Education Policy


Ian Abbott, Michael Rathbone & Phil Whitehead

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    About the Authors

    Ian Abbott is Director of the Institute of Education at the University of Warwick.

    Mike Rathbone was Director of Continuing Professional Development in the Institute of Education at the University of Warwick.

    Phil Whitehead is the course leader for the secondary PGCE (Teach First) at the University of Warwick.

    The authors have worked in schools and in higher education for almost fifty years, teaching all age groups from pre-school children to postgraduates, including the training of head teachers. They have had experience of teaching in different areas of the UK, in other countries and in a variety of institutions.

    They have taught in UK schools under the Education Secretaries of Labour, Conservative and Coalition governments, ranging from Edward Boyle in 1962 to Michael Gove, the present incumbent in 2012.

    Their research interests and writing over a number of years have ranged across school and college leadership, creative governance, education policy, nursery education and classroom management. These activities have contributed to their insight into the influence of the Education Secretaries and of their policies.

    List of Abbreviations

    AECAssociation of Education Committees
    ALIAdult Learning Inspectorate
    APUAssessment of Performance Unit
    AQACAssessment, Qualifications and Curriculum Authority
    BCUBirmingham City University
    BECBusiness Education Council
    BectaBritish Educational Communications and Technology Agency
    BSFBuilding Schools for the Future
    BTECBusiness and Technology Council
    CACECentral Advisory Council for Education (England)
    CPDContinuing Professional Development
    CRBCriminal Records Bureau
    CSECertificate of Secondary Education
    CSGCurriculum Study Group
    CTCcity technology college
    DCSFDepartment for Children, Schools and Families
    DESDepartment of Education and Science
    DfEDepartment for Education
    DfEEDepartment for Education and Employment
    DfESDepartment for Education and Skills
    EAZEducation Action Zone
    E-BaccEnglish Baccalaureate
    EMAEducation Maintenance Allowance
    EPAEducational Priority Area
    ERAEducation Reform Act 1988
    ETSEducational Testing Services
    FEFurther Education
    FEFCFurther Education Funding Council
    FTE full-time equivalent
    GCEGeneral Certificate of Education
    GMSGrant Maintained School
    GNVQGeneral National Vocational Qualification
    GTCGeneral Teaching Council
    HMIHer Majesty's Inspectorate
    ICTInformation and Communications Technology
    ITBIndustrial Training Boards
    LEAlocal education authority
    LMSlocal management of schools
    LSCLearning and Skills Council
    MSCManpower Services Commission
    NAHTNational Association of Head Teachers
    NCCNational Curriculum Council
    NCSLNational College for School Leadership
    NCVQNational Council for Vocational Qualifications
    NEET‘not in education, employment or training’
    NFERNational Foundation for Educational Research
    NQTNewly Qualified Teacher
    NUTNational Union of Teachers
    NVQNational Vocational Qualification
    OfstedOffice of Standards in Education
    PFIPrivate Finance Initiative
    PSHEPersonal, Social and Health Education
    PLTSpersonal, learning and thinking skills
    QCAQualifications and Curriculum Authority
    REReligious Education
    ROSLAraising of school-leaving age
    SACREStanding Advisory Council for Religious Education
    SATStandard Assessment Task
    SCAASchool Curriculum and Assessment Authority
    SCCESchools Council for the Curriculum and Examinations
    SEACSchools Examination and Assessment Council
    SEUStandards and Effectiveness Unit
    SSATSpecialist Schools and Academies Trust
    SSECSecondary School Examination Council
    STFStandards Task Force
    TATeacher Assessment
    TDATeaching and Development Agency for Schools
    TECTechnician Education Council
    TGATTask Group on Assessment and Testing
    TTATeacher Training Agency
    TVEITechnical and Vocational Education Initiative
    UCEUniversity of Central England
    UTCUniversity Technical College
    YOPYouth Opportunities Programme
    YTSYouth Training Scheme


    This book had its origins in a series of conversations between the three authors who had worked together for a number of years in the Institute of Education at the University of Warwick. Our working experience as teachers and researchers ranged across higher education, further education, and secondary, primary and nursery schools over a period of fifty years. Obviously even before that we had been children in schools so it was perhaps inevitable that education policy would feature as part of the conversations.

