promoters';
    • nursery education in grant-maintained schools;
    • rationalisation of school places;
    • incorporation of governing bodies;
    • the right of parents to withdraw a child from sex education lessons except those contained in the National Curriculum - the science curriculum was to be revised to exclude anything on HIV and AIDS, other sexually transmitted diseases, and aspects of human sexual behaviour;
    • the abolition of the National Curriculum Council (NCC) and the School Examinations and Assessment Council (SEAC) and their replacement by the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority (SCAA);
    • agreed syllabuses for religious education to be reviewed;
    • new rules on pupil exclusions;
    • provision of information about city technology colleges;
    • admission appeals committees;
    • revision of local management funding schemes;
    • clarification of the period of compulsory schooling (5-16);
    • education support grants;
    • charges for musical instrument tuition;
    • assistance for voluntary schools;
    • amendment of the Education (No. 2) Act 1986 (Section 47) to prohibit 'inhuman or degrading' punishments; and
    • abolition of the requirement for local authorities to have education committees.

  • Download the Education Act 1993 (pdf text 19.1mb).

    In 1994 Patten went further and announced that the government would encourage the setting up of new grammar schools and would allow grant-maintained schools to select more of their intake. These decisions were extraordinary, given that a survey had just revealed that Scotland, which was entirely comprehensive, was achieving significantly better academic results than England, which was not. The proportion of pupils achieving the equivalent of five GCSE A-C passes in Scotland was 52 per cent; in England it was only 38.4 per cent (Benn and Chitty 1996:164).

    In July 1994, Gillian Shepherd became secretary of state for education.

    The DFE was renamed the Department for Education and Employment (DfEE) in 1995.

    National Curriculum

    Dearing review of the National Curriculum (1994)

    The Dearing Report The National Curriculum and its Assessment: Final Report was the first major review of the National Curriculum. It argued that the curriculum had become an unwieldy structure which was virtually impossible to implement and that the time spent on paperwork and testing was damaging good teaching and learning.

    It recommended that:

    • the content of the curriculum should be reduced;
    • less time should be spent on testing;
    • around a fifth of teaching time should be available for use at the discretion of schools;
    • at Key Stage 4 (14-16 years) schools should have greater discretion, with art, geography, history and music becoming optional subjects;
    • some curriculum choice should be introduced at Key Stage 3; and
    • the National Curriculum Council (NCC) and Schools Examination and Assessment Council (SEAC) should become one body: the Schools Curriculum and Assessment Authority (SCAA.)
    The government accepted these recommendations and spent 744m amending the national curriculum.

    The Warwick Evaluation (1994)

    The Dearing review wasn't the only manifestation of anxiety about the National Curriculum. Within a year of its introduction into schools, concerns about National Curriculum English prompted an investigation by a team based at the University of Warwick. Their report, Implementation of English in the National Curriculum made the following recommendations:

    • practical guidance should be made available on various elements of the English Order;
    • there should be clearer guidance and support for primary teachers in identifying and preparing schemes of work which adequately cater for progression and differentiation as well as coverage of content;
    • there should be clearer guidance on the distinction between teaching English in the context of other subjects and using English as a medium of teaching and learning for all subjects;
    • more consideration needs to be given to the way time is made available and used for teaching the early stages of learning to read at both Key Stages 1 and 2;
    • the influence of SATs on the teaching of English should be carefully monitored;
    • teachers need clear explanations of the terms 'More Advanced Reading Skills', and 'Knowledge about Language'; and
    • the pace of change needs to be slowed down, allowing time for a period of stability during which teachers can make professional decisions about the best ways of planning and teaching English in the National Curriculum.

    Other legislation

    1994 Education Act

    The 1994 Education Act (21 July 1994) made provision for the establishment of the Teacher Training Agency (TTA) and laid down regulations concerning the conduct of student unions.

  • Download the Education Act 1994 (pdf text 332kb).

    1996 Education (Student Loans) Act

    The Education (Student Loans) Act (29 April 1996) extended the provision of student loans.

  • Download the Education (Student Loans) Act 1996 (pdf text 56kb).

    1996 Education Act

    The 1996 Education Act (24 July 1996) was another huge piece of legislation (557 pages) which mainly consolidated all previous education acts since 1944.

  • Download the Education Act 1996 (pdf text 1.6mb).

    1996 Nursery Education and Grant-Maintained Schools Act

    The 1996 Nursery Education and Grant-Maintained Schools Act (24 July 1996) introduced a voucher scheme for nursery education (which was unsuccessful and was later withdrawn by Labour) and allowed governors of grant-maintained schools to borrow money.

  • Download the Nursery Education and Grant-Maintained Schools Act 1996 (pdf text 208kb).

