Plowden (1967)

Background notes

Volume 1 (The Report)

Volume 2 (Research and Surveys)


published in 1987 on Plowden's twentieth anniversary.

AH Halsey and Kathy Sylva
Plowden: history and prospect
Maurice Kogan
The Plowden Report twenty years on
George Smith
Whatever happened to educational priority areas?
David Winkley
From condescension to complexity: post-Plowden schooling in the inner city
Neville Bennett
Changing perspectives on teaching-learning processes in the post-Plowden era
Maurice Galton
Change and continuity in the primary school: the research evidence
Philip Gammage
Chinese whispers
Andrew M Wilkinson
Aspects of communication and the Plowden Report
Bridget Plowden
'Plowden' twenty years on

The Oxford Review of Education articles were prepared by Derek Gillard and uploaded on 3 January 2005.

Whatever Happened to Educational Priority Areas?
George Smith

Copyright 1987 Carfax Publishing
This article was first published in the Oxford Review of Education Vol. 13 No. 1 1987. It is reproduced here by kind permission of Taylor & Francis Ltd, owners of Carfax Publishing, and with the approval of the author.

Page numbers are from the journal.

GEORGE SMITH was a member of the West Riding Educational Priority Area project and a contributor to the HMSO Educational Priority series. He is currently at the Department of Social and Administrative Studies, University of Oxford, and on part-time attachment to Her Majesty's Inspectorate.

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Whatever Happened to Educational Priority Areas?


ABSTRACT A policy of positive discrimination in favour of Educational Priority Areas (EPAs) was one of the key proposals in the Plowden Report - one which received immediate and widespread support. Within a few years the basis for a national programme had been laid, with initiatives at central and local government level, an action research programme and an active lobby, though resources were always limited. However, far from taking off in the 1970s the EPA programme had faltered and all but disappeared by the end of the decade. While there were many reasons, central was the failure of the original EPA conception to respond and adapt to changing values, research evidence and the worsening conditions in the inner city. EPA seemed increasingly marginal. However, in recent years there has been a revival of interest in the role of education in the inner city. An EPA approach could give an overall coherence and framework to these initiatives. However, the original conception would now have to be substantially amended.

Visitors to Oxford in the summer of 1986 would have been met almost at every street corner by signs pointing to a major EPA convention - not, it turned out on closer inspection, to an early celebration of twenty successful years of the Plowden Report's Educational Priority Areas, but a gathering of the no doubt equally worthwhile European Prosthodontics Association. Those attempting to track down the current whereabouts of the educational variant would unfortunately have a far harder task on their hands. Like some early examples of computers, the EPA name is widely known and well remembered in education; some even recall with affection working on it, but very few have any idea, where, if anywhere, it might be now. Yet at the time Plowden's proposals for EPAs were among the most widely acclaimed and well supported of any of the Report's many recommendations. Their influence, too, on subsequent policy was considerable. The Committee itself stated unequivocally 'we have given absolute priority to only one of our proposals - the creation of educational priority areas' (Plowden, paragraph 1185).

Why, then, the rapid change in fortune? Why, after a successful launch, were EPA policies apparently so completely eclipsed only a few years later? Were there successor policies, where EPA developments lived on under other names and guises? And have EPA ideas, developed at a time of confident educational growth and expansion, now any relevance to the current much harsher and more polarised conditions in the inner city? Should they be revived - and if so, in what form? These are some of the many questions raised by an invitation to review this aspect of the Plowden Report from a twenty-year vantage point.

Before taking up these questions, we should begin by briefly recalling the back-

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ground and main elements of Plowden's EPA proposals, and the initial response they received. This then leads on to an examination of some of the reasons why the EPA programme may have faltered and faded during the 1970s. Finally we turn to the current relevance of EPA developments. If Plowden were reporting now, what might be the main direction of its argument and proposals for educational priority areas?


At this distance it is important to stress the continuity of themes and ideas between Plowden and other reports of the period, as well as the continuity in personnel. EPAs did not spring fully grown from Plowden; they were the concluding stage of a long sequence of research studies and reports focusing on the problems of social inequality and the key role of education. Plowden's Chapter 5 on Educational Priority Areas was strongly foreshadowed three years earlier by the Newsom Report's concern for 'Education in the Slums', with its call for ways of devising incentives to attract and retain good teachers in such areas, and for other special programmes, not just in education. Plowden, too, acknowledged the influence of housing reports such as Milner Holland, and particularly the analysis of an increasing spatial concentration of deprivation and disadvantage in certain neighbourhoods, even at a period of economic growth. Plowden's reference to the 'compensating environment' (paragraph 151) of the school indicates the influence of the parallel American 'War on Poverty' and the compensatory education movement, early examples of which were visited by members of the Plowden team.

