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

The new administration

Education policies
Expansion of academies
Free schools
Drastic budget cuts
   Pupil premium
Curriculum matters
   Primary curriculum
   School sports partnerships
   QCDA scrapped
Free school meals
Building Schools for the Future
Higher education
   Fewer places
   Browne Review
   Tuition fees
   Education maintenance allowance
Education White Paper

In conclusion


Education in England: a brief history
Derek Gillard

copyright Derek Gillard 2011
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Chapter 12 : 2010

What future for education in England?

The new administration

As I write this last chapter of my Brief history (in December 2010), the 'coalition' government has been in power for seven months. David Cameron (Conservative) (pictured) is Prime Minister; Nick Clegg (Liberal Democrat) is his deputy.

With George Osborne (Conservative) as Chancellor of the Exchequer, the government's main preoccupation has been to plan for drastic cuts in public expenditure.

In education, its first decision was to rename the Department. It is now the Department for Education (DfE) - as it was between 1992 and 1995 - with Michael Gove (Conservative) (pictured) as the Secretary of State for Education and Sarah Teather (Liberal Democrat) and Nick Gibb (Conservative) as Ministers of State.

David Willetts (Conservative) is Minister of State for Universities and Science; Vince Cable (Liberal Democrat) heads a separate Department of Business, Innovation and Skills.

On 20 May the Cabinet Office published the Coalition's Programme for Government, which included sections on Families and Children (section 14), Schools (26) and Universities and Further Education (31).

  • For an analysis of the party election manifestos and the policies of the new coalition government, see my article Hobson's Choice: education policies in the 2010 general election.

    Education policies

    What has the new government done so far, and what is it planning to do? The list is already a depressing one:

    Expansion of the academies programme

    The New Labour government had opened 203 academies and planned to increase that number to 400. Michael Gove was determined to go much further. In his first month as education secretary, he wrote to all primary and secondary schools in England inviting them to become academies. Furthermore, he declared that he had 'no ideological objection' to businesses making profits from the new generation of academies and free schools (The Guardian 31 May 2010).

    His Academies Bill was created in haste and rushed through parliament. It:

    • removed local authorities' power to veto a school becoming an academy;
    • dispensed with parents' and teachers' legal right to oppose such plans; and
    • allowed schools categorised by inspectors as 'outstanding' to 'fast-track' the process of becoming academies.
    There was widespread concern at the proposals.

    Education barrister David Wolfe said:

    It is hard to escape the conclusion that this bill is undemocratic. What this does is remove the public process. Nobody, apart from the education secretary and the governors will be able to stop the process. It seems to be entirely out of kilter with the idea of a 'Big Society'. You are handing power to the governors to steal the school. If they want to change the ethos or make the pupils wear the uniform of Etonians, they will be able to, and parents and teachers will be powerless to stop them. (The Guardian 6 June 2010)
    John Bangs, head of education at the NUT, said: 'This is astonishing: it is more centralised than anything that Labour ever considered. There is no requirement to consult parents, staff or anyone locally when an academy gets set up.' He said local communities were being 'completely disempowered' from having a say in the establishment of a new form of school. 'For all that we have heard from the new government about devolving power, this is actually a much more highly centralised system of control' (The Guardian 6 June 2010).

    There was concern, too, at the lack of debate in parliament. Former education secretary Estelle Morris warned that:

    A bill that is intended to fundamentally change our school system is likely to become law with no green or white paper, no formal consultation and having completed all its Commons stages in eight days. That speed is usually reserved for emergency legislation that has wide support - hardly a description of the academies bill. (Morris 2010)
    And Polly Toynbee worried about excluded pupils:
    Expect exclusions to increase, as schools will be able to keep their funding for the year for pupils they exclude, instead of handing it over to whoever takes in that child. Ministers say this will 'remove the disincentive to exclude' - but how perverse to add a very strong financial incentive to throw out those who risk lowering an academy's standards. (Toynbee 2010)
    Gove insisted that his plan to transform England's schools was urgently needed to improve the chances of the poorest children, and claimed the country was falling behind the rest of the world in science, literacy and maths. He told MPs that the legislation would bring 'new dynamism' to a programme that had lifted standards for all children and helped the disadvantaged most of all. The change was urgently needed, he said, because more than 1,900 schools had expressed an interest in converting to academy status and more than a thousand had already applied to do so. (The Guardian 19 July 2010)

    The Academies Bill was passed by 317 votes to 225, a government majority of 92. Six Liberal Democrat MPs voted for an amendment calling for more consultation with parents but it was defeated by 77 votes. One of the rebels, John Pugh, said: 'To change the status of a school without allowing the parents at the school a decisive voice is extraordinarily hard to justify' (The Guardian 27 July 2010).

