The aim of this assignment is to discuss the trends policy that took place in primary education from 1988 and 1997. The assignment will start with examining the rationale behind the changes introduced in those years. Then it will look at the changes themselves. The last section will talk about the advantages and disadvantages of those changes. It should be mentioned from the outset that I will not be mentioning reforms related to secondary and higher education, even though they came at the same time as the Primary schools.
The term educational provision refers to the use of the equipment or tools with the intention of providing knowledge and skills, and includes things such as such as, classroom, textbook, chairs, pens/pencils and many more for students. Education is about the process of learning where knowledge, skills and information is transmitted. Yero (2002) believes that education is a procedure of improving the students or pupils’ knowledge, skills and character. So education can help to reduce inequality in society.
In the United Kingdom, this concept of eliminating inequality was at the base of changes in education policy. Prior to 1988, education in the United Kingdom was completely different. The decision of the curriculum contents was in the hands of schools, with religious education being the only subject which was compulsory. This means that pupils had different attainment levels due to following different programmes. Education was ruled by the 1944 Education Act which handed the administration of schools and the formulation of school policies to local authorities; the only exception being Section 1 where control and direction of education were given to the Secretary of State. In fact, in the 1944 Education Act, the role of the Department of Education and Science was simply promotional and not one of giving direction, which means they could not supervise local authorities policies. This Act also fixed the age of leaving school at 15 and instituted free secondary education for all pupils.
However it was noticed that the standard attained in basic skills by the UK population was low and poor compared to other European countries, and this could not satisfy the country national economic needs (Department of Education, 2011). To solve the problem raised by the falling standard, the Conservative Government came with the 1988 Education Act, sometimes referred to as the Kennet Baker reform which instituted a standardisation of all school programmes, and brought four main changes with a view to bringing back the level (Young, 2008).
The first change was the introduction of the National Curriculum, which defines four Key Stages, moving from Key Stage 1 to Key Stage 4. In primary schools, two Key Stages, 1 and 2 were identified: Key Stage 1 for Year 1 and 2 up to age 7; Key Stage 2 for Years 3 to 6, meaning age 7 to age 11. Later on, a Foundation Stage which concerns children aged 3 up to reception year was introduced.
The National Curriculum came with a new terminology related to two types of school subjects, core subjects and Foundation subjects. In Primary schools, that is Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2, the curriculum consists of the following subjects: English, Maths, science, information and communication technology (ICT), history, geography, art and design, music, design and technology (D&T) and Physical Education. This was supplemented by the literacy and numeracy reforms in the 1990s taught everyday to improve children standard in those skills. Another change in the curriculum was the introduction foreign languages for children aged 7. This curriculum was later reconsidered for improvement.
One advantage of National Curriculum is that all children in England and Wales have the same education programmes, and this makes comparison of levels easier and the transfer of children from one school to another is made easy. Actually the national Curriculum contains all the topics to be taught, in terms of knowledge, skills and expectations at the end of each key stage; it also determines how assessment has to proceed.
The second change had to do with assessment of pupils. Here national standard tests such as SATs at age 11 (Standard Assessment tasks, and later Standard Attainment Tasks) were put in place, not only to assess whether they are up to the national standard expected, but also to put strategies in place to ensure improvement in those children learning. This led to the National Curriculum Council (NCC) as an advisory service to the secretary of State in matters related to the curriculum, and the School Examinations and Assessment Council (SEAC) in charge of assessments.
The third change affected the administration of schools. As mentioned above, prior to 1988, Education administration was handled by local authorities. In London, for example it was in the hands of the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA), which was created in 1965, while outer London schools were directed by county councils and borough councils. The Education Reform Act of 1988 gave power to schools to opt out of local authority control and be funded by central government, so that schools could manage their own finances. The Local management of Schools meant that the role of head teachers included budget management as well (Powell and Edwards, 2003). This was the beginning of Grant maintained schools, which were later replaced by foundation schools. This led to the abolition of the Local Education Authority.
The forth change concerned the creation of a league table where people could go and compare the performance of different schools. It was hoped that such a table would push schools to compete, and therefore provide better education to children.
