The article, ‘Twenty Years ofProgress? English Education Policy 1988 to the Present’ written by Geoff Whitty,evaluates the Conservative and New Labour policies following the ‘1988Education Reform Act (ERA)’implemented in order to regain social control. These neo-liberal policiescould exemplify the stimulation of marketisation and centralisation in the educationsystem, particularly by standardising the curriculum nationally, increasingschool choice and privatising provisions within the schooling system. Withregards to this, the author evaluated each reform and fundamentally recognisedthat they generally had little successin tackling the attainment gap between advantaged and disadvantaged pupils. Overall,Whitty asserts that further government action is hence required in order to lessenthe prominent cultural, social and economic gap amongst pupils, which wouldtherefore make an important contribution towards social justice. Within the article, Whitty exemplifies the drive towardscentralisation through neo-liberal policies in the UK education system and howthey have contributed towards further social inequality. He identifies how the introductionof the ‘National Curriculum’ launched in 1988, became a steering mechanism asit initiated national standardised examinations known as ‘Standard AttainmentTests (SAT’s)’ and ‘The General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE’s)’,whereby the results are then represented within national league tables.
AlthoughWhitty understands that the key aim for the National Curriculum is to reinforce’particular traditional British values’, he fails to consider the obliviousnessfor other cultural backgrounds who are overlooked within the British schoolingsystem, as the National Curriculum is ethnocentric. This can be supported byTroyna and Williams (1995), who also argues that the ‘National Curriculum’ isethnocentric as it ‘gives priority to the white culture and the Englishlanguage’. Ball (1994) additionally critiques the ‘National Curriculum’ for disregardingcultural and ethnic diversity, as it conveys the image that the BritishGovernment see the British values as superior and only wish to teach the principlessuch as British literature, music and history. Another stance in which Whittyfails in mention within this article is that the presence of ethnocentrismcould also be considered as a factor for the underachievement amongst someethnic minorities, as exemplified through statistics showing the standardisedexamination results (Coard, 1974). For example, within the Department ofEducation National Statistics for GCSE results in 2013, many ethnic minoritiessuch Black Caribbean (57 percent achieving five A* to C grades) and Pakistani (59percent achieving five A* to C grades) pupils underachieved with regards to thenational average (65 percent achieving five A* to C grades). Therefore,although Whitty successfully evaluates the rise in centralisation of theEducation system in detail within the article, he fails to link this to the ethnicdifferences in values, which are dismissed within an ethnocentric curriculum,thus it essentially contributes towards the cultural attainment gap further. Another area that Whitty focuses on within the article,is the rise in parental choice particularly through methods of marketisationsuch as the introduction of league tables and the publicising of the ‘Officefor Standards in Education’ (OFSTED) inspection reports.
He asserts, ‘the 1988Education Act made it easier for parents to choose between ‘Local EducationAuthorities’ (LEA)- maintained schools’, through the requirement ‘to provideparents with information about their schools, including examination results’,by the means of OFSTED inspection reports and league tables. Whitty argued thatthis drive towards competition and marketisation amongst schools may reproduceand legitimise inequality. This is because the middle-class parents have morefreedom of choice regarding school selection. As Ball (1994) emphasises,schools who publicise ‘outstanding’ OFSTED inspection reports and have abovenational average examination results attract middle-class parents to selecttheir schools. Thus, as Whitty effectively displays within his article, these successfulschools are of higher demand amongst parents, allowing them to be moreselective through the introduction of ‘open enrolment’ and so they are able tochoose only the high-achieving pupils. Unlike the failing schools, that havehigh proportions of disadvantaged pupils attending and are typically withingeographical areas of socio-economic disadvantage. This demonstrates thatWhitty has effectively analysed the inequitable connections betweenmarketisation and parental choice by concluding that the middle-class parents havemore economic and cultural capital within society and so they are able to takeadvantage of the wide range of school choices they have available (Gerwitz, 1994).
Whitty’s evaluation can be exemplified by the research of Leech and Campos (2003)who highlighted that since many local education authorities’ policies are basedon catchment locations, spaces in successful schools are very difficult to gainaccess to if you live outside the catchment area. This results in middle-classparents having an incentive to move to a new house within the catchment area,in order for their children to attend the more desirable schools. Overall, withinthe article, Whitty demonstrates areas of critical evaluation regarding thecorrelation between parentocracy and marketisation within the education systemby conveying that the ‘myth of parentocracy’ makes freedom of choice in theschooling system appear to be fair, whilst disguising the fact that schoolingcontinues to reproduce class inequality. The neo-liberal motive regarding the privatisation of theeducation system is also prominent throughout Whitty’s article. He states thatthere has been ‘a striking growth in private sector involvement within thepublic education system’. He pinpoints this drive towards privatisation to theintroduction of specialist schools.
