Education in the UK

Preliminary pages
Introduction, Contents, Preface
Chapter 1 Up to 1500
Chapter 2 1500-1600
Renaissance and Reformation
Chapter 3 1600-1660
Chapter 4 1660-1750
Chapter 5 1750-1860
Towards mass education
Chapter 6 1860-1900
A state system of education
Chapter 7 1900-1923
Secondary education for some
Chapter 8 1923-1939
From Hadow to Spens
Chapter 9 1939-1945
Educational reconstruction
Chapter 10 1945-1951
Labour and the tripartite system
Chapter 11 1951-1964
The wind of change
Chapter 12 1964-1970
The golden age?
Chapter 13 1970-1974
Applying the brakes
Chapter 14 1974-1979
Progressivism under attack
Chapter 15 1979-1990
Thatcher and the New Right
Chapter 16 1990-1997
John Major: more of the same
Chapter 17 1997-2007
Tony Blair and New Labour
Chapter 18 2007-2010
Brown and Balls: mixed messages
Chapter 19 2010-2015
Gove v The Blob
Chapter 20 2015-2018

Organisation of this chapter

Thatcher's three terms
   The 'New Right'
Education Secretaries
   Mark Carlisle
   Keith Joseph
   Kenneth Baker
   John MacGregor

1979-83 Preparing the ground
Budget cuts
The end of comprehensivisation
   Assisted Places Scheme
Parent power
   Education vouchers
   1980 Education Act
   1981 Education Act
The curriculum
   DES publications
   HMI publications
   Schools Council contribution
   Inside the primary classroom
   Youth Training Scheme
   Microelectronics education
School effectiveness
The teachers
   1983 White Paper
   1981 Rampton: West Indians
   1982 Cockcroft: Maths
HMI surveys
   Secondary education
   Education 5 to 9
   9-13 middle schools
Higher education
   1983 Education (Fees and Awards) Act

1983-1987 Increasing the pressure
Second term priorities
   Joseph's aims
   Other Tory views
   Circular 8/83
Parent power
   1984 Green Paper
   1985 White Paper
   Sex education
   1986 Education (No. 2) Act
The curriculum
   General Certificate of Secondary Education
   The Curriculum from 5 to 16
The teachers
   The Schools Council
   Teachers' pay and conditions
The local authorities
   Education Support Grants
   Specific grants for in-service training
   Publication of political material
Vocational education
1985 Swann Report: Ethnic minorities
Growing anxiety
   Oxford and Thatcher
   1985 Jarratt Report
   Jackson Hall's warning
The end of Joseph
Baker's first year
   City Technology Colleges
   National core curriculum
   Local management of schools
   Higher education
   Opting out

1987-1990 Taking control
Conservative election manifesto
Section 28
Towards the Education Reform Act
   The National Curriculum
   Task Group on Assessment and Testing
   Subject working groups
The Education Reform Bill
   Second reading
   Committee stage
   The bill in the Lords
   Final debates
1988 Education Reform Act
   Summary of the Act
After the Act
   National Curriculum
   Religious education
   Local management of schools
   Grant-maintained schools
   City Technology Colleges
1988 Kingman: English
1988 Higginson: A Levels
1989 Elton: discipline
1990 Rumbold: early years
Beyond Baker
   John MacGregor
   GM schools in Scotland
   Student loans



Education in the UK: a history
Derek Gillard

first published June 1998
this version published May 2018

copyright Derek Gillard 2018
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Chapter 15 : 1979-1990

Thatcher and the New Right


Thatcher's three terms

Margaret Thatcher (1925-2013) (pictured) had replaced Edward Heath as Conservative leader in February 1975, marking a decisive shift to the right for the party.

With the election of her first administration on 3 May 1979, neo-liberalism became the dominant force in British politics. Her government's policies 'accelerated the closing down of unprofitable industries and promoted a profound social and economic restructuring' (Jones 2003:107). In just four years, Britain lost a quarter of its manufacturing capacity (Jones 2003:107-8).

The incidence of poverty increased dramatically: the number of those receiving Supplementary Benefit rose from 4.4m in 1979 to 7.7m in 1983; those below the Supplementary Benefit level increased from 2.1m to 3.3m. 'By any reasonable criterion, some nine million, or one-sixth of the population, were living in poverty ... and the numbers were to increase' (Morris and Griggs 1988:11).

By 1982 the Thatcher government was highly unpopular. Soaring inflation and a massive increase in unemployment made it seem unlikely that she would win a second term. She needed a miracle. Fortunately for her, Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands and she was able to play the part of heroic war leader in the Falklands War between March and June 1982. This, coupled with the unpopularity of the left-wing Labour leader Michael Foot, and the defection of some Labour supporters to the newly-formed Social Democratic Party, resulted in a Tory landslide in the general election on 9 June 1983. With her Commons majority increased from 43 to 144, Thatcher was able to take her reforms further.

Her second administration is most notable for its determination to destroy Britain's coal industry. The miners' response was a year-long strike which was ruled illegal in September 1984 because there had been no national ballot. Violence broke out between pickets and the police, miners' families were reduced to relying on soup kitchens to survive, and the strike collapsed. The destruction of the coal industry continued, with former mining areas suffering appalling levels of poverty.

Thatcher won a third term in office at the general election on 11 June 1987. Her majority of 102, though reduced, was nevertheless substantial, and the 'iron lady' felt powerful enough to push ahead with some unpopular policies, most notably the introduction of a form of poll tax. Riots ensued, her colleagues deserted her, and she was ousted from office in November 1990.


Thatcher's neo-liberal policies affected not only industry and commerce but also public services.

Conservative legislation sought to drive neo-liberal principles into the heart of public policy. An emphasis on cost reduction, privatisation and deregulation was accompanied by vigorous measures against the institutional bases of Conservatism's opponents, and the promotion of new forms of public management. The outcome of these processes was a form of governance in which market principles were advanced at the same time as central authority was strengthened (Jones 2003:107).
The origins of this policy can be traced back to the establishment in 1955 of the Institute of Economic Affairs, a right-wing think-tank which, during the 1970s, had 'worked tirelessly to persuade the Conservative Party to abandon the post-war welfare consensus and embrace social and educational policies based on nineteenth-century free-market anti-statism' (Chitty 2009a::47).

These ideas were promoted by Stuart Sexton, adviser to Thatcher's first Education Secretary, Mark Carlisle. In Evolution by choice, his contribution to the last of the Black Papers in 1977, he had sketched out 'a new system for secondary education':

Obviously we get rid of the 1976 Education Act for a start. We remove all other political constraints and directions which seek to distort the pattern of educational supply and demand. We have to assume that the politicians keep their fingers out of it, apart from laying down the framework within which variety and diversity can abound in accordance with the aspirations and abilities of the children (Sexton 1977:86).
Such a system would be based on 'absolute freedom of choice of application' (Sexton 1977:87). Local authorities would no longer allocate children to schools: 'The parent should be able to apply to any secondary school; there should be no zones, no catchment areas' (Sexton 1977:87). Where a school was oversubscribed it would select its students on the basis of 'ability and aptitude' (Sexton 1977:87). The educational market would not be entirely unregulated: there would be an independent inspectorate, 'minimum standards and a minimum curriculum' (Sexton 1977:86).
The exercise of parental choice is the key. The very exercise of that choice, and the response to that choice, will produce the schools which the parents want and the children need. The comprehensives will evolve from the present mediocre sameness imposed by the bureaucracy towards the diversity demanded by the parents. They will be different, school to school, country to town, just as children are different. They will be good schools or they will close (Sexton 1977:88-9).
Sexton's theme was taken up by an 'ever-growing number of right-wing think-tanks with small but interlocking memberships' which 'bombarded' ministers with policy ideas 'ideologically driven by commitment to the market and to privatisation' (Benn and Chitty 1996:12).

The 'New Right'

As Clyde Chitty has noted, the 'New Right' was not a single homogenous entity: it encompassed a range of groups which could broadly be described as 'neo-liberal' or 'neo-conservative'. There was thus

a paradox at the very heart of New Right philosophy. ... Different meanings are attached to these two terms and they are given different weight by different factions within the New Right, but if the New Right has a unity and can be distinguished from previous right-wing groupings, what makes it special is the unique combination of a traditional liberal defence of the free economy with a traditional conservative defence of state authority.

This combination of potentially opposing doctrines means that New Right philosophy has contradictory policy implications and the ambiguity owes much to a basic division between those, on the one hand, who emphasise the free economy, often referred to as the neo-liberals, and those on the other who attach more importance to a strong state, the so-called neo-conservatives (Chitty 1989:212).

Thatcher's education policies were a combination of the two. Thus the imposition of the National Curriculum could be seen as an example of neo-conservatism; while giving parents the right to choose schools and allowing schools to opt out of local authority control were manifestations of neo-liberalism.

Education Secretaries

The Secretaries of State for Education and Science during this period were:

5 May 1979Mark Carlisle (1929-2005)
14 September 1981Sir Keith Joseph (1918-1994)
21 May 1986Kenneth Baker (1934- )
24 July 1989John MacGregor (1937- )

Mark Carlisle

The son of a cotton merchant, Carlisle was educated at Radley College Abingdon, read Law at Manchester University, and entered Parliament in 1964 as MP for Runcorn in Cheshire. He served in a number of junior ministerial positions in the Home Office before being appointed shadow education secretary in 1977, and then education secretary in Thatcher's first administration. He felt somewhat ill at ease in the post, freely admitting that 'I had no direct knowledge of the state sector either as a pupil or as a parent' (quoted in Ribbins and Sherratt 1997:55).

On the liberal wing of the Tory party - 'moderate and essentially pragmatic' (Chitty 2009a::48) - he was 'distinctly out of sympathy with the views of right-wing Conservatives on education' and 'worked quietly to dilute the impact of the Radical Right on the Party's education policy' (Knight 1990:138). In particular, he regretted the promotion of Rhodes Boyson within the DES (Department of Education and Science). In a letter dated 18 April 1985, he told Christopher Knight:

It was my preference to put Lady Young in charge of schools and not Boyson. I thought Boyson was too over-zealous on schools. When I took over in 1979 the education system was still in a fair amount of disarray and I did not want Boyson to upset the teachers. I wanted a conciliatory rather than provocative approach (quoted in Knight 1990:138).
Carlisle's list of priorities 'did not include vouchers or any of the other proposals favoured by the educational radical right for privatising parental choice of school' (Knight 1990:142). The only policy for which he sought Thatcher's approval was the Microelectronics Education Programme, which was implemented through the Department of Industry in 1980-81 (details below).

His main interest was in raising standards generally, as he told the 1979 Conservative Party Conference:

What we mean when we talk about raising standards in education is raising the standards of achievement for all, raising the standards of literacy and numeracy, raising the quantity and quality of mathematicians, scientists and linguists, raising the standards of behaviour and discipline in our schools. If we are to achieve those improved standards we shall do it only by the pursuit of excellence. The Conservative Party is still the party of one-nation and its education policy has to be the policy of one-nation (quoted in Knight 1990:142).
One of Carlisle's problems was the attitude of Thatcher herself, as he explained to Peter Ribbins:
She didn't much like teachers, and she didn't seem to like civil servants she encountered at the DES. This did not make it any easier for me. I found the pressures very hard, very exacting (quoted in Ribbins and Sherratt 1997:64).
He was aware that Thatcher did not have a high opinion of him as education secretary, but 'I never understood what it was that she was unhappy about' (quoted in Ribbins and Sherratt 1997:66). He acknowledged, however, that his decision to allow Thameside to go comprehensive 'clearly did not enamour me to the Tory party' (quoted in Ribbins and Sherratt 1997:66-7).

Keith Joseph

Joseph was from a wealthy and influential Jewish family - his father was head of the construction firm Bovis. He was educated at Harrow and Magdalen College Oxford, and entered Parliament in 1956 as MP for Leeds North East.

On the right wing of the Tory party, he founded (with Margaret Thatcher and Alfred Sherman) the Centre for Policy Studies in 1974 and wrote its first publication Why Britain needs a Social Market Economy. He had controversial views on the state education system. In an interview with Stephen Ball, he said:

We have a bloody state system I wish we hadn't got. I wish we'd taken a different route in 1870. We got the ruddy state involved. I don't want it. I don't think we know how to do it. I certainly don't think Secretaries of State know anything about it. But we're landed with it. If we could move back to 1870, I would take a different route. We've got compulsory education, which is a responsibility of hideous importance, and we tyrannise children to do that which they don't want, and we don't produce results (quoted in Ball 1990:62).
Joseph's educational philosophy was, by his own account, firmly-rooted in the thinking of the original One Nation group of Tory MPs. In June 1986 he told Christopher Knight:
Like Angus Maude, I was a One Nation group member in 1956. We believed levelling in schools had to stop and that excellence (discrimination) had to return. Our key perception was differentiation. We equated the stretching of children, at all levels of ability, with caring. Our aim was to achieve rigour in the school curriculum. Later, I was much influenced by Maude's views in The Common Problem, and the Black Papers. The Black Papers responded to a strong national perception, that there was a vast gap between what people received and what people needed in education. Because of the fall in the birth-rate and school rolls I decided, when I took office in 1981, to go for quality not quantity. For too long popular high expectations of education had led to popular disappointments. Large sections of the nation were eager for improvements. We wanted to satisfy the thirst for good education (quoted in Knight 1990:152).
Joseph believed that 'a market solution could only proceed (and succeed) in conjunction with a paternalistic Inspectorate' (Knight 1990:152); that there was a need for better value for money in the national investment in education; and that the Conservative Party should 'implement policies to foster excellence and elites rather than equality of condition' (Knight 1990:154). He argued for a return to traditional classroom teaching styles, telling the 1981 Conservative Party Conference:
I welcome the fact that the mixed-ability tide seems to have ebbed. Mixed-ability teaching calls for very rare teaching skills if it is to benefit every child in a non-selected class (quoted in Knight 1990:155).
Joseph had a low opinion of the educational establishment, and of the teacher unions in particular. He told Clyde Chitty:
You don't understand what an inert, sluggish, perverse mass there is in education. The teacher unions were ... perverse, perverse; except for one or two of them, they didn't concern themselves with quality, or didn't appear to. I had union leaders make half-hour speeches without mentioning children. It was a producer lobby, not a consumer lobby (quoted in Ribbins and Sherratt 1997:80).
His four-and-a-half years in office would prove to be 'a disastrous period for education, culminating in a crisis almost reaching the proportions of a Greek tragedy - and having similar characteristics' (Simon 1991:488).

Kenneth Baker

The son of a civil servant, Baker was educated at St Paul's School and read history at Magdalen College Oxford. He served as MP for Acton (from 1968), then St Marylebone (from 1970), and for Mole Valley in Surrey (1983-97).

A 'liberal-moderate Tory' (Knight 1990:184), Baker had been Parliamentary Private Secretary to Edward Heath (1974-75); Heath's campaign manager during the 1974-75 party leadership contest; Minister for Information Technology (1981-84); and Environment Secretary (1985-86).

He is principally remembered for the controversial Education Reform Act of 1988, sometimes referred to as 'the Baker Act'.

In November 1990 he was appointed Home Secretary by Thatcher's successor John Major, and in 1997 he became Baron Baker of Dorking.

John MacGregor

MacGregor was educated at Merchiston Castle School, and read economics and Law at the University of St Andrews and King's College London. He became a journalist, and then worked for the merchant bank Hill Samuel.

First elected to Parliament in 1974 as MP for South Norfolk, he served in various junior ministerial positions before being appointed Chief Secretary to the Treasury in 1985, then Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in 1987.

His period as education secretary was short (16 months) and unremarkable. Interviewed by Peter Ribbins in September 1994, he said:

I came to the view very quickly that Kenneth Baker had carried through the major reforms, particularly in the school sector, which were necessary, and that my job was to make them work (quoted in Ribbins and Sherratt 1997:127).
He held traditional Tory views on educational issues, telling Ribbins, for example, that
I have always been critical of the way educational thinking developed in the late 1950s and early 1960s under the influence of the teacher training institutions. ... I feel that some of the ideas about child-centred learning which were so influential during these years have a lot to answer for with regard to the lowering of standards which has taken place in too many of our primary and secondary schools (quoted in Ribbins and Sherratt 1997:129).
Ribbins did not ask him to provide evidence for the 'lowering of standards'.

