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The 1988 Education Act Essay

After the end of the confessional teachings and indoctrinations period, the 1988 Act era was noted for adopting phenomenology as the period’s watchword. Policy recommendations prior to the enactment of the Act, were further reviewed as increased debate ensued touching on the role of religious education.

According to Coleman (1992), a series of problems were recognized to impact religious language, sacred literature, and the relationship between moral and religious education.

In addition to enabling students understand and appreciate the nature of religious beliefs, the Act was also aimed at outlining the importance and influences of the practices on their education. The act followed the pattern of giving central government more legal powers and reducing local authorities’ discretion to set policy.

It further defined a new role for local education authorities and it gave new responsibilities to schools and colleges, in effect challenging the local authority’s role both from above like the Department of Education and from below like the school and the parents. A reform of the education system occurred later and at a slower pace in certain places.

The act therefore did not require such fundamental shift in central-local relationships or in the powers of local authorities. Many of the changes in the curriculum and assessment did not require legislation recorded in Scotland, and school admissions policies were not changed.

The variations partly reflected the existence of central mechanisms for control and consultation over the curriculum which had already made progress in developing existing policy. The difference also reflected the greater political difficulty of reforming the distinctive education system like Scottish along the lines decided in England and Wales.

However, legislation was enacted to introduce the more controversial aspect of the English reforms (Fitz, Gorard and Taylor, 2002). Thus the Central government’s concern about and influence over schools and the further education system had been growing about and influence over schools and the further education systems had been growing since the 1960s.

The government’s view was that when school boards had gained experience in some management functions they would be able to take the responsibility of financial management and staffing. In spite of the 1994 Act which gave control and direction to the Secretary of State, local authorities had the job of administering schools and higher education institutions, hence empowered with the discretion in formulating policies.

There was promotional role rather than acting as a directive, continued even when central government introduced major policy changes (Maclure, 1990). The introduction of comprehensive education after, the government decided to pass legislation to try to ensure that the few authorities which refused to recognize their secondary education system on comprehensive lines did so. Other policies such as those which derived from falling school rolls were also promoted by central government, though with more central involvement.

There was comparison among departments with responsibility for local authority functions which had little power to supervise the policies of local authorities or the implementation of central government policies. The education act of 1988 was thus initiated for central direction and salutatory control particularly in the curricular and assessment matters.

The act brought general reforms which were reinforced by a strain of conservative thinking which sought to reduce the dominant role of local authorities in education and to increase the influence on those getting the education (Griffith, 1966).

According to Ranson (1985), the act gave important new powers to central government and the secretary of state was given the powers to specify attainment targets for each subject in the new curriculum. He appoints the members of the National Curriculum Council and approves its recommendations.

The act sets up a national system of testing pupils to be administered by a committee nominated by the secretary of state. The secretary of state approves the qualifications offered to pupils and can alter the standard number of pupils to be admitted to schools and may approve financial management schemes submitted by local education authorities or may impose new ones.

In England the parents and the boards have fewer responsibilities and they have the power to request information from their local education authority, have a role in appointments and can raise funds but not make charges. The government envisages that local education authorities will become advisory, providing support for schools.

There may be a change of role to being a promoter of policies rather than a director of them. Local education authorities may be able to develop a role as a source of advice and specialist services, but this depends on a reassessment and redesigning of their activities.

The extent to which local education authorities develop this role depends on the way relations between schools and authorities develop. But there are important limits to the way local authorities can adapt to their new role. Financial delegation means that local education authorities will find it more difficult to allocate resources for particular policies, such as education for the under fives or to areas of need (Maclure, 1989).

A local authority has to prepare a financial management scheme, which is a formula for allocating funds to the schools in its area. The local authority must take into account guidance issued by the secretary of state and the financial management scheme must be submitted to the secretary of state for approval as the act states.

The main function retained by the local education authority are :pay tax and superannuation administration, inspection and advice on the quality of provision provided and the standards reached, the provision of career, educational, psychological and welfare services, technical support and financial, legal and medical advice, audit which is to be an especially important function for monitoring the performance of schools, payment of rents and rates, capital expenditure, administration of central government grants and home to school transport.

Schools may choose whether to have delegated to them, the functions of school meals, structural maintenance and insurance. The idea is that the school governing body, half of whose members are parents, becomes the key body responsibility for the decisions of the school, with the head teacher as the administrator.

