Education experiences in education (11-plus system) have verified the


Education policy
is accountable to an integral part of society and is therefore subject to a range of ideological debates as
governments change and ideologies change; the ideological basis of education
has developed from the social democratic creation of mandatory education
towards notions of ‘community based’ schools and the most current discourse of
neo-liberal marketization of education (Garratt and Forrester, 2012).  A variation
of Titmuss’ (1974) models of welfare can be interpreted in education policy
as the tradition of mandatory education follows the redistributive model whilst Theresa May’s notion of ‘the great
meritocracy’ (2016) in education spells an achievement-based
model of policy.  Personal interest
is situated in the importance of education in assisting social mobility whilst
questioning how at times it can exacerbate social inequalities.  The recent discussions surrounding selective
schooling and the general move towards the education market have alarmed me
into placing the current education policies with the latter as historical
experiences in education (11-plus system) have verified the grave social
disadvantages (Glennerster, 2017).  I aim to outline different ideologies that
influence education policies to understand their role in prohibiting or
inhibiting social mobility in education. 
Also to understand the policy process in manifesting these debates.


Social Democratic theorists would
position the role of the state with the regulation of the capitalist market
through democratic reform rather than revolutionary change to ensure social
equality.  The role of the welfare state
is to offer universal (redistributive model, Titmuss, 1974) services to all
individuals to promote egalitarianism and to tackle injustice.  Social Democrats are influenced by
‘Keynesian’ notions of interventionism to redistribute welfare (Page,
2012).  Petring et al. (2012) notes the
importance of redistribution in ensuring a democratic society in that without
basic necessities to bring dignity to an individual, voting rights would be
regarded as trivial.  Such basic
necessities include the provision of universal education which was made a
reality in Britain from the Education Act (1944) whereby the post-war social
democratic consensus created free, mandatory schooling for children aged five
to 15 (now 16) to promote ‘equality of opportunity’ (Garratt and Forrester,
2012).  Yet, recent debates on the
expansion of grammar schools have undermined ‘equality of opportunity’ as
critics outline the damage Theresa May’s pro-selective schooling stance has on
social mobility (Helm, 2017) as resources flow to grammar schools and away from
comprehensive schools where poorer students are more likely to go to (Nye, 2016).  Despite May’s withdrawal on the
proposes, recent reports have shown that grammar school pupils are increasing
(Mendick, 2018) which demonstrates the reduction in Social Democratic
‘universalistic’ values, undermining social mobility in education.

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theorists believe in the ‘invisible hand’ of the free market for the
distribution of welfare, with instigators
Hayek and Friedman rejecting social democratic ‘Keynesian’
interventionism (Ellison, 2012).  Neo-liberal arguments present state welfare as
a last resort (residual model, Titmuss, 1974) with the state only acting as a
safety net.  Limited state welfare resides
in the belief that it inhibits individuals’ freedom in choice of welfare services,
whilst arguing that choice can be served better in the free market (Minford,
1991).  Since the 1980s Britain has seen
the marketization of education – first by Thatcher’s ‘New Right’ neoliberal
government – as schools increasingly are encouraged to compete (simultaneously
‘raising standards’) and diversify for parents’ choice (Garratt and Forrester,
2012).  The current neoliberal education
market is evident in May’s (2016:no pagination) proposal to expand grammar
schools “to build on our increasingly diverse
schools system” and the coalition government’s expansion of academies and free
schools “to create a more autonomous and diverse
school system that offers parent choice
and concentrates on improving standards”
(, 2015a: no pagination).  Such neoliberal language is also evident in
the marketization of higher education as a recent white paper indicates the
state’s argument that “competition
between providers in any market incentivises them to raise their game, offering
consumers a greater choice of more innovative and better quality products…” (DfBIS, 2016:8).  Improving education quality perhaps
suggests what they believe will encourage social mobility.  However, critics of the neoliberal approach warn
that competition will inhibit social mobility as middle-class students and
parents are able to mobilise capitals to get the most out of the system,
leaving working-class students behind (Bathmaker
et al., 2013).  Whilst social democratic
theorists would argue that diversifying education denies ‘equality of