    In fact, it's very surprising - and disappointing - that any Liberal Democrats voted for the bill at all. It's worth recalling that at their spring conference in March 2009 they had agreed an education policy document Equity and Excellence which said that a Liberal Democrat government would replace academies with sponsor-managed schools which would be 'under the strategic oversight of local authorities and not Ministers in Whitehall' (Liberal Democrats 2009:26).

    Now, Liberal Democrats found themselves supporting a government which was massively expanding academies and which was determined to reduce the role of local authorities to the point where they were 'out of the picture' altogether, according to a Whitehall source quoted in The Guardian (14 May 2010).

    The Academies Act received the Royal Assent on 27 July.

  • Download the Academies Act 2010 (pdf text 104kb).

    It was then revealed that the number of schools which had actually applied for academy status was only 153 (The Guardian 29 July 2010). Of these, just 32 opened as academies in September (The Independent 2 September 2010).


    Meanwhile, the problems with academies - and the widespread hostility to them - showed no signs of abating.

    Shireland Collegiate Academy in Sandwell - a school which, before it became an academy, inspectors had rated as 'outstanding' and whose head had been knighted for services to education - was now classified as 'inadequate'. ATL general secretary Mary Bousted commented:

    This shows up the idea that changing a school's status to academy - simply changing its name, divorcing it from its local authority and separating it from its local community of schools - will automatically lead to improvements is a fallacy, and it will be shown to be one at great cost over the next few years. (The Guardian 28 May 2010)
    Oxfordshire County Council announced its intention to close Oxford School and reopen it as an academy, despite overwhelming opposition from governors, staff and parents. Only one in five of those who responded to a council questionnaire were in favour of the change and parents submitted a 600-signature petition against it. Oxfordshire's Tory council ignored public and professional opinion and announced it would go ahead anyway (The Oxford Times 12 August, 2 September 2010).

    Children's charity Barnardo's warned that unfair admissions practices were resulting in schools having intakes that did not reflect their neighbourhoods, and that the expansion in the number of academies and the creation of parent-led 'free schools' risked widening the gap. It recommended the use of ability bands to achieve a truly comprehensive mix.

    Martin Narey, Barnardo's chief executive, said:

    Secondary school admissions fail to ensure a level playing field for all children. Instead we are seeing impenetrable clusters of privilege forming around the most popular schools. Allowing such practice to persist - and almost certainly expand as increasing numbers of schools take control of their own admissions - will only sustain the achievement gap in education and undermine the prospects of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable children. (The Guardian 27 August 2010)
    Phil Beadle warned that the academies programme had little to do with raising standards, as the Tories claimed:
    First, there is little evidence of real general success by academies, and what there is has been hotly contested. Second, the initial tranche of schools that Gove and Cameron are seeking to improve has already been judged as outstanding while under local authority control, and probably don't really need their standards being driven up a further minuscule amount. (Beadle 2010)
    Rather, the policy was about reducing the power of local authorities and the teacher unions:
    By implementing a system that requires education to be funded by the state, but controlled by an ever-increasing number of voluntary sector sponsors, they destroy the unions' ability to negotiate pay and conditions centrally and, in doing so, make it virtually impossible to retain any cohesive national pay agreement. (Beadle 2010)
    Fiona Millar was concerned about how children with special educational needs (SEN) would fare in the thousands of new academies and free schools the government was proposing. Former Ofsted inspector Anne Hayward, now a consultant working with special and mainstream schools, foresaw difficulties in holding the new schools to account:
    Many parents of SEN children aspire to schools in their local communities where their children can get high-quality SEN support. But local authorities already have very little access to academies to monitor outcomes, or the curriculum, which could lead to SEN children having ... a much poorer experience. They may also miss out on local networks that share expertise between mainstream and special schools. (quoted in Millar 2010)
    Two weeks after the passing of the Academies Act, a Guardian/ICM poll revealed that only a quarter of those who had voted Liberal Democrat at the election approved of the government's education policies, while more than a half disapproved. The figures for the population as a whole were similar (The Guardian 18 August 2010).