The act claims that there is continuing role for the local education authority in the new system. It determines the total resources available to schools and sets out the conditions and requirements within which governing bodies must operate. There is division of responsibilities between the local education authority and the school over the appointment and dismissal of staff. The act actually determines how activities are done in schools and this helps avoid irresponsible school running.

The 1988 Act education diversity

From the subsequent legislations following the 1988 Act, were considered fundamental in the neo-liberal policy framework that fostered for diversity calls. This fundamental stage through diversity was termed foundational in the constructions of quasi education markets.

Primarily, choice were allowed choices through the initially move to create state schools outside the local authorities, that were initially represented by the establishment of city technology college programmes begun in 1986. This move represented the desire for diversity evident in specialist schools, thus established a tradition of creating different categories of state schools.

With a specific curriculum to focus on, colleges were distinct as they were established to avail state sponsorships and partnerships, as well as the sites and buildings. Additionally, the institutions were expected to operate as beacons of excellence and contribute to improving the lifestyles of the systems.

Due to the unfolding of the policy, evidence pointed to the increasingly unmet intentions, despite the participation of the private sector sponsors, that were below the standard expectations (Chubb and Moe, 1990).

Furthermore, the 1988 Act extended the level of diversity through the options of parents opting out of control after ballot through the grand maintained schools initiative and thus achieve a greater measure of autonomy upon receiving funding from the central government (Fitz, Gorard and Taylor, 2002).

In an attempt for the present government to improve the comprehensive system of education, the building of outside state school sector and thus strengthen local authorities and the funding for self-governing schools was instrumental in furthering diversity in the British context.

In terms of the drive for a market-based education system focused on decentralizing service, vital continuities between the new labor and conservative policies were revealed through the act; a feat that the following policies failed in reducing the attainment gap between the advantaged and disadvantaged school-going children.

The UK Labor government’s commitment was to diversify secondary school provision by increasing the number of specialist schools tremendously. Similarly, the schools’ curriculum specialization included science, technology, business, arts, and languages. As a result of the schools’ diversification through the Act, the beneficiary institutions should be instrumental in championing best practice and sharing innovative practices throughout other locally instituted non-specialist schools.

Furthermore, the Act mandates the government to ensure through support that faith-based schools are expanded. For instance considering the accessibility by the parents, the labor government explained their initiative on the basis that it extension on their schools’ categories. In order to sustain the schools’ ethos and provide places for families committed to offering religious education, faith based schools were allowed the choice to retain the right to control their admissions policies (Chubb and Moe, 1990).

According to the Act, the government believes that specialist schools in the process of generating and thus disseminating good practice in specialist areas eventually raise standards. In contribution to their overall programme, the specialist schools are fundamental in upgrading their comprehensive system. Among the much diversity also include: diversity of schools, cultural diversity, structural diversity and diversity of curriculum.

Diversity of schools

According to Griffith (1966), the issue of parental choice has had increasing prominence since the 1988 education act. With the market oriented reforms introduced by the 1988 education act choice of schools has become a key policy issue. A key choice is diversity without different schools or educational providers because choosing from authentic providers is not possible.

There is no doubt that different parents want different things for their children hence diversity becomes severely constrained. Within the state maintained sector there is some diversity in terms of whether schools are mixed or single sex, religious status, comprehensive, grammar or secondary modern.

However in many cases whilst there is diversity, the choice is that of the school not the parent. In recent years there has been further diversity with the introduction of specialist schools and a small number of state maintained. In addition there are independent schools some of which the academically selective, private schools and smaller, less prestigious schools some of which cater for particular groups.

Diversity of the curriculum

In terms of school processes and more specifically the school curriculum there is little diversity within the state maintained sector in that there is a national curriculum and national testing. The regulations surrounding the national curriculum mean there is little room in the school day for other more innovative curriculum areas to be addressed. There is also little diversity in terms of the emphasis given to examination results. In UK young people are virtually unique within the European Union, the European Economic Area and North America.

Increasing structural diversity

This meets the needs of parents who seek new different visions for the education of their children that they cannot find in there local area. The act caters for the building of the school structures like classrooms, roads which leads to schools and furniture

Curricular diversity

The curriculum of the small specialist schools would be regulated by the Department for Education and skills. This would be required to set objectives and targets much as with the current specialist schools program. There is opportunity for some real curricular diversity. Some core subjects would need to be included but there would be considerable scope of additional subjects to be introduced and innovative models of teaching (Ranson, 1985).