While these influences may have provided the background, they are welded together in Plowden's chapter on EPAs into a far more coherent, integrated and powerful account than Newsom's plea for 'Education in the Slums'. The chapter encompasses not only the characteristics of such areas, graphically portrayed, and the criteria by which they might be identified, but also a theory of EPAs - for the persistence of poverty amid affluence. It ends by proposing a comprehensive set of special measures. Both this chapter and the earlier section on links with parents carry the strong imprint of ideas, and perhaps phrases too, associated with Michael Young, a member of the Committee. Certainly they have an overall coherence and imagery, unusual in a formal report. The opening sections of the EPA chapter paint a portrait, where 'nothing fails like failure', where education serves as 'a brief prelude to work rather than an avenue to future opportunities', where schools are trapped in a 'vicious circle' that 'may turn from generation to generation' with children from 'crowded down-at-heel homes' who 'seemed to have learned only how not to learn' (paras. 131-134).

Surprisingly perhaps in a report that commissioned extensive research on links between social background and educational performance and stood in such a strong research tradition the appeal is most frequently to personal observation and direct experience. 'We have ourselves seen schools caught in such vicious circles and read accounts of many more ... We noted the grim approaches ... We heard from local education authorities of growing difficulty in replacing heads ... We saw admission registers whose pages of new names with so many rapid crossings-out told their own story ... We heard heads explain as they looked down the lines that many of those who had gone were good pupils ...' (paras. 133-135).

The report argued powerfully that under existing policies such areas and problems would continue: 'there is no assurance that the living conditions which handicap educationally deprived children will automatically improve - still less that the gap

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between these conditions and those of more fortunate children will be narrowed' (paragraph 142). Though education could not on its own resolve these problems, 'from the earliest stages of education, the schools enlarge or restrict the contribution their pupils can make to the life of the nation. Money spent on education is an investment which helps to determine the scope for future economic and social development' (paragraph 145).

The stage was thus carefully set for a policy of 'positive discrimination'. The phrase neatly bridges an awkward passage in the argument. '"Equality" has an appealing ring, "discrimination" has not' (paragraph 148). But there was to be no levelling down. 'Schools in deprived areas should be given priority in many respects. The first step must be to raise the schools with low standards to the national average, the second quite deliberately to make them better.' Finally the criteria for identifying EPAs would need to pick out 'those schools which need special help ... [and] those places where educational handicaps are reinforced by social handicaps' (paragraph 153). The aim was initially to reach the schools containing the two per cent most deprived in the first year, rising to ten per cent over five years.

The proposals that followed were in many cases for more of what would now be classified as conventional resources - for smaller classes, for more experienced and successful teachers, with salary incentives to attract them to work in EPAs; for priority in new or replacement school building, and in the expansion of nursery education; for teacher aides, teachers' centres and more school-based social workers. But there were also more innovative proposals - for continuing links between colleges of education and priority schools, and for home-school and community school experiments. The view, already firmly established in American compensatory education, that disadvantaged children might benefit from a specially developed and structured curriculum does not feature at all prominently in the Plowden proposals. Indeed it runs counter to the Committee's expressed view: 'what these deprived areas need most are perfectly normal, good primary schools alive with experience from which children of all kinds can benefit' (paragraph 136). Much of the precise content of these proposals was not elaborated. Perhaps this detail was left to the research programme, planned 'to discover which of the developments in educational priority areas have the most constructive effects ...' (paragraph 177). Plowden itself had commissioned an action research project into the effects of parental involvement (Young and McGeeney 1968), and Michael Young had argued forcefully for this method of developing educational policy and practice in an earlier study (Young 1965).

I have quoted extensively from Plowden to give some indication of the style and flavour of the arguments for EPAs, for an area-based policy of positive discrimination in education. Even at this distance it comes across as a powerful and persuasive message, carefully phrased and pitched to maximise support. To use Plowden's own word, it was an almost 'seamless' garment, easy to slip into and comfortable to wear. It is perhaps not surprising it was well received.


Judged against the reception given to the Report and particularly to the EPA proposals, the immediate tangible response by government inevitably seemed both meagre and sluggish. Both Lords and Commons had debated the Report within a few months of publication and broadly endorsed the EPA principles - Shirley Williams, then Minister of State at the DES, noted the 'support of all three political parties in

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the House for the concept of the educational priority area.' But the government did not commit itself. Judged on a slightly more lenient timetable and against the reaction to many other similar initiatives before or since, the response now seems almost a model of speed and comprehensiveness. Over the following few months and years, developments by central government, local authorities and independent initiatives formed the basis for an EPA programme, though the scale of resources allocated to such developments always remained highly marginal.

In Plowden the term EPA had been used interchangeably to cover a designated area or school, a theory of persisting deprivation, as well as a policy of positive discrimination. Confusingly the name EPA was subsequently attached to several different and sometimes only loosely related developments. Nor did these necessarily cover the same schools or areas, as no single national method of identifying EPAs was ever established. Throughout, the government seemed reluctant to be tied down to precise criteria, preferring instead to let local authorities decide their priorities, and then trim demand to fit the overall allocation.