MacGregor became Leader of the House of Commons in 1990 and then Secretary of State for Transport in 1992.

1979-1983 : Preparing the ground

Clyde Chitty has suggested that

for at least the first seven years of its existence, the new Conservative government was prepared to operate largely within the terms of the educational consensus constructed by the Labour leadership of 1976 (Chitty 1989:194).
The 1979 Conservative election manifesto contained no surprises: a brief section on 'Standards in education' declared that
We will halt the Labour government's policies which have led to the destruction of good schools; keep those of proven worth; and repeal those sections of the 1976 Education Act which compel local authorities to reorganise along comprehensive lines and restrict their freedom to take up places at independent schools.

We shall promote higher standards of achievement in basic skills. The Government's Assessment of Performance Unit will set national standards in reading, writing and arithmetic, monitored by tests worked out with teachers and others and applied locally by education authorities. The Inspectorate will be strengthened. In teacher training there must be more emphasis on practical skills and on maintaining discipline (Conservative manifesto 1979).

This was followed by two paragraphs on 'Parents' rights and responsibilities':
Extending parents' rights and responsibilities, including their right of choice, will also help raise standards by giving them greater influence over education. Our Parents' Charter will place a clear duty on government and local authorities to take account of parents' wishes when allocating children to schools, with a local appeals system for those dissatisfied. Schools will be required to publish prospectuses giving details of their examination and other results.

The Direct Grant schools, abolished by Labour, gave wider opportunities for bright children from modest backgrounds. The Direct Grant principle will therefore be restored with an Assisted Places Scheme. Less well-off parents will be able to claim part or all of the fees at certain schools from a special government fund (Conservative manifesto 1979).

Budget cuts

The Thatcher government's first budget called for immediate savings in education amounting to between 250m and 400m; and plans were made for a further 3.5 per cent cut in the education budget in 1980-81 (Simon 1991:479).

In addition, the 1980 Local Government, Planning and Land Act (13 November) introduced new arrangements for the financing of local government, involving changes to the Rate Support Grant. These were so complex that 'few fully understood the proposals' (Simon 1991:481), but it was generally understood that they were another means of cutting expenditure. Writing in Education (1 August 1980), Jack Springett, Education Officer of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, warned that the new system placed 'unlimited powers in the hands of ministers' and undermined local authorities' responsibilities for decision-making (quoted in Simon 1991:481).

The government commissioned a series of departmental studies aimed at achieving savings and increasing efficiency and effectiveness. As part of the 'Rayner Review' (it was overseen by Sir Derek Rayner (1926-1998) of the Cabinet Office), the DES and the Welsh Office were asked, in December 1980, to conduct a review of HM Inspectorate.

Published in 1982, the Study of HM Inspectorate in England and Wales suggested that there was little scope for cuts in HMI staffing:

The present complement of 430 should be regarded as a maximum. It would be feasible, although not desirable, to accept a reduction in complement to 420. Any further reduction would carry penalties for the effectiveness of the Inspectorate and put many of the recommendations for improvement proposed in the study beyond reach (DES/Welsh Office 1982:95).
Meanwhile, HMI reports showed that a third of schools were in poor condition; half of local authorities had radically reduced their repair and maintenance budgets; and one shire county had undertaken no interior decoration of its schools for fifteen years. Further cuts would clearly be very damaging.

Despite these warnings, the White Paper The Government's Expenditure Plans 1981-82 to 1983-4 (10 March 1981) proposed an overall reduction of 7 per cent in education, with capital spending planned to fall by more than 30 per cent.

With the severe cut imposed on capital expenditure the basis was now laid for the continuous deterioration of the fabric of schools and colleges which characterised the 1980s (Simon 1991:480).
Carlisle (like other ministers) attempted to resist the cuts, and privately warned colleagues that a reduction of up to 7 per cent would seriously damage educational standards. Publicly, however, he 'gave no indication of his misgivings about the implications for education of Mrs Thatcher's economic experiment' (Knight 1990:137).

On top of the cuts to school and local authority budgets, in July 1981 the government announced drastic cuts to university budgets. The result was widespread protests by teachers and students.

The end of comprehensivisation

The government's immediate aim - to 'get rid of the 1976 Education Act', as Sexton had put it - was effected within three months of the election.


The 1979 Education Act (26 July) contained just one provision: it repealed Labour's 1976 Act and gave back to local education authorities the right to select pupils for secondary education at the age of eleven. It thus marked the end of comprehensivisation as government policy.

Chaos ensued in some local authorities. Tory-controlled Bolton council decided (by one vote) to scrap its comprehensive scheme, which meant that 3,000 children suddenly had to take eleven-plus tests. When Labour regained control four years later, Bolton finally went comprehensive. Meanwhile, nearby Tameside Council, now Labour-controlled, voted to reverse Tory policy and implement its own, earlier comprehensive plan. Carlisle refused to sanction it, but legal action resulted in a victory for the council.

Thus comprehensivisation continued under Carlisle and, by 1982, DES figures showed that 89.3 per cent of pupils in maintained secondary schools were in comprehensives (Simon 1991:482). As Caroline Benn pointed out, however, the real figure was much lower. Less than three quarters of all secondary age pupils were in comprehensives, she said,

and that is before we start discounting the bogus comprehensives and all those which are creamed by selective or fee-paying schools. In fact, the 'genuine' uncreamed comprehensive population is probably only about 50% of the country (Benn 1980:40).
Furthermore, there was still selection of pupils within comprehensive schools, between the General Certificate of Education (GCE) and Certificate of Secondary Education (CSE) streams. Carlisle, who at first rejected the idea of a single unified exam system, was persuaded to change his mind, but it would be 1988 before the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) came into being (details below).

In the event, attempts to reintroduce or extend selection in Berkshire, Wiltshire, Redbridge, Cumbria and Solihull all failed as a result of strong local opposition: the Tories had underestimated the popularity of comprehensive schools. The 'Solihull adventure', as Brian Simon calls it, was particularly significant:

Solihull had opted, and in a very clear manner, to retain its comprehensives, and no more was heard of the original project. Just after the return of a Tory government, and in the area of a well established Tory authority, a clear and precise public test brought out very dramatically the degree of support existing for local comprehensive systems (Simon 1991:499).
Assisted Places Scheme

A year later, the government introduced its Assisted Places Scheme: section 17 of the 1980 Education Act (3 April) provided public money to pay for 30,000 children to go to private schools.

The scheme - costing 6m in the first year, 70m when fully operational - would be paid for out of the general education budget: in other words, from resources that would otherwise have been available to local authorities and their schools.

The former Tory Prime Minister, Edward Heath, was not in favour, believing that

a policy of extracting the highest fliers from the state sector in significant numbers would have an unacceptably debilitating impact on those who remained (Heath 1998:82).
He was dismayed that nobody had spared a thought
for the youngsters who would have to be the first to endure this experiment in social engineering, nor for the effects on the schools from which they would make an exodus. After all, these youngsters were the leaders in embryo of their houses, in work and in sport, in music and debate, and their loss would lower the standards of their schools all round (Heath 1998:81-2).
Heath also believed, as he had in 1940, that the main motivation behind proposals for state bursaries was to support private schools known to be in financial difficulties.


As unemployment reached 2.6m during the summer of 1981, riots broke out across the country. Ministers who would not support Thatcher's confrontational style were replaced in a Cabinet reshuffle in September. Carlisle was 'unceremoniously sacked', his place taken by Thatcher's monetarist guru, Keith Joseph. 'This reshuffle marked the beginning of Thatcher's real ascendancy within the Cabinet and party' (Simon 1991:482).

The appointment of Joseph was a signal that school reform was moving up the government's agenda. A long-time advocate of free market ideas, Joseph found himself

commanding an apparatus that was now increasingly involved in specifying the everyday practice of schools. ... Joseph, like the ministers who succeeded him, organised in the name of 'effective education' a vast new complex of regulations and regulators that would measure and direct the processes and outcomes of schooling (Jones 2003:115).
The government's twin aims - as advocated by the Centre for Policy Studies and the Downing Street Policy Unit - were to make the education system more responsive to the needs of industry and more susceptible to market forces.

To achieve these aims, Thatcher and Joseph set about confronting the 'education establishment' - the teachers and their unions, the local authorities, the training institutions, and national and local inspectors and advisors. Initially, there was action on two fronts:

  • parent power - giving parents more control over schools; and
  • the curriculum - increasing central government's influence over what was taught in schools.
In Thatcher's second term there would be action in two other areas:
  • the teachers - controlling their training and development and restricting their role in curriculum development; and
  • the local education authorities - reducing their power to subvert central government policies.

Parent power

Education vouchers

The notion of the education voucher, enabling parents to choose any school within or outside the state system, had been around for a long time: Milton Friedman, then a relatively little-known economist at the University of Chicago, had advocated it in the 1950s. In Britain, vouchers had been promoted enthusiastically by Tory MP Rhodes Boyson in the last two Black Papers (1975 and 1977 - see the previous chapter).

Joseph's education team, argues Knight, comprised representatives of the two major schools of right-wing educational thought - the 'centralisers' and the 'decentralisers'.

It is important to note this division because ... although Joseph's team was united in its broad support for raising educational standards, it displayed less agreement over precise schemes to improve the mechanics of parental choice. Significantly, each grouping was distinguished by its varying degrees of support for, and opposition to, the education voucher (Knight 1990:158).
The decentralisers, who advocated the voucher, included Rhodes Boyson and Stuart Sexton. The centralisers, who were opposed to the voucher, included Joseph himself. He had initially been sympathetic to vouchers but, from 1981, was 'sceptical of their administrative practicality' (Knight 1990:158). At the 1981 Conservative Party Conference, he was loudly applauded when he said
I personally have been intellectually attracted to the idea of seeing whether eventually, eventually, a voucher might be a way of increasing parental choice even further ... I know that there are very great difficulties in making a voucher deliver - in a way that would commend itself to us - more choice than the 1980 Act will, in fact, deliver. It is now up to the advocates of such a possibility to study the difficulties - and there are real difficulties - and see whether they can develop proposals which will really cope with them (quoted in Chitty 1989:183).
In response to requests from pressure groups for further information, Joseph asked his civil servants to prepare a paper on the feasibility of a voucher scheme. This memorandum, dated December 1981, stated that the Secretary of State had 'no plans for the general introduction of a voucher scheme' (quoted in Chitty 1989:184).

Despite opposition from DES officials, who were 'anxious to see the whole idea quietly dropped' (Chitty 1989:184), Joseph continued to make speeches in support of vouchers, while never committing the government to implementation.

In the autumn of 1983, however, he told the Conservative Party Conference: 'the voucher, at least in the foreseeable future, is dead' (quoted in Chitty 1989:184).

He set out his reasons for coming to this decision in a written Commons statement in June 1984:

I was intellectually attracted to the idea of education vouchers because it seemed to offer the possibility of some kind of market mechanism which would increase the choice and diversity of schools in response to the wishes of parents acting as customers. In the course of my examination of this possibility, it became clear that there would be great practical difficulties in making any voucher system compatible with the requirements that schooling should be available to all without charge, compulsory and of an acceptable standard. ...

I concluded that the difficulties which would arise from the many and complex changes required to the legal and institutional framework of the education system, and the additional cost of mitigating them, were too great to justify further consideration of a voucher system, as a means of increasing parental choice and influence.

For these reasons, the idea of vouchers is no longer on the agenda (Hansard House of Commons 22 June 1984 Vol 62 Col 290W).

The decision to abandon vouchers angered the government's right-wing supporters, and Thatcher herself was unwilling to let the idea drop, telling Channel 4 in July 1985: 'I am very disappointed that we were not able to do the voucher scheme; I think I must have another go' (quoted in Chitty 1989:187).

1980 Education Act

The 1980 Education Act (3 April) began the process of giving more power to parents. In addition to introducing the Assisted Places Scheme, it required school governing bodies to include at least two parents (Section 2(5)) and gave parents the right to choose their child's school (6) and to appeal if they were not offered the school they had chosen (7).

It also laid down new rules regarding school attendance orders (10 and 11), the creation of new schools and the closing of existing ones (12), and the number of school places (15). It ended local authorities' obligation to provide free milk and meals, except for children whose parents were in receipt of Supplementary Benefit or Family Income Supplement (22); and it allowed local authorities to establish nursery schools (24).

1981 Education Act

Parents were also given new rights in the 1981 Education Act (30 October) which incorporated some of the proposals of the 1978 Warnock Report Special Educational Needs.

Local education authorities (LEAs) were required to identify the needs of children with learning difficulties (Section 4); have assessment procedures in place for ascertaining those needs (5-6); and produce 'statements' specifying how the needs would be met (7).

The Act, however, was severely limited by the government's commitment to budget-cutting: it 'did the bare minimum to provide a new legal framework for special education, without spending any extra money at all' (Rowan 1988:98).

Warnock had identified three areas for priority action: provision for children under 5 with special educational needs; provision for young people over 16 with special needs; and teacher training. But, as Patricia Rowan pointed out:

None of these 'three areas of first priority' was to figure to any significant extent in the legislation which eventually followed, ... nor yet could subsequent changes in provision or policy be taken as unequivocal signs that the government was taking on board the spirit of Warnock. Far from it. Department of Education and Science ministers were also to spend some time and energy ducking and weaving to avoid giving parents the rights of appeal and access to information recommended in the Report; dodging the issue on the proposal for a named person who might provide a point of contact at critical times to guide parents and handicapped young people through a confusing maze of services; side-stepping the implications of recommendations designed to promote better relationships and coordination between professionals and services, and to sort out the overlapping and sometimes competing responsibilities of education and social services and of area health authorities (Rowan 1988:97-8).
In a guide to the Act published by the Advisory Centre for Education, Peter Newell argued that:
The new law on special education is a hesitant step along the road to providing adequate safeguards, rights and duties for all those involved in the education of children with special educational needs, and to ensuring their right to integration into the life and work of the community, and its 'ordinary' institutions.

It is a pale reflection of similar legislation already in force in other countries (for instance the Education of all Handicapped Children Act in the US) (quoted in Rowan 1988:100).

The curriculum

Chitty argues that the period from 1981 to 1986 was

notable for increasing central influence on the curriculum of a frankly party political nature. Statements were made by ministers and others which would have been considered quite improper in earlier periods (Chitty 1989:150).
Keith Joseph, for example, told the annual convention of the Institute of Directors in March 1982 that 'schools should preach the moral virtue of free enterprise and the pursuit of profit' (The Times Educational Supplement 26 March 1982 quoted in Chitty 1989:151).

It was 'a curious speech' from a politician who 'claimed to condemn all forms of political indoctrination in schools' (Chitty 1989:151). Joseph was apparently happy for schools to preach moral virtues as long as he approved of them. He was certainly not happy for children to be taught 'peace studies', a topic which was growing in popularity in secondary schools. In March 1984, he told a conference organised by the National Council of Women of Great Britain:

I deplore attempts to trivialise the substance of the issue of peace and war, to cloud it with inappropriate appeals to emotion, and to present it so one-sidedly that the teacher is guilty of indoctrination (DES Press Release 3 March 1982 quoted in Chitty 1989:152).
Instead, schools would be encouraged to make use of the pamphlet A Balanced View, which set out the government's case for retaining nuclear weapons. Publicly, the DES continued to maintain that the content of the curriculum was a matter for schools and local authorities. Privately, however, DES officials were anxious to achieve greater control of the school curriculum, as Stewart Ranson made clear in his contribution to Patricia Broadfoot's 1984 book Selection Certification and Control. He argued that
The driving force for change ... has not been an external source of influence but the DES itself. The policy of reconstructing the education service has been led by the Department who have championed the initiative of strengthening the ties between school and work, between education and training in order to improve the vocational preparation of the 14-19 age group. Restructuring would require complex changes to key components of the education system: institutions would have to be rationalised, finance redirected and, critically, the curriculum and examinations would need to be recast (Ranson 1984:223-4).
He quoted from some revealing interviews with DES officials, conducted by the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) between 1979 and 1982 as part of its Research into Central-Local Relations.

One senior official commented:

our focus must be on the strategic questions of the content, shape and purposes of the whole educational system and absolutely central to that is the curriculum. We would like legislative powers over the curriculum and the powers to control the exam system by ending all those independent charters of the exam bodies (quoted in Ranson 1984:224).
Another said:
there is a need especially in the 16-19 area, for a centrally formulated approach to education: we need what the Germans call 'instrumentarium' through which Ministers can implement and operate policy ...

