The as a factor for the underachievement amongst some

The article, ‘Twenty Years of
Progress? English Education Policy 1988 to the Present’ written by Geoff Whitty,
evaluates the Conservative and New Labour policies following the ‘1988
Education Reform Act (ERA)’
implemented in order to regain social control. These neo-liberal policies
could exemplify the stimulation of marketisation and centralisation in the education
system, particularly by standardising the curriculum nationally, increasing
school choice and privatising provisions within the schooling system. With
regards to this, the author evaluated each reform and fundamentally recognised
that they generally had little success
in tackling the attainment gap between advantaged and disadvantaged pupils. Overall,
Whitty asserts that further government action is hence required in order to lessen
the prominent cultural, social and economic gap amongst pupils, which would
therefore make an important contribution towards social justice.


Within the article, Whitty exemplifies the drive towards
centralisation through neo-liberal policies in the UK education system and how
they have contributed towards further social inequality. He identifies how the introduction
of the ‘National Curriculum’ launched in 1988, became a steering mechanism as
it initiated national standardised examinations known as ‘Standard Attainment
Tests (SAT’s)’ and ‘The General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE’s)’,
whereby the results are then represented within national league tables. Although
Whitty understands that the key aim for the National Curriculum is to reinforce
‘particular traditional British values’, he fails to consider the obliviousness
for other cultural backgrounds who are overlooked within the British schooling
system, as the National Curriculum is ethnocentric. This can be supported by
Troyna and Williams (1995), who also argues that the ‘National Curriculum’ is
ethnocentric as it ‘gives priority to the white culture and the English
language’. Ball (1994) additionally critiques the ‘National Curriculum’ for disregarding
cultural and ethnic diversity, as it conveys the image that the British
Government see the British values as superior and only wish to teach the principles
such as British literature, music and history. Another stance in which Whitty
fails in mention within this article is that the presence of ethnocentrism
could also be considered as a factor for the underachievement amongst some
ethnic minorities, as exemplified through statistics showing the standardised
examination results (Coard, 1974). For example, within the Department of
Education National Statistics for GCSE results in 2013, many ethnic minorities
such Black Caribbean (57 percent achieving five A* to C grades) and Pakistani (59
percent achieving five A* to C grades) pupils underachieved with regards to the
national average (65 percent achieving five A* to C grades). Therefore,
although Whitty successfully evaluates the rise in centralisation of the
Education system in detail within the article, he fails to link this to the ethnic
differences in values, which are dismissed within an ethnocentric curriculum,
thus it essentially contributes towards the cultural attainment gap further.

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Another area that Whitty focuses on within the article,
is the rise in parental choice particularly through methods of marketisation
such as the introduction of league tables and the publicising of the ‘Office
for Standards in Education’ (OFSTED) inspection reports. He asserts, ‘the 1988
Education Act made it easier for parents to choose between ‘Local Education
Authorities’ (LEA)- maintained schools’, through the requirement ‘to provide
parents with information about their schools, including examination results’,
by the means of OFSTED inspection reports and league tables. Whitty argued that
this drive towards competition and marketisation amongst schools may reproduce
and legitimise inequality. This is because the middle-class parents have more
freedom of choice regarding school selection. As Ball (1994) emphasises,
schools who publicise ‘outstanding’ OFSTED inspection reports and have above
national average examination results attract middle-class parents to select
their schools. Thus, as Whitty effectively displays within his article, these successful
schools are of higher demand amongst parents, allowing them to be more
selective through the introduction of ‘open enrolment’ and so they are able to
choose only the high-achieving pupils. Unlike the failing schools, that have
high proportions of disadvantaged pupils attending and are typically within
geographical areas of socio-economic disadvantage. This demonstrates that
Whitty has effectively analysed the inequitable connections between
marketisation and parental choice by concluding that the middle-class parents have
more economic and cultural capital within society and so they are able to take
advantage of the wide range of school choices they have available (Gerwitz, 1994).
Whitty’s evaluation can be exemplified by the research of Leech and Campos (2003)
who highlighted that since many local education authorities’ policies are based
on catchment locations, spaces in successful schools are very difficult to gain
access to if you live outside the catchment area. This results in middle-class
parents having an incentive to move to a new house within the catchment area,
in order for their children to attend the more desirable schools. Overall, within
the article, Whitty demonstrates areas of critical evaluation regarding the
correlation between parentocracy and marketisation within the education system
by conveying that the ‘myth of parentocracy’ makes freedom of choice in the
schooling system appear to be fair, whilst disguising the fact that schooling
continues to reproduce class inequality.