    1996 School Inspections Act

    The 1996 School Inspections Act (24 July 1996) consolidated previous legislation on school inspections.

  • Download the School Inspections Act 1996 (pdf text 732kb).

    1997 Education Act

    The passage through Parliament of the 1997 Education Act (21 March 1997) was affected by the forthcoming general election, which the Tories were expected to lose. However, it was still a wide-ranging Act. Among its provisions, it

    • extended the assisted places scheme to primary schools (Section 1);
    • gave governors new responsibilities in relation to discipline and behaviour (2);
    • allowed teachers to use 'such force as is reasonable' to restrain pupils (4);
    • allowed teachers to detain pupils after school without parents' consent (5);
    • raised the limit for periods of exclusion from 15 to 45 days (6);
    • required local authorities to prepare plans for dealing with children with behavioural difficulties (9);
    • amended the admission rules for selective schools (10);
    • amended the admission rules for children who had been permanently excluded from two or more schools (11);
    • allowed schools to require parents to sign home-school partnership agreements (13);
    • provided for 'baseline assessment schemes' (15);
    • allowed the secretary of state to require governors to set annual performance targets for pupils (19);
    • abolished the National Council for Vocational Qualifications (NCVQ) and the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority (SCAA) and replaced them with the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) and a similar body for Wales (21-36);
    • gave the secretary of state control over courses leading to external qualifications (37);
    • gave the secretary of state the right to order inspections of local authorities (38);
    • required all pupils to be provided with a programme of careers education (43);
    • made changes to the governance of pupil referral units (47); and
    • limited access to pupils by non-employed adults (49);
  • Download the Education Act 1997 (pdf text 996kb).

    Other developments

    Vocational qualifications

    During the late 1980s and 1990s a variety of national bodies and think-tanks from the left to the centre-right produced 'positive and radical proposals' (Benn and Chitty 1996:15) for vocational education. All acknowledged that Britain had fallen behind internationally and was failing compete with the rest of the world industrially.

    In April 1995 Gillian Shepherd invited Sir Ron Dearing to conduct a review of the existing system of post-16 qualifications, with a view to encouraging greater parity of esteem between academic and vocational qualifications. The exercise was a fairly pointless one, because in her letter to Sir Ron (10 April 1995) Shepherd wrote 'Our key priorities remain to ensure that the rigour and standards of GCE A Levels are maintained'. This made any radical overhaul of the system almost impossible.

    Nevertheless, Dearing went ahead with his review and his Review of Qualifications for 16-19 Year Olds was published by SCAA in 1996.

    As expected, the Major administration chose to ignore its advice and announced that A Levels would be retained, academic and vocational courses would not be integrated, and institutions would not be reorganised into a coherent system - 'though government initiatives hoped to make it look as though this was happening' (Benn and Chitty 1996:17).

    It was another missed opportunity - and a particularly disappointing one, given that the number of students staying on after 16 had begun to rise after the introduction in 1986 of the common GCSE exam.

    Middle school closures

    As we have seen, the development of middle schools had been extraordinarily rapid during the 1970s, reaching a high point in the early 80s. But they had a relatively short life and began to disappear during the late 1980s, a process which became more rapid during the 1990s. David Crook (2008:122-123) has argued that, in addition to a lack of sustained party political support, there were four main reasons for the demise of middle schools:

    • they had different age ranges and were accordingly deemed 'primary' or 'secondary', so they suffered from an 'identity problem';
    • their staffs were often a mixture of former primary and former secondary teachers, so they suffered from a clash of 'two cultures', as Hargreaves (1986:197-8) pointed out;
    • their financial viability was questioned - especially in the light of falling rolls; and
    • their educational justification became problematic following the introduction of the National Curriculum, whose key stages the middle schools straddled.

    The last two of these factors proved decisive.

    Falling rolls (fewer pupils) made schools more expensive to run. The obvious solution was to close some, but school closures always cause politicians problems - parents naturally like their children to attend nearby schools and don't want them to have to travel long distances. However, closing a middle school did not generally result in children having to travel any further - they simply went to the local first/lower school (which became a primary school) and then on to the local secondary school (whose age range was extended from 13-18 to 11-18). The result was that both these schools (the new primary and secondary schools) became bigger, resulting in cost savings.

    The National Curriculum's Key Stages 1-3 (covering ages 5-7, 7-11 and 11-14) created a problem for schools in three-tier systems which straddled these age boundaries. First (or lower) schools, which taught the first year or two of KS2, had to liaise with middle schools, which taught the last year or two of KS2, over which areas of each subject they would teach. Similarly, middle schools, which taught the first two years of KS3, had to liaise with upper schools, which taught the last year of KS3, over what areas of each subject in KS3 they would teach.