First at the national level, the government, having identified a sum of 3m likely to go to new school buildings in EPA areas out of the normal allocation of 54m, committed itself in July 1967 to a special allocation of 16m over a two-year period solely for this purpose. In the same year the Burnham Committee had proposed a 75 annual increment for teachers in schools of exceptional difficulty, to be identified on criteria very similar to those listed by Plowden, though Plowden had called for a 120 increment. Again there were problems over designation, but finally some 572 primary schools in England and Wales were selected for this increment with effect from April 1968. The allowance was raised marginally and then, following consideration in 1974 by Burnham of schools in stress areas, was redefined as a 'social priority' allowance and raised to 276 in 1975. There it has remained ever since. By mid-1968 the DES was able to claim 'the concept of EPAs is one of the most imaginative proposals of the Plowden Report. This building programme together with the special allowance for teachers ... is evidence of the government's determination to [take] up the Plowden recommendations as fast as resources allow.' (DES Press Notice quoted in Halsey 1972).

Unfortunately, to many supporters of EPA, bricks and mortar and a small increment to teachers seemed among the least imaginative of Plowden's proposals. Some members of the Committee tried unsuccessfully to divert some of the building allocation to special projects and schemes in a proposal that closely resembled the format for later stages of the Urban Programme. It was the arrival of this programme, announced in May 1968, that provided a further opportunity for development, and a way for the DES to respond to these pressures. This interdepartmental programme, then based at the Home Office, allowed sponsoring departments to specify their priorities and allocate funding on the basis of bids received. As Edwards and Batley (1978) note, the DES with its experience of Plowden and EPAs proved one of the most responsive takers among government departments of this opportunity. Under the umbrella of the Urban Programme the DES was able to lift the embargo on the expansion of nursery education and approve the creation of some 18,000 new nursery places under the first few phases of the programme. These were to be in 'areas of special social need'. Nursery education on its own, excluding other forms of pre-school provision, comprised nearly twenty per cent of all projects approved under the first nine phases of the programme, despite being ineligible for such funding after Phase 7 (Edwards and Batley 1978, 146). By then the 1972 White Paper Education: a framework for expansion had

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announced a national programme of expansion in nursery education, with 'priority ... given in the early stages of the programme to areas of disadvantage' (Cmnd. 5174, paragraph 28). Another of Plowden's EPA recommendations, it seemed, had been successfully lodged.

The second level of response was that of the local authority. As Plowden acknowledged, several local authorities were already operating positive discrimination measures. Plowden's recognition of the principle and the government's response encouraged further development - for example for improved staffing or increased capitation in designated areas or schools. Most frequently, such designation was based more on rule of thumb and experience than on formal statistics. However, the pioneering work carried out by the ILEA on the school-based educational priority index (Little and Mabey 1972), clearly influenced some authorities to adopt a more quantitative method. This index, closely based on the criteria in the Plowden Report, was originally composed of ten measures, four based on local census data, the rest derived from the school. These were at first combined unweighted into a single index, and schools below a fixed cut-off point received additional resources. However, this method clearly disadvantaged schools immediately above the cut-off point and from 1974 allocation was revised to provide additional resources on a sliding scale to reflect the 'incidence of pupil disadvantage'. Finally the index was fundamentally altered in 1981; individual items were now to be weighted in accordance with their known relationship with educational performances. In this way, the index would more accurately reflect the school's position in terms of social or educational handicap to effectiveness (Sammons, Kysel and Mortimore 1983). The additional resources allocated in this way are currently estimated to amount to about five per cent of primary and three per cent of secondary expenditure in ILEA schools.

The third level was the national EPA action research programme. Attempts to set up experimental projects to test out Plowden's EPA proposals had begun even before the Report was published. In 1966 Young had approached the Ford Foundation to support a project in the Birmingham area, but without success. Immediately following publication and in the face of apparent government reluctance to make any major commitment, further more determined moves were made, starting at Crosland's Plowden seminar, attended by Young and Halsey (Halsey 1972). An initial optimistic bid for 10m to make a start with an EPA programme was gradually scaled down and finally emerged towards the end of 1967 as an action research project to be funded jointly by the DES and SSRC. For its two main protagonists, Halsey and Young, this development was both an insurance against the Plowden proposals being sidelined, and a way of maintaining momentum. In practice, the experiments in the five local districts, with their resources too limited to attempt major changes in school staffing or building, tended to concentrate on those areas left blank or thinly sketched by Plowden - with the content of pre-school or primary education in EPAs, with different types of home-school link and community school developments, and with innovations not found in Plowden, for example for educational home visitors or short term residential education - a proposal from the Newsom Report.