I see a return to centralisation of a different kind with the centre seeking to determine what goes on in institutions: this is a more fundamental centralisation than we have seen before (quoted in Ranson 1984:238).

And yet another declared that:
we are in a period of considerable social change. There may be social unrest, but we can cope with the Toxteths [a reference to a major riot in 1981]. But if we have a highly educated and idle population we may possibly anticipate more serious social conflict. People must be educated once more to know their place (quoted in Ranson 1984:241).
The 'Great Debate' about the nature and purposes of education, initiated by Labour Prime Minister Jim Callaghan in his 1976 Ruskin College speech, continued under the Conservative government with numerous pamphlets on the school curriculum from the DES, HMI, and the Schools Council.

The DES published its Report on the Circular 14/77 Review (1979), A framework for the school curriculum (1980), and The School Curriculum (1981), followed by Circular 6/81.

HMI issued A View of the Curriculum (1980) and two further 'Red Books': Curriculum 11-16: a review of progress (1981) and Curriculum 11-16: Towards a Statement of Entitlement (1983).

The Schools Council's contribution to the debate was The practical curriculum (Working Paper 70, 1981).

DES publications

Report on the Circular 14/77 Review

Circular 14/77 Local Authority Arrangements for the School Curriculum had been issued in November 1977 by Labour education secretary Shirley Williams. Local authorities were to report to her by June 1978, and she planned to publish a review of the responses.

Following the change of government, the Report on the Circular 14/77 Review was published by the DES in November 1979. In their Foreword, the Secretaries of State (for Education and Science and for Wales) described it as 'a significant document' (DES/Welsh Office 1979:iii).

It began by recording the appreciation of the education departments for the 'effort devoted by authorities to preparing their replies, some of which were very detailed and supplemented by considerable background material' (DES/Welsh Office 1979:2).

The summary of the replies, it said, showed that there were

substantial variations within the educational system in England and Wales in policies towards the curriculum. It also gives valuable insight into the ways in which authorities' curricular responsibilities are discharged (DES/Welsh Office 1979:2).
The Report stressed the importance of
the relationships between all the parties with responsibilities for school education: central and local government, school governing bodies and teachers (DES/Welsh Office 1979:2)
and added that there was no intention
to alter the existing statutory relationship between these various partners (DES/Welsh Office 1979:2).
However, the Secretaries of State concluded that the time was ripe to 'seek a measure of general agreement' (DES/Welsh Office 1979:6).
The summary of responses to Circular 14/77 suggests that not all authorities have a clear view of the desirable structure of the school curriculum, especially its core elements. They believe they should seek to give a lead in the process of reaching a national consensus on a desirable framework for the curriculum and consider the development of such a framework a priority for the education service (DES/Welsh Office 1979:6-7).
HMI had already been asked 'to formulate a view of a possible curriculum on the basis of their knowledge of schools' (DES/Welsh Office 1979:7) and the education departments would now
draw up and circulate a draft policy document suggesting the form a framework for the curriculum might take and the ground it should cover (DES/Welsh Office 1979:7).
The document would provide a basis for consultations 'within and beyond the education service' (DES/Welsh Office 1979:7) which would take place early in 1980.

The Review 'envisaged a leadership role for the Secretaries of State within a context of shared responsibilities' (Chitty 1989:143): there was no question at this stage of the DES discarding the partnership model. It was central government's role to

bring together the partners in the education service and the interests of the community at large; and with them seek an agreed view of the school curriculum which would take account of the range of local needs and allow for local developments, drawing upon the varied skills and experience which all those concerned with the service can contribute (DES/Welsh Office 1979:3).
The partnership model continued to be promoted by the DES for two more years - it can be seen in A framework for the school curriculum (1980) and in The School Curriculum (1981) - and was still evident in the 1985 White Paper Better Schools, which declared that
it would not in the view of the Government be right for the Secretaries of State's policy for the range and pattern of the 5-16 curriculum to amount to the determination of national syllabuses for that period (DES 1985:11).
A framework for the school curriculum

The Circular 14/77 Review was followed in January 1980 by A framework for the school curriculum, a DES/Welsh Office booklet which argued that each education authority 'should have a clear and known policy for the curriculum offered in its schools' (DES/Welsh Office 1980:2). Authorities needed to consider

the educational aims which the school curriculum should seek to match; the responsibility of individual schools to articulate their own aims and assess the extent to which they are being achieved; the extent to which some key subjects should be regarded as essential components of the curriculum for all pupils; and ways in which the curriculum, whatever subject structure may be adopted, should seek to prepare pupils for employment and adult responsibilities in society and to provide a sound basis for continued education (DES/Welsh Office 1980:2).
The booklet argued that
The school curriculum is not, and should not be, either static over time or rigidly uniform throughout the country. It must continually evolve to reflect changes in social attitudes and values, new economic circumstances and employment patterns, improvements in our understanding of the learning process and educational technology, and the extension of knowledge (DES/Welsh Office 1980:4).
the diversity of practice that has emerged in recent years, as shown particularly by HM Inspectors' national surveys of primary and secondary schools, makes it timely to prepare guidance on the place which certain key elements of the curriculum should have in the experience of every pupil during the compulsory period of education (DES/Welsh Office 1980:5).
The booklet noted that there had been
a good deal of support ... for the idea of identifying a 'core' or essential part of the curriculum which should be followed by all pupils according to their ability. Such a core, it is hoped, would ensure that all pupils, whatever else they do, at least get a sufficient grounding in the knowledge and skills which by common consent should form part of the equipment of the educated adult (DES/Welsh Office 1980:5).
In the view of the Secretaries of State, the core should consist of English, mathematics and science; for most pupils it would also include a modern foreign language and physical education. The syllabus for religious education should be 'reconsidered from time to time in the light of the religious and cultural diversity of the society, locally and nationally, in which pupils are growing up' (DES/Welsh Office 1980:7).

Finally, the booklet noted that 'schools contribute to the preparation of young people for all aspects of adult life', and that this required 'many additions to the core subjects' (DES/Welsh Office 1980:8). These would include

areas such as craft, design and technology; the arts, including music and drama; history and geography (either as separate subjects or as components in a programme of environmental and social education); moral education, health education, preparation for parenthood and an adult role in family life; careers education and vocational guidance; and preparation for a participatory role in adult society (DES/Welsh Office 1980:8).
The time and emphasis given to these subjects might vary from school to school, but 'at one stage or another, all should find a place in the education of every pupil' (DES/Welsh Office 1980:8).

The School Curriculum

The partnership model of curriculum responsibility was endorsed once again - though this time with some caveats - in another DES/Welsh Office booklet, The School Curriculum, published on 25 March 1981.

It argued that the 5-16 curriculum 'cannot, and should not, remain static, but must respond to the changing demands made by the world outside the school' (DES/Welsh Office 1981:1). This was a challenging task which many schools were tackling with success. However, evidence from HMI surveys had revealed 'some serious weaknesses which require present practice to be substantially modified' (DES/Welsh Office 1981:2).

This calls not for a change in the statutory framework of the education service but for a reappraisal of how each partner in the service should now discharge those responsibilities assigned to him by law. The Secretaries of State consider that curriculum policies should be developed and implemented on the basis of the existing statutory relationship between the partners and that this process must be based upon a clear understanding of, and must pay proper regard to, the responsibilities and interests of each partner and the contribution that each can make (DES/Welsh Office 1981:2).
In order to fulfil their role in this partnership, the Secretaries of State (for Education and Science and for Wales) had decided to 'set out in some detail the approach to the school curriculum which they consider should now be followed in the years ahead' (DES/Welsh Office 1981:5).
In the light of the general guidance in this paper the Secretaries of State now believe that every local education authority should frame policies for the school curriculum and plan the deployment of the available resources to that end; and that every school should analyse its aims, set these out in writing, and regularly assess how far the curriculum within the school as a whole and for individual pupils measures up to these aims (DES/Welsh Office 1981:5).
The Secretaries of State acknowledged that the curriculum could be 'described and analysed in several ways, each of which has its advantages and limitations' (DES/Welsh Office 1981:6). They set out their guidance in terms of subjects, but agreed that
other frames of reference are also required. These may be in terms of the skills required at particular stages of a pupil's career; or of areas of experience such as the eight used in HM Inspectors' working papers on the 11-16 curriculum: the aesthetic and creative, the ethical, the linguistic, the mathematical, the physical, the scientific, the social and political, and the spiritual (DES/Welsh Office 1981:6).
They argued that 'What is taught in schools, and the way it is taught, must appropriately reflect fundamental values in our society' (DES/Welsh Office 1981:6). In this context, three issues deserved special mention: first, that society had become multicultural; second, that the increasing use of technology required greater adaptability, self-reliance and other personal qualities; and third, that sexual equality needed to be supported in the curriculum: 'It is essential to ensure that equal curricular opportunity is genuinely available to both boys and girls' (DES/Welsh Office 1981:7).

The curriculum needed 'to be viewed as a whole and to take account of different needs and abilities: to be concerned not only with what is to be learned but also with how it is to be learned' (DES/Welsh Office 1981:8).

The aims of primary education - 'to extend children's knowledge of themselves and of the world in which they live ... to develop skills and concepts, to help them relate to others, and to encourage a proper self-confidence' (DES/Welsh Office 1981:10) - could not be identified with separate subject areas, nor could set amounts of time be assigned to the various elements.

Primary schools, said the Secretaries of State, rightly attached a high priority to English and maths: this was 'an overriding responsibility' (DES/Welsh Office 1981:10). Topic work should be well planned and there should be 'more effective science teaching' (DES/Welsh Office 1981:11). The experiments in teaching a foreign language in primary schools had had 'mixed results' and should be continued only where there was adequate teacher expertise.

With regard to secondary schools, the Secretaries of State emphasised three propositions:

1. Schools should plan their curriculum as a whole. The curriculum offered by a school, and the curriculum received by individual pupils, should not be simply a collection of separate subjects; nor is it sufficient to transfer, with modifications, the ideas about the curriculum in the separate selective and non-selective schools of an earlier generation into the comprehensive schools attended by most pupils today.

2. There is an overwhelming case for providing all pupils between 11 and 16 with curricula of a broadly common character, designed so as to ensure a balanced education during this period and in order to prevent subsequent choices being needlessly restricted.

3. School education needs to equip young people fully for adult and working life in a world which is changing very rapidly indeed, particularly in consequence of new technological developments: they must be able to see where their education has meaning outside school (DES/Welsh Office 1981:12-13).

The pamphlet then discussed the place of English, maths, science and modern languages in the secondary curriculum. It noted that 'many aspects of adult life and work are likely to be transformed by developments in computer science and in information and control technology' and argued that it was therefore 'important that pupils should become familiar with the use and application of computers' (DES/Welsh Office 1981:17). Craft, design and technology was 'part of the preparation for living and working in modern industrial society' (DES/Welsh Office 1981:17).

Finally, three points were made regarding preparation for adult life. First, 'the curriculum needs to be related to what happens outside schools' (DES/Welsh Office 1981:18); there should therefore be a greater emphasis on practical work and economic understanding. Second, 'Pupils need better and more systematic careers education and guidance'. And third, 'An increasing number of local education authorities and schools have recognised the importance of establishing links between the education service and industry' (DES/Welsh Office 1981:18): this was an area the Secretaries of State wished to see expanded.

In its concluding section, The Way Forward, the pamphlet welcomed the work which had already been undertaken by schools and local authorities 'often as the result of sustained effort and experiment over the years' and acknowledged that 'Further progress will similarly be gradual and will be affected by the availability of teachers and other resources' (DES/Welsh Office 1981:19).

Circular 6/81

Circular 6/81 The School Curriculum, issued by the DES on 1 October 1981, asked each local education authority to

(a) review its policy for the school curriculum in its area, and its arrangements for making that policy known to all concerned;
(b) review the extent to which current provision in the schools is consistent with that policy; and
(c) plan future developments accordingly, within the resources available (DES 1981: para 5).
In taking these actions, local education authorities were to consult governors, teachers, and others concerned with the schools.

The School Curriculum was criticised in the educational press for its interventionist stance, but there were also concerns that the curriculum proposals put forward by both the DES and HMI seemed to be having little effect in practice. 'Evidence reaching the Department, both from HMI and in response to Circular 14/77 pointed to a disconcerting inertia on the part of many local authorities and schools' (Chitty 1989:144).

As a result, DES bureaucrats 'tired of the politics of persuasion' (Chitty 1989:145) and the Department ceased publishing documents on the curriculum in 1981. Instead, the government sought greater control of the curriculum by other means, including

  • vetting the criteria for the new General Certificate of Secondary Education;
  • abolishing the teacher-dominated Schools Council (1984);
  • establishing the Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (CATE); and
  • controlling teachers' in-service training by means of specific grants (see Better Schools DES 1985:54).
HMI publications

A View of the Curriculum

A View of the Curriculum (1980), was the eleventh in the HMI series Matters for Discussion.

It began with a definition of the school curriculum:

The curriculum in its full sense comprises all the opportunities for learning provided by a school. It includes the formal programme of lessons in the timetable: the so - called 'extracurricular' and 'out of school' activities deliberately promoted or supported by the school; and the climate of relationships, attitudes, styles of behaviour and the general quality of life established in the school community as a whole (HMI 1980a:1).
It noted the 'necessary tension between common and individual needs' (HMI 1980a:1) and argued that, 'If it is to be effective, the school curriculum must allow for differences' (HMI 1980a:2).

In the primary school, all children needed a programme which would enable them

to engage with other children and with adults in a variety of working and social relationships;

to increase their range and understanding of English, and particularly to develop their ability and inclination to read and write for information and imaginative stimulation;

to acquire better physical control when they are writing, or exercising utilitarian skills and engaging in imaginative expression in art, craft, music, drama or movement generally (HMI 1980a:7).

HMI stressed the importance of developing a wide range of skills, 'not least those concerned with the development of good personal relations', which were 'learnt in the context of developing concepts and in the acquisition of information' (HMI 1980a:10).

In relation to secondary schools, HMI put forward 14 'propositions for consideration' (HMI 1980a:14-18). They argued:

  • that an explicit national consensus was needed on what constituted five years of secondary education;
  • that there should be 'comparable opportunities and comparable quality, though not uniformity' for all pupils in all schools (HMI 1980a:14);
  • that science should take its place alongside English, maths, religious and physical education as key elements of the curriculum; and
  • that in a common curriculum there should 'still be room and need for differentiation and choice' (HMI 1980a:18).
A View of the Curriculum concluded that
In the end, whatever is decided nationally must leave much for individual local education authorities and schools to determine as they interpret the national agreement to take account of the nature of individual schools and individual pupils. It must take account of children's capacity to learn at any given stage of their maturity and identify what is intrinsically worth learning and best acquired through schooling. It must, too, allow for future modification in response to new needs in the world outside schools: decisions cannot sensibly be taken once and for all. The effort involved will be justified if it leads to developing more fully the potential of all children (HMI 1980a:23).
Red Books 2 and 3

HMI also produced two more 'Red Books' (the first had been published in 1977 - see the previous chapter), describing progress with curriculum development projects involving 41 schools in five local authorities.

Red Book 2 Curriculum 11-16: a Review of Progress (1981) was 'not a contribution by HMI to discussion about the theoretical basis of the curriculum' but was concerned with 'the reality of the curriculum for real pupils in real schools'. It advocated 'no models of product or process' but made clear that 'time, good order and shared commitment are essential to successful evaluation and change, which may have to be achieved small step by small step' (HMI 1981:v).

Red Book 3 Curriculum 11-16: Towards a Statement of Entitlement (1983) contained the final report on the projects. The aim, it said, had been

to establish a working relationship which would help the schools involved to examine, rethink and improve their curricula and classroom practice. The focus of everyone's effort, which might be shared by every secondary school in the country, was to find better ways of meeting the needs of all their pupils in the rapidly changing circumstances of today (HMI 1983a:v).
The conclusion was that 'any adequate specification of the curriculum to which all pupils are entitled up to 16 should include the following' (HMI 1983a:26):
i a statement of aims relating to the education of the individuals and to the preparation of young people for life after school;

ii a statement of objectives in terms of skills, attitudes, concepts and knowledge;

iii a balanced allocation of time for all the eight areas of experience (the aesthetic and creative; the ethical; the linguistic; the mathematical; the physical; the scientific; the social and political; and the spiritual) which reflects the importance of each and a judgement of how the various component courses contribute to these areas;

iv provision for the entitlement curriculum in all five years for all pupils of 70-80 per cent of the time available with the remaining time for various other components to be taken by pupils according to their individual talents and interests;

v methods of teaching and learning which ensure the progressive acquisition by pupils of the desired skills, attitudes, concepts and knowledge;

vi a policy for staffing and resource allocation which is based on the curriculum;

vii acceptance of the need for assessment which monitors pupils' progress in learning, and for explicit procedures, accessible to the public, which reflect and reinforce i. to v. above (HMI 1983a:26-7).