    Free schools

    Gove was also determined to press ahead with the creation of thousands of 'free schools', a policy he had made much of during the election campaign.

    However, his propensity for exaggeration was as pronounced in relation to free schools as it had been in the case of academies. In June he claimed that 700 of the schools would be open in 2011. Three months later he was forced to admit that the actual number was 16. Almost half would be faith schools: three Christian, two Jewish, one Hindu and one Sikh. (The Guardian 6 September 2010)

    Writing in The Guardian, Simon Jenkins pointed out that the free schools policy - creating schools which were not 'under local authority control' - was just another version of the 'dreary abuse of local democracy' which had been pursued by Thatcher and Blair:

    Transient private corporations or parents' groups cannot realistically stand proxy for a community, let alone for a town or city ...

    The key to the politics of education in Britain lies not in governance but in admissions. All else is euphemism. 'White flight' may be called parental choice. Catchment areas may be derided as postcode lotteries. But the one really creditable effort of British education since the war has been the battle for some equality of opportunity within the state education sector, even if in big cities it has not always worked.

    If Cameron and Gove really mean to reverse this, to revert to 11-plus selection and educational segregation, they had better say so, and face the political music. (Jenkins 2010a)

    And Peter Wilby argued that, because of the difficulties of running a school - the need to know about curriculum, pedagogy, employment law, building regulations, health and safety etc - free schools would almost inevitably end up being run by private firms:
    The vision the Conservatives sold to the public during the election campaign was of parents and public-spirited individuals running schools as they run baby and toddler groups, Scout groups and Rotary clubs. But it won't be like that. DIY schools will need expert management help, and private companies are the obvious candidates to provide it. (Wilby 2010)
    He concluded:
    Once, a profit-making school was unthinkable, and one that received state funds even more so. But for private capital, it is a win-win situation: a guaranteed income stream from the government and the likelihood of state rescue if everything goes wrong. And the last 30 years suggest that what private capital wants, it usually gets in the end. (Wilby 2010)
    The National Secular Society (NSS) wrote to Lord Hill of Oareford, Parliamentary under-Secretary of State for Schools, asking whether the government would legislate to prevent extremist ideologies being introduced through the new free schools and academies system. Lord Hill replied: 'we do not think it appropriate to legislate in this area' (NSS 2010).

    Yet three Muslim girls' schools (in London, Lancaster and Leicester) were already forcing pupils as young as eleven to wear the niqab or burka as part of the school uniform, a practice which Ed Husain, co-director of the counter-extremist think-tank Quilliam, described as belonging to 'another century and another world' (NSS 2010). They were currently private schools, but, as Terry Sanderson pointed out, there would be 'nothing to stop them applying for academy or free school status in the future' (NSS 2010).

    In November, a consultation document suggested that the government would allow the conversion of pet shops, funeral parlours and hair salons could be converted into free schools. Gove apparently regarded conversion as a cheap alternative to new buildings: 'We want to ensure that the spirit of innovation can flourish and our education system is open for business in terms of raising standards,' he said (The Guardian 15 November 2010).


    The free schools policy was based largely on the Swedish model. But, as research by Dr Susanne Wiborg at ULIE revealed, Sweden's free schools had not been the unqualified success which Gove claimed. The schools - set up mainly by middle-class parents in affluent urban areas - had increased social segregation. Furthermore, their pupils had done no better than other children in A Level equivalent exams and were no more likely to participate in higher education.

    Now, 17 years after the neo-liberal reforms were first enacted, it appears that they have not managed to bring about decisive changes ... into the Swedish education system. Despite almost 1000 new independent schools and 150,000 students attending them, researchers ... claim that the outcome in terms of achievement induced only slightly higher pupil attainment, but also higher costs and greater segregation. (Wiborg 2010:282-3)
    Given that England's education system was already more divided than Sweden's, free schools 'may have more damaging effects on inequality and school segregation' (Wiborg 2010:283).

    Many others agreed. Clyde Chitty (2010:277) warned that academies and free schools would do 'irreparable damage to the education system of this country'.

    Sadly, the leaders of the Liberal Democrat party were apparently happy to turn a blind eye to 'the privatizing zeal of their Conservative colleagues', despite the fact that at their annual conference in September members of the party voted overwhelmingly for a motion describing free schools as 'socially divisive, likely to depress education outcomes and an inefficient use of resources in an age of austerity' (The Guardian 18 August 2010).