The EPA projects had an unusual degree of freedom to develop their ideas, set up experiments and write up or publicise their work. Some, particularly the Liverpool project, exploited this to the full. The result was a growing network of interest in EPA ideas and practice, the basis for a continuing lobby. By the time the projects formally ended in 1972 a national organisation, Priority, had been created to keep up the momentum. Through fortunate timing, the main conclusions of the EPA research were

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available early in 1972 and could be fed directly into the discussions surrounding the development of the White Paper, published later in the same year. Following a series of encounters, there is little doubt that the research had some influence on the White Paper's proposals for pre-school education, and even more on the subsequent DES circular (2/73) on nursery education (Banting 1979).

Finally, there was the response to Plowden's policy of positive discrimination beyond the immediate field of education. Its strong influence on the early stages of the Urban Programme has already been described. The parallel development of the experimental Community Development Projects (CDPs) within the Home Office was strongly influenced by the EPA initiative, particularly the action research programme, though CDP grew from a separate root. These two initiatives crossed and recrossed each other's tracks both at national and local level. Yet though they shared several of the same people, and for a time the same national research director, relationships remained strained and uneasy. Initially from the EPA side there was suspicion of a much larger project, more closely part of central government and local authority. And for CDP, which had just reached its full strength of twelve local projects in 1972, EPA achievements tended to be at the centre of a growing critique of existing anti-poverty programmes (CDP 1974). Following CDP and the Urban Programme, the 1970s were marked by a sudden rash of positive discrimination programmes: the Neighbourhood Projects and Comprehensive Community Programmes from the Home Office, the Cycle of Deprivation studies at the DHSS, and the Urban Guidelines, Inner Areas and Quality of Life Projects at the Department of the Environment, leading up to the 1977 White Paper Policies for the inner city. While the influence of Plowden's EPAs on these developments was often indirect, it had laid down the agenda for others to follow.

Some five years after the publication of Plowden, while more might have been hoped for, the EPA balance sheet had a distinctly favourable look. Though no major resources had been allocated, the EPA principles had been widely accepted and built into policy development. There was definitely a foot in the door of the 1972 Education White Paper. A fertile action research project had developed and tested out a range of practical initiatives. There was a growing EPA network in schools and colleges of education. Finally EPA principles and ideas had spread beyond education, with a foothold in other areas of social policy. It is not surprising that its advocates felt they had laid the basis for a major national programme. Why, then, did EPA falter and fade over the next five years?


One obvious answer is lack of money. Once the onward and upward march of educational expenditure had been at least temporarily checked after 1972, when education's share of total government expenditure fell for the first time since 1950, the marginal additions, among them the EPA initiatives, would have been the first to go. Though lack of money must be part of the explanation it cannot be the full picture. Some of the initiatives in fact continued or were even expanded after 1972. It was the overall EPA programme that lost momentum and faded away, rather than its components.

A second answer to explain why EPA policy failed to move forward from this initial advance was the lack of political support. Positive discrimination policies, it was claimed, were never fully taken up by any political party. They remained the preserve

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of professionals, administrators and academics. Certainly such policies sometimes followed 'a curiously neutral career. For one party it is a way of expressing concern about the continued existence of poverty and inequality, but it is easily translated into the other side's concern for 'selectivity' - giving help to the most needy' (Smith 1977). The politically neutral vocabulary - 'social deprivation', 'educational disadvantage', and so on - may have helped this adaptability. But again this cannot be the full explanation. EPAs had been remarkably successful with a broad measure of support until 1972 or so. Yet, though there were further developments after this date, the initiative quickly weakened and faded. Symbolically perhaps, even the name EPA was dropped in 1974/5 when schools drawing the teacher allowance were redesignated as 'social priority schools'.

To explain such a rapid change we must look back at the overall coherence of the EPA idea and policy, and how well this stood up to new evidence and changing conditions. For it is more a question of internal collapse than the result of simple economic pressures or political change. While individual initiatives may have continued, their central purpose was critically weakened.

In an illuminating analysis of the relationship between social science and social policy, between theory and practice. Rein singles out the key linking role of what he terms 'policy paradigms'. (Rein 1976) Such 'paradigms' conveniently bridge the gap between research and policy. They are, in Rein's terms, 'a curious admixture of psychological assumptions, scientific concepts, value commitments, social aspirations, personal beliefs and administrative constraints.' They are 'a working model of why things are as they are, a problem-solving framework ... a guiding metaphor of how the world works which implies a general direction for intervention.' The classic example is the theory of a 'poverty cycle'. 'The image of a vicious circle provides a working model of the causal interactions that are believed to result in poverty, a moral responsibility for intervening in this causal chain and a guide to the interventions that are therefore relevant and right.' (Rein 1976, 103-4)

In the British context the 'cycle of transmitted deprivation' is clearly a candidate - but so, too, is EPA. As we have seen, this carried us easily, perhaps too easily, forward from the identification and analysis of the problem, through to a comprehensive set of proposals, with a strong moral imperative for action. In Rein's book such paradigms 'are remarkably persistent and resistant to change'. (Rein 1976, 103) Yet changing values and new research findings can produce a degree of internal 'dissonance'. Over the next few years the EPA paradigm began to unravel under a series of fundamental challenges. To review these requires a more analytic, less historical approach.