Schools Council contribution

The practical curriculum

The Schools Council's contribution to the Great Debate was The practical curriculum (Working Paper 70), published in 1981.

The booklet was not, the authors said, about subjects or content, but about the process of curriculum development. They hoped they had 'found a way of presenting the curriculum as an activity and not merely a syllabus or an exhortation' (Schools Council 1981:7). Their report was 'not intended to be either definitive or prescriptive' but to 'provoke discussion and provide new insights' (Schools Council 1981:7).

The Schools Council, they suggested, had a distinctive contribution to make because

It is the only national forum where representatives of central government, local authorities, teachers' organisations, further education and higher education, employers, trade unions, parents, churches and examining bodies meet to discuss the content and process of education in school (Schools Council 1981:9).
The first chapter, A rationale for the curriculum, began with some underlying principles of curriculum development and listed six central issues:
i the overwhelming need, for each school and for the country as a whole, is to find a rationale for the curriculum now every child has a right to eleven years' education;
ii then to identify the irreducible minimum to which every pupil should have a right of access; the Council believes this minimum should reflect the complex diversity of human nature and the capacity schools have to contribute to every aspect of personal and social growth. The minimum curriculum should be broad and stimulating;
iii to decide what mix of subject disciplines and kinds of experience a school should provide to meet the diverse needs of its pupils, and to achieve a reasonable balance over the eleven years of compulsory schooling;
iv to take account of the implications of having externally examined outcomes for most pupils;
v to negotiate a match between the desired curriculum and the staff, accommodation, equipment and materials available; and
vi to think out ways of discovering whether the planned curriculum achieves what is hoped of it (Schools Council 1981:14).
Later chapters dealt with planning and monitoring the curriculum, and assessment.

The authors hoped the handbook would be 'a useful basis for workshops and seminars on planning the curriculum. It might also be helpful in local evaluative or case studies' (Schools Council 1981:67).

It had been suggested, they noted, that the Council could usefully prepare 'more detailed statements about objectives and skills, for different age groups and different subjects' and try to identify 'exactly what knowledge and skills the study of traditional subjects develops'. Both tasks seemed 'appropriate for the Council' (Schools Council 1981:67).

Inside the primary classroom

One other publication is worth noting here. Inside the primary classroom by Maurice Galton, Brian Simon and Paul Croll, published in 1980, was part of the Observational Research and Classroom Learning Evaluation (ORACLE) project, funded by the Social Science Research Council between 1975 and 1980.

Inside the primary classroom reported the findings of 'the first large-scale observational study of primary school classrooms to be undertaken in this country'. It presented 'an over-all analysis of pupil and teacher activity' and identified 'different patterns of teacher and pupil behaviour'. Its findings were 'directly relevant to the criticisms of new approaches in the primary school': they provided 'a mass of objective data against which these criticisms may be evaluated' (Galton, Simon and Croll 1980:1).

Youth Training Scheme

Employers and politicians had long argued that the curriculum of schools and colleges should be more closely focused on preparing pupils to meet the needs of industry, a view which was certainly shared by the Thatcher governments.

The Department of Employment's 1981 White Paper A New Training Initiative: A Programme for Action, published in December, noted that increasing numbers of students were taking full-time vocational courses which combined 'the theory and practice of particular occupational skills with general education in subjects which have hitherto been studied mainly part-time' (Department of Employment 1981:5).

It argued that there was a need for 'vocationally-orientated courses of a more general kind' (Department of Employment 1981:6) and it proposed replacing the Youth Opportunities Programme, which had been introduced in 1978, with 'a new and better Youth Training Scheme' to be run by the Manpower Services Commission. It would 'cover all unemployed minimum age school-leavers by September 1983' (Department of Employment 1981:7).

There would be five main elements:

  • induction and assessment;
  • basic skills including numeracy, literacy, communication, and practical competence;
  • occupationally relevant education and training for personal development in a variety of working contexts;
  • guidance and counselling; and
  • record and review of progress.
The new scheme was to be 'first and last a training scheme' and this would be 'reflected in its structure, its delivery and the terms and conditions for the young trainees' (Department of Employment 1981:9).

Technical and Vocational Education Initiative

Margaret Thatcher announced the Technical and Vocational Education Initiative (TVEI) in a House of Commons statement on 12 November 1982. In reply to a question from Sir William van Straubenzee, she said:

Growing concern about existing arrangements has been expressed over many years, not least by the National Economic Development Council. I have asked the chairman of the Manpower Services Commission, together with my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Education and Science, for Employment and for Wales, to develop a pilot scheme to start by September 1983, for new institutional arrangements for technical and vocational education for 14 to 18-year-olds, within existing financial resources, and, where possible, in association with local education authorities (Hansard House of Commons 12 November 1982 Vol 31 Cols 271-2W).
To accompany the announcement, the Department of Employment issued a press release (12 November 1982), stating that TVEI was designed to 'stimulate technical and vocational education for 14- to 18-year-olds as part of a drive to improve our performance in the development of new skills and technology' (quoted in Chitty 1989 173).

The Initiative had been devised by David (later Lord) Young (1932- ), Chair of the Manpower Services Commission (MSC), Keith Joseph and Norman Tebbit (1931- ) (then Secretary of State for Employment): there had been no consultations with the DES or teachers or the local authorities. The fact that it was the Prime Minister who made the announcement, rather than Young or Joseph, 'may be indicative of the importance attached to this Initiative or symptomatic of a developing rivalry between the DES and the MSC for control of education and training' (Chitty 1989:146).

On 28 January 1983, Young wrote to all local authority directors of education in England and Wales, outlining what the MSC saw as the main objectives of TVEI:

First, our general objective is to widen and enrich the curriculum in a way that will help young people to prepare for the world of work, and to develop skills and interests, including creative abilities, that will help them to lead a fuller life and to be able to contribute more to the life of the community. Secondly, we are in the business of helping students to 'learn to learn'. In a time of rapid technological change, the extent to which particular occupational skills are required will change. What is important about this Initiative is that youngsters should receive an education which will enable them to adapt to the changing occupational environment (quoted in Chitty 1989:173-4).
The notion that TVEI was intended for pupils of all ability levels angered right-wing members of the Tory party who were 'prepared to tolerate courses of a vocational nature' only if they were reserved for pupils who could be labelled as 'non-academic' or 'non-examinable' (Chitty 1989:174).

TVEI began with fourteen pilot projects in the autumn of 1983. By 1986, 85,000 students in 600 institutions were involved in four-year programmes

designed to stimulate work-related education, make the curriculum more relevant to post-school life and enable students to aim for nationally-recognised qualifications in a wide range of technical and vocational subject areas (Chitty 1989:146).
There was considerable confusion at first about responsibility for the Initiative: the MSC issued a statement inviting local education authorities 'to work in partnership with us to further advance vocational education for young people' (quoted in Chitty 1989:147). But the nature of this 'partnership' was unclear and DES officials found themselves in a difficult position as local authorities expressed concerns about
the constitutional propriety of the MSC administering and funding part of the service for which local authorities are responsible under the 1944 Act (Education 26 November 1982 quoted in Chitty 1989:148).
The Initiative 'represented a powerful challenge not only to the power of the local education authorities but also to that of the DES itself' (Chitty 1989:148). The Times Educational Supplement was remarkably hostile:
Mrs Thatcher's bombshell last Friday has given yet another hefty jolt to the kaleidoscope of relationships which determine educational policy and curriculum development. The new Chairman of the Manpower Services Commission, Mr. David Young, has only had to wait a matter of six months before initiating a new imperialistic drive downwards into the secondary school. The Prime Minister and Mr. Norman Tebbit have brushed the Department of Education and Science aside ... entrusting the planning, the direction and the finance of this major attempt to offer a new set of vocational options at around the age of 14 to Mr. Young and his colleagues ...

The Prime Minister's statement referred to 'new institutional arrangements for technical and vocational education for 14-18-year-olds within existing financial resources', and 'where possible, in association with local education authorities'. The inclusion of the words 'where possible' has sent a frisson of alarm through the local education authorities ... This alarm signal seems to have been fully intended (The Times Educational Supplement 19 November 1982 quoted in Chitty 1989:148).

In the event, TVEI proved an unsuitable vehicle for vocationalising the secondary school curriculum for 'non-academic' pupils,

largely because the term 'vocational' in the title was never clearly defined and ... there was also considerable vagueness about the Initiative's intended 'target group'. Over the years, many teachers and local authorities have tried to make the Initiative attractive to all sections of the ability range ... This helps to explain why the Initiative has incurred the hostility of leading members of the New Right (Chitty 1989:174)
Nonetheless, the Thatcher government was, for the time being, clearly proud of TVEI, describing it in glowing terms in Better Schools:
The TVEI embodies the Government's policy that education should better equip young people for working life. The courses are designed to cater equally for boys and girls across the whole ability range and with technical or vocational aspirations, and to offer in the compulsory years a broad general education with a strong technical element followed, post-16, by increasing vocational specialisation. The course content and teaching methods adopted are intended to develop personal qualities and positive attitudes towards work as well as a wide range of competence, and more generally to develop a practical approach throughout the curriculum. The projects are innovative and break new ground in many ways, being designed to explore curriculum organisation and development, teaching approaches and learning styles, co-operation between the participating institutions, and enhanced careers guidance supported by work experience, in order to test the feasibility of sustaining a broad vocational commitment in full-time education for 14-18 year olds (DES/Welsh Office 1985:16-17).
The attitude was very different two years later. In the government's consultation document The National Curriculum 5-16, TVEI merited just two brief mentions:
The Government intends that legislation should leave full scope for professional judgment and for schools to organise how the curriculum is delivered in the way best suited to the ages, circumstances, needs and abilities of the children in each classroom. This will for example allow curriculum development programmes such as the Technical and Vocational Education Initiative (TVEI) to build on the framework offered by the national curriculum and to take forward its objectives (DES 1987/Welsh Office:11).
For the final two years of compulsory schooling, the national extension of TVEI will also help LEAs in the development and establishment of the national curriculum, particularly in the areas of science and technology and in enhancing the curriculum's relevance to adult and working life (DES 1987/Welsh Office:31).
Writing in 1989, Chitty noted that
In a period of less than ten years from 1983 onwards, well over 1 billion will have been spent by the Conservative government on TVEI and its extension. It is the most expensive intervention in curriculum development ever undertaken in Britain. In a sense, it is still at the developmental stage, with many evaluation reports in the process of being compiled. Yet the experience gained by those working on the project is in no way reflected in the thinking behind the National Curriculum - either in its content or in its organisation (Chitty 1989:175).
This was 'very curious' because, while the Initiative had 'steadily gained credibility with both teachers and parents ... the government appears to have lost interest in it' (Chitty 1989:175-6). Part of the explanation for this, he suggested, was that the New Right disapproved of the new subjects and styles of learning which TVEI courses had helped to pioneer.
In this matter, as in so many others, their thinking has influenced the civil servants of the DES. The Consultation Document is a monument to the view that traditional subjects are 'safe' and help to prevent the spread of subversive doctrines (Chitty 1989:176).
TVEI was just one of a series of projects aimed at improving work-related education. Few were successful:
From 1977 to 1989 change was breathtaking in this area and so was expenditure: 89 billion spent on introducing 25 training schemes, of which 22 were subsequently cancelled, some after only a year or two in existence (Benn and Chitty 1996:16).
Microelectronics Education Programme

The revolution in home computing began in the mid 1970s when Bill Gates and Paul Allen launched Microsoft (1975), and Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak founded Apple Computer (1976). Development was rapid and it was quickly realised that computers offered new ways of teaching and that children needed to become computer-literate.

In the UK, a four-year project, the Microelectronics Education Programme (MEP), was established in 1980 to explore the use of computers in schools. Richard Fothergill (1937-2004) was its Director; all its staff were teachers; and it was based in a modest 1960s semi-detached house on the campus of Newcastle Polytechnic. This was typical of Fothergill, who 'espoused an uncomplicated form of socialism and believed that every available penny should go into improving public services rather than glossy structures' (The Guardian 15 November 2004).

A few months later, the Department of Trade and Industry launched its Micros in Schools scheme, which paid half the cost of a school's first personal computer. The most popular school computers at the time were those of Acorn and Research Machines.

This refocused MEP's work: what had been more of a research project now had a much broader and longer-term objective, taking responsibility for the administration of the scheme, the necessary curriculum software development and the teacher education programme (The Guardian 15 November 2004).
The Programme was extended from four years to six and then, 'to the immense puzzlement of all who knew of its outstanding work' (The Guardian 15 November 2004), its funding was withdrawn in 1986.

Full details of the Microelectronics Education Programme Strategy can be found on the website of the National Archive of Educational Computing.

School effectiveness

The 'school effectiveness' movement, which grew 'in volume and persuasiveness during the 1980s', suggested that 'the old approaches to reform had been too deterministic in the way that they linked differences in educational achievement to the social class of students' (Jones 2003:139). Now, it was argued that even in poorer, working-class areas, effective schools could make a difference to pupils' attainment.

Research sought to identify those elements in a school which were most likely to affect its effectiveness, as Reynolds and Reid noted:

British studies in this field seem to indicate that variables such as pupil/teacher ratio, class size, quantity of resources spent per child and quantity/quality of physical plant in schools do not have major effects upon outcomes. Likewise, the formal organizational structure of the school appears to be less important in determining effectiveness than the informal, unstructured world or 'ethos' that the school possesses. High levels of pupil involvement in running the school, a balance between using alienating controls and weakly permissive use of minimal controls, a head teacher role that combines firm leadership with some teacher participation and a system of reinforcement that emphasizes rewards for good behaviour rather than punishments for bad seem to be associated with being an effective institution (Reynolds and Reid 1985:191-2).
Murgatroyd and Morgan came to similar conclusions:
According to the school effectiveness literature, the most critical variables in determining what makes a difference between a high performing school and others is not teacher:pupil ratios or per capita expenditure, but: (i) the climate or culture of the school; (ii) the nature of leadership within the school and the system of schooling; and (iii) the support of parents for the work of the school. The argument in this literature focuses upon the extent to which these variables make a difference and the particular weighting that should be given to each of them. There is also some vociferous debate about the most appropriate indicators of performance that should be used in such studies.

Notice something important about these three variables: they are all about ethics and processes, about school culture and the way in which the experience of this culture shapes action and performance in the school, about the dynamics of leadership at every level of the school as a system and about the nature of the relationship between the school and its primary stakeholders - teachers, students, administrators and parents (Murgatroyd and Morgan 1992:98).

Of particular importance, then, was the role of leaders
in shaping vision and strategy, communicating that vision to all stakeholders, engaging stakeholders in the work of the school, engendering commitment and sustaining performance outcomes associated with this strategy over time (Murgatroyd and Morgan 1992:40).
The school effectiveness movement drew lessons in management techniques from industry: heads were encouraged to become 'educational leaders' who set targets, drew up action plans to achieve them, and ensured that the work of teachers was appropriately focused. It may well be, argues Jones, that 'such approaches were responsible for some of the improvement in student performance which marked the Conservative years' (Jones 2003:140).

There was much, however, that they did not address. Targeting low-achieving schools for special attention failed to address the problems caused by social inequalities and selective education; raising achievement for all did not necessarily mean reducing inequality; while relying on test and exam results as indicators of success meant 'a tacit abandonment of broader curriculum reform' (Jones 2003:140).


in terms of its political, discursive and practical influence, the school effectiveness and improvement movement was successful. Linked to the focus of government and media on standards and results, it helped embed 'performance', understood as the school's capacity for delivering educational outcomes that were not themselves left open to question, at the centre of the new educational space (Jones 2003:140).

