Two important developments in the education systems in England and Wales since 1945

Different governments have lost and regained power many times in Britain, and their varied political agendas have shaped the way young people have been educated since 1870. Since 1945 however, there have been a number of major developments in the education system in England and Wales. This essay will identify three of these, explain what they involved and discuss any possible limitations in their effectiveness.In 1965, the Labour party, led by Prime Minister Harold Wilson, introduced the comprehensive system of schooling. Labour describes itself as a democratic socialist party – it believes in equal opportunities for all which, critics would suggest, the previous tripartite system of schooling didn’t create. Comprehensivisation involved a huge reorganisation of secondary education as schools began to take pupils of all abilities and social backgrounds. There was no entrance exam like the 11-plus in the previous system, as most children were guaranteed a place at their ‘local comprehensive’.It was believed that providing academic support for pupils of all abilities would lead to a greater chance of success overall. This is turn would be extremely beneficial to the economy as better educated people would be striving for higher paying jobs. Larger schools that could accommodate more students would also be required which would provide more facilities and a greater range of subjects to study.There were a number of limitations of the comprehensive system however. Some people criticised the fact that children were expected to attend their local school regardless of its reputation. A failing school would not be desirable to prospective parents, yet their lack of choice may have had a negative impact on the education of the children they enrolled there. Also, as classrooms contained pupils of different abilities and needs, some higher ability students may have been held back by those not as able resulting in them not realising their full potential.People envisaged a system of education where mixed ability teaching was implemented between the ages of 11 and 16 for the benefit of all; however critics have argued that in reality a tripartite-like selection was involved within a classroom, as the brightest students were placed in a ‘higher set’ and the not so able in a ‘lower set’. “Streaming puts some pupils in the top classes for all subjects, whereas setting places them in classes in each subject according to ability” (Daily Mail, 2007). This may have been a contributing factor to the point made in Judd’s (1999) article which suggests, “Bright pupils do as well or better in comprehensives as they do grammar schools…” Of course, the brightest middle-class students may still attend a grammar or private school, which reinforces class divisions, despite the vast education reforms.The comprehensive system is also seen as a failure by some in helping to break down class barriers as pupils are drawn from similar areas, meaning that big differences in social class are likely to be limited. Those who hoped that the availability of support for every student would help to break down class differences in attainment, would be disappointed in a recent study by Ferri, Bynner and Wadsworth (2003), which suggested that “…examination results in general got better but the gap between top and bottom stayed more or less the same”, as summarised by Haralambos et al. 2008, p.207.Another major development in the education system came as a result of the 1988 Education Reform Act (ERA) which was implemented by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government. The introduction of a National Curriculum was the creation of the Education Secretary at the time, Lord Baker, and the idea quickly came into effect at the beginning of the school year in 1989.From this moment, the state determined what was taught in schools including three core subjects of English, maths and science for everyone ages 5 to 16, and seven foundation subjects which had to be studied until a student was 14. All students across the country were taught the same government-set topics, and were tested on core subjects at the end of each key stage. As everyone was taught the same, schools could be comparable in terms of their examination results, and placed into ‘league tables’ which indicate how well a school has performed. This was intended to motivate teachers to ensure they achieve a respectable position in the league tables, and remain a desirable institution for parents to send their children.This measure was extremely beneficial to children whose family had moved to a different area and enrolled them at a new school, as they could easily fit in with the scheme of work there. As well as this, resources could be shared amongst teachers more, and textbooks could be replicated many times as they would fit the needs of all schools. Critics may argue that the similarity in teaching across the country leads to the inability to compare differences which could be used to discover and develop a more beneficial curriculum.The government can also alter the national curriculum to fit economic requirements so that pupils who leave school have the necessary knowledge for the world of work. An example of this would be the growing need for employees to be computer literate in modern society. “There has been an increased emphasis on ICT in recent years, to the point where it now has to be used in all subjects as well as being taught in its own right” (BBC News, 2003). Also, the government was advised by school inspectors to provide more in-depth teaching about green issues. According to the Department for Children, Schools and Families (now known as the Department of Education), a new ‘secondary curriculum’ was introduced in September 2008 which gave teachers the ability to highlight issues like climate change and sustainable development in their lessons (in BBC News, 2008). The national curriculum has been subjected to criticism by many who suggest that children are only taught what is necessary to pass an exam which does not cohere with the principle of preparing students for the future.Taking power away from teachers and empowering the state is viewed as a negative step by some, as in their opinion, it leads to an ethnocentric curriculum. In other words, it predominantly revolves around the majority culture in Britain, that being white middle-class pupils, and may not always be appropriate or beneficial to someone belonging to a minority culture. Also, the national curriculum can be described as being too prescriptive with strict guidelines that don’t allow teachers to adhere to student needs. A solution to this, some believe, would be to “…reduce the national curriculum to a “core” of numeracy, literacy and “life skills” (Shepherd 2009). This would allow greater scope for teachers to decide on the appropriateness of topics for individuals.

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