Values and Assumptions

The first theme to take up is the question of 'value perspective'. This can be clearly illustrated by an example from the earlier Newsom Report, which featured with apparent approval an extensive quotation from J. B. Mays to open its description of 'Education in the Slums':

... Life in these localities appears to be confused and disorganised. In and around the squalid and narrow courts, along the landings and staircases of massive blocks of tenement flats which are slowly replacing the decayed terraces, outside garish pubs and trim betting shops, in the light of coffee

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bars, cafes and chip saloons, the young people gather to follow with almost bored casualness the easy goals of group hedonism. (Newsom, p. 17).
Clearly this is not our neighbourhood, our housing or our children. The description is tinged with moral disapproval and the implication that something ought to be done, if only for the nuisance value to society at large. From Newsom to Plowden there has been a substantial shift. Plowden's description of EPA is far more neutral in tone, but the evaluation, the social distance and a trace of disapproval remain - 'the ingrained grime of generations', children 'among whom some seemed to have learned only how not to learn', 'from crowded, down at heel homes'. Despite the strong sociological representation and the experience of community studies on Plowden, the description of EPAs is of an area seen from the outside. The appeal is to the outside world and the intention to generate moral concern. But in describing such areas for this purpose there is a terrible pressure to emphasise their worst features, to present them as a collection of social casualties rather than functioning communities. This is the way to increase impact and concern. But in the process the risk is of creating a powerful yet inaccurate stereotype that may shape and constrain subsequent debate. Plowden's EPA description is dangerously close to such a stereotype.

The shift in value perspective, however, did not stop with Plowden. The growing emphasis in the 1970s on participation and involvement, and even on devolution of power, to parents, consumers and local communities to which Plowden itself contributed, reflected this shift. It became less and less appropriate to emphasise social casualties. For if the inhabitants were so feckless, incompetent or ill-starred, why did it make any sense to hand over control of local initiatives? Plowden's EPAs seemed increasingly dated and at odds with this major thrust of policy.

A second related, but more serious, development was the increasingly sharp divergence of views during the early 1970s on the causes of poverty. Plowden's description is at times studiously vague on this point: children are surrounded by 'a seamless web of circumstance', schools are trapped 'in a vicious circle' with no clear indication of what may have caused this cycle to begin, nor why it should be maintained. In fact, Plowden's account contains strands from at least three different theories. First there is the view that singles out the individual or family socialisation as the key factor in transmitted deprivation. A second view concentrates on the role of the school and on educational resources, and finally there is a more structural approach, where the focus is on the wider opportunity structure of society. These were later to be elaborated and presented as sharply competing explanations, but in Plowden and in the EPA action research projects, it was more a case of reasonably peaceful coexistence. Similarly perhaps, Rein refers to paradigms 'encompassing various contradictions rather than seeking to eliminate them'. (Rein 1976, 103)

However, there was a growing divide between those arguing for the more structural view of poverty and disadvantage, and those following the dismissively labelled 'social pathology' line. Symbolically it was Sir Keith Joseph's speech to the Pre-school Playgroups Association on the 'cycle of deprivation' in 1972 (Joseph 1975) that helped to fix, in the photographic sense, this latter position politically. Though he was careful to identify wider social and economic factors and to stress the multiplicity of causes in a way reminiscent of Plowden's analysis, there is a strong emphasis on the way deprivation is transmitted through the family. And the proposals for action strongly reinforce this, by concentrating on family planning, preparation for parenthood, and improved child rearing practices.

While EPA had straddled both a structural and an individual view, it was necessarily

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linked through education to a concern for individual improvement. It was thus easily tarred with the broad brush of 'blaming the victim'. In CDP, which took an increasingly structural line after 1972, the education component, in some cases directly inherited from the EPA projects and originally intended to be a major part of the programme, noticeably failed to thrive. It was not until the development of a more collective form of adult education (Ashcroft and Jackson 1974) that the educational component in CDP was able to shake off this debilitating link with individual social pathology. But the damage had been done. For Townsend (1979), writing at the end of the decade, such area based policies were indissolubly linked to individual pathology.