Whitty remarks that the ‘New Labourretained the existing City Technology Colleges and greatly increased the numberof specialist schools’, which ‘required sponsorship from businesses, charitiesand other private sector organisations’. He criticised the government’s viewthat ‘diversity and choice are the key to higher standards’ in education, andrecognised that this focus is not enough to increase academic standards for allchildren. Furtherly, Whitty uses the evidence from Jesson’s work on theperformance of specialist schools in order to support his remark. He recognisedthat these specialist schools had mainly middle-class pupils, which is why theywere succeeding because despite differences between the success of schools, themiddle-class pupils generally always do better than the lower-class pupils(Jesson and Crossley, 2006). This central concept offers a valuable alternativeview that contrasts the mainstream neo-liberal view that the success ofspecialist schools is due to the rise of marketisation and minimal interferencefrom the government. However, although Whitty mentions that there is quantitativedata to support his evaluation, he fails to demonstrate adequate evidence ofthe statistics within the article, which inevitably could have strengthened hisevaluation of the implementation of specialist schooling to public education. When evaluating the introduction of academies in thearticle, Whitty expresses a different approach in comparison to the outcome ofspecialist schools.
He argued that although the concept of a specialist schooland an academy are primarily very similar, he identified differences in thetype of people that attend each style of school. Unlike specialist schools whichattract ‘more affluent families’, Whitty stated that the government often use theimplementation of an academy to replace failing schools in deprived areas, withan inevitably high proportion of disadvantaged pupils attending. He furtherexplains that the government believed that by promoting academies who havegained additional funding from private sponsorships and thus endorsingmarketisation, it would consequently reduce social segregation and a morevaried set of pupils may attend. However, Whitty argued that the governmentmission would not deem as successful. He uses Maden’s view to suggest that theunderlying issue with academies, is that ‘successful schools tend to have a’critical mass’ of more engaged, broadly ‘pro-school’ and middle-class childrento begin with’. This suggests that despite efforts to positively integratesocial inclusion, the fact that academies initially start with more than anaverage share of disadvantaged pupils makes the success of the school seem lesslikely. Overall, as Fanghanel and Trowler (2008) argue, the government were too idealistic in theirexpectations of what schooling reforms could accomplish regarding diminishing socialclass inequality. On the other hand, Whitty fails to find valuable evidence tosupport that this could be the case, ‘unfortunately, the research carried outso far does not provide us with the sort of detailed analysis which would allowus to judge exactly what is actually happening in this respect of academies’.
Therefore, this lack of statistical evidence inevitably weakens his overallevaluation of academies. However, he could have used various elements ofstatistical evidence generated by the Department for Education statistics,which in this case, showed how 60 percent of pupils in non-academy schoolsattained five A* to C grades in the GCSE examinations in 2011, compared to just47 percent in the (then) 249 sponsored academies. If Whitty employed thisquantifiable evidence to support his argument, his overall evaluation of theimpact of academies would, therefore, have been more successful and reliable.
When Whitty evaluated the New Labour policies from 1997,that were introduced in order to tackle the attainment gap between socialclasses, he indicated that there was some success but it was very limited. Whittyclaimed that the ‘Education Action Zones’ and the ‘National Literacy Strategy’ ‘presentedas a socially redistributive measure, though in retrospect it does not appearto have quite the effect’. This signifies that although Whitty is aware thatsome effort has been made to reduce social inequality, he acknowledged that thiswas not enough to raise attainment and improving skills across all pupils. Whitty’s argument can be supported by Usher andEdwards (1996), who suggests that labours policies are merely a ‘cosmetic’, asthey may present a positive image for acknowledging the need to support the deprivedpupils, but without actually reducing class inequalities as they had hoped. Inaddition to this, Whitty effectively uses quantitative data within the articlein order to support his evaluation of the New Labour policies.
He uses theDepartment for Education statistics on the free school meal (FSM) comparison toGCSE attainment and noticed a rise of 0.8 percent between 2003 to 2006 in the numberof pupils gaining five A* to C grades. Notably, Whitty’s use of factualevidence to support his argument is highly beneficial as statistics are areliable and representable form of research.
In conclusion, generally, Whittyprovides a thorough evaluation of the various conservative and new-labourreforms implemented on the education system between 1988 and 2008. He justifieshis arguments often with numerous fragments of evidence, both qualitative andquantitative, primary and secondary data.