The teachers

1983 White Paper

The White Paper Teaching Quality, published in March 1983, set out the first Thatcher government's thinking on the training and supply of teachers.

'The supply, initial training, appointment and subsequent career development and deployment of school teachers', it said, 'are of vital concern to the Government and to the nation' (DES 1983b:1).

During the 1980s there would be 'an increase in demand for newly trained primary teachers', but 'a substantial decline in demand for newly trained secondary teachers', though this would be followed by 'some recovery in the early 90s' (DES 1983b:1). The Advisory Committee on the Supply and Education of Teachers (ACSET) had been asked

to keep the position under review and to submit further advice during 1984 on the demand for newly trained teachers and on any adjustments to the initial teacher training system which may be needed (DES 1983b:2).
The White Paper noted that HMI surveys had shown 'substantial evidence of mismatch' between teachers' qualifications and training and the work they were called upon to undertake in the schools:
initial teacher training courses are not always sufficiently closely geared to the needs of the schools; and some teachers are asked to undertake teaching programmes in parts of the curriculum for which the specialist elements of their education and training have not prepared them (DES 1983b:2).
Changes were therefore needed in the structure and content of some initial teacher training courses.

Section 5 of the White Paper set out the government's proposals

(i) to establish new criteria for initial teacher training courses; and
(ii) to strengthen the relationship between teachers' qualifications and their deployment (DES 1983b:2).
The final section reviewed the responsibilities of local education authorities as 'the principal managers of the teacher force in both primary and secondary schools' (DES 1983b:2). It argued that
As secondary school rolls fall during the next few years authorities will need, within the number of teachers they can afford to employ, to make full use of management tools such as premature retirement, redeployment, and, if necessary, compulsory redundancy, in the interests of achieving a good match between their teachers' qualifications and skills and the needs of the pupils in their schools (DES 1983b:2).


1981 Rampton Report

In March 1979 Jim Callaghan's Labour government had set up a Committee of Enquiry, chaired by Anthony Rampton (1915-1993), a successful businessman and philanthropist, to examine the education of children from ethnic minority groups, especially those of West Indian origin.

The Committee continued its work under the Thatcher government and published its interim report, West Indian Children in our Schools, in 1981.

It warned that 'West Indian children as a group are failing in our education system. Urgent action is needed to remedy this' (Rampton 1981:70). It noted that in both primary and secondary schools the curriculum, books and teaching materials were often inappropriate to meet the needs and backgrounds of West Indian pupils and that this was 'a cause of their lack of motivation and commitment to the work and their consequent underachievement' (Rampton 1981:71).

However, there was

no single cause for the underachievement of West Indian children but rather a network of widely differing attitudes and expectations on the part of teachers and the education system as a whole, and on the part of West Indian parents (Rampton 1981:72).
The Committee therefore recommended
a range of specific, practical measures for the short-term together with some broader more general recommendations designed to bring about fundamental changes in attitude and practice in the longer term. Taken together, these constitute a programme for action which will go a long way towards enabling West Indian pupils to fulfil their true potential in our schools, as well as providing a more balanced education for all our children (Rampton 1981:72).
Rampton's conclusion - that the main problems were low teacher expectations and racial prejudice among white teachers and society as a whole - was not a popular message. The media rubbished the report even before it was published, and Carlisle sacked Rampton and appointed Michael (Lord) Swann in his place.

The Committee published its final report in 1985 (see The Swann Report below).

1982 Cockcroft Report

Callaghan's Labour administration had also commissioned a report on the teaching of maths, in the light of concerns expressed by the Education, Arts and Home Office Sub-Committee of the Parliamentary Expenditure Committee in July 1977. These concerns related to the apparent lack of basic computation skills in many children, the increasing mathematical demands made on adults, the lack of qualified maths teachers, and the confusing multiplicity of maths syllabuses.

Under the Chairmanship of Dr WH Cockcroft (1923-1999), then Vice Chancellor of the New University of Ulster in Coleraine, the Committee of Inquiry into the Teaching of Mathematics in Schools met for the first time on 25 September 1978. Its terms of reference were:

To consider the teaching of mathematics in primary and secondary schools in England and Wales, with particular regard to the mathematics required in further and higher education, employment and adult life generally, and to make recommendations.
The Committee submitted its report Mathematics counts to Keith Joseph, Secretary of State for Education and Science, and Nicholas Edwards, Secretary of State for Wales, in November 1981 and it was published in January 1982.

The report argued that teachers should

  • enable pupils to develop 'the mathematical skills and understanding required for adult life, for employment and for further study and training';
  • provide pupils with such mathematics as may be needed for the study of other subjects;
  • help pupils to develop an 'appreciation and enjoyment of mathematics itself';
  • make pupils aware that maths provides 'a powerful means of communication' (Cockcroft 1982:4).
It suggested that there was 'widespread misunderstanding among the public at large as to the levels of attainment in mathematics which are to be expected among school leavers' (Cockcroft 1982:56); and that schools should
enlist the help of parents by explaining the approaches to mathematics which they are using and the purposes of mathematical activities which parents themselves may not have undertaken while at school (Cockcroft 1982:62).
Pupils should not be allowed to 'experience repeated failure' (Cockcroft 1982:68), nor be expected to 'commit things to memory' without developing 'a proper understanding of the mathematics to which they relate' (Cockcroft 1982:70).

It was neither desirable nor possible, the Committee argued, to 'indicate a definitive style for the teaching of mathematics' (Cockcroft 1982:71) but

An excessive concentration on the purely mechanical skills of arithmetic for their own sake will not assist the development of understanding ... It follows that the results of a 'back to basics' approach (as we understand the words) are most unlikely to be those which its proponents wish to see, and we can in no way support or recommend an approach of this kind (Cockcroft 1982:80).
There was a need 'to increase the mathematical expertise of primary teachers overall' (Cockcroft 1982:188); while additional funding would be necessary 'if the present situation of acute shortage is to be alleviated' (Cockcroft 1982:200).

HMI surveys

During the first Thatcher administration, HMI published three more of their five major surveys covering the whole school age range. The first - on primary schools - had been published in 1978 (details in the previous chapter); the last - on Combined and Middle Schools - would follow in 1985 (details later).

Aspects of secondary education in England (1979)

Aspects of secondary education in England was planned as a series of inspections covering a ten per cent sample of maintained secondary schools. Between the autumn term 1975 and the end of the spring term 1978, 384 schools were visited: 97 secondary modern schools, 51 grammar schools, 208 comprehensives, and 28 schools which were in the process of becoming comprehensives.

The survey, published in December 1979, began by noting that during the previous fifteen years

a large part of the secondary school system had undergone reorganisation; substantial curricular research and development had been sponsored, partly in direct response to comprehensive reorganisation planned or in progress, partly also in preparation for the raising of the school leaving age which occurred in 1973; a new examination, the Certificate of Secondary Education, had been introduced, styles of examining had been diversified and the proportion of 16 year olds entering for public examinations had markedly increased (HMI 1979:1).
Four main areas were considered:
  • the development of language skills, written and spoken;
  • the development of mathematical understanding and competence;
  • the development of scientific skills and understanding; and
  • the personal and social development of the pupils and their general preparation for adult living.

The survey concluded that in most schools, teachers and pupils alike worked hard and made solid achievements and that, given the large measure of self-determination which schools enjoyed, they appeared remarkably similar in their broad characteristics. However, there were considerable inequalities between schools in staffing ratios and in the adequacy and appropriateness of teachers' academic and professional qualifications; and many schools lacked sufficient science accommodation, appropriate books and library resources.

It warned that the style and quality of work in the fourth and fifth years (now years 9 and 10) were dominated by the requirements of public examinations, which had a part to play in the assessment and recording of achievement, but could not constitute an account of the whole educational experience, nor should they limit that experience: 'The very high priority accorded to examinations by schools, parents and employers has effects which far exceed the purposes for which they are designed' (HMI 1979:247).

The traditional nature of the secondary curriculum, defined by subject specialisms, reinforced the habit of operating in isolation; schools needed to review cross-curricular work in 'language development, reading skills at all levels of ability, health education, careers education, social and moral education', and preparation for 'life in a multi-racial society' (HMI 1979:261).

Pupils were not always gaining sufficient experience of organising their own learning, and the ablest pupils were not always sufficiently challenged. There was room for improvement in day-to-day assessment, including more critical and constructive marking of written work: 'regular and systematic evaluation of progress is needed if work is to be matched to pupils' capacities' (HMI 1979:263).

Schools could not 'usefully proceed far in isolation' (HMI 1979:269):

They need not only the support which a local education authority and teacher training institutions can give, but the reassurance of knowing that, along with other schools, they are working within a common understanding of the educational tasks to be attempted which commands wide public assent. They need also to be supported by a realistic appreciation on the part of all who have concern for education of the nature of the responsibilities they are being asked to undertake (HMI 1979:269).
Education 5 to 9 (1982)

The Preface to Education 5 to 9 noted that

The preliminary work for this survey of 80 first schools, all established as first schools for at least three years, was undertaken in 1977. Visiting the selected sample began a year later and was completed in 1979. The findings of this survey relate, therefore, to the circumstances of that time (HMI 1982:iii).
The survey began by explaining that first schools had been created partly in the light of recommendations by the Plowden Committee, and partly as a result of comprehensivisation and the need to make efficient use of the existing stock of school buildings. It gave some statistics about their prevalence:
By January 1975 there were 2,093 first schools spread among 48 LEAs. Of these 828 were for 5 to 8 year olds and 1,128 for 5 to 9 year olds; the rest of the first schools catered for 5 to 7 or 5 to 10 year olds. By January 1978 the total number of first schools had reached 2,706, and 2,887 by January 1980 (HMI 1982:1).
(There were also 387 first schools combined with middle schools: these were not included in the 5-9 survey.)

Unsurprisingly, HMI found that a few of the surveyed schools offered 'a very good education indeed'; a few were 'less than satisfactory'; while most fell 'between these extremes' (HMI 1982:55). The survey afforded 'no support' to the argument that first schools should revert to being infant or junior-with-infant schools, but neither did it 'lead to the view that their number should be increased' (HMI 1982:56).

Personal relations and pupil behaviour in the schools were good; and nearly all children made 'a satisfactory start in learning to read, write and calculate', though the development of these skills was 'more variable' (HMI 1982:57).

Special teaching arrangements were usually made for children with learning difficulties, who were quickly identified; but able children were 'rarely given extra help ... to make the progress they should' (HMI 1982:58). Additional help with English for ethnic minority pupils was 'almost always provided' (HMI 1982:59).

Finally, both the in-service and initial training of teachers for first schools should be reviewed:

Given the nature of the teacher's task in first schools the content of professional courses needs to be considered very carefully (HMI 1982:61).
9-13 Middle Schools (1983).

9-13 Middle Schools was based on visits by HMI to 48 of the 610 9-13 middle schools then open, chosen to illustrate a range of contexts. The backdrop against which the survey was conducted included issues such as the effect of falling rolls (ie decreasing numbers of pupils), the viability of small middle schools, and the match between the training and the work of teachers.

The survey found that 'the great majority' of middle schools 'provided a transition from predominantly class teaching for their youngest children to predominantly subject teaching for the oldest' (HMI 1983b:22); and that many of them sought

to provide continuity, particularly in English, mathematics, science and French as pupils passed from their middle to their upper schools (HMI 1983b:120).
Continuity would be further improved by the formulation of overall curricular policies and greater attention to curriculum planning; schemes of work should ensure progression in 'skills, ideas and understanding' and indicate 'the standards to be aimed at at various stages of the course' (HMI 1983b:122).

The organisation of the curriculum - as discrete subjects or integrated topics - should be compatible with the teachers' strengths; there should be more opportunities for 'extended discussion, for collaborative work in groups, and for the exercise of choice, responsibility and initiative within the curriculum' (HMI 1983b:124). In many of the schools, able pupils were 'often not challenged sufficiently' (HMI 1983b:125).

Initial and in-service teacher training courses should take account of the needs of 9-13 middle schools. This was particularly important at a time of falling rolls:

Lack of fit between the teachers' main subjects studied in initial training and their subsequent teaching tasks is sometimes exacerbated as rolls fall by the loss of teachers with specific expertise who are not replaced (HMI 1983b:128).
Middle schools had to provide for their pupils a gradual, phased transition from primary to secondary schooling. This had never been easy, and at a time of falling rolls and financial constraint the difficulties inherent in being 'in the middle' were exacerbated (HMI 1983b:130).

(For more on middle schools see chapters 11, 12, 16 and 17 of this history and the website of the National Middle Schools Forum.)

Higher education

The Thatcher government's determination to cut spending badly affected the universities. In 1981 they were given one month to plan for an 18 per cent cut in their budgets over three years, involving the loss of 3,000 posts. After the 1983 election yet further cuts would be imposed. 'The whole atmosphere and ethos of the universities were being changed' (Simon 1991:511).

1983 Education (Fees and Awards) Act

The 1983 Education (Fees and Awards) Act (13 May) allowed the Secretary of State to require higher education institutions to charge higher fees to students 'not having the requisite connection with the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man' and to exclude such students from being eligible for certain discretionary awards.

1983-1987 Increasing the pressure

Second term priorities

The Conservative Party's manifesto for the 1983 general election declared that:

This country is now spending more per child in school than ever before, even after allowing for price rises. As a result, the average number of children per teacher is the lowest ever. Exactly how the money is spent, and how schools are run, is up to local education authorities (Conservative manifesto 1983).
If re-elected, the government would:
  • publish HM Inspectors' reports;
  • improve the selection and training of teachers;
  • reduce the level of truancy;
  • encourage schools to keep proper records of their pupils' achievements, buy more computers, and carry out external graded tests;
  • improve the exam system; and
  • provide better technical education for teenagers.
Following the election, ministerial responsibilities within the DES were reallocated. As well as being in overall charge of the department, Keith Joseph's specific responsibilities now included the education of 16- to 19-year olds, vocational education, relations with the Manpower Services Commission (including TVEI), education research and information technology.

The new Schools Minister (replacing Rhodes Boyson, who had moved to another department) was the right-winger Robert Dunn (1946-2003), whose areas of responsibility included educational aspects of local government finance, teacher employment, training and qualifications, schools and business, educational technology (including the Microelectronics Programme) and educational broadcasting. Dunn's speeches, like those of his predecessor, were written by Stuart Sexton (Knight 1990:167).

The main thrust of Margaret Thatcher's second administration was 'the destruction of the post-war settlement and the ways in which it organised social, economic and political life' (Jones 2003:124). Schools were a key element in this, not only because they produced the future workforce but because they could be blamed for social ills. Thus

Conservatism sought to represent the problems of schooling as a kind of condensation of all the worst effects of post-war history. Schools dramatised the British disease: bureaucracy stifled enterprise and prevented the exercise of choice; unaccountable professional power fuelled an insatiable demand for increased funding, drove down standards, politicised the curriculum and created a gulf between what parents and business wanted from the school and what the school actually provided. But struggles over schooling could also demonstrate the reviving power of Conservatism, as it worked to exorcise professional influence and implant new cultures in the school that would serve tradition and enterprise alike (Jones 2003:124-5).

The public hostility to eleven-plus selection persuaded Keith Joseph that it would be necessary 'to opt for rather more subtle policy initiatives aimed at establishing a wider variety of secondary schools and providing for greater parental choice' (Chitty and Dunford 1999:25). He therefore 'hauled down the flag emblazoning the reintroduction of grammar schools', but substituted 'a different, yet similar perspective' (Simon 1991:500), telling a television interviewer:

If it be so, as it is, that selection between schools is largely out, then I emphasise that there must be differentiation within schools (The Times Educational Supplement 17 February 1984 quoted in Simon 1991:500).
The Tories now began work on a series of radical changes characterised by
the absence of any popular demand for them from any section of the education community nationally or locally, nor even from the populist media. One by one all had to be imposed by means of a parliamentary majority against continuing opposition from all other political parties and from much of the educational establishment (Benn and Chitty 1996:13).
Joseph's aims

Keith Joseph set out his aims for the second Thatcher administration at the North of England Education Conference in Sheffield on 6 January 1984 in a speech which 'marked a new epoch in the history of Conservative education policy' (Knight 1990:169). His 'bold and ambitious objective' of raising school standards and pupils' achievements required 'a new approach to the primary and secondary curriculum', which 'needed to be more in accord with four principles - breadth, relevance, differentiation and balance' (Knight 1990:169).

