‘A major offensive against the bureaucratic structure of the welfare provision was launched in 1988 and 1999’ (Le Grand, 1991: 1256). Since 1988 the Conservative Government started to incorporate market-oriented changes into the welfare state. The Education Reform Act was introduced in 1988 which created significant changes in education (Le Grand, 1991). The act introduced the National Curriculum, National Tests and Ofsted which changed the way secondary schools operate and it created more choice and competition.
In the 1990s the UK government ‘implemented market-oriented reforms, such as competitive tendering in the public sector’ (Kahkonen, 2004: 31). This was defined as ‘quasi-market’. ‘Quasi-markets’ are created ‘when the public sector opens its own service production to other producers by abandoning its monopoly and hierarchical way of producing services’ (Kahkonen, 2004: 31). Furthermore, the ‘quasi-market’ raises competition between providers for profit or non-profit organisations. Its aim is also to obtain more efficient production.
For a ‘quasi-market’ to be successful it needs specific criteria. Kahkonen (2004: 35) suggests that ‘the purchaser’s motive must concern social welfare, and the provider’s motive must involve financial incentives’. Both the provider and the purchaser must work together and not take advantage of one another. ‘Responsiveness and choice should increase’ and services should lead to equity, otherwise the business will not be efficient (Kahkonen, 2004: 35).
However, there are many problems in relation to the ‘quasi-markets’. For example, there can be information problems between the purchaser and the consumer. Consumers may lack sufficient information about services and the provider can take advantage of the purchaser because they know more information (Kahkonen, 2004). Le Grand (1991) states that these new ‘quasi-markets’ laws wanted the state to stop being both the funder and the provider of services (Le Grand, 1991). Instead, the state should be a ‘funder, purchasing services from a variety of private, voluntary, and public providers, all operating in competition with one another’ (Le Grand, 1992: 1257). The idea of ‘quasi-market’ was also introduced to the education system. This means that schools are competing for more students and more schools are privately financed.
Like Wilby (2013) suggests, all schools in the 21st century are ‘governed by the principles of “open enrolment” and “local management”‘. This means a school must accept any students who apply. The school, then, receives a specific amount of funds for that child and the schools can spend it as they wish. This is how schools operate in a quasi-market.
Schools start to compete for customers like in a business. The business grows depending on how successful it is. In schools, this is determined by exam results, league tables, Ofsted reports, feedbacks from parents and behaviour of pupils. By including these law changes, the government wanted to create choice and competition between schools. West and Bailey (2013: 137) suggest that ‘policy goals have included increasing efficiency, raising educational standards and increasing choice and diversity’. In order to know whether these laws have raised standards in secondary schools, it is important to look at different measuring standards.
New laws wanted to achieve higher standards in secondary schools. The new laws allowed more schools to turn into academies. Although league tables and academies allowed parents to have a greater choice of schools and find more information about schools, there still have been many inequalities in the provision of education. For example, many parents moved houses in order to apply for their preferred school and to get the best possible education for their children (Ferguson, 2015). Moreover, to see if secondary schools achieved high standards, it is important to look at whether the increase in academies has improved exam results and whether academies have made a change in education. This essay will focus on the increase in academies which caused competition, wider parental choice and unequal funds of schools across localities.
These have been the most recent debates and researches and it is statistical data is widely accessible.The new laws introduced academies in 2010 and it made possible for all maintained secondary schools to become academies if the schools were rated ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted (Politics.co.uk, 2011). Academies were introduced by the Labour government because they believed local authority schools in urban inner-city areas were not delivering satisfactory education to the pupils. So, to improve educational standards, academies were introduced and run outside of local authority and managed by an independent private team (Eyles and Machin, 2015). Although academies are still publicly funded, they are managed ‘by a private team of independent co-sponsors’ and the ‘sponsors delegate the management of the school to a largely self-appointed board of governors with responsibility for employing all academy staff’ (Eyles and Machin, 2015:5).
The governors are also responsible for deciding on the policies for staffing structure, performance management and career development (Eyles and Machin, 2015). The National Foundation for Educational Research (nfer.ac.uk, 2015), in their study, suggest that ‘GCSE results, including for pupils eligible for free school meals and those with special educational needs, improved at a faster rate 2009-2011 compared with the results in similar schools’ and ‘GCSE results of disadvantaged pupils, including English and mathematics, improved 2011-2013’.
These figures prove that academies have made changes and poorer schools have improved. However, the National Foundation for Educational Research also suggests that academies which have been open longer had better results. So, although the introduction of new academies improved some school’s performance, the schools that have been academies the longest still had better results. This shows that there has not been much change since the introduction of academies.
So, the idea of ‘quasi-market’ to improve secondary school standards has not been very successful.The National Foundation for Educational Research (nfer.ac.
uk, 2015) also state that ‘converter academies appear to be the highest performing: in 2014 63% of pupils in converter academies achieved 5 A*–C GCSE grades including English and Maths, compared to 55% in maintained schools’ and ‘sponsored academies appear to be the lowest performing, with 45% of pupils having achieved 5 A*-C GCSE grades including English and Mathematics’. However, converter academies were already performing highly before they became academies and the sponsored academies were low-performing before they became academies. These figures suggest that there have not been any radical changes since the introduction of academies. The high performing schools started to perform better and the low performing schools remained the same.