The neo-liberal motive regarding the privatisation of the
education system is also prominent throughout Whitty’s article. He states that
there has been ‘a striking growth in private sector involvement within the
public education system’. He pinpoints this drive towards privatisation to the
introduction of specialist schools. Whitty remarks that the ‘New Labour
retained the existing City Technology Colleges and greatly increased the number
of specialist schools’, which ‘required sponsorship from businesses, charities
and other private sector organisations’. He criticised the government’s view
that ‘diversity and choice are the key to higher standards’ in education, and
recognised that this focus is not enough to increase academic standards for all
children. Furtherly, Whitty uses the evidence from Jesson’s work on the
performance of specialist schools in order to support his remark. He recognised
that these specialist schools had mainly middle-class pupils, which is why they
were succeeding because despite differences between the success of schools, the
middle-class pupils generally always do better than the lower-class pupils
(Jesson and Crossley, 2006). This central concept offers a valuable alternative
view that contrasts the mainstream neo-liberal view that the success of
specialist schools is due to the rise of marketisation and minimal interference
from the government. However, although Whitty mentions that there is quantitative
data to support his evaluation, he fails to demonstrate adequate evidence of
the statistics within the article, which inevitably could have strengthened his
evaluation of the implementation of specialist schooling to public education.


When evaluating the introduction of academies in the
article, Whitty expresses a different approach in comparison to the outcome of
specialist schools. He argued that although the concept of a specialist school
and an academy are primarily very similar, he identified differences in the
type of people that attend each style of school. Unlike specialist schools which
attract ‘more affluent families’, Whitty stated that the government often use the
implementation of an academy to replace failing schools in deprived areas, with
an inevitably high proportion of disadvantaged pupils attending. He further
explains that the government believed that by promoting academies who have
gained additional funding from private sponsorships and thus endorsing
marketisation, it would consequently reduce social segregation and a more
varied set of pupils may attend. However, Whitty argued that the government
mission would not deem as successful. He uses Maden’s view to suggest that the
underlying issue with academies, is that ‘successful schools tend to have a
‘critical mass’ of more engaged, broadly ‘pro-school’ and middle-class children
to begin with’. This suggests that despite efforts to positively integrate
social inclusion, the fact that academies initially start with more than an
average share of disadvantaged pupils makes the success of the school seem less
likely. Overall, as Fanghanel and Trowler (2008) argue, the government were too idealistic in their
expectations of what schooling reforms could accomplish regarding diminishing social
class inequality. On the other hand, Whitty fails to find valuable evidence to
support that this could be the case, ‘unfortunately, the research carried out
so far does not provide us with the sort of detailed analysis which would allow
us to judge exactly what is actually happening in this respect of academies’.
Therefore, this lack of statistical evidence inevitably weakens his overall
evaluation of academies. However, he could have used various elements of
statistical evidence generated by the Department for Education statistics,
which in this case, showed how 60 percent of pupils in non-academy schools
attained five A* to C grades in the GCSE examinations in 2011, compared to just
47 percent in the (then) 249 sponsored academies. If Whitty employed this
quantifiable evidence to support his argument, his overall evaluation of the
impact of academies would, therefore, have been more successful and reliable.


When Whitty evaluated the New Labour policies from 1997,
that were introduced in order to tackle the attainment gap between social
classes, he indicated that there was some success but it was very limited. Whitty
claimed that the ‘Education Action Zones’ and the ‘National Literacy Strategy’ ‘presented
as a socially redistributive measure, though in retrospect it does not appear
to have quite the effect’. This signifies that although Whitty is aware that
some effort has been made to reduce social inequality, he acknowledged that this
was not enough to raise attainment and improving skills across all pupils.  Whitty’s argument can be supported by Usher and
Edwards (1996), who suggests that labours policies are merely a ‘cosmetic’, as
they may present a positive image for acknowledging the need to support the deprived
pupils, but without actually reducing class inequalities as they had hoped. In
addition to this, Whitty effectively uses quantitative data within the article
in order to support his evaluation of the New Labour policies. He uses the
Department for Education statistics on the free school meal (FSM) comparison to
GCSE attainment and noticed a rise of 0.8 percent between 2003 to 2006 in the number
of pupils gaining five A* to C grades. Notably, Whitty’s use of factual
evidence to support his argument is highly beneficial as statistics are a
reliable and representable form of research.


In conclusion, generally, Whitty
provides a thorough evaluation of the various conservative and new-labour
reforms implemented on the education system between 1988 and 2008. He justifies
his arguments often with numerous fragments of evidence, both qualitative and
quantitative, primary and secondary data.