    As we shared our experiences it became clear that during our time ‘at the chalk face’ there have been comparatively few occasions when we had time to stand back and think about how education policy was being formulated at the highest level. Yet that policy had impacted enormously on our teaching lives and the lives of children/students in our care.

    Among other things we had worked with two-year trained emergency teachers who in some cases had fought in the war; we had experienced the upheaval when comprehensive education had been introduced into our schools; seen teaching becoming a ‘degree only’ profession; taught classes in secondary modern schools when the school-leaving age was raised in the 1970s; read and implemented the newly published Plowden and Warnock Reports; seen teacher strikes; experienced Ofsted inspections; and been working when a National Curriculum was instituted. At a later stage we saw Academies and Free Schools introduced and we engaged with ‘Teach First’, a very recent method of teacher training which owes much to its American roots.

    Indeed all of us had eventually been employed preparing aspiring teachers for a career teaching in schools and colleges and working with experienced teachers on their professional development.

    As we talked reference was frequently made to those people who had formulated the policies which we had implemented. Thus we remembered the Education Secretaries (or whatever they were titled at any particular time), their ideologies and the governments of which they were part.

    • What did we recall of the likes of Edward Short, Kenneth Baker and Shirley Williams, or know of Michael Gove – their backgrounds, legacies, feelings and convictions when they were in power and afterwards?
    • And what of the others – many others?
    • How were their policies developed within the political context and what was the context of the schools/colleges in which they were implemented?

    This led to the realisation that in our experience the present generation of trainee teachers has little idea of how many aspects of the present state education system in schools and colleges have developed – and why they have developed in particular ways.

    • Was there really a time when teachers were broadly in charge of the curriculum and politicians would never have dared to dictate what was taught?
    • What happened when there was no formal inspection system, or league tables of schools?
    • Why are local education authorities so much involved with some schools but hardly at all in others?
    • How did it come about that that there are grammar schools in some areas of the country and ‘bog standard’ comprehensive schools in others?
    • And how did the rather demeaning term ‘bog standard comprehensive’ arise?

    These are the sort of questions which we found being asked by many students studying for initial and higher degrees in education, as well as students on the multitude of modular courses which include aspects of the history and development of our education system. Included among these are many courses studied by foreign students seeking to gain insights with which to inform education in their own countries.

    The answers can only really come from reference to the development of education policy over the whole postwar period.

    Research into the existing literature revealed that although there were some relevant texts about particular periods, and that some pertinent articles had been written at various times, our suspicion about the apparent lack of an overall text focusing on policy and on Education Secretaries was justified.

    More formal discussions with a number of colleagues, ex-colleagues and students substantiated this view. A text which particularly looked at the development of education policy since 1945 and took account, as far as possible, of the insights of the Education Secretaries – with reference to their writings and the remarks of their contemporaries and later commentators – would be a valuable addition to existing literature.

    It further became clear that such a text would be much enhanced by the addition of responses to interviews carried out with as many Education Secretaries as possible. These up-to-date interviews would give the benefit of hindsight to the participants and enable the whole to be written up taking account of the political context and school/college context at the time.

    Consequently, when the project was given formal support by colleagues in several university departments across the country, a list of education secretaries was compiled and invitations to interview were dispatched.

    Kenneth Baker, Ed Balls, David Blunkett, Michael Gove, Alan Johnson, Ruth Kelly, John MacGregor, Estelle Morris, Gillian Shepard and Shirley Williams all indicated their willingness to participate and were interviewed over a period of two years. Many of these were still in political office and were interviewed in the House of Commons or the House of Lords, while others were interviewed privately. The interviews were designed to be flexible but nevertheless to follow roughly the same pattern and enable the interviewee to make individual points. Interviewing senior politicians created a number of issues and we soon discovered how difficult Jeremy Paxman's job actually is! However, all the interviewees were generous with their time, open about their period of time in office and relished the opportunity to talk about what for many of them had been the most important job in their political career. The interviews were recorded and the resulting insights used as the basis of the text of the book.

    The writers hope that the result is a text which will help students, researchers, teachers, policy-makers and other interested parties to understand the development of education policy in the postwar years.

    We wish to thank everyone who has helped with this project and in particular the Education Secretaries who agreed to be interviewed, Caroline Parker who was responsible for much of the secretarial work with the text and those at Sage Publications who supported the work.

    We, of course, take responsibility for any errors in the final text.

  • Appendix: Table of Ministers/Secretaries of State 1945–Present


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