In 1993, another education act came into place. It aimed at increasing the number of Grant Maintained Schools; it replaced the NCC and SEAC with School Curriculum and Assessment Authority so that the curriculum content could be controlled by the government; more power was given to headteacher in their exclusion decisions of unruly pupils; changes were introduced for pupils with special educational needs; and the establishment of referral units. An inspection body called Ofsted came into existence to inspect schools in LEAS. Finally the SCAA and NCVQ formed the QCA.
In 1997, the Labour Government introduced another reform. The Government introduced specialist schools such as Business, Sport schools so as to diversify education and the types of schools. So doing parents could have a variety of choices to make for their children. Failing schools were reopened under academies administered by churches or businesses. In deprived areas, the Government created Education Action zone in order to help improve education standard in those areas. Parents were given power and a voice to decide on the choice of schools for their children; they were given power to be represented in the school governing body. Further, a system of exam league table was introduced where parents could easily spot schools that are doing well, and those falling behind. Be it as it may, parents had the duty to ensure that their children attend schools. School funding was linked to the number of pupils a school had in its roll. The implication was that schools had to compete to improve their performance so as to attract parents and their children, and thus good funding as well. This is termed the market reform introduced by Conservative governments in the 1980’s and 1990s, where schools were seen as a service and the parents and children as the clients. As a matter fact, education should provide “valued forms of knowledge” and equip children for life (James and Pollard, 2012)
In the 1997 White Paper, Excellence in Schools, the rights of parents to information were extended including sending them the child progress annual report, their part in the inspection process, annual meeting, allowing them to have access to the child’s school record. Schools were further obliged to publish an annual report about their management and a prospectus. Teachers were also given power to restrain pupils
By so, doing the government, say the Department of Education gained new power, because they are in charge of the school curriculum, not the local authorities any more, the types of tests to administer to pupils, the types of qualifications to be awarded, the funding to give to schools, the nomination of members of the National Curriculum Council to plan the curriculum. The approval of schools that want to opt out, the change of school status is given by the State Secretary, even though the involvement of parents should be sought for. He has the administration of grants. The role of head teachers also changed as they became budget managers as well.
The question one might ask at this point is to know whether those reforms were successful. Two views can be expressed here. On the one hand, the introduction of the national Curriculum should be appreciated, because it helps to have children expected to have the same knowledge and skills. The tests would help schools to work hard to improve their results, and research has revealed that more people are now going to university. The league table gives a better view to parents as to which school is doing better, so make an informed choice of schools for their children. On the other hand, it would appear that testing is not good enough to assess the performance of schools, and learning should not be limited to passing tests. With the league table, teaching has turned into preparing pupils to pass exams, and not a preparation for life. The league table has also been criticised as it ignores some areas such as Art and sport. Further, the league tables make some schools more popular than others, and this raises difficulties for some parents to get a school of their choice for their children.
Ball (2006) examined the concepts of markets in the context of education only to find that more needs to be discussed, and that such concepts as “competition, supply and demand, producer and consumer behaviour, privatisation and commodification, values and ethics and distributional outcomes” should be addresses as there is a paucity of research in this field.
In Primary schools, teachers complained of the increased workload imposed by the National Curriculum, especially at the end of Key Stage 2 with the preparation of SATs, and this lead to Dearing Report which brought the load down by 20% (Alexander, 2012). The system of inspection also came into fire by various teachers unions who find the Ofsted as a problem, not a solution. Another problem concerned the introduction of foreign language teaching at age 7. This raised problems in a country such as the United kingdom where secondary schools teach various languages, French, German, Spanish. So a child could learn one language in primary school and have a different language in secondary schools. This means there will be no continuity as noted by the Guardian (2012). The structure of Key Stage 2 has also been criticized as it takes four years which the Framework for the National Curriculum found too long (DE, 2011).
To conclude, it can be said that there have been one main Education reform Act, the 1988, and many education acts from 1988 to 1997. The changes in educational policies in those reforms can be regrouped in three categories: changes to do with centralisation, as education moved from local authorities to the government with the introduction of the National Curriculum; assessment by outcomes with the use of national assessment and the establishment of league-tables to compare the performance of different schools, and the quasi-market reform where schools are the manufacturers and children and their parents as consumers who have choices to make between different schools.
In primary schools, the reforms could be noticed with the introduction of Key Stages 1 and 2, the national Curriculum with Maths, English and science as core subjects, while others were considered as foundations and religious study as statutory, the introduction of SATs and the literacy and numeracy strategies.