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Examine the Impact of Educational Policies on Achievement Levels of Different Groups of Students. (24 Marks)

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Examine the impact of educational policies on achievement levels of different groups of students.

Several educational policies have been established over many years, which had impacts on achievement levels of different groups of students, in terms of social class, gender and ethnicity. The mains policies include several types of compensatory education, Tripartite System through The Education Act 1944, comprehensive schooling, Education Reform Act 1988, Academies & Free Schools and tuition fees. Some viewed these policies positively as they believed that each of these changes had certain outcomes, however, others criticize them.

The 1944 Education Act formed the Tripartite System, which established three types of schools separating into Grammar, Technical Secondary and Modern Secondary. Along with the system, 11+ exams were created to help allocate each child into the different schools, where the students who passed the exam went to Grammar and who failed attended either Technical or Modern. This Tripartite System was seen as effective as it discouraged social class discrimination because it was meritocratic as students are allocated according to their ability and performance. However, this so-called meritocratic Tripartite System was criticized since bourgeoisie students had parents with economic and cultural capital, which means they could afford private tutors and better education unlike proletariats so bourgeoisie students were more likely to pass the 11+ exams. Therefore, it allowed the bourgeoisie students to enter Grammar schools and achieve better qualifications later in life, which in turn caused the achievement level to be unbalanced between social classes. As for the impact on ethnicity, some students from ethic minority groups with English as Second Language (ESL), sitting an 11+ exam can be a disadvantage because with their limited English, they may not understand exams as well as others. In addition, ethnic minority children are more likely to live in low-income households implicating that they are unable to afford private tutors and better education to prepare for the exam, resulting in students failing the 11+ exam

Later, Labor Government’s idea of Comprehensive schools in 1965 abolished the Tripartite System, with the exception of Grammar Schools, as students now attended similar secondary schools where there is no selection process. Students are automatically accepted if they satisfy the non-academic criteria such as age and location of residence. This meant that children are surrounded with various social classes, as opposed to the Tripartite System where the bourgeoisies would attend Grammar schools and the rest would attend Technical or Modern. This new schooling system had a positive impact on the achievement levels of different social classes as students were able to learn the same thing and had an equal chance of doing well. Furthermore, mixed ability in classrooms means that the intelligent students can encourage and help less able students, therefore, creating a more balance achievement level. Contrastingly, mixing abilities was also seen as having a negative impact the intelligent students as less able students might slow down the intelligent students, which favors the Tripartite System as, in this case, students would be better off being separated. This ties in with the claim that Comprehensive schooling is similar to the previous Tripartite System since Grammar Schools still existed. The 11+ exams determined who attends Grammar schools so secondary schools were still left with less intelligent students whether comprehensive or not. As a result of this, the achievement level of students in different social class still varied just like when Tripartite System existed.

Additionally, there was uncertainty of the new system being “true” comprehensive, where selection is completely uninvolved. Tough and Brooks (2007) identified that even though many comprehensive schools started as “true”, many became covert (hidden) selective. They see some schools as discouraging parents from low-achieving/proletariat backgrounds from even applying for comprehensive schools in the first place through covert selection such as making literature difficult to understand for parents with poor English, having expensive school uniforms or promoting the school in poorer neighborhoods. These suggest that the bourgeoisie students are highly guaranteed of receiving better education than the proletariats. So, in fact, comprehensive schooling was seen by some as making no positive difference but just an education system reinforcing the unequal achievement level of social classes.

In 1988, Education Reform Act was made with several provisions branching out from it. Firstly, the National Curriculum was formed; to improve standards and ensure all students has access to the same quality education, with English, maths and science compulsory for all. This is seen as a combination of both ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ subjects because subjects like English and Sociology are considered feminine because girls are more likely to study them whereas boys tend to study science based and technological subjects, which is also considered more important and difficult. However National Curriculum was seen as making no difference to these gender subject differentiation because it still exist through option choices. For example, in GCSE, girls are likely to take home economics, textile or food technology while boys take electronics, woodwork or graphics. This is mostly due to the gender socialization, which is the social norms and values each gender is expected to follow, as girls are expected to become mothers and housewives and boys are expected to become breadwinners (wage earners). The National Curriculum might be seen as continuing or even reinforcing these gender expectations because it ignores promoting each subject as being universal. This makes it more likely for boys to achieve a more successful life, which makes the achievement level of gender to unbalance. On the other hand, research has shown that girls are outperforming boys as girls tends to work harder, mature earlier and are better motivated unlike boys who tends to be less likely to read and are more disruptive.

The start of Key Stages meant divisions between the different phases of schooling where students have target grades, which they are expected to meet. Along with this, schools started setting/streaming in every key stage, which allow children to be taught in groups according to their current grade as opposed to mixed-ability grouping in Comprehensive schools. Even though setting meant students are better able to receive the right challenge of work and push students in lower sets to do better, students in lower sets are disadvantaged as they can become demoralized. It impacted more on students with ESL are more likely to be put into lower sets just because of their limited knowledge of English so students in ethic minority, especially foreigners, are automatically disadvantaged. This was confirmed by the research of the Labor’s politician, Ed Ball, as he found that top set students were ‘warmed up’ by the encouragement to achieve highly whereas the low set students were ‘cooled out’ and encouraged to follow vocational/practical courses, and consequently achieved lower levels of academic success. Setting meant that even though it impacted more negatively on the ethnic minorities, it impacted most student that were placed in low sets.