'There should be differentiation within the curriculum for variations in the abilities and aptitudes of pupils', said Joseph. 'This is a task that has to be tackled within each school, as well as between schools, where this is relevant' (quoted in Chitty 1989:158).

Joseph's speech, argues Knight, contained 'three major shifts in Conservative education policy' (Knight 1990:170).


it would no longer be acceptable for only 50 percent of all pupils to achieve the minimum standard. In future, between 80 and 90 percent of all pupils would have to aim at better than the existing average. Excellence in education now meant a new, much higher target for pupil performance (Knight 1990:170).
Second, there would be a change in emphasis in the examination system from relative values ('norm-referencing') to absolute values ('criterion-referencing').
This was a direct response to the perceived requirement of employers who, Joseph believed, wanted to know what skills, levels of understanding and competence, young people possessed (Knight 1990:170).
Third, in order to achieve these higher absolute standards, it would be necessary
to define more clearly what children should expect to be taught, to what level of attainment, in accordance with each child's stage of development and ability (Knight 1990:170).
Joseph's debt to the ideology of the Black Papers (see chapters 12-14) was clear in his speech at the 1985 Conservative Party Conference, where he argued that 'the pendulum has swung from teaching that tended to wait upon the child to teaching that leads the child' (quoted in Knight 1990:176).

Other Tory views

Joseph was not the only Tory politician with strong views on education.

The notion of a relevant curriculum owed much to the thinking of David Young, Chair of the Manpower Services Commission:

Like Joseph he believed that secondary schools had been guilty of force-feeding an academic menu to the less-able child. Both sought more clearly defined learning objectives (Knight 1990:169).
George Walden was Keith Joseph's Parliamentary Private Secretary (1984-85) and Minister for Higher Education (1985-1987). A former diplomat and Foreign Office civil servant, he viewed Britain's problems in an international context. In an interview with Christopher Knight, he said:
From my experiences abroad I told Joseph that British schools were self-indulgent, that they were anti-business and anti-industrialist. Getting Britain into the twentieth-century could only be done if schools stressed the practical as well, and not instead of, the abstract. I therefore urged a short-term emphasis upon science and technology. There was so much to be done to restore an ethos of quality to the schools. We had to revive science, technology and business education but also the humanities (quoted in Knight 1990:172).
John (Lord) Vaizey (1929-1984), an advisor to Thatcher, proposed that the 15.4bn education bill in 1984-85 should be halved by reducing the scope of education, cutting the number of teachers and linking teachers' pay to performance (Knight 1990:172).

Lady Olga Maitland ran Women and Families for Defence (WFD) an organisation which campaigned for an end to peace studies in schools.

Though not affiliated to the Conservative Party, the campaign waged by the WFD (to promote balanced teaching and a respect for well-ordered schools free from politically motivated governing bodies) paralleled not only Joseph's own position on these issues but also the work of the Party organisation in formulating strategies to monitor the politicisation of the school curriculum (Knight 1990:173).
And finally, there was Conservative Party Chair Norman Tebbit, who made education the subject of a moral crusade. In a speech in November 1985, he attacked the permissive society and the ethos of schools:
Who would have expected that our whole education system would have been turned upside down, discouraging competitive achievement, despite the accepted fact that even the lowest achievers in school or job wish to be stretched? (quoted in Knight 1990:176).
Tebbit's speech 'marked the zenith of the Party's moral crusade ... The fight for education was now redefined as a fight for the moral health of the nation' (Knight 1990:176). The leaders of this moral crusade were Tebbit, Thatcher, Joseph, Dunn (whose wife was a religious education teacher), and Chris Patten (1944- ), formerly Director of the Conservative Research Department.

Circular 8/83

In Circular 8/83 The School Curriculum, issued on 8 December 1983, the DES requested each LEA to provide:

(a) a report on the progress which has been made in drawing up a policy for the curriculum in its primary and secondary schools ...

(b) a description of the roles played in the processes of drawing up the policy by heads and other teachers, governors, parents and other interested parties in the local community;

(c) a brief statement of the ways in which the policy is being given or will be given practical effect in the schools ...

(d) a summary, giving examples where appropriate, of the steps being taken and planned by the authority to seek to ensure that the curriculum is planned as a whole ...

(e) a summary of the steps being taken and planned by the authority to ensure that the curriculum is appropriately related to what happens outside school, and includes sufficient applied and practical work, particularly in mathematics ... and science;

(f) a statement of how far the resources available to the authority ... are enabling it to give effect to its policy for the curriculum (DES 1983a: para 5).

(Local education authorities' responses to this Circular were commented on briefly in Better Schools (see below) and summarised more fully in the Report on the Circular 8/83 Review: Local Authority Policies for the School Curriculum, published by the DES in June 1986.)

Parent power

The government's plans to give parents a greater say in the running of schools were set out in the 1984 Green Paper Parental Influence at School; this formed the basis of the 1985 White Paper Better Schools; which in turn led to the 1986 Education (No. 2) Act.

(The first of the two Education Acts in 1986 - the 1986 Education Act (18 July) was brief: it concerned certain further education grants and the pooling of expenditure by local authorities.)

1984 Green Paper

The 1984 Green Paper Parental Influence at School, described (in its sub-title) as 'A new framework for school government in England and Wales', argued that 'every maintained school should have a life of its own within the system of maintained schools in the area' and that 'this aim is best secured by assigning to the governing body important responsibilities for the school which it can discharge with a degree of independence from the maintaining LEA' (DES 1984:4).

To achieve this, it proposed that

the majority of governors of a county school or maintained special school should normally be formed of parents elected by and from the parents of children attending the school in question (DES 1984:4).
The Green Paper then set out the government's proposals regarding the distribution of powers and responsibilities between the LEA, the governing body and the head teacher. These were based on three general principles:
(1) On many aspects of the character and the running of each school the LEA should continue to have the final say. The LEA must have all the powers necessary to carry out its statutory duty to secure the provision of sufficient and efficient schools for its area. It needs in particular the power to prescribe general policies for the overall effectiveness and management of the school system in its area;

(2) Subject to (1) the governing body should be able to determine, in consultation with the head teacher, the main policies and lines of development of the school. The intention is to establish a clear and more uniform basis for the powers and responsibilities of governing bodies which strengthens their role in relation to the school and ensures that they cannot be overridden in the exercise of their own legitimate functions;

(3) the professional responsibilities of the head teacher and staff of the school should be respected. The aim is to secure a firm legal foundation for the role of the head teacher, which clarifies his responsibilities and preserves his authority (DES 1984:10-11).

There would be new procedures for the appointment and dismissal of staff; and new arrangements regarding finance and premises, including a requirement that LEAs should provide governing bodies with annual itemised statements of recurrent expenditure on the school 'so as to enable the governing body to form a judgement on whether that expenditure was providing value for money' (Green Paper 1984:23).

The government, said the Green Paper, did not propose 'generally to disturb the legal framework for admissions that has been established so recently' (DES 1984:25). However, it went on:

But admission arrangements also affect the life of each school, and the Government believes that each governing body should be guaranteed a voice in their formulation. It therefore puts forward two complementary proposals. First, before it publishes the required information for parents, the LEA should be required annually to consult the governing body of every county and voluntary controlled school in its area on the admission arrangements affecting their schools; second, the governing body of a voluntary aided or special agreement school should similarly consult the LEA before publishing its admission arrangements (DES 1984:25-26).
Each governing body would be required
to issue free of charge an annual report to every parent about the discharge of its functions and about such other matters affecting the school which it thinks right to include (DES 1984:26);
and to hold an annual parents' meeting
(1) to discuss the annual report and other matters relating to the life of the school;

(2) to enable parents present to pass resolutions (by a simple majority of votes cast) which the governing body would be required to consider (or, as appropriate, pass to the LEA or headteacher for their observations), and then report back to parents on the action taken (DES 1984:27).

1985 White Paper

The 1985 White Paper Better Schools was published in March. It began by noting that much had been achieved in the previous thirty years for which the school system could take credit. The curriculum in primary and secondary schools was now broader, and pupils' attainment at both O and A Level GCE had improved. Nonetheless, the government believed that

the standards now generally attained by our pupils are neither as good as they can be, nor as good as they need to be if young people are to be equipped for the world of the twenty-first century (DES 1985:3).
The White Paper signalled the government's intention to take a more proactive role in curriculum matters. It stated, however, that
it would not be appropriate for either the Secretaries of State or the LEA to determine the detailed organisation and content of the programme of the pupils of any particular school (DES 1985:11).
(It is worth noting that, three years later, the government did exactly that with its imposition of the National Curriculum.)

LEAs were commended 'for the priority which they have given to the formulation of curricular policies over the past three years and more' in response to DES Circulars 6/81 and 8/83, but added that there were 'issues which seem to the Government to be important, to whose implications comparatively few LEAs devote attention in their responses' (DES 1985:13). These included:

(1) the translation of curricular policy into teaching approaches and methods;

(2) continuity between the primary and secondary phases;

(3) the need for differentiation within the curriculum, in order to meet more effectively the needs of each pupil according to his ability and aptitudes;

(4) policies for those elements of the curriculum, especially in secondary schools, which are not taught as separate subjects;

(5) the role of employers in contributing to developments in curricular policy (DES 1985:13).

With regard to examinations, the White Paper set out arrangements for the new GCSE, which was to be introduced in 1988. Its main features would be:
  • a single system with differentiated assessment;
  • national criteria;
  • criteria-related grades;
  • target group not to be limited to 'any pre-ordained percentage of candidates';
  • administered by 5 groups of boards, 4 in England and 1 in Wales;
  • Distinction and Merit Certificates for 'the ablest pupils'; and
  • in-service training of teachers focusing particularly on 'assessment techniques and the setting and assessment of course-work' (DES 1985:31-2).
Other chapters dealt with the education of the under fives, teaching quality, discipline in schools, the education of ethnic minority pupils, the legal framework, aspects of LEA management, resources, and the independent sector.

Sex education

The White Paper's proposals formed the basis of the bill which would eventually become the 1986 Education (No. 2) Act.

During lengthy debates on the bill in both the Commons and the Lords, concerns were expressed about the content of sex education in schools, and particularly about the 'promotion' of homosexuality.

In 1984, the London Gay Teenage Group had published Something To Tell You, by Lorraine Trenchard and Hugh Warren, which aimed to inform teachers and parents about the experiences of lesbian and gay pupils at school. Two years later, the Relationships and Sexuality Project of the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA) issued Positive Images (September 1986), a guide to resources on homosexuality for teachers and librarians in secondary schools.

The right wing of the Conservative Party lost no time in condemning such publications. The first Hillgate Group pamphlet Whose Schools? A Radical Manifesto (1986), argued that children needed to be 'rescued' from left-wing causes including 'heterosexism awareness'. Schools should be therefore be 'released from the control of local government', thereby 'depriving the politicised Local Education Authorities of their standing ability to corrupt the minds and souls of the young' (quoted in Chitty 1994a:15).

It was at this point that Jenny lives with Eric and Martin burst on to the scene, with The Sun newspaper's front-page headline Vile Book In School: Pupils See Pictures Of Gay Lovers.

Jenny lives with Eric and Martin was a picture book by Susanne Bösche, which had been published in Danish in 1981 and in English in 1983. A 'somewhat naive though well-intentioned book' (Chitty 1994a:15), it described a weekend in the life of five-year-old Jenny, her father Martin and his boyfriend Eric: they went to the laundrette, organised a birthday party, had a minor quarrel and made up.

The back cover of the book stated:

When you are grown up, you can live together in different ways. Some women fall in love with a man and live together with him. And some men fall in love with a woman and live with her. But women do also fall in love with other women, and men do fall in love with other men.

In this book you will read about Jenny, Martin and Eric. Jenny is a little girl. Martin is Jenny's dad, and Eric is Martin's lover. They all live happily together, and this is the story of how they spend their weekend (Bösche 1981:52).

The Sun claimed that a school run by Labour-controlled ILEA had a copy of the book in its library. This was untrue: the book had not been made available to children, as a complaint to the Press Council made clear. Isledon Teachers Centre had purchased one copy for use by teachers. ILEA had not approved its use by younger children, and it was to be shown to older children only in exceptional circumstances and after consultation with parents. ILEA leader Frances Morrell (1937-2010) said that the very limited use of the book in local authority schools was consistent with the government's requirements on sex education.

The Tories, however, now at the height of their moral crusade, latched on to the issue of homosexuality and expressed their righteous indignation at the book in no uncertain terms.

In a Lords debate on investment in education and science on 7 May 1986, Baroness Caroline Cox commented:

I should like briefly to mention one related aspect of teaching that is causing concern to parents. I refer to attempts to destroy the traditional concepts of family life. Parents in north London have told me of their anger at the promotion of a picture story book called Jenny lives with Eric and Martin. It describes how a little girl lives with her father and his homosexual partner. It was issued for 6 to 8 year-olds and shows photographs of Jenny in bed with her father and his male lover. This is on distribution from a teaching centre in north London.

What are we doing to our children in some of our schools? The majority of parents do not want their children exposed to this kind of influence (Hansard House of Lords 7 May 1986 Vol 474 Cols 726-7).

A fortnight later, on 20 May 1986, Viscount Buckmaster tabled an amendment to the education bill requiring that 'Such sex education as is given in schools shall have due regard to moral considerations and the promotion of stable family life'.

He argued that the amendment was necessary because

there is in the country a great deal of sex education which is amoral, if not downright immoral. I want to be quite clear here. It is not taking place in every education authority or in every school. But it is apparent in certain areas.

There are certain themes which appear to be running through much of this education, and particularly in London. These are that homosexual relations are just as acceptable as heterosexual relations; that there is nothing basically wrong with under-age sex provided one takes the appropriate precaution; and that incest can on occasions be regarded as a loving relationship. ...

This pamphlet [Jenny lives with Eric and Martin], which was reported in the Sun, had a full front page of two homosexual men naked in bed with the daughter of one of them between them. Can there be anything more repulsive than that? Perhaps I may remind your Lordships that this was in a booklet issued by an authority in north London, a booklet designed for use by six- to eight-year-olds.

The point I want to make here is not that many parents and teachers complained, but that one of the officials responsible for this booklet said quite clearly, according to the report in the Sun, that he saw nothing harmful in it (Hansard House of Lords 20 May 1986 Vol 475 Cols 225-6).

Baroness Cox agreed, adding that
I cannot imagine how on earth in this age of AIDS we can be contemplating promoting gay issues in the curriculum. I think that beggars all description (Hansard House of Lords 20 May 1986 Vol 475 Col 229).
Buckmaster's amendment was approved and became clause 24 when the bill returned to the Commons for its second reading on 10 June 1986. Baker commented:
I am very glad that this clause has been added to the Bill. ...

I think that it is important for the House of Commons and the House of Lords to give a clear signal reinforcing the institution of marriage as the foundation of a healthy family life and the very bedrock of our civilisation. And we really owe it to the next generation to do everything we can to build up the children's respect for a happy family life. I hope that this clause will do that (Hansard House of Commons 10 June 1986 Vol 99 Col 188).

Plaid Cymru MP Dafydd Elis-Thomas, however, had concerns about the clause:
Clause 24, which deals with the provision of sex education, is controversial. It might appear to be a form of bias in favour of one sexual preference. It states that 'those pupils to have due regard to moral considerations and the value of family life'. That might be a form of propaganda for heterosexuality. I say that in the mildest possible way because I do not want to excite Conservative Members on this issue. However, we must accept and understand the issues of homosexuality, lesbianism and other varied sexual preferences in a tolerant society. The clause would or could undermine equality of approach to that matter. That may be what some hon. Members would want (Hansard House of Commons 10 June 1986 Vol 99 Col 230).
But Tory MP Peter Bruinvels said:
We must teach the decencies of life and preserve the family unit. We must make certain that parents, like teachers, have a genuine say regarding the curricula. They must be aware of the textbooks which are used. 'Biology for Life', which is used by the Midland examining group, is not a book which helps sex education. I hope that when my hon. Friend the Minister replies he will consider this book and the chapter entitled 'Sex without pregnancy'. It describes how to prevent pregnancy, it encourages abortion without warning of the dangers and it encourages homosexuality. The book states: Homosexual relationships occur quite often in places like prisons and boarding schools where people of the same sex are cooped up together ... and are not usually permanent or harmful. In my view, abortion may stop a woman from having another baby and homosexuality may lead to AIDS and a person may lose his life. It is terribly important that we promote sex education which secures and enhances family life. It is a question of good morals and good educational standards (Hansard House of Commons 10 June 1986 Vol 99 Col 255).
Clause 24 became Section 46 of the Act. It said:
The local education authority by whom any county, voluntary or special school is maintained, and the governing body and head teacher of the school, shall take such steps as are reasonably practicable to secure that where sex education is given to any registered pupils at the school it is given in such a manner as to encourage those pupils to have due regard to moral considerations and the value of family life.
The controversy surrounding Jenny lives with Eric and Martin was not over, however: it resurfaced in the debates on the 1988 Local Government Bill (details below).