Research and Reality

Research studies and changing social conditions also contributed to the breakdown. First came the problem of the overlap between social and spatial disadvantage. This tie-up is fundamental to the EPA idea. Yet in Plowden it is asserted, rather than derived from empirical research. The Report, too, slides easily from referring to disadvantaged areas, schools and individual children, as if all these disadvantages were coextensive. However, Barnes and Lucas (1975) show that this is far from the case. Starting with individual criteria and data from the ILEA, they examined how far individual children defined as being 'at risk' on these criteria were actually living in designated EPA areas or attending designated schools. Using eight main criteria of individual disadvantage they divided the population into 'at risk' and those 'not at risk'. When the EPA designated schools were compared with the rest, it was clear that though 'at risk' children were more likely to be concentrated in designated schools, only a proportion of the total 'at risk' group was located in these schools. Thus for example of the multiply disadvantaged ('at risk' on five or more indicators) some 28 per cent of the total were in EPA designated schools (the top 150 primary schools on the ILEA index, containing about 14 per cent of the total pupils) but some 72 per cent in non-EPA schools. Again Barnes and Lucas examined how far an expansion of EPA designation would increase the coverage of individually 'multiply disadvantaged' children. Their figures show that if half the schools had been designated some 74 per cent of children in this category would have been covered. Designating three quarters of the schools would have reached 91 per cent. But to get the complete group would have effectively required all schools to be designated, as the most privileged 25 per cent of schools contained the remaining nine per cent of the 'multiply disadvantaged', where they comprised just three per cent of the school population.

Other studies of the same period, notably Holtermann's (1975) analysis of census data, drove home the same point - individual disadvantage is not neatly clustered in a few areas. Nor are poor schools or educational facilities similarly concentrated. Area or school designation is thus an inefficient way of reaching individually disadvantaged children. In vain did defenders of EPA point out that such a complete overlap had never been claimed, nor was EPA policy intended primarily to be a way of reaching individually disadvantaged children, so much as an 'area policy'. (Smith 1977)

As the number of projects and special schemes for such areas multiplied the resulting attention given to the project areas highlighted an awkward, if obvious, problem. This was the clear diversity of conditions - ranging, for example in the EPA projects, from a relatively isolated but stable mining community in South Yorkshire to inner city areas with very rapid population movements. As this detail built up, the harder it proved to maintain the idea of an 'EPA area' as sketched in Plowden.

This theme was carried further by Webber (1976), using the 'social malaise' and

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census data from the Liverpool area. Instead of ranking areas in terms of a single composite index of disadvantage and selecting 'the worst', he demonstrated by using a more sophisticated analysis that particular mixes of social conditions and problems tended to cluster together in certain geographical areas. It was therefore possible to identify types or 'families' of areas. Thus he was able to distinguish between the 'inner council house estates' which were marked by low turnover and relatively stable families, but had serious overcrowding, with large families, many on free meals and problems such as low average reading ability, high ESN referral rates and high rates of delinquency, and the inner city 'rooming house' areas of private rented property, which had many more features of disorganised and unstable families, with particularly high rates of illegitimacy and children taken into care. While the charting of such diversity is clearly a move in the right direction, it raises a problem for a policy of positive discrimination. What priority, what weighting is to be given to these different forms of disadvantage?

Finally the rapid spread of urban decline, the sharp rise in unemployment and the increasing polarisation during the 1970s between large tracts of the inner city, including many peripheral estates, and the more fortunate suburban and city fringes, presented a further challenge to EPA. Its analysis of a few areas that had somehow been left out of the general spread of affluence seemed increasingly to come from another age.

Policy and Practice

Critics of the government's initial response to EPAs regularly pointed to the lack of s single national method for designating such areas or schools, as evidence of the low level of commitment. However, it is difficult to argue that this had any immediate consequences. As we have seen, each initiative tended to have its own, often very loosely specified, criteria. However, the effects built up over time. Positive discrimination policies may be relatively easy to specify and support at the level of a general principle. But the closer they move to the point where a concrete decision has to be taken to allocate increased resources to this area or this school - but not to that one, the more their popularity declines. This is exacerbated if the criteria on which the decisions are made are vague, apparently arbitrary or ill-defined.

As EPA policy and practice developed, it was these anomalies that stood out, rather than the programme's successes. Thus in a review of the expansion of nursery education following the 1972 White Paper, Duncan and Young (1974) query how it could be possible for Bootle and Oxford to receive the same allocation of funds, particularly when Bootle had initially far fewer nursery places. This is the tip of many anomalies that weakened the credibility of the overall programme.

As the policy of positive discrimination by area weakened under these challenges, it was increasingly replaced by a policy of positive discrimination in favour of special groups or those with special needs. There was a corresponding change in terminology. EPA areas, schools or children were gradually replaced by references to 'educational disadvantage'. This phrase, probably first coined in the United States more or less as a synonym for black children, was suitably neutral and elastic enough to cover many very different groups. Thus the 1974 White Paper titled Educational disadvantage and the educational needs of immigrants (DES 1974), was a response to the report of the Select Committee concerned with race relations and immigration. The White Paper announced the establishment of the Educational Disadvantage Unit within the DES,