theorists regard community responsiveness
to social need as the main source of welfare distribution, opposing excessive individualism in neo-liberal arguments
and social democratic state interventionism (Arthur, 1998).  The famous advocate Etzioni (1996) presents
communitarianism as a ‘balanced’ stance between right and left viewpoints; with
social responsibilities as well as rights, producing both order and
autonomy.  Thus, presenting a ‘middle
ground’ which has been adopted in policies by New Labour (‘The Third Way’,
Giddens, 1999) and David Cameron (‘The Big Society’, Cameron, 2011).  In education, the communitarian school aims
to promote individuals’ social responsibilities
which aligns with the nature of faith schools (Arthur, 1998) and free schools
(Golby, 1997).  Research has shown that
faith schools can promote more community
cohesion compared with non-faith schools (Harrison, 2009), whilst ‘free
schools’ were introduced as part of Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ initiative which
was “set up in response to what local
people say they want and need in order to improve education for children in
their community” (, 2015b: no pagination).  Improving education from a local basis
perhaps can target social inequalities and raise mobility.  However, it is hard to find evidence that it
will promote social mobility as findings show that faith schools tend to admit
less disadvantaged students (Johnes and Andrews, 2016) with similar cases in
free schools (Barker, 2014). 


Contrary to the
social democratic glorification of the welfare state as a promoter of justice,
Feminist theorists have since highlighted that welfare can enable injustices by
reproducing gender hierarchies in society. 
Orloff (1996: 54) describes how gender assumptions in welfare are
evident as welfare for men relate to “contributory social insurance” to address
labour needs whilst for women and
families “means-tested assistance” depict their apparent domestic needs.  Welfare
policies, then, inform their decision on gender stereotypes to address the
feminine, domestic, carer role of women and the masculine, breadwinner role of
men in families.  Such problematic
assumptions are evident in education as research has found that – despite
schools having more female teachers – male teachers are more likely to be
appointed as head teachers (Bousted, 2017). 
Perhaps the image of female teachers as emotional ‘carers’ and male teachers
as ‘leaders’ is evident which Feminists would see as welfare maintaining
gendered assumptions.  Indeed, the
imagery portrayed to female students is problematic and the result for female
teachers in a gender pay gap in teaching (Allen, 2015) furthers the Feminist
argument in how gendered assumptions in welfare maintains domestic life and
reduces opportunities of social mobility.


Globalisation and
subsequent rises in levels of immigration has been said to pose threats to the
welfare state as politicians voice concerns over ‘benefit tourists’ and the
need to gain “control over who has the right to receive benefits and what is
expected of them in return” (Cameron, 2014:no pagination).  This is also maintained in education as
reviews over whether state schools are attracting immigrants to the UK through
‘education tourism’ had been put into place (Ross, 2015).  This fear over immigration has been furthered
by critics of multiculturalism in the UK whereby – through encouraging a
diverse society – solidarity is weakened and the welfare state is impacted
negatively (Kymlicka and Banting, 2006). 
In education, a multicultural curriculum has been criticised for
over-emphasising difference whilst removing commonality between different
ethnic groups (Mullard, 1981 in Hewitt, 2005). 
This critique of multicultural education has spurred on politicians to
attempt to reform teaching history “in a way in which we can all take pride” (Gove, 2010); teaching Britishness to promote apparent
shared values and solidarity.  Yet, this
emphasis on Britishness has been found to undermine solidarity making some
students feel less British than others (Elton-Chalcraft et al., 2017).  This suggests an exclusionary element of the
classroom for ethnic minority students (Alexander and Weekes-Bernard, 2017)
which could be argued to inhibit their attainment potentials and mobility.


The key debates
in education I have discussed all surround the Department for Education (DfE),
thus, constructing its organisation and policy processes.  The DfE is responsible for all educational
institutions and their teachers and is devolved so only regards England.  The DfE works with the government equalities
office, towards ‘equality of opportunity’ (, 2017a), which shows the
social democratic tradition of egalitarianism still present.  Education is managed by the state in
comprehensive schools whilst independent schools are managed privately and some
faith schools are provided by volunteering (Glennerster, 2017).  Compulsory state education is funded via
general taxation due to its benefits acompassing society as a whole – ‘public
good’ – which includes economic and democratic (Petring et al.’s argument, 2012)
advantages (Vickerstaff, 2012).  Yet, higher
education as an ‘individual good’, offering individual benefits in work
opportunities, is not funded via general taxation as benefits are not universal.

 This is evident in the use of tuition
fees that is assisted by state loans (Glennerster, 2017) which presents a
neo-liberal conception of individualised responsibility.  Funds for education is devolved since the
1988 Education Reform Act that saw powers moved from the state to Local
Education Authorities (LEA) who now distribute resources locally whilst
Academies independently manage their funds (Glennerster, 2017).  Jonathan Slater is DfE’s accounting officer, so
personal responsibility for the actions, including spending, of the DfE is
accountable to him (nao, 2017).  This is
alongside the role of OFSTED who ensure provision of education is adequate
(, 2017b).