    The free schools plan will certainly be costly: surplus school places will be a burden on local authorities' budgets and the planning which will be required to allocate student places will be complex and expensive.

    Drastic budget cuts

    The new government warned that education would not be exempt from the savage cuts in public expenditure it was planning. A month after coming to power, ministers announced a 359m programme of education cuts (The Guardian 7 June 2010).

    But worse was to come. By the beginning of July the government was talking about cuts of up to 3.5bn in the schools budget as part of the most drastic public spending squeeze since the second world war (The Guardian 5 July 2010).

    Pupil premium

    Desperate to have something positive to say, Clegg announced in October that he had persuaded the Treasury to find 7bn for a 'pupil premium' scheme, under which schools would be given extra funding for children from disadvantaged homes. He insisted that this would be new money (The Guardian 16 October 2010).

    But a week later, Gove admitted that he had had to make cuts elsewhere in the education budget to fund the premium. Some schools would face a budget cut in order to make the extra payment to schools taking pupils from the poorest homes (The Guardian 24 October 2010).

    Curriculum matters

    Primary curriculum

    The new primary curriculum, proposed by Sir Jim Rose and due to be implemented in September 2011, was abandoned, along with planned initiatives in personal, social and health education, citizenship and RE. The government reckoned these decisions would save 7m (The Guardian 7 June 2010).

    One of the few things the new government was determined not to scrap was the hated SATs. A quarter of all primary schools had boycotted the summer's tests, but schools minister Nick Gibb defended the tests and confirmed that they would stay. 'Externally-validated tests give parents and professionals valuable information to gauge the standards of our primary schools and their pupils and play a vital role in accountability', he said (The Guardian 3 August 2010).

    Another policy which showed no sign of being scrapped was Gove's intention to force teachers to use 'synthetic phonics' to teach reading.

    In August, Dylan Wiliam, professor of educational assessment at ULIE, became one of a long line of experts to condemn the proposal:

    Phonics is important in learning to read, but no skilled reader uses phonics. An overemphasis on phonics will not address the problem. We are just beginning to discover that reading is one of the most complex skills. It also requires knowledge of language, speaking and listening skills. (The Guardian 3 August 2010)
    School sports partnerships

    Gove announced that he would abolish Labour's 162m a year school sports partnerships scheme, but there were protests from schools, parents and British Olympic stars (The Guardian 1 December 2010).

    Cameron ordered a rethink of the controversial decision and Gove was forced to announce a temporary U-turn: money would be found to keep 'key elements' of the scheme going until the 2012 London Olympics (The Guardian 17 December 2010).


    Another casualty of Gove's axe was Labour's flagship 'academic' diplomas. The government said it would save 22.2m by abandoning the academic diplomas being developed in humanities, science and languages, and by reducing support for existing vocational diplomas in other subjects (The Guardian 7 June 2010).

    Instead, it announced that state schools would now be allowed to offer iGCSE qualifications in key subjects and that the results would be included in school performance tables 'as soon as possible' (DfE press release 7 June 2010).

    In September, Gove announced that he intended to combat the 'decline in exam standards' by offering an English baccalaureate qualification to students who passed GCSE in English, maths, one science, one foreign language and one humanity (The Guardian 6 September 2010).

    QCDA scrapped

    Gove confirmed that he was scrapping the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency, which had been created in 2008 when the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority was split into the QCDA and Ofqual, the watchdog for exam standards. The agency would continue to work on national tests and exam administration for the time being, he said, but it would stop work on qualifications and curriculum, saving 8m (BBC News 27 May 2010).

    The decision to scrap the QCDA worried many, because its job was to give independent advice, based on its members' experience as curriculum developers and former teachers, and sometimes even to challenge politicians. Curriculum planning was now to become the responsibility of the Department, with a panel of government-appointed 'experts' offering advice.

    Writing in The Guardian, Mike Baker commented: 'So, we have the prospect of the planned new national curriculum being shaped by advice from the education secretary's hand-picked committee of experts and then implemented by his own department. Not much room for dissent or argument there' (Baker 2010).

    One of the first to be mentioned as a possible government advisor was Niall Ferguson, whom Gove suggested might help rewrite the history curriculum. The suggestion was controversial because, with his right-wing Eurocentric vision of western ascendancy, Ferguson was viewed by some as an apologist for imperialism (The Guardian 30 May 2010).


