New Labour strategies and theories on educational policies have contributed significantly on influencing a better change on education since the 1988 Education Act. There were four major changes which had been made to the education system; the changes were introduced in order to manage the diverse problems with had recently emerged. Machin and Vignoles (2006) outlined these four categories as; secondary education standards falling, limited participation in post-16 (sixth form), students having a poor grasp of basic skills and unequal participation in higher education.
The classified problems were not only problems identified by New Labour; New Right too had similar concerns about the education system. However New Right have previously been criticised as they were more concerned regarding the problems surrounding the participation in Post 16 and the poor grasp of basic skills rather than all four of them as a whole. Hence, I will outline and evaluate New Labour’s approach concerning the educational policies.
The first problem identified was the standards of secondary education declining, because of this New Labour believed that in order to raise the standards they would have to provide greater parental choices. Giving this privilege would enable more competition which was their clear aim as competition would influence a rise in the standards of schools as there would be a gap in the market for more choice and diversity.
A model example of how effective parental choice would be take academies, faith schools and specialist schools they are given more freedom to choose, this creates a friendly rivalry amongst parents and children to achieve the possible best. Some critics view that giving parents the right to more choice would result in further inequality rather than equality, take middle-class parents for instance they use their material and cultural wealth to ‘buy’ their children’s education and gain places in much better schools.
Sociologist Ball (2008) also criticises this view he states how giving parents the ability to choose produces social segregation which further influences inequality. Another way in which New Labour had believed they would be able to raise the standards of secondary education would be to improve the teaching standards due to the pressure of market forces in state schools this would therefore increase the participation in further education which would influence an equal participation in higher education.
However a criticism would be that the rise in exam success may not necessarily be due to the impact of marketisation it could be because of the other factors. The second problem which was identified by New Labour was the limited participation in post-16, they considered two significant ways in which they would be able to increase this participation. The first idea was to develop vocational courses, for example; GNVQ’s, modern apprenticeships and diplomas.
Sociologist Ball (2008) identified that 40% of students will take vocational courses. By introducing more vocational courses, they would be able to improve the perceived skills deficiencies of British Workers and give themselves more of an ability to gain work. However a rising concern is regarding the division between vocational and non-vocational students, New Labour recognise this division as a concern with the development of the knowledge economy.
Ball identifies that a significant amount of education has been ‘geared to the knowledge economy and education is now being dominated by its subservience to the requirements of the economy’. This however would lead to the creation and reinforcement of inequality within divisions of class and ethnicity. The second idea was to develop on the ideology of personalisation. This is giving students qualities such as; independency and individualisation, students are given mentoring and individual action plans where they are expected to become active learners and reliant upon themselves.
However, this method of increasing participation is criticised as if this was to be used within the education system it would only be purposeful to individuals from a middle-class background as they would be able to use their cultural and economic advantage to benefit from this. This method does create a competitive economy as it tied together with the demands of the labour market, it may seem as if the individuals are empowered however when in fact they are tied together with the economic system.
Another way in which New Labour has aimed to increase the participation of students within Post-16; they encouraged students to stay on for further education by introducing EMA (Educational Maintenance Allowance) which is basically a financial incentive mainly for those individuals who are from a less privileged background. Machin and Vignoles agree that this scheme does have a positive impact upon disadvantaged students as it assists those who suffer most from material deprivation.
However, there is also criticism against the introduction of EMA as it not only helps disadvantaged students it too is available for middle-class students. The third problem recognised by New Labour was the lack of basic skills amongst individuals. This was a significant factor in education; both the New Right and New Labour had aimed to improve the standards of basic skills. In order to improve on this aspect, the New Right introduced the National Curriculum which was a segment of the 1988 Education Reform Act.
The New Labour took action by introducing within the National Curriculum, national literacy and numeracy hours in primary schools. However, it was difficult to estimate whether the National Curriculum was effective in improving the basic skills of students as there was little room for comparing work, although it was easy to identify that literacy and numeracy hours did have some influences.
Sociologist Machin and McNally (2004) have identified that literacy hours did have a significant influence on improving reading and English attainment as boys who took part in the hour improved their reading skills. This helped to reduce gender inequality in education as both genders are given equal amount of time and opportunity to improve on their basic skills giving them an equal chance in the future. This shows how schools are able to have a significant influence on making a difference to their students’ results if the education institution implements the right strategies.