Issues in education studies

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Image source: http://www.tri-c.edu/youth-programs/environmental-education.html 

I’ve just marked the second assignment for the Issues in Education Studies course  (ED5001) that I am a tutor on and I thought that whilst it is fresh in my mind I would write a blog post, summarising some of the key themes that have been developed in the course, along with tips and hints for the students to improve their assignments in the future. In order to do this I went back over the material to date to draw out the key themes. The course builds on a previous module, ED4001, which was underpinned by the following key questions:

  • How does education change people?
  • How ought education change?
  • How do we change education?
  • What is learning?
  • Do all pupils have equal chances of success or otherwise in school?
  • What is the problem with ‘inequality’?
  • Why is gender, ethnicity and social class of interest to educationalists?
  • What international/ global issues are important?

In relation to these the students have been encouraged to draw on the following sources: their own experiences, the media, personal accounts by teachers/students, Government publications, the grey literature and peer reviewed journal articles.

Education in England - particularly since the 1980s - has been heavily influenced by neoliberal ideology - this is reflected in both education policy and the largely meritocratic schooling system that has emerged from it. In the course we have explored some of the consequences of neoliberalism in terms of educational inequalities e.g. brought about by parental choice policies, social stratification and the stratification of schooling. Finally we have looked at some of the government (policy) responses to these inequalities in particular policy around inclusion e.g. pupil premium, post-16 education and training.

Near the beginning of the course the students were provided with an overview of schooling in the UK and in particular that there are currently the following main types of schools:

  •      Maintained schools -they are overseen, or ‘maintained’, by the Local Authority. These schools must follow the national curriculum and national teacher pay and conditions. These include: Community schools (typically secondary), Foundation / trust schools (typically secondary non-faith schools), VA – Voluntary aided (Primary Faith schools), and VC – Voluntary controlled (Primary controlled by the Local authority.
  •     Academies - Academies are publically funded, independent schools, held accountable through a legally binding ‘funding agreement’. These schools have more freedom and control over curriculum design, school hours and term dates, and staff pay and conditions. These include: ‘traditional’ – schools that  were underperforming, and ‘new converts’.
  •       Free schools - New state schools (which includes independent schools becoming state schools for the first time). These are set up by teachers, parents, existing schools, educational charities, universities, and/or community groups. 
  •       Grammar schools (selective) - State funded schools,which select their pupils on the basis of academic ability. Grammar schools can also be maintained schools. 
  • Independent schools (not government funded) - Schools that charge fees to attend, rather than being funded by the government, and can make a profit. They are governed and operated by the school itself. They are lightly regulated by government and inspected by a range of bodies.

Key milestones in Education were covered, including: the 1944 Education or Butler Act, the more permissive society in the 1960s, 1976 Act requiring LEAs to reorganise school systems on comprehensive lines. Comprehensive schools provide an entitlement curriculum to all children without selection (academic or financial), the marketization of Education under Thatcher around Neo-liberalist principles such as economic liberalization, privatization, free trade, deregulation, reductions in government spending and the enhanced role of the private sector and the 1988 Education Reform Act which included the introduction of the National Curriculum, new rules on religious education and collective worship and the establishment of curriculum and assessment councils. This was augmented during the Blair years in terms of encouraging competition between schools (through league tables, postcode lotteries and selection by house prices), resulting in a diverse and unequal secondary school system. Finally the 2002 Education Act gave schools more freedom to manage their own affairs, with 85 per cent of a school’s budget directly controlled by the head teacher, and a lesser role for LEAs. Also more involvement of the private sector in state provision, greater diversity in secondary education, with more specialist schools and city academies attracting private sponsorship and the development of a more diverse 14-19 curriculum with more early entries for GCSE and much greater choice of vocational and work-based courses.

The table below compares Keynesian economics with Neoliberalism:

Keynesian Economics

Neoliberalism

       The market should be regulated

       Government should ‘manage’ economies by influencing aggregate demand(total amount of demand) e.g. through fiscal policy: taxation and government spending

       Unemployment solved by government intervention

 

       Economy works best when left alone (Laissez-faire economics)

       Belief that there was a market solution to economic problems such as unemployment

       Produces efficiency, growth and widespread prosperity

       ‘dead hand’ of the state saps initiative and discourages enterprise

       State bad – market good

 

The course also considered the implications of operating in an increasingly globalised educational context. It also considered particular instances of inequality, in particular: class, gender, race and religion and how more inclusive policies can be put in place to address inequality.

The students had a choice of essays:

  •  Education is a public service and should not be treated as a marketable commodity. Discuss.
  • The purpose of education is to enhance equality of opportunity. To what extent should all education policy be critically judged in terms of how it meets this aim?
  •  Inclusion is an assault on the schooling system as we know it. In discussing this statement identify some of the key principles and assumptions underpinning inclusion and consider what inclusive schools of the future would look like.
  • Schools should be engines of social mobility (Gove 2010). Discuss with relation to recent government policy.

The following is a summary of some of the generic feedback given to the students:

  • It is important to structure the essay and to have a clear introduction outlining the focus of the essay and a clear conclusion.
  • Key concepts and terms should be articulated, and backed up with relevant references. Wherever possible a number of different perspectives on the key concepts and terms should be provided.
  • It is important to adopt a critical stance in relation to the literature, as education studies is a contested area.
  • Where possible it is important to draw on the key themes of the course (neoliberalism, marketization, globalisation, inclusion etc.) in relation to the topic being discussed.
  • Arguments made should be backed up with relevant references and examples. 
  • References should be in the appropriate format.
  • The style of writing should be clear and concise and academic. It is important to avoid using a chatty style.

I really enjoyed reading the essays, the student worked hard to relate the topics to the key themes of the course, such as marketization, globalisation, neoliberalism and inclusion. They backed their arguments up with relevant references and examples. Key terms and concepts for the essays were defined and references, often with more that one example, to demonstrate the nuances and contested nature of these terms.

 I would like to thank Alan Howe and Catherine Simon for their comments on a draft version of this blog.  

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