    Back in February, Cameron had invited TV presenter Carol Vorderman to head a task force to review the teaching of maths.

    In November Gove announced that he had appointed another TV presenter - Simon Schama - to help rewrite the history syllabus. James Vernon, professor of history at the University of California, Berkeley, commented:

    It is symptomatic of how dominant market models of education have become that the minister has chosen Schama as his adviser. Neither Schama, nor Niall Ferguson, also apparently considered by Gove, has any experience of teaching in schools, indeed, like me, both are fugitives from British higher education. Nor are they even scholarly experts in the British history Gove holds so dear ... It is the popularity of their TV shows that has commended them to Gove. Expertise is now a matter of television ratings. (Vernon 2010)
    But perhaps we should not be surprised that the school curriculum is now going to be written by TV presenters. After all, this is a government which is inviting McDonald's and PepsiCo to help develop public health policy (The Observer 14 November 2010).

    Free school meals

    New Labour's intention had been to extend free school meals to half a million children from low-income families. But Gove announced that the extension of the pilot schemes would be abandoned. Just three existing schemes would be allowed to continue to assess the case for increasing eligibility (The Guardian 7 June 2010).

    Doctors, teaching unions and child poverty campaigners urged him to rethink his decision. They pointed out that healthier school meals had been shown to improve classroom behaviour and academic attainment (The Guardian 29 June 2010).

    The decision was particularly regrettable in the light of a study of more than four thousand 10-16 year olds in England, led by Dr Gavin Sandercock, lecturer in clinical physiology at the University of Essex. This revealed that more than a quarter of boys and almost forty per cent of girls went without breakfast some or all of the time and that these children were more likely than their classmates to be inactive, unfit and obese (The Guardian 16 August 2010).

    Building Schools for the Future

    The biggest budget cuts affected the schools rebuilding programme.

    Within days of coming to power, the government began a review of New Labour's ambitious Building Schools for the Future project. Plans for the rebuilding or refurbishment of hundreds of secondary schools were put on hold. The Department insisted that no firm decision had yet been made, but it was clear that there would be a concerted drive to make savings from the 8.5bn annual budget for new schools, and that some of the money would be used to fund Gove's 'free schools' (The Guardian (14 May 2010).

    In early July Gove finally cancelled Building Schools for the Future. He suspended plans for 715 new schools and cut funding for school swimming pools (The Guardian 5 July 2010).

    He faced mounting anger from parents and teachers, and even from Tory MPs, two of whom demanded to know why new schools in their constituencies would not now be built.

    To make matters worse, some schools which had been told their new buildings could go ahead now learned that they would not. In Sandwell, one of the most deprived parts of the country, there was anger over nine cancelled schemes. The deputy leader of the council warned of a 'two-tier system' with some children attending schools in desperate need of renovation. Education department officials confessed they could not explain how a series of errors had been made which resulted in parents being wrongly told that their school projects would go ahead. 'We don't have an answer on that', a spokesman said (The Guardian 8 July 2010).

    Hundreds of parents and teachers gathered outside parliament to protest at the cuts (The Guardian 19 July 2010). Gove was attacked by MPs, teachers and councils for the erroneous list of cancelled building projects and was forced to apologise in the Commons (The Guardian 29 July 2010).

    In addition to the scrapping of new school building projects, Gove also cancelled Labour's 235m Playbuilder scheme. Launched in 2008, the scheme would have seen the creation of 3,500 children's community playgrounds across England (The Guardian 11 August 2010).

    In October it became clear that even those building projects which were going ahead - affecting 600 schools - were facing budget cuts of forty per cent (The Guardian 22 October 2010).

    Higher education

    Fewer places

    Higher education did not escape the new government's axe, either. New Labour had promised 20,000 additional university places for 2010, but the coalition government cut this to 8,000 and threatened to fine universities if student numbers rose above this figure. The university admissions service UCAS said applications were 11.6 per cent higher than in 2009 and estimated that 170,000 students would not get places at university in 2010 (The Guardian 16 July 2010).

    State school pupils from the poorest backgrounds faced another hurdle in applying for university places, when the first awards of the new A* grade at A Level were made. Sir Martin Harris, director of the government's Office for Fair Access, warned that the new grade could strengthen private schools' grip on elite universities (The Guardian 2 August 2010). His anxiety was justified: according to the Independent Schools Council, 18 per cent of entries from independent schools were awarded an A*, compared with a national average of 8 per cent (The Guardian 28 August 2010).