Proposed policies
by the DfE undergo processes which see to their implementation or non-implementation.  Setting policy agenda can be seen as coming
from a range of influences; the scrutinising role of government to outside
actors (lobbyists, think tanks) who criticise or support the governments
proposed actions (Brazier et al., 2007). 
The influences, however, of each of these groups on influencing policy
proposals is debatable as some regard elite groups as having more ‘insider’ control
(Hudson and Lowe, 2009); private lobbying groups, for example, are seen as
having an unfair degree of influence on policy (Brazier et al., 2007).  Yet recent digitalised petitions raise individual
influence with parliament encouraging individuals to set up petitions that, with
enough signatures, will be debated in parliament (petitionparliament,
2010).  ‘Consultation papers’ or ‘green
papers’ also present an important mechanism to hear citizens’ views on proposed
policy: “it is desirable to ensure that…means exist for citizens… to make their
views know when a bill is being considered” (HoL, 2004: 47).  Consultation papers ask for views from
stakeholders, evidently in the ‘Schools that work for everyone’ green paper
which aimed to open more ‘good schools’ to heighten social mobility, requesting
responses from schools and representative bodies, higher education institutions,
LEAs, faith groups and students and parents (DfE, 2016a).  Key debates are evident in this paper as it
discusses heightening “a diverse school system” that aims to give “more choice
and control to parents” (DfE, 2016a: 3) revealing the neo-liberal education
market.  Consultation responses are
acknowledged, however, there is doubt to what degree responses actually impact
policy (Brazier et al., 2007) which is evident in one consultation response concluding
“we have taken issues raised into consideration, but continue to believe it is
not appropriate…” (DfE, 2016b: 6) this presents the central role of government in


Once consultation
is approved, legislation is proposed in ‘white papers’ of which ‘guidance
papers’ outline how civil servants should implement legislation.  The DfE guidance paper on ‘The Equality Act
2010 and schools’ (DfE, 2014) presents an initiative taken on by the government
to ensure schools are non-discriminatory, initiating social mobility as certain
students are not to be favoured, illustrating a social democratic egalitarian stance
on the treatment of students.  It also
shows values that Feminist theorists could acknowledge as significant as “protection
against discrimination is now extended to pupils who are pregnant”; this
entails the importance of female education, not to be disregarded.  However, the guidance does suggest criticisms
of multiculturalism as “special catch-up classes for Roma children… have been
discriminating unlawfully by excluding children who didn’t belong to these
groups” (DfE, 2014: 6) perhaps it is seen as exemplifying difference and not
acknowledging commonality (Mullard, 1981 in Hewitt, 2005), conversely the paper
did not highlight the exclusionary elements of teaching Britishness in the
classroom for such students (Alexander and Weekes-Bernard, 2017).  A contested problem with guidance raised by
Lipsky (2010) is the issue of discretion that frontline workers possess when
understanding guidance, meaning, that “policy-making is still in progress at
the moment of delivery” (Hudson and Lowe, 2009: 249).  Therefore, guidance can never be taken for
what exactly is occurring, teachers could interpret the guidance in various
ways and have differing effects on students and chances of mobility.


Policy evaluation
is required after implementation to inform future policies of successes and areas
of improvement, this allows evidence-based policies to be formed whereby “a huge volume of research on
past policies… inform decision makers’ thinking” (Solesbury, 2001 in Hudson and
Lowe, 2009: PN).  An example of an evaluation document is
the ‘Northern Powerhouse Schools Strategy’ which is an independent review on
Northern education that discusses improving mobility for deprived students in
the North (Weller, 2016).  This review
emphasises the role of Multi Academy Trusts in “closing the attainment gap for
disadvantaged students, attracting and retaining high-quality teachers”
(Weller, 2016: 5).  This supports the
government policy of Academies in improving education quality suggesting it’s
success (, 2015a).  Yet, despite
giving the imagery of creating policy on sturdy evidence basis, “whether a
policy is a success or failure may very much depend on where you stand – a
value judgement rather than an objective statement of fact” (Pawson, 2002 in
Hudson and Lowe, 2009: PN).  Indeed, the
writer of the document is an academy school leader (Dixons
City Academy, 2018), so an objective review is not evident here,
contradicting the purpose of evaluation.


Overall I have
learnt that education policies are influenced by a range of ideological
positions which have developed the education system since mandatory education’s
beginnings in post-war Britain towards the current political agenda for the
education market (Garratt and Forrester, 2012).  I have understood that these differing
ideological positions can in some ways alleviate social mobility but,
currently, the government’s motives in selective schooling seems to neglect
historical experiences that selectivity inhibits mobility (Glennerster,
2017).  In understanding the policy process
in education, I can see how key debates run through education policy constantly
and the potential issues during policy process (namely Lipsky, 2010) which
perhaps limits policy effectiveness.