The government also created laws so that parents have more choice when applying to a school for their children. Le Grand (1991: 1258) states that all these legislation changes create a ‘form of education voucher funded by central government… and with the allocation of state funds to schools being determined by the pattern of parental choice instead of through a bureaucratic planning process’. In 1993 the Education Act was put into place which means schools receive extra funds to develop schools in particular subjects (instituteforgovernment.
org.uk, 2012). This has further increased the diversity of provision.
In 1988 the Education Reform Act ‘gave parents the power to appeal against local authority decisions to allocate their child to a school which was not their first preference’ (instituteforgovernment.org.uk, 2012).
The act also gave state schools to have a parental vote and opt out of local authority control. One is six schools opted out of local authority control which created an increase in school autonomy. However, the new ‘grant-maintained’ schools started to admit more affluent children which is also known as ‘cream skimming’ (instituteforgovernment.org.
uk, 2012). This shows that there is an inequality between privileged individuals and unprivileged because not everyone can afford to pay for education. So, greater parental choice created inequalities between affluent people and poor people. In 2002-2007 secondary schools were added to league tables.
This allowed parents to see the progress of schools and how pupils progressed, rather than just look at exam results. This has been put into place to make use of choice and competition by poorer students. This would allow them to utilise their choice and choose a school they desire (instituteforgovernment.org.uk, 2012).Scholars such as Exley (2014) suggests that allowing parents to choose schools for their children based on their children’s talents and individual needs empower parents. On the other hand, this does not apply to poor and disadvantaged families.
Exley (2014) states that ‘service providers within the classical welfare state have been characterised as unresponsive and “knavish”…and often treating socially disadvantaged services users as “pawn” and possessing little incentive to improve service quality’ (Exley, 2014: 24).
Lower social classes and families from disadvantaged backgrounds have weaker voices than advantaged groups. So, there needs to be a different mechanism to exercise choice and competition for poor families (Exley, 2014). Proponents of ‘quasi-markets’ suggest ‘giving parents a choice of schools for their children on the basis of published performance indicators and attaching funds to pupils will force education providers to compete’ which will generate responsiveness to all consumers and will raise education standards (Exley, 2014: 25).Hamnett and Butler (2011) state there is unequal geographical distribution of welfare and this causes inequalities within education. This is why some schools perform better than others. Although the New Labour government emphasised the importance of parental choice of schools, the league tables suggest that most popular schools are heavily oversubscribed and not everyone will get into their first school choice. Hamnett and Butler (2011) also suggest that locality plays a crucial part in determining what available education opportunities someone gets. It could be argued that the increase of choice in schools and the emergence of league tables had a negative impact on unpopular schools.
Parents do not want to pick a particular school because of its poor performance in the league tables, poor reputation and a low number of applicants (Hamnett and Butler, 2011: 495). This causes other schools to be oversubscribed and some individuals do not get their first school choice. This is why schools have certain criteria for enrolling children. The first criteria schools in East London look for is whether there are any children in care, then schools look at medical/social criteria, then siblings and then distance (Hamnett and Butler 2011). Also, popular schools ‘tend to operate a distance criterion to allocate places’ (Hamnett and Butler, 2011: 488). In their case study, Hamnett and Butler (2011: 488) found that ‘both Hackney and Tower Hamlets operate a banding system whereby all children are tested on a variety of measures and are allocated to an ability band’. They also state that parents get frustrated that they are being forced to take part in the choice scheme but then are denied their choices.
Parents are then forced to settle for the second best school which they did not necessarily want. Through this ‘they can become victims of other people playing the systems, or get forced into playing the game themselves’ (Butler and Hamnett, 2011: 495). This suggests that the wider choice created many inequalities between affluent and poor people but also because of geographical locations. If a school is undersubscribed they are not taking in as much money as they need to or can possibly get, so it is more difficult to make improvements if the school is already struggling. Johnes (2016) states there is an unequal distribution of funds in schools. His recent data studied in 2014-2015 shows that the highest average spent by a school per pupil in the city of London is £6,920 and the lowest is in South West with £3,916.
Johnes (2016) also states that the system of allocating funds to schools is irrational and unfair. He also suggests that school leaders have said that ‘funding across much of the education sector has the characteristics of a “postcode lottery”‘ (Johnes, 2016). Furthermore, many individuals agree that schools should get more funds with pupils who have exceptional requirements to support them.
For example, pupils affected by social deprivation in a specific location or pupils who have special education needs (Johnes, 2016). To conclude, since 1988 the government started to make changes in the education system. The Education Reform Act 1988 made sure all schools have a specific National Curriculum and National Tests. The government wanted to include ‘quasi-market’ ideas to increase choice and competition in schools. This allowed schools to change into academies. Although the introduction of academies improved some school performance, the schools that were academies before still had better results. This shows academies did not make a radical change in raising education standards.
Furthermore, the increase of school choices created inequalities between affluent families and underprivileged families. The ‘quasi-market’ ideas created more autonomy for school but it also created inequalities. For example, although league tables reinforce privilege of good schools, the poorer schools get dismissed. Like Kahkonen (2004) suggests, there have been many limitations with the ‘quasi-market’ ideas and the new legislations have not been effective in developing and managing secondary education.