    In his first major speech on universities, Vince Cable outlined plans to abolish tuition fees and replace them with a graduate tax which students would pay when they finished their degrees. He said the plan - which he insisted was only an option - would inevitably result in some students paying more (The Guardian 15 July 2010).

    Browne Review

    In November 2009 Lord Browne had been asked by the New Labour government to lead an independent panel

    to review the funding of higher education and make recommendations to ensure that teaching at our HEIs [higher education institutions] is sustainably financed, that the quality of that teaching is world class and that our HEIs remain accessible to anyone who has the talent to succeed. (Browne 2010:2)
    The Browne review, Securing a Sustainable Future for Higher Education, was published on 12 October 2010. It decided against a graduate tax and instead proposed a Student Finance Plan, with the government meeting upfront costs.

    The report was based on six principles:

    • more investment should be available for higher education;
    • student choice should be increased;
    • everyone who has the potential should be able to benefit from higher education;
    • no one should have to pay until they start to work;
    • when payments are made they should be affordable; and
    • part time students should be treated the same as full time students for the costs of learning. (Browne 2010:4-5)
  • Download the Browne Review Securing a Sustainable Future for Higher Education (pdf text 799kb).

    Tuition fees

    During the general election campaign, Liberal Democrat candidates had toured university campuses telling students that the party would abolish tuition fees, and all Liberal Democrat MPs had signed a public declaration pledging themselves to vote against any rise in the fees.

    Education minister Sarah Teather had repeatedly campaigned against tuition fees - even making them the subject of her maiden speech in the House of Commons in November 2003. And her leader, Nick Clegg, had appeared in a party election broadcast lambasting the other two parties for their 'broken promises'.

    Yet by November, Vince Cable was proposing not just a rise but a tripling of fees to 9000 a year. The Liberal Democrat party was torn apart by the issue.

    In the event, when it came to the debate on 9 December, some Liberal Democrat MPs (including Clegg, Cable and Teather) voted for the increase, some voted against, and others abstained. The measure was approved by just 21 votes.

    Thousands of university students and school pupils took to the streets to protest. They were angry not just at the massive rise in fees, but also at the sheer dishonesty of the Liberal Democrats. One school leaver told Nick Cohen that he and his friends had been so convinced that Clegg and Cable were honourable men that they had not only voted Liberal but campaigned for them too: 'I believed them when they said they were the party for young people,' he said. 'I really believed them' (Cohen 2010).

    After the vote, opinion polls suggested that support for the Liberal Democrats had fallen from 23 per cent in May to around 8 per cent, their lowest showing for decades.

    Education maintenance allowance

    In the run up to the election, Gove had denied that he would scrap the 30 a week education maintenance allowance (EMA) paid to 16-19 year olds from poorer families who stayed in education. He had told The Guardian: 'Ed Balls keeps saying that we are committed to scrapping the EMA. I have never said this. We won't.'

    Yet in October's comprehensive spending review he reneged on that promise: EMA was scrapped (The Guardian 25 October 2010).

    Education White Paper

    The government's education white paper The Importance of Teaching was published on 24 November. It declared that:

    what is needed most of all is decisive action to free our teachers from constraint and improve their professional status and authority, raise the standards set by our curriculum and qualifications to match the best in the world and, having freed schools from external control, hold them effectively to account for the results they achieve. (DfE 2010:8)
    It was a wide-ranging document containing sections on:
    • Teaching and leadership;
    • Behaviour;
    • Curriculum, assessment and qualifications;
    • The new school system;
    • Accountability;
    • School improvement; and
    • School Funding.
    It argued that the National Curriculum had been too prescriptive and had specified teaching methods which teachers should be free to decide. The new curriculum would be 'slim, clear and authoritative', and while academies and free schools would keep the freedom to set aside parts of the curriculum, they would be required to teach a 'broad and balanced' curriculum (DfE 2010:42).

    All schools, including special schools and pupil referral units, would be allowed to become academies. To address unfair variations in funding between schools, the long-term goal was a 'national funding formula' under which money would go directly from Whitehall to schools, rather than through the local authorities (DfE 2010:82).