    Bearing in mind that an upper school might have three or four feeder middle schools each teaching different areas in different subjects at KS3, and that a middle school might have six or even more feeder first schools all teaching different areas in different subjects at KS2, it quickly became clear that this was a logistical nightmare. (I had some experience of it myself!) It was much simpler to have the transfer between schools at a break between Key Stages - which effectively meant at age 11.

    Many parents and teachers liked the ethos of middle schools and wanted to keep them. When the debate about Oxford's middle schools got under way in the early 1990s, one of the arguments used by their supporters was that national research showed a drop in attainment in the year or two after children moved into secondary schools. The drop in attainment did not appear to happen when the children stayed on in middle schools for an extra couple of years.

    It was also argued that children aged 11-12 fared better socially in smaller middle schools than in larger comprehensives.

    But neither argument cut much ice. The decision was made on the two points outlined above (cost and curriculum) and despite a strong campaign by middle school parents and teachers, Oxford's middle schools eventually closed in 2003.

    Middle schools now exist in only a handful of local authorities.

  • For more on middle schools see chapters 6 and 10 of this history and the website of the National Middle Schools Forum, which represents the interests and aspirations of middle school head teachers, staff, pupils and governors.

    The Labour Party and selection

    The Labour Party's attitude to selection during this period was confused, to say the least. In 1992 education spokesman Jack Straw called for grammar schools to be scrapped. 'There is an overwhelming case for ending selection', he said.

    But two years later Tony Blair, the newly-elected leader of the party, sent his children to the London Oratory, rather than to his local comprehensive. Choice, he argued, would not be sacrificed to political correctness.


    During their eighteen years in office, the Tories had weakened the power of the local authorities, diminished the influence of the teacher unions and forced the Labour Party to rethink its education policies. But these successes (from their point of view) had encouraged them to ever greater extremism, notably in their promotion of selection and their right-wing vision of 'traditional' education. As Jones (2003:122) notes:

    This triumphalist moment did not last. In many areas - funding, assessment, selection - Conservative policies had provoked strong oppositional movements, for which the principles of equal-opportunity-orientated reform were plainly an issue. Conflict with such movements proved damaging for Conservatism, which by the mid-1990s faced protests over low levels of education spending in the English shires, large-scale opposition in Scotland to 'Thatcherism' in education, and a boycott by teachers in England and Wales of national assessment procedures. Thus, a peculiar double movement was in process: even while the basic building blocks of its system were assimilated into a two-party consensus, in other respects Conservatism's educational policies were contributing to the electoral debacle of 1997.
    The Tories went into the 1997 general election promising that grant-maintained schools would be allowed to select up to 50 per cent of their intake by ability; technology and language colleges up to 30 per cent; and all other local authority schools up to 20 per cent. And John Major declared that he would like to see 'a grammar school in every town'.

    In the end, the government destroyed itself. Having called for a return to 'traditional values' in his 'back to basics' campaign, Major found himself leading an administration mired in endless allegations of sleaze and widely regarded as fiscally incompetent - a sin for any Tory government. It was swept away in the general election of May 1997 when Tony Blair's 'New Labour' party scored a landslide victory.

    The whole country breathed a sigh of relief. But not for long.


    Benn C and Chitty C (1996) Thirty years on: is comprehensive education alive and well or struggling to survive? London: David Fulton Publishers

    Chitty C (2004) Education policy in Britain Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan

    Chitty C and Dunford J (eds) (1999) State schools: New Labour and the Conservative legacy London: Woburn Press

    DES (1992) Curriculum Organisation and Classroom Practice in Primary Schools: A discussion paper London: HMSO

    DfE (1992) White Paper Choice and Diversity: A new framework for schools Cm 2021 London: HMSO

    Glennerster H (1998) 'Education: reaping the harvest?' in H Glennerster and J Hills (eds) The state of welfare: the economics of social spending Oxford: Oxford University Press

    Hargreaves A (1986) Two cultures of schooling. The case of middle schools London: Falmer Press

    Jones K (2003) Education in Britain: 1944 to the present Cambridge: Polity Press

    NCE (1993) Learning to succeed: report of the Paul Hamlyn Foundation National Commission on Education London: Heinemann

    Oppenheim C and Lister R (1997) 'The growth of poverty and inequality' in A Walker and C Walker (eds) (1997) Britain divided: the growth of social exclusion in the 1980s and 1990s London: Child Poverty Action Group 17-31

    Patten J (1992) 'Who's afraid of the 'S' word?' New Statesman and Society 17 July 20-1

    Chapter 8 | Chapter 10