1986 Education (No. 2) Act

The 1986 Education (No. 2) Act (7 November) was profoundly important. It diminished the powers of local education authorities and gave governing bodies much greater responsibility for the curriculum, discipline and staffing. It was very detailed but often ambiguous. The Times Educational Supplement called it 'an uncommonly messy piece of legislation' and added that 'control of the curriculum continues to be obscure, with heads acting as arbiter between their own governors and their own employers' (The Times Educational Supplement 24 October 1986).

It introduced the concept of educational law by providing dissatisfied parents with opportunities for litigation: employment law expert Patricia Leighton, speaking to Ealing head teachers on 20 November 1986, said that the new Act would 'provide a field day for the legal profession'.

The Act's main provisions were:

  • every maintained school was required to have a governing body (Sections 1-2);
  • the composition of governing bodies was changed - the number of parent governors was to be equal to the number of LEA governors and there were to be staff governors and others co-opted from business and industry (3-8). (Better Schools had proposed a majority of parents but this was defeated.);
  • grouping of schools under one governing body was allowed in certain circumstances (9-10);
  • every LEA must have a written statement of its curriculum policy (17-19);
  • governors must have a sex education policy. If taught (it was not compulsory), sex education had to encourage pupils 'to have due regard to moral considerations and the value of family life' (46);
  • governors must give parents information about the school's curriculum (20);
  • discipline was the responsibility of the head, though the principles underlying it were to be supplied by governors (22);
  • there were new rules on pupil exclusions (23), reinstatement (24) and appeals (26);
  • LEAs were to give governors financial information relating to the school (29);
  • governors were to produce an annual report (30) and hold an annual parents' meeting (31);
  • LEAs retained responsibility for the appointment and dismissal of staff but were to consult with governors (34-41);
  • there was to be freedom of speech in universities and colleges (43);
  • there was to be no political indoctrination in schools - this was an attack on subjects like 'peace studies' which had been introduced in a number of schools (44);
  • corporal punishment was abolished in maintained schools (from August 1987). Independent schools were still permitted to beat their pupils, but not those whose fees were paid by the state (47);
  • provision was made for the appraisal of teachers (49);
  • governors were required to supply information to the Secretary of State (56);
  • LEAs were required to provide training for governors (57); and
  • the Secretary of State was no longer required to produce annual report (60).
One other provision of the Act is worth noting. Section 59 said:
Section 4 of the 1944 Act (which makes provision in relation to the two central advisory councils for education) shall cease to have effect.
In this brief - and barely noticed - paragraph, the Act abolished the Central Advisory Councils for Education (CACE) for England and Wales, which had produced important reports including Crowther 15-18 (1959), Newsom Half our Future (1963) and Plowden Children and their Primary Schools (1967).

No replacement for the Councils was offered: their abolition came

without any suggestion for the establishment of any organisation which could draw both on expert and public opinion and act in an advisory capacity to the politicians and civil servants (Simon 1991:507).
In Circular 11/87 Sex education at school, issued on 25 September 1987, the DES explained the new duties and responsibilities of governors, heads, teachers and local authorities in relation to sex education, following the passing of the Act.

The Circular, however, was 'notable for its lack of clarity and its inbuilt contradictions' (Chitty 1994a:16). There was, for example, a world of difference between the beginning and the end of paragraph 19:

The opening clearly has the hand of HMI on it. It calls for facts 'to be presented in an objective and balanced manner, so as to enable pupils to comprehend the range of sexual attitudes and behaviour in present-day society'. The final sentence 'Pupils should be helped to appreciate the benefits of stable married and family life and the responsibilities of parenthood' is there to pander to the Government's moralist faction (Chitty 1994a:16).
The dominant tone of the Circular is 'narrow and homophobic' (Chitty 1994a:16). Paragraph 22 said:
There is no place in any school in any circumstances for teaching which advocates homosexual behaviour, which presents it as the 'norm', or which encourages homosexual experimentation by pupils. Indeed, encouraging or procuring homosexual acts by pupils who are under the age of consent is a criminal offence. It must also be recognised that for many people, including members of various religious faiths, homosexual practice is not morally acceptable, and deep offence may be caused to them if the subject is not handled with sensitivity by teachers if discussed in the classroom (DES 1987b:4).

The curriculum

General Certificate of Secondary Education

The General Certificate of Education (GCE), aimed at the top twenty per cent of the ability range, had been introduced in 1951; the Certificate of Secondary Education (CSE), for the next twenty per cent, in 1965. Proposals to replace them with a single examination had been discussed since 1967 (see chapter 12).

The Thatcher government was not keen on the idea. It had been stung by public hostility to eleven-plus selection - differentiation between schools - and had turned to promoting differentiation within schools through, for example, the Lower Attaining Pupils' Programme (LAPP) for the 'bottom 40 per cent' of the ability range and the Technical and Vocational Education Initiative (TVEI). In the case of TVEI, however, the government's 'general vagueness' resulted in some confusion as to which pupils comprised the 'target group' (Chitty 1989:161).

Teachers and educationists were pleased, therefore, when the government announced that the new 16-plus exam - the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) - would be introduced in 1988. However, when details of the new exam were announced, it was clear that it was not going to be the common exam that they had called for, as Caroline Gipps, of the London Institute of Education, observed:

teachers wanted and originally thought they were going to get a common examination which would do away with the divisiveness of the old system. What they are actually getting is a common examining system (with the GCE boards responsible for the higher grades and the old CSE boards for the lower grades) with differentiated examination papers and/or questions in many subjects (Gipps 1986:14).
Differentiation, she argued, would mean that
there will be separate routes to the examination; that some candidates will not be eligible for higher grades (if they take the less difficult route); that teachers will still have to decide which students are suited for which route/course/range of grades; that in some cases these decisions will still have to be made as early as fourteen (Gipps 1986:15).
The idea of differentiated papers was not a Conservative invention: it had first appeared as DES policy in Labour's 1978 White Paper Secondary School Examinations - A single system at 16 plus, in which one of the recommendations was 'to ensure that alternative papers are used wherever this is necessary to maintain standards' (DES/Welsh Office 1978:11). Keith Joseph was therefore simply building on the policy pursued by his Labour predecessor. 'It was not a policy designed to remove existing anomalies and injustices' (Chitty 1989:162).

The other major concern about the new exam was the extent of central government control:

The measures relating to GCSE embodied a clear bid for centralised control not only over the secondary curriculum as a whole but over each of its differentiated levels. This was achieved by the definition of 'national criteria' covering examinations at every level. These 'criteria' acted as 'instruments' by which control was shifted to the centre, in this case to the Secretary of State who alone had the power to approve them. It was now becoming abundantly clear that the stage was being set for a government (or central) take over both of examinations (and assessment) and of the curriculum (Simon 1991:508).
Harry Judge, formerly head of Banbury School and now Director of Oxford University's Education Department, commented:
The root error is that government (any government) should be in charge of education, And it is a monstrous error, poisoning the whole system with the noxious juices of impotence, frustration, servility and patronage. It is this error which is the cause and magnifier of all our ills (The Times Educational Supplement 11 October 1985, quoted in Simon 1991:509).
The Curriculum from 5 to 16

As noted above, the DES had ceased publishing documents on the curriculum in 1981. HMI, however, continued to support schools and LEAs in formulating curriculum policies. The Curriculum from 5 to 16, the second in the Curriculum Matters series, was published in 1985. Like other HMI documents of the period, it was progressive in outlook, arguing, for example, that the school curriculum included

not only the formal programme of lessons, but also the 'informal' programme of so-called extracurricular activities as well as all those features which produce the school's 'ethos', such as the quality of relationships, the concern for equality of opportunity, the values exemplified in the way the school sets about its task and the way in which it is organised and managed (HMI 1985:7).
The booklet viewed the overall curricular framework from 'two essential and complementary perspectives' (HMI 1985:13): first, 'areas of learning and experience' (the aesthetic, linguistic, mathematical etc); and second, 'elements of learning, that is, the knowledge, concepts, skills and attitudes to be developed' (HMI 1985:13).

It argued that 'There are some essential issues which are not necessarily contained within subjects, but which need to be included in the curriculum' (HMI 1985:13). These included environmental education, health education, information technology, political education, education in economic understanding, and the preparation of young people for the world of work. The curriculum should be characterised by breadth, balance, relevance, differentiation, progression and continuity.

Finally, the booklet argued that assessment was 'inseparable from the teaching process since its prime purpose is to improve pupils' performance' (HMI 1985:51). It should help teachers

to diagnose pupils' strengths and weaknesses; to match the work of the classroom to their capabilities; to guide them into appropriate courses and groups; to involve them in discussion and self-appraisal; and, in reports and at meetings, to inform their parents of progress (HMI 1985:51).

The teachers

While HMI was still encouraging teachers to debate curriculum matters, the Thatcher government was taking measures to prevent them from doing so.

In 1984 it abolished the Schools Council, on which teachers had played a key role, and it established the Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (CATE) to give it greater control over initial teacher training courses; in 1985 it abolished the Advisory Committee on the Supply and Education of Teachers (ACSET), one of the last remaining representative advisory bodies; and in 1986 it abolished the Central Advisory Councils for England and Wales. Clearly, politicians needed no further advice.

The Schools Council

The 'Schools Council for the Curriculum and Examinations' had been established in 1964 (see chapter 11) to disseminate ideas about curricular reform in England and Wales and to take over the functions of the Secondary School Examinations Council.

In the mid 1970s right-wing Tories began calling for the Council's abolition, and the Labour government's 1976 'Yellow Book' School Education in England: problems and initiatives (see chapter 14) described its performance as 'generally mediocre' (DES 1976c:18).

In March 1981 Carlisle told the Commons that he had invited Nancy Trenaman, Principal of St Anne's College Oxford, 'to review the functions, constitution and methods of work of the Schools Council and to make recommendations' (Trenaman 1981:ii). She presented her Review of the Schools Council in October 1981 to the Secretaries of State for Education and Science (now Keith Joseph) and for Wales and to the Association of Metropolitan Authorities and the Association of County Councils.

In its confidential (but leaked) evidence to Trenaman, the DES claimed that the Council was too pro-teacher and 'plainly hostile to the department', and proposed its replacement by a single body of nominees (Simon 1991:496).

Trenaman rejected this suggestion and gave the Council 'a reasonably clean bill of health' (Lawton 1984:10), though not without reservations. She recommended that, subject to changes in its Constitution, 'the Schools Council should continue and with its present functions' and that 'The Council should not be made the subject of further external review for at least five years from the date of this report' (Trenaman 1981:47).

Joseph, however, ignored Trenaman's advice and announced that the Schools Council would be disbanded on 31 January 1984, and replaced by two smaller committees: the Secondary Examinations Council (SEC) and the School Curriculum Development Committee (SCDC). It was clearly a move designed to reduce the influence of teachers in curriculum development.

This very centralist decision was important for two reasons: it separated curriculum from examinations, contrary to professional opinion going back at least to the Norwood Committee (1943); and members of the two committees would be Secretary of State nominees not representatives of any of the organisations that had made up the Schools Council - a further potential increase of power at the centre (Lawton 1984:10).
John Mann, Secretary of the Schools Council and a highly respected former Chief Education Officer, warned that Keith Joseph was opening the door to abuse by a future 'unscrupulous secretary of state'. The separation of examinations from the curriculum in the new arrangement, he said, could only be interpreted 'as a move to greater central control of what happened in schools' (The Times Educational Supplement 30 April 1982 quoted in Simon 1991:497).

Advisory Committee on the Supply and Education of Teachers

The Advisory Committee on the Supply and Education of Teachers (ACSET) had been asked to 'submit further advice during 1984 on the demand for newly trained teachers and on any adjustments to the initial teacher training system which may be needed' (DES 1983b:2). It warned that there was a need to increase the number of new teachers, and recommended increases in the funding of in-service training. This advice was said to have been 'unpalatable' to Joseph, and the result was 'summary extinction' (Simon 1991:5-7): ACSET was abolished in 1985.

Teachers' pay and conditions

England and Wales

By the mid 1980s, the large salary increases which teachers had received in 1974 as a result of the recommendations of the Houghton Committee (see chapter 14) had been considerably eroded. Former education secretary Mark Carlisle criticised Joseph's intransigence on the issue, arguing that teachers' pay should be comparable to that of professionals in the private sector. Joseph, however, made matters worse by telling the North of England conference in January 1985 that, in his view, teachers should be subject to appraisal and their pay linked to performance (Simon 1991:505).

This suggestion was pursued in Quality in Schools: Evaluation and Appraisal, a DES booklet which summarised the findings of HMI surveys of 'a small number of school-based schemes for institutional evaluation and staff appraisal' (DES 1985:6). It concluded that there was growing interest in teacher appraisal and school self-evaluation, which should be 'linked to in-service training opportunities and staff development policies at school and LEA levels' (DES 1985:47). Whole-school evaluation and teacher assessment required 'a great deal of time and a considerable amount of effort', so it was essential to enlist the 'support and goodwill' of teachers (DES 1985:47).

'Support and goodwill', however, were in short supply in 1985. In February, the NUT demanded a 1,200 pay rise for all teachers - a 12.4 per cent increase in the national salary bill. An offer of 4 per cent was rejected, and the union began its 'withdrawal of goodwill' campaign: members refused to supervise at lunchtimes, attend meetings with parents outside school hours, or cover for absent colleagues. Selective three-day strikes caused considerable inconvenience for parents, who were faced with providing care for children sent home from school.

The dispute escalated as other teacher unions put in claims, the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers (NAS/UWT), for example, demanding a 35 per cent rise in salaries.

The unions were divided over strategy, however, and faced increasing competition for members. Since the early 1970s, the dominance of the NUT had been undermined by the growth of the NAS/UWT and the Assistant Masters and Mistresses Association (AMMA), whose members - most of whom taught in grammar and public schools - disapproved of the growing militancy of the other unions.

By 1987, 'teachers' energies were exhausted, their divisions considerable, their public support dwindling', and the government was able to argue that they had 'abandoned traditions of professionalism' and needed, therefore, 'a strong degree of policing' (Jones 2003:129).

The result was the 1987 Teachers' Pay and Conditions Act (2 March). This abolished the national pay negotiations which had been in place since the 1965 Remuneration of Teachers Act, and replaced them with an Interim Advisory Committee on School Teachers' Pay and Conditions, on which the unions had no representation.

The 1987 Act gave the Secretary of State wide-ranging powers including, for example, the power to

set lower and upper limits on the number or proportion of teachers in a school to be paid on specified scales or who are at any specified time to be paid any specified allowance (Section 3(5)(c)).
A month after the Act received the Royal Assent, Kenneth Baker published a draft Order setting out his proposals for teachers' pay and conditions. This was laid before Parliament on 9 April and came into force on 30 April. The 1987 Education (School Teachers' Pay and Conditions of Employment) Order (S.I. 1987/650) included the stipulation that a teacher 'shall be available for work for 195 days in any year, of which 190 days shall be days on which he may be required to teach pupils in addition to carrying out other duties' (section 4(1)(a)); and that he should 'be available to perform such duties at such times and such places as may be specified by the head teacher ... for 1265 hours in any year' (section 4(1)(b)).


In Scotland, teachers were in a stronger position and received much greater public support, mainly because they belonged to a single union - the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) - which was able to present their campaign as a national struggle against a government hostile to Scotland's institutions and traditions. 'Nationalism linked to united teacher action was a potent strategy' (Jones 2003:130).

Scottish teachers therefore kept their negotiating rights, and the EIS was able to achieve other notable victories over the Thatcher government: the national curriculum was not imposed on Scotland's schools, and attempts to introduce primary school league tables similar to those in England were defeated.