    The government would expect head teachers to take a strong stand against bullying - 'particularly prejudice-based racist, sexist and homophobic bullying' (DfE 2010:32). Teachers would be given the right to search pupils for harmful items, and allegations against teachers would not automatically result in their suspension (DfE 2010:34). Heads would have the right to exclude disruptive children 'and to be confident that their authority in taking these difficult decisions will not be undermined' (DfE 2010:32).

    The government would no longer fund graduates who did not have at least a 2:2 degree (DfE 2010:20). The Teach First programme would be expanded, with members of other professions and former members of the armed forces encouraged to become teachers (DfE 2010:22).

    Pupils would be prevented from taking large numbers of A Level resits, and the focus of the GCSE would be on the final exam. An English baccalaureate would 'encourage schools to offer a broad set of academic subjects to age 16' (DfE 2010:44).

  • Download the White Paper The Importance of Teaching Cm 7980 (pdf text 1mb).

    Interestingly, Finland was frequently quoted in the white paper as one of the countries which had been the government's 'inspiration'. Yet not once did the paper acknowledge that Finland's schools were almost entirely comprehensive and unstreamed.

    Neither did it explain how it would 'free our teachers from constraint' and our 'schools from external control', while at the same time forcing them to use a particular method to teach reading.

    But those weren't the only concerns.

    Peter Mortimore, former director of the University of London Institute of Education, was disturbed by the white paper's tacit acceptance of privatisation:

    The concept of privatisation is not discussed in the white paper, but can be detected in its subtext - with frequent references to 'new providers', 'private sector organisations' and 'a new market of school improvement services'. Yet where is the evidence that a market-led system, run by hedge-fund managers and their ilk, will create an education system to equal Finland's? (Mortimore 2010)
    And Simon Jenkins was not convinced that the white paper would result in serious reconsideration of the school curriculum:
    The truth is that the entire curriculum is juju. Nobody knows its purpose. It is a miasma of archaism, bogus assumption, bland assertion and inertia. Nobody assesses what is a sensible way of spending a day, week or term. Nobody thrashes out the appropriate balance of vocational and educational, preferring to leave politicians to decide on the basis of 'what was good enough for me'. Almost everything taught to children is forgotten. The waste of money, time and talent must be stupendous. Yet we sail happily on, gazing over the stern and marvelling at the wake trailing behind. (Jenkins 2010b)
    (The Education Act based on the proposals in The Importance of Teaching received the royal assent on 15 November 2011. See Postscript below for more details).


    At the start of this chapter I put the word 'coalition' in inverted commas because it seemed to me that this was effectively a right-wing Tory government propped up by leading Liberal Democrats who were totally out of touch with their grassroots members. Nothing I have seen or heard in the past seven months has persuaded me to remove those inverted commas.

    And sadly, Labour politicians are in no position to criticise, since the Tories' policies on academies, free schools and university tuition fees are no more than extensions of New Labour's - albeit on a grand scale.

    In conclusion

    This history has focused on the long struggle to create for England's children an education system which values them all. It has, in many ways, been a sad story.

    In the 19th century there was hostility to the very idea of mass education and, when that argument was eventually won, the system which evolved was based on the entrenched class divisions of English society.

    In the first half of the 20th century the divisions continued, only now they were presented as being based on theories of intelligence rather than on social class.

    By the middle of the century these theories had been shown to be spurious, and for a brief spell - in the 1960s and early 1970s - it looked as though, finally, England might get a truly comprehensive public education service.

    But since 1976 (when Callaghan gave his Ruskin College speech and started the 'Great Debate') the trend has been back to division and elitism.

    Thatcher and Major sought to replace public service with market forces.

    Blair created more division with academies and faith schools, and micromanaged the teaching process itself.

    Under Gordon Brown, Ed Balls tried to take a holistic view of the needs of children but refused to undo the damage done by his predecessors.

    And now we have Cameron and Gove, determined to destroy the local authorities and break up England's schools. Will a recognisable state system of education even exist five years from now?

    Stewart Ranson, emeritus professor at Warwick University, comments:

    Over the past 20 years the neo-liberal agenda of choice and competition in schools has undermined public education. When the present contradictions finally implode, the nation will need a Royal Commission that leads a national conversation to rebuild education based on justice. Education should not depend on power and wealth, but on recognising that extending all the capabilities of all children is the nation's first public good. (Ranson 2010:158)
    And in his last column for The Guardian, Peter Mortimore wrote:
    Over my years in the education service, I have witnessed the policies of 28 secretaries of state. I have observed the work of scores of local authority education officers, hundreds of heads and thousands of teachers, teacher trainers and pupils in many different countries.

