ED4c - Equality of Education Policies


In this section, we will discuss policies that aim to create educational equality, as well as how they attempt to achieve economic efficiency. We will begin by examining the four types of educational equality. The first type is access, which means that all students should have access to a good school, regardless of their socio-economic background. This refers specifically to state schools, not private education. We will analyse policies that allow students to access good quality schools, regardless of their background.

The second type of educational equality is quality of circumstance, which refers to the idea that all students should start school at a similar level, regardless of their socio-economic background. This includes skills such as reading, writing, social skills, and fine motor skills. This type of equality is about creating an equal starting point for all students. The third type is equality of participation, which means that all students should be able to fully participate in all aspects of their education, without being excluded due to their socio-economic background, lack of resources, or inability to afford something.

Finally, we will discuss equality of outcome, which is about giving all students the same chances of academic achievement, regardless of their socio-economic background. This does not mean that everyone should achieve the same grades, but rather, that everyone should have the opportunity to do their best. We will explore the idea of equity versus equality in education, where equity means that everyone should be given what they need to succeed, including support for special educational needs or resources for those from deprived backgrounds.

The policies we will examine aim to create a level playing field for all students, where everyone has the same opportunities for academic success, participation, and access to good quality schools. While there is debate around whether equity or equality is the best approach, the goal remains to give every student the tools they need to succeed. Through our analysis, we will gain a better understanding of how policies aim to create educational equality and economic efficiency.

Conservative Government 1979 - 1997

During the Conservative government's reign from 1979 to 1997, policies were introduced to promote educational equality.

The 1988 Education Reform Act introduced several policies to improve educational equality under the conservative government between 1979 and 1997. One such policy was open enrollment, which allowed parents to choose the best school for their child regardless of their catchment area. This policy aimed to create equality of access by ensuring that parents had the freedom to send their child to the best school for them. However, the policy faced criticism due to the covert selection processes that could still occur, meaning that some students did not have equal access to the best schools. Furthermore, the policy was not truly equal as parents from working-class backgrounds may not have been able to afford to move to areas with better schools, leading to a postcode lottery where better schools were only accessible to students from more affluent areas.

Another policy introduced by the 1988 Education Reform Act was the national curriculum, which aimed to create equality of participation and outcome by setting a minimum standard for education. This minimum standard meant that all students would receive the same baseline education, regardless of their background. However, the curriculum's academic nature posed a challenge to equality of participation, as non-academic students may struggle to access the curriculum. This, in turn, impacted equality of outcome, as students who could not access the curriculum would not be able to achieve their best possible grades. Additionally, schools had different interpretations of the national curriculum, which further impacted equality of outcome as students in different schools received different levels of education.

Labour Government 1997 - 2010

During the New Labour era, the government introduced several initiatives aimed at promoting equality in education, including the Education Action Zones (EAZs) and the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA). The EAZs were designed to support education in areas of deprivation by providing additional funding, resources, teachers, and experts. This measure was aimed at leveling the playing field between schools that had ample funding and resources and those that lacked such facilities. The EAZs also fostered equality of participation by providing opportunities for students who could not afford certain things, or schools that could not acquire the resources they needed, to receive the same educational opportunities as their peers in more affluent schools.

The EMA was a means-tested initiative aimed at post-16 education. It provided 30 pounds a week directly to the student engaged in post-16 education, regardless of the type of qualification they were pursuing. Bonuses were awarded to students who exhibited good attendance and achievement. The EMA aimed to promote equality of participation by encouraging students from deprived backgrounds to stay on in education and pursue further qualifications, which could lead to higher-paying jobs and ultimately break the cycle of poverty. This initiative created equality of access by ensuring that financial constraints did not hinder students from pursuing post-16 education.

Additionally, the government introduced Sure Start programs, which offered free preschool places to children from deprived backgrounds, providing them with basic reading, writing, fine motor, and social skills. The program also offered parental support and entitled each child to a certain number of hours in preschool. By providing such opportunities, the Sure Start programs aimed to promote equality of circumstance and give children a better start to their educational process.

However, the EMA was short-lived due to its high cost and the challenges schools faced in monitoring attendance. Similarly, Sure Start programs have experienced defunding, leading to closures in many areas. Despite these challenges, the initiatives introduced during the New Labour era were instrumental in promoting equality of access, participation, and circumstance in education, giving students from deprived backgrounds the opportunity to succeed academically and break the cycle of poverty.

Coalition Government 2010- 2015 

The Pupil Premium was introduced by the coalition government in order to promote equality of participation among students. The program provides additional funding to schools for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, including those from deprived areas, military families, and those who are looked after or have been previously looked after. The amount of funding varies from year to year depending on the government budget, and the funds are intended to support the child's education by providing resources such as revision guides, stationery, uniform trips, and other educational materials.

While the Pupil Premium has been successful in promoting equality of participation, there have been some concerns regarding its implementation. The allocation of funds is dependent on the discretion of the school and its coordinators, which has led to instances of corruption and misappropriation of funds. Although the funds are ring-fenced and intended solely for Pupil Premium support, there have been cases of the funds being used for other purposes.

Changes to the exam structure to the linear exam, introduced by Michael Gove in an effort to promote equality of outcome among students. This system limited the number of times a student could take an exam module, which meant that lower-working-class students were at a disadvantage as they may not have been able to afford to pay for multiple exam resits. While the linear exam system aimed to create equality of outcome by providing all students with the same number of chances to achieve the best grade possible, it was not without its flaws. The system may not have been equitable for all students, as some may perform better in exams than others due to various factors, such as exam anxiety or other extenuating circumstances.

Overall, the Pupil Premium and linear exam structures aim to create more equality of participation and outcome among students, but their effectiveness and fairness depend on their implementation and execution. It is important to continually evaluate these programs to ensure that they are meeting their intended goals and are fair and equitable for all students, regardless of their background or circumstances.

Conservative Government 2015 to present.

The Conservative party introduced a new policy known as T levels in 2017. This policy aimed to promote both equality of outcome and participation by recognizing that not every student is academically inclined and may not excel in traditional academic subjects like GCSEs. Instead, T levels offer more vocational qualifications that are focused on practical skills that students can use in various industries. For example, a student may choose to pursue a T level in car mechanics instead of GCSE history. The goal of this policy was to give students who may not be suited for traditional academic pursuits a chance to achieve educational success and obtain qualifications that can lead to employment opportunities.

Although T levels were introduced with the intention of creating equal opportunities for all students, there are some concerns about how well they are understood by employers and the wider public. It is still unclear how T levels work, and there is a lack of understanding about their value in the job market. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has delayed the full implementation of T levels, and it remains to be seen how effective they will be in practice.

In addition to T levels, the Conservative party also introduced 100% funding for apprenticeships for 16 to 18-year-olds. This policy was intended to ensure that young people have access to quality education and training opportunities. However, some people view this policy as a way for the government to manipulate unemployment figures, as young people who are engaged in education or training until they are 18 are not counted as unemployed.

Despite these concerns, the 100% funding for apprenticeships has provided an alternative option for young people who do not wish to pursue traditional academic routes such as A levels or BTECs. Apprenticeships can range from car mechanics and hairdressing to nursing and electrical engineering. They typically involve three days of work and two days of college learning. Apprenticeships can also lead to higher education opportunities, as they can be used to apply to university. Additionally, the Conservative party has introduced more degree-level apprenticeships, where students work for a company and attend university one or two days a week. This alternative to traditional degrees not only provides students with a wage but also avoids accumulating debt, as everything is paid for by the employer.