If anything, the Conservative effort to export the English model to a semi-autonomous country, where levels of support for the right were very low, only increased the demands for a break with London (Jones 2003:130).

The local authorities

The local education authorities (LEAs) were already in a difficult position. Local government reorganisation in 1974 had reduced their numbers from 146 to 104; many of the reorganised authorities had embraced corporate management policies, which had led to some widely-publicised resignations of chief education officers who felt they no longer had control over the service; and there had been 'a tendency for local politics to consolidate along national party lines' (Shipman 1984:49). Now, in the 1980s, public spending was cut and, as contraction replaced expansion, power tended to ebb back to central government.

For Thatcher, the LEAs - many of them Labour-controlled - were an irritant, blocking central government's ability to affect what was going on in the schools. In her second term in office she stepped up her campaign against them with the support of the right-wing tabloid press, particularly The Sun and the Daily Mail, which ran frequent stories about the absurdities they claimed were being perpetrated - often in the name of equal opportunities - by 'the loony left'.

Many of these stories concerned local authorities' anti-racist policies. Ealing, for example, was reported by The Sun to have banned any mention of the nursery rhyme 'Baa baa black sheep' in its schools. There was no truth in this (I know - I was head of a middle school in the borough at the time), but the constant repetition of such stories damaged the image of local authorities in the eyes of the public - which was precisely what it was intended to do.

Meanwhile, the government set about dismantling the triangular framework of responsibility - central government, local authorities and the schools - which had been created by the 1944 Education Act, by restricting the freedom of local authorities. Four such measures were introduced between 1984 and 1987: education support grants, 'rate-capping', specific grants for in-service training, and restrictions on the publication of 'political material'.

Education Support Grants

The 1984 Education (Grants and Awards) Act (12 April) required that up to 0.5 per cent of a local authority's total education budget was to be used for government-specified purposes. There was no extra funding: Education Support Grants (ESGs) were paid out of funds withheld from the Rate Support Grant.

This method of limiting local authorities' freedom to determine their own priorities was taken further in the 1986 Education (Amendment) Act (17 February), which doubled the limit on expenditure approved for Education Support Grant purposes from 0.5 per cent to 1 per cent of the total local authority education budget. (The 1986 Act also excluded remuneration for lunchtime supervision from the 1965 Remuneration of Teachers Act.)


The 1983 Conservative manifesto claimed that there were

a number of grossly extravagant Labour authorities whose exorbitant rate demands have caused great distress both to businesses and domestic ratepayers (Conservative manifesto 1983).
A new Conservative government would therefore
legislate to curb excessive and irresponsible rate increases by high-spending councils, and to provide a general scheme for limitation of rate increases for all local authorities to be used if necessary (Conservative manifesto 1983).
Despite objections from many quarters, including former Tory Prime Minister Ted Heath, rate-capping was introduced in the 1984 Rates Act (26 June).

Denis Lawton, Director of the London Institute of Education, warned that

The effect of this 'rate-capping' policy on education is likely to be very serious, because education is not only one of the 'big spenders' in local authorities, but has also been singled out by central government as a major cause of 'overspending' - local authorities in general have been spending more than has been planned by central government. Thus LEAs will have less control and the final decision about spending will be in the hands of the central government. All this comes at a time when LEAs need more discretion to deal with local problems caused by falling rolls in schools and the general difficulty of maintaining a broad curriculum (Lawton 1984:12).
Lawton was proved correct: education - a major item of local government expenditure - inevitably suffered as a result of the rate-capping policy.

Specific grants for in-service training

In 1985 the government introduced TVEI-related in-service training (TRIST). The move was criticised by the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, which warned that Joseph's determination to control teachers' in-service training would 'end in state domination of what is taught in our schools' (The Guardian 20 March 1985 quoted in Simon 1991:507).

Undeterred by such criticism, the government went on, in Section 50 of the 1986 Education (No 2) Act, to introduce grant related in-service training courses (GRIST).

The Guardian (22 January 1986) reported that the government intended to extend the practice of direct or specific funding so as to exert more central control over education, a forecast which was underlined in April 1986, when Chris Patten, then Minister of State for Education, gave a 'provocative speech' (Chitty 1989:150) to the annual assembly of the Assistant Masters and Mistresses Association in Cardiff. He warned that, if the government could not increase its control over education through the use of direct funding, other means would have to be found:

The recent introduction of education support grants marked an extremely modest move towards making at least some of the grant specifically payable for identified educational purposes. No doubt the tension between general and specific funding of local authorities will continue. We shall need to consider whether a change in the balance may be necessary as the partnership evolves. We must make this partnership work, or else we shall need to find some other way of organising and running the nation's schools (quoted in Chitty 1989:150).
It was not clear at the time exactly what Patten was threatening.

Publication of political material

A further attempt to limit the influence of local authorities was included in the 1986 Local Government Act (26 March), Section 2 of which prevented them from publishing political material:

2 (1) A local authority shall not publish any material which, political in whole or in part, appears to be designed to affect public support for a political party.

(2) In determining whether material falls within the prohibition -

(a) regard shall be had to whether the material refers to a political party or to persons identified with a political party, and
(b) where material is published as part of a campaign, regard shall be had to the effect which the campaign appears to be designed to achieve.
(3) A local authority shall not give financial or other assistance to a person for the publication of material which the authority are prohibited by this section from publishing themselves.

Vocational education

Christopher Knight has argued that the education policy of the second Thatcher administration was based on 'the new vocationalism' (Knight 1990:168). This meant

making schools more responsive to employers' and parental needs by the introduction of curricula concerned with new technologies and relevance to the world of work. The guiding philosophy behind Conservative educational policy - excellence in education - was now being interpreted by the government in terms of the creation of appropriate curricula for different groups of pupils to be derived mainly from their assumed destination in the division of labour (Knight 1990:168).
The 1985 White Paper Better Schools made it clear that the new GCSE would be one of a number of different examinations for 16-year-olds:
Some schools prepare pupils for pre-vocational examinations other than O level and CSE (eg those of the City and Guilds of London Institute, the Royal Society of Arts, and the Business and Technician Education Council) during the years of compulsory schooling. Such courses will continue to be available to complement GCSE examinations as well, in the service of a curriculum which is broad, balanced, relevant, and differentiated in accordance with pupils' abilities (DES/Welsh Office 1985:32).

It went on to announce the setting up of a working party 'to draft national criteria for pre-vocational and vocationally oriented examination courses taken by pupils of statutory school age' (DES/Welsh Office 1985:32).

At the same time, the Joint Board for Pre-Vocational Education, set up in May 1983 to administer the new Certificate of Pre-Vocational Education (CPVE), was developing its own schemes for 14- to 18-year-olds. A press release, issued in January 1984, declared that

BTEC (the Business and Technician Education Council) and CGLI (City and Guilds of London Institute) see their decision to adopt a joint approach to pre-vocational education as a major contribution to helping schools and colleges provide young people with a more effective transition from school to work. The two bodies want to create a new curriculum pathway for that majority of those between the ages of 14 and 18 for whom the traditional academic curriculum is unsuitable (quoted in Chitty 1989:163).
A further statement, in September 1985, announced that
The Councils of BTEC and City and Guilds have agreed jointly to develop and operate a new pre-vocational provision for students aged 14 to 16 which will offer a national alternative to traditional subject-based school courses (quoted in Chitty 1989:163).
These initiatives resulted in the publication, in May 1986, of The Framework Description of BTEC-City and Guilds Pre-Vocational Programmes for Pupils Age 14-16, which incorporated existing programmes into a common framework.
With the development of these initiatives, there seemed little cause for optimism that the term 'comprehensive education' would actually come to mean anything significant beyond the age of 14 (Chitty 1989:163).
The National Council for Vocational Qualifications (NCVQ) was established in 1986 as a charitable trust and company to act as the accreditation body for National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs).

1985 Swann Report

The Committee of Enquiry into the Education of Children from Ethnic Minority Groups, chaired by Anthony Rampton, had been appointed by Labour education secretary Shirley Williams in March 1979, and had published its interim report West Indian Children in our Schools in 1981 (details above).

Unhappy with the report's conclusions, Mark Carlisle had sacked Rampton and replaced him with Michael (Lord) Swann (1920-1990), a biologist who had been appointed Chancellor of the University of York in 1979.

The Committee submitted its final report Education for All to Keith Joseph in March 1985. It warned that:

unless major efforts are made to reconcile the concerns and aspirations of both the majority and minority communities along more genuinely pluralistic lines, there is a real risk of the fragmentation of our society along ethnic lines which would seriously threaten the stability and cohesion of society as a whole. (Swann 1985:7)
The Committee argued that 'Education for All' required an acknowledgement that 'the problem facing the education system is not how to educate children of ethnic minorities, but how to educate all children'; that Britain was a multi-racial and multicultural society and that 'all pupils must be enabled to understand what this means' (Swann 1985:363).

Education had to be 'something more than the reinforcement of the beliefs, values and identity which each child brings to school': it was necessary 'to combat racism, to attack inherited myths and stereotypes, and the ways in which they are embodied in institutional practices' (Swann 1985:364).

The report concluded that there was no single cause of underachievement and therefore no single solution; that education had a major role to play in changing the attitudes of the white majority population; and that there was a need for more sensitivity in the education of ethnic minority children. In the initial and in-service training of teachers, greater attention should be paid to the needs of an ethnically diverse society.

Growing anxiety

Oxford and Thatcher

By 1985 there was widespread - and growing - anxiety about the direction of government education policy in relation to both schools and higher education.

In January 1985, the dons and senior administrators of Oxford University's Hebdomadal Council decided by 738 votes to 319 reject the proposal to confer an honorary degree on Margaret Thatcher.

The 275 leading objectors issued a statement which referred to Thatcher's record on the universities and on education in general. Her government, they wrote, had 'done deep and systematic damage to the whole public education system in Britain, from the provision for the youngest child up to the most advanced research programmes'. This damage, they went on, 'might be irreparable' and, because Oxford was 'widely perceived to stand at the pinnacle of British education', it would be inappropriate for the University 'to accord such a wrecker its highest token of approval'. By withholding it, 'Oxford would be acting for the entire academic world' (quoted in Simon 1991:511).

A Downing Street spokesman responded that the matter was 'entirely in the hands of the university' and that if they did not wish to confer the honour, Mrs Thatcher was 'the last person to wish to receive it' (The Guardian 30 January 1985).

1985 Jarratt Report

In March 1985 the Report of the Steering Committee for Efficiency Studies in Universities, commissioned by the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals, urged the government to 'consider what action can be taken to restore a longer funding horizon for universities in view of the disincentives to strategic planning inherent in the present system' (Jarratt 1985:35).

The government, it said, 'should avoid thrusting crises on universities by sudden short term changes of course' and should 'be prepared to provide funds to meet the whole or the greater part of the realistic cost of future staffing reductions agreed between individual universities and the UGC' [University Grants Committee] (Jarratt 1985:35).

Jackson Hall's warning

Jackson Hall, Chief Education Officer for Sunderland, became President of the Society of Education Officers in January 1985. In his presidential address (a shortened version of which was published in Forum), he warned of the damage being caused by 'the centralist tendency'. There were two issues that the Secretary of State should attend to, he said.

The first is to restore the morale of the service. The sustained public criticism over the last decade, the inadequate funding of the service (and not only salaries), the erosion of its status, and the general uncertainty about the future, have reduced morale to a disabling level and the relationships of the historic partners - DES, LEAs and teachers - are at an all-time low. Disillusion and pessimism are rampant throughout the service. If this threat is not tackled urgently and successfully, the prognosis for the service must be profoundly and frighteningly pessimistic. The annual disruption of the service, which is becoming continuous, is producing a bitter pauperisation that we shall all live to regret. Secondly, we must reconstruct a contemporary version of the post-war partnership - a structure in which there is scope for the real debate, real learning and real negotiation which will produce the cooperation and collective leadership that the service must have to be healthy (Hall 1985:6).
Hall was unable to predict, however, just how much worse things would become:
the next two years would see the longest and most damaging confrontation between teachers and the state ever yet experienced - to culminate almost in the total breakdown of the education service. ... The secretary of state, by his implacable actions, almost brought the entire edifice crashing around him. In the end, the issue could only be solved by his fall (Simon 1991:511-2).

The end of Joseph

By early 1986 Keith Joseph was being widely criticised and there was talk of a new crisis in education. His announcement, in February 1986, that he intended to retire at the next election, exposed divisions in the Tory party over its education policies.

In a speech to the Secondary Heads Association in Oxford on 20 April 1986, Chris Patten declared that

We are not going to measure the success of schools by the canons of a narrow utilitarianism. To do so would not only deny some of the most important values of education. It would not help us to prosper economically. Nor are we more concerned that all should reach the same minimum standard rather than that everyone should reach the highest standard of which they are capable. That would be falsely and debilitatingly egalitarian. What is now necessary is to tackle pupils' under-achievement, which is not the same as low achievement (quoted in Knight 1990:178).
And former education secretary Mark Carlisle, worried about the damaging effect on teacher morale of Joseph's constant criticism, urged: 'Let us repair the house that exists rather than attempt to replace it with another' (Education 25 April 1986 quoted in Knight 1990:179).

Meanwhile, on the right wing of the party, the 'No Turning Back' group of Tory MPs called for a radical manifesto for the next election involving the return of separate grammar and technical schools, a 'credit' system (effectively vouchers), and direct-grant primary schools for inner cities. And Oliver Letwin (1956- ), who had until recently been a member of the Prime Minister's policy unit, called for more assisted places in a 'greatly expanded private sector'. There was now a real chance, he argued, of

turning our maintained schools gradually into independent, professional institutions whose clients' fees are fully paid by the state, instead of fragments of a vast nationalised industry, woefully mismanaged, strike bound and desolate (The Independent 6 February 1986 quoted in Simon 1991:524-5).
A public opinion poll in April showed that only 16 per cent thought the Tories had 'the best policies to deal with education and schools' (Simon 1991:516). Pressure mounted on all sides for Joseph to go quickly. But he clung on,
lecturing teachers, announcing new centralising policies and perspectives, as if totally unconscious of the cauldron bubbling at his feet (Simon 1991:516).
On 8 May there were municipal elections and three parliamentary by-elections. For the government, the results were disastrous.
Great cities and shire counties swung to Labour and the [Liberal-Social Democratic Party (SDP)] Alliance. The parliamentary by-elections confirmed this tendency - recording a national surge against the government. All commentators were agreed that the perceived decay in public services, and in particular in education, was central (Simon 1991:516-7).
Thatcher's response was characteristic. She told party workers that 'We must now keep up with our politics and redouble our efforts to win the next election'. But, she added, 'We've got to do something about education' (The Times Educational Supplement 16 May 1986 quoted in Simon 1991:517).

Demetri Argyropulo, a member of the Tories' National Advisory Committee on Education, commented: 'the Conservatives have managed to alienate almost every group of people involved in education' (Education 16 May 1986, quoted in Simon 1991:517).

Joseph finally resigned on 16 May. In his resignation letter, he told the Prime Minister he thought it was time for 'a fresh voice' at the DES (quoted in Knight 1990:179). However, Knight argues that what the government and DES needed was not a 'fresh voice' but 'one voice' on education.

The 'Joseph years', argues Knight, had

marked a period of deep unease within the Party over the best strategy to deliver a better education for all. Significantly, both the economic evangelical, Sir Keith Joseph, and the preservationist, Lord Beloff, had questioned whether a combination of parent power and the market was the right way forward (Knight 1990:180).

Baker's first year

Kenneth Baker became the new education secretary on 21 May 1986. His appointment suggested that

tactical skill and administrative ability in the presentation of Conservative educational reform were considered greater attributes for securing electoral success than the talent to initiate policy itself (Knight 1990:179).
Baker was, above all else, a pragmatist. In comparison with Joseph, suggest Morris and Griggs, he was
more direct, less subtle, with an air of absolute certainty, a man not beset by any intellectual doubts as was his more thoughtful and philosophically-minded predecessor (Morris and Griggs 1988:22).
He faced the daunting challenge of repairing the damage of the Joseph years and - before the next general election - convincing a sceptical public that the Tories could be trusted with the nation's schools. His first act on taking office was to dismiss the right-winger Stuart Sexton, who had been an adviser to