    I have seen great progress: British teachers today are amongst the best I have seen anywhere. But the improvements to the system, so obvious in the first half of my career, have not kept pace. Anthony Crosland's request to local authorities to go comprehensive, the raising of the school leaving age from 15 to 16, the Plowden Committee's concern for the disadvantaged, the merging of the GCE and CSE into the GCSE and the abolition of corporal punishment pointed the way to a modern education system.

    Regrettably, the influence of the anti-progressive Black Papers, the wasted opportunity of James Callaghan's Great Debate and the systematic rubbishing of the comprehensive ideal by both Tories and New Labour have stymied progress. In addition, the downgrading of local government and the creation of new types of schools - from Kenneth Baker's city technology colleges to Michael Gove's free schools - have fashioned a deeply fragmented English education service. Add to this the haughty control and command of New Labour's classroom diktats, and small wonder that - despite the dedication of those who work in schools - the system is a mess. (Mortimore 2010)

    Half a century ago, in his book The Long Revolution, Raymond Williams argued:
    It is a question of whether we can grasp the real nature of our society, or whether we persist in social and educational patterns based on a limited ruling class, a middle professional class, a large operative class, cemented by forces that cannot be challenged and will not be changed. The privileges and barriers, of an inherited kind, will in any case go down. It is only a question of whether we replace them by the free play of the market, or by a public education designed to express and create the values of an educated democracy and a common culture. (Williams 1961:155)
    Sadly, our political masters have chosen the market.

    Derek Gillard
    20 December 2010


    Education Act 2011

    The main provisions of this Act (15 November 2011) are as follows:

    • schools will have more power to search pupils (Section 2);
    • Independent Appeal Panels are replaced by Review Panels with limited powers (4);
    • schools no longer need to give parents notice of pupil detentions (5);
    • the powers of the Schools Adjudicator are reduced (34);
    • new schools will normally be academies, and local authorities will have no say in who promotes them (37);
    • the Secretary of State:
      • can demand that a local authority changes its scheme for funding maintained schools (46);
      • will have greater power to close schools and reopen them as academies (56);
      • can remove the protection for non-religious teachers in foundation and voluntary controlled schools which become academies (62);
      • has greater power to make land available for 'free schools' (63).
    Download the
    Education Act 2011 (pdf text 700kb).


    Baker M (2010) 'Gove takes control of the curriculum' The Guardian 15 June

    Beadle P (2010) 'The academies policy is bad news for teachers' The Guardian 15 June

    Browne J (2010) Securing a Sustainable Future for Higher Education Report of the Independent Review of Higher Education Funding and Student Finance London: Department for Business, Innovation and Skills

    Chitty C (2010) 'Lies, Exaggerations and Half-truths' Forum 52(3) 275-277

    Cohen N (2010) 'The young will have their revenge, Mr Clegg' The Observer 12 December

    Jenkins S (2010a) 'Gove's claim to be 'freeing' schools is a cloak for more control from the centre' The Guardian 27 May

    Jenkins S (2010b) 'Napoleon Gove can dictate its terms but the school curriculum is bogus' The Guardian 25 November

    Liberal Democrats (2009) Equity and Excellence: Policies for 5-19 education in England's schools and colleges (Policy Paper 89) Liberal Democrat Party

    Millar F (2010) 'Will the government's new academies meet special needs?' The Guardian 22 June

    Morris E (2010) 'Important questions still need to be answered about the academies bill' The Guardian 27 July

    Mortimore P (2010) 'Fight Gove's big sell-off of public education' The Guardian 7 December

    NSS (2010) 'Government won't outlaw extremists taking over schools' National Secular Society Newsline 8 October

    Ranson S (2010) 'Returning Education to Layering Horizons?' Forum 52(2) 155-158

    Toynbee P (2010) 'Gove's bill spells segregation and tax-funded madrasas' The Guardian 20 July

    Vernon J (2010) 'School history gets the TV treatment' The Guardian 16 November

    Wiborg S (2010) 'Learning Lessons from the Swedish Model' Forum 52(3) 279-284

    Wilby P (2010) 'Private companies will run "free schools"' The Guardian 25 May

    Williams R (1961) The Long Revolution London: Chatto and Windus

    Chapter 11 | Chapter 13 (draft)