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and in response to promptings from the Select Committee, the Centre for Advice and Information on Educational Disadvantage, established in Manchester in the following year. In fact the EPA lobby had been pressing the DES for a similar initiative for some time. At the inauguration of the centre an initial defensive advocacy of EPAs, recognising many of the problems of area designation, was followed by a powerful plea by Tizard for the centre to be concerned with the handicapped special needs group; to be followed by an even more powerful plea for the interests of ethnic minorities - the centre had after all been set up in response to the Select Committee on Race Relations and Immigration (DES 1975). Concern with educationally disadvantaged groups, particularly those with special needs and ethnic minorities, was to form a major part of the educational agenda over the next few years, leading up to two major reports, Warnock and Swann. Educational disadvantage had effectively replaced EPAs.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there was the changing position of education on the social policy spectrum during this period. While recognising the contribution of other agencies, Plowden inherited and extended the central role for education, particularly in its EPA policy. But this was soon to come under attack from two related quarters. First was the challenge from Jencks (1972), in a sense calling the bluff of those who had earlier pushed education as the agent of social and economic change, by using many of the same research findings, but drawing different policy conclusions. The relationship, he argued, between education and these other variables was far more tenuous than we had been led to believe by those enthusiastic for educational expansion. In Jencks's phrase, he has drawn attention to the 'half-empty glass' while others have pointed to it 'being half-full'.

The second challenge came from the results of EPA policies and programmes. 'Compensatory education has been tried and apparently it has failed' stated Jensen (1969). While this stark conclusion could well be disputed, the results were disappointing - at best small scale and often short term. In presenting these results, it was natural to place the puny additional educational resources against a backdrop of major social forces - 'a century of deprivation cannot be wiped away by a small three year project'. As a result education was increasingly presented as only one component of the much larger programme required to tackle such problems. In policy terms the baton which had begun with EPA had passed from education to community development in the early 1970s, and from there in the mid 1970s to programmes emphasising housing, planning and the environment. By the end of the decade it had become job creation and training schemes.

It is hardly surprising that EPA faltered and faded under these pressures - that the paradigm fell apart. Even under the most favourable conditions many of those developments would have required substantial revision and amendment to the original EPA prescription; some might have been countered by a powerful restatement of EPA ideas and principles; others perhaps could only have been met by digging in and waiting for better times. But there was no counter attack, no reaffirmation of EPA, in part at least because many of its original advocates had themselves moved on with the same tide to new areas.

But does it matter? After all, some of the original EPA initiatives continued despite these conditions, and EPA ideas were passed from EPAs to CDAs (Community Development Areas), SPAs (Social Priority Areas) and UPAs (Urban Priority Areas). It matters for two reasons. First, many of the remaining initiatives were left without a coherent framework, and therefore without a clear purpose or direction. Teachers in SPA schools continued to receive the special allowance - but what was it for? EPA as a

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paradigm - for all its weaknesses - provided an overall framework for this question, and also some guidance for future direction and development. And second, while EPA ideas may have been successfully passed on to other social policy fields, very little seemed to have taken permanent root in education.


Some ten years further on, EPAs now rarely get a mention, even the term 'positive discrimination' is now more often understood to refer, like its American counterpart 'affirmative action', to recruitment policies that favour members of disadvantaged groups, rather than to an area based policy. Many of the initiatives launched in the 1960s and 1970s have petered out, through lack of funds or lack of support; others like the teacher allowance have become an almost forgotten part of the established system. Yet in a few areas developments that owe their origin directly to Plowden still operate, for example the ILEA Educational Priority Index, which has been regularly updated and revised since its introduction. And some EPA initiatives continue, for example under the heading of community schooling and community education, which survives if not flourishes, with support from organisations such as the Community Education Development Centre (CEDC) in Coventry, itself an offshoot of the EPA and CDP projects. But despite these survivors, it is hard to claim that EPA lives.

Could it have been otherwise? Here a comparison with the experience of the American compensatory education movement is instructive. Launched as part of the 'War on Poverty', this was checked by many of the same obstacles that confronted EPA. Thus in the late 1960s and early 1970s a combination of dismal results on the effectiveness of such programmes as Headstart, a general loss of confidence in education as an instrument of change, and the arrival of an administration committed to reducing federal expenditure on such programmes, all acted as a severe brake. The programme faltered, but survived, though in a slimmed down form with more modest and realistic objectives. As more positive results began to emerge in the late 1970s from some of the long-term follow-up studies of pre-schooling, the movement perceptibly revived and picked up confidence. At the end of the decade it was this feature of the American educational system that was picked out by the OECD for special study in their national report. (OECD 1980 1981) By the mid 1980s, the returning confidence in education could perhaps be symbolised by the spreading 'effective schools' movement (Kyle 1985) and by the What Works publication (US Department of Education 1986), a listing of successful educational practices, complete with a strong reaffirmation by President Reagan of the powers of education.