Choices of the 1988 Act

Funding small specialist schools

Good argument for diversification of school system include some additional innovative small specialist schools which would be set back with the government funding using a demand side financing approach for revenue costs. There are also already examples and these could be built upon (Maclure, 1989).

Voluntary sector has a tradition of providing this form of education like units for non-attenders. The voluntary sector would seem to be the logical type of provider to run small specialist schools. However the parents are able to set up and run such schools given the increasing concerns shown by parents for community oriented schools.

Equity and quality

In the English context, admissions would need to be based on the criteria that do not relate to ability, aptitude, social class or religion to ensure equity and social justice. Pupils would thus be recruited on the basis of parental choice or indeed pupil choice in the case of older pupils with priority being given to those living in specific localities.

However a lottery system could be used if there were more applicants than places available, to ensure equity in terms of who is admitted and overcome many of the problems that are to be found with admissions to secondary schools (Maclure, 1990).

Education, small specialist schools and socialization

Mostly education is output oriented and importance of examination results is acknowledged in terms of future employability. The act promoted and insisted on the importance of education which leads to large numbers going to schools hence resulting into small specialist schools. In schools the children tend to socialize so much hence there was choice for socialization.


As compared with community schools, specialist schools from the better results and improved resources are considered advantaged. The implementation of act is however is a program that is one of a number such as excellence in cities where the participating schools are in receipt of resources over and per capita formula- determined recurring.

Local authorities lost power with respect to polytechnics, some colleges of higher education and teacher training colleges, caused a significant loss of functions.

There were several effects of the education reforms on central local relationships. They made mandatory and uniformed the arrangements for determining the curriculum. The delegation of the budget which was the most important aspect of the act removed most of the budgeting and management aspects of schools from local authority control.

Limited budgeting also limited discretionary power of local authority in allocating funds to various schools. Open enrolment could penalize well managed schools with low achieving pupils and reward those with good pupils. The market reinforced the class divisions that affected the quality of schools, rather than reward the efficient

Opting out seemed to have occurred only in special cases such as schools faced with closure. It was only if a large number of schools opted out in any particular authority could local powers over the educational system which could be greatly reduced.

According to the act schools were tending to be preoccupied with local management schemes but once they could be mastered the incentive of gaining full control of their budgets could encourage more schools to opt out. The act reforms followed the pattern to increase pluralism in the public institutions providing services and to increase the role of the consumer (Chubb and Moe, 1990).

The local education authority would not have such an important role in the decisions affecting the provision of education. The focus of the system became the devolved institutions, the grant maintained schools, schools with delegated budgets, city technology colleges and a higher educational institutions. The act was like a reform that tied together an attempt to create a market/consumer driven provision of state education.

The national curriculum made it possible for the consumer to compare the performance of schools available to parents who could therefore be in a better position to choose the role of governing bodies which were supposed to involve parents more in the decisions affecting the school.

Because of the shift in powers to the consumer and central government, local education authorities will have to adapt to a class directive role than in the past. The government hopes that an enabling role will emerge, but the extent to which happens will be limited by the provisions which regulate their relationship with the schools.

The role of education authorities may be weakened though. The education act brought more diversity by how far depends on the future policy of central government and their own ability to innovate hence leading to various choices

Reference List

Chubb, J. & Moe, T 1990, Politics, markets and America’s schools, Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution.

Coleman, J 1992,Some Points on Choice in Education (in Exchange)” Sociology of Education, 65:260-62.

Fitz, J., Gorard, S. and Taylor, C 2002, School admissions after the School Standards and Framework Act: bringing the LEAs back in?, Oxford Review of Education, 28(2), 373-393.

Griffith, J 1966, Central Departments and Local Authorities, London: Allen & Unwin.

Maclure, S 1989, Education Reformed: A Guide to the. Education Reform Act, 2nd ed., London, Hodder and Stoughton.

Maclure, S 1990, ‘Beyond the Education Reform Act’, Policy Studies, Spring, 11(1), p.7.

Ranson, S 1985, Contradictions in the Government of Educational Change, Political Studies, 33: 56–72.

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