The Education Reform Act was highly based on the idea of parentocracy, which means that parents have a choice of what school their child is sent to. The establishment of League Tables and Ofsted reports meant that parents are now able to choose the best school they want their child to attend. As a result, this created “marketization”, which means that schools are to be run like a business and have to compete to be the best in order to attract ‘customers’ (students) through parents’ choice. Based on Marxist’s view, it created social inequalities by only benefiting the bourgeoisies, as parents of that class are more likely to be better educated. This allowed them to look into schools at greater depth studying Ofsted reports and league tables and select the best-suited school for their child. Tough and Brooks (2007) supports this as they also point out that better educated parents with higher income makes choices based on schools performance, while the proletariats are more likely to choose schools that are near to their homes. Due to these statements, parentocracy through marketization is seen as myth as not all parents have the freedom of choice over schools, which effects the balance of social class achievement level. Moreover, marketization was seen as creating a “post-code lottery” situation because parents would try to move to a nearer place from the best schools. However, proletariat families can’t afford to do this, so their child is likely to attend an underperforming school, also affecting their achievement level to be lower than the bourgeoisies even until now as marketization is a current issue.

Other policies were made and changed since 1988, one of which was the start and increase of tuition fees. In 1998, it was a requirement of £1000 and gradually increasing to £3000 in 2004, then tripling to £9000 in 2012. This caused students to protest against it several times in November 2010, especially proletariat students. Thousands of proletariat students decide against applying to university because even though there are no up-front fees, students would now have to work to pay the fee off. This can affect their work and achievement in education as well as in later life. In contrast, bourgeoisie students can afford to pay the fee, which means they are able to focus on education, creating a higher level of achievement for the rich. As for the impact on gender achievement levels, girls are more likely to enter higher education than boys and the gender gap seems to have widened since 2010 as the acceptance of girls increased and the acceptance of boys decreased the next year for universities. This suggests that tuition fees had a role in discouraging boys from further excluding themselves from the next step of education so boys’ achievement levels are lower than girls.

Under the Labor Government, academies and free schools were also set up with aims of raising standards for all children and narrow the attainment gap between the most and least advantaged by taking over schools. A contemporary example of this is when Eltham Green School was taken over by Harris Academy. Education Secretary Michael Gove says “academies will drive up standards by putting more power in the hands of head teachers and cutting bureaucracy” so schools are no longer under the control of the Local Education Authority (LEA) and Gove also claims academies have been shown to improve twice as fast as other state schools. His statements are true to some extent as academies do have more freedom over their finances, curriculum and teachers' pay and conditions. However, the Academies Bill removes the requirement for new academies to teach Science, Maths and English, which can leave students unprepared for life of work. Also, there is a possible lack of experience and ability of groups of parents to manage schools, as education may be something that lies completely outside their expertise. These claims cause concerns that schools are given too much freedom especially over the curriculum and that achievement levels of different students, whether social class, ethnicity or gender, can drop because students may not be getting the best education possible.

Another criticism towards academies and free schools is that they are more beneficial to bourgeoisie neighborhoods as they can afford to set up far better schools than proletariats can. This allows the rich to receive the best teachers and resources, leaving those left under LEA control being considered as second best. In addition, the ability of LEA to provide support services for schools left under their control will be weakened by the money being lost to the Academies fund. So, in fact, the aim of “raising standards for all children and narrow the attainment gap” is not being met in this case because proletariats do not possess economic or cultural capital like the bourgeoisies. This leaves out the students under LEA to obtain only the educational service, which are provided with left over fund, causing the achievement level of proletariat students to lower.

To help students with low educational achievement reach their full potential, compensatory education services above the normal school programs were provided. One of these services were Pupil Premium (PP) and Free School Meals (FSM) which gives additional funding to schools to helps students with low income. Even though FSM is only for proletariats with low income, bourgeoisies, who have low income or no income at all because they already possess capital, are also benefiting from FSM. This caused some to argue that FSM should be solely limited to proletariats and not everyone with low income. It also resulted in some schools having no difference in GCSE performance of both FSM and non-FSM students as bourgeoisie were also able to get benefits of FSM, which in turn results in achievement level of the rich and poor being the same as before the FSM policy. This claim of FSM making no difference is also supported, in terms of gender, by the statement of Perry and Francis (2010) as they identified that proletariat girls entitled to FSM continue to do less well in education than both bourgeoisie boys and girls.

Another support given by Labor government to students was Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA) since 2004 helps fund students with weekly money from £10-30 depending on the household income to with the aim of encouraging students to stay in education past the legally required age of 16. EMA is a hugely expensive programme, costing over £560 million a year for students to use the money to cover the cost of books and other equipment for the course. This has helped many proletariats students to keep studying and achieving high in life just like the bourgeoisies. However, this is highly criticized by many including the Liberal Democrats and Conservative Party because of its high cost and as Phil Willis (Conservative) said, "There are significantly more important things to do with £20m than give young people a Christmas bonus." This is also because research showed that 90% of students who receive EMA would still continue with their education without the payment. This suggests that the achievement level of the proletariats, with or without EMA, is seen as making no difference. Due to these statements, in March 2011, the government announced that in England it would replace the EMA scheme with a £180m bursary scheme for low-income students aged 16-19.

In conclusion, it seems impossible in most cases for educational policies to impact only on the achievement level of a certain group of students, whether the policy is aimed for that group or not. Education policies have helped improve the education system from being selective to comprehensive through providing equal opportunities for students. However, this is still an ongoing process as there are still claims as to why education policies are reinforcing inequalities of opportunity to achieve instead. This has impacted, both positively and negatively, on achievement levels of different groups of students with the majority impacting on social class rather than ethnicity or gender. Ethnic minorities are more likely to be proletariats, which means they are discriminated not just for being a minority but also working class. As for gender, there is no individually set policy that effect gender in education but it is the difference in ability of boys and girls themselves that make society consider who’s doing better academically than the other.

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