Could the same happen here? The early stages of EPA were clearly influenced by American example, and its decline was in part a product of the more pessimistic phase that followed the apparent failure of compensatory education. There are now signs of a more positive climate. Since the pioneering work of Rutter and his colleagues on school effectiveness (Rutter 1979), there has been a growing body of research at both primary and secondary level claiming that schools after all do make a difference, though a small one. (Reynolds 1985; Willms and Cuttance 1985; ILEA 1986) The positive results from the long-term follow-up studies of children from some of the experimental pre-school programmes in the United States have also made an impact in this country after the customary time lag. Studies carried out by the Consortium for Longitudinal Studies (Lazar and Darlington 1982) have claimed to identify some

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continuing effects up to age 19. Though there is rightly proper caution before transferring these conclusions uncritically to the British context (Woodhead 1985), the climate has noticeably altered.

The shift away from education in the early 1970s was also encouraged by the more dramatic returns claimed for investment in other social policy areas. If educational stock is now rising, it is in part a reaction to the failure of these claims to materialise. Despite the shifts in the programme, urban decline has continued and accelerated. In some respects with the current emphasis on training and retraining, the policy has come almost full circle back to its starting point in education. An effective inner city policy would have many elements, not least adequate resources. But given the pattern of high unemployment in such areas, the skills and qualification profiles of their populations, and the likely requirements of any future job market, it is difficult to conceive of any long-term solutions that do not involve a heavy educational component.

The fierce clash between the individual or family based explanations and the more structural explanations of social disadvantage, particularly the charge that educational intervention somehow implicitly 'blamed the victim' - which badly undermined the EPA programme in the 1970s - has now died down. The net cast by the phrase 'educational disadvantage' is surely too wide to be explained by a single, simple theory. A structural explanation on its own has difficulty in accounting for the existence of successful individuals from a highly disadvantaged background. And an explanation that focuses on early socialisation in the home, followed by efforts to boost performance at school, cannot handle the frequent finding that children from disadvantaged backgrounds tend to achieve less well in terms of qualifications and staying-on rates than their peers of equivalent ability from more favoured backgrounds. (Essen and Wedge 1982; Cox 1982 1983) A complete account would include complementary elements from both the structural and individual or family based explanations, as well as the way the educational system responds.

As several of the background factors that weakened EPA in the 1970s have now shifted to a more favourable position, is the EPA idea due for a revival? Speculatively perhaps, we might see a 'long cycle' in these affairs, with the current concern in education for the bottom forty per cent and lower attaining pupils echoing the Newsom Report's brief nearly twenty-five years before, for 'the education of pupils of average or less than average ability' - though the conditions and context are now very different. But if EPAs were to come next - what would now be their form?

First, there would be strong arguments for retaining the area basis of the policy. For social problems are concentrated - there is a link between social and spatial factors, even if problems are not neatly concentrated in a few areas. Such area based polices are complementary to those designed to identify individuals 'at risk' and to more structural policies. Nor are they necessarily linked to a 'social pathology' perspective. They are a recognition that in such areas adverse conditions may affect all groups; it is often the overall pattern of scores that is skewed, not just those of the most disadvantaged. An 'area policy' (Smith 1977; Holtermann 1978) can be an effective way of responding.

Second, the importance of clear criteria, for some form of quantitative index for allocating any additional resources, is underlined by the earlier EPA experience. This would now with advantage take the form of a continuous distribution along the lines of the revised ILEA index, thereby avoiding the anomalies of a fixed cut-off point. Again the logic of weighting the items in any such index by their known relationship with the

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appropriate outcome seems an attractive way of handling the clear diversity of areas and conditions.

Third, as a result of the research and experiments following the American 'War on Poverty', the EPA initiatives and the recently developing 'effective schools' movement, we are now in a far better position than Plowden to identify successful educational programmes and strategies. These would be likely to involve less emphasis on the conventional developments listed by Plowden. And fourth, we would need to develop a more coherent theory of educational disadvantage that pulled together the complementary elements in the structural, individual and educational explanations of low attainment in such areas.

Finally, why should we bother? Is not such a policy merely a way of rewarding failure - of throwing good money after bad? Two arguments out of many might be highlighted here. First it is important to underline the often neglected point that any area selected, however disadvantaged, is likely to contain a very wide range of ability and potential. Indeed the early American 'talent search' projects, precursors to compensatory education, were closely linked to the argument that such areas would contain the largest untapped reservoirs of talent. And second, there is the consequence of neglect. The late Sir Alec Clegg, Chief Education Officer of the West Riding, was fond of clinching arguments in favour of education for the socially disadvantaged with a quote from the nineteenth-century educational reformer Edward Thring:

The appeal to success. Prizes and Prizewinning, bids fair to be the watchword of the day. But what does this do for the majority, for the noncompeting crowd who nevertheless do not politely die off and make room and cannot, through modern squeamishness, be killed off and buried?

The weak are pushed into a corner and neglected, their natural tendency to shrink from labour is educated into despair by their being constantly reminded, directly or indirectly, that their labour is no good.

Recent events in areas once designated as EPAs have perhaps now taught us, to our cost, that passively retreating into a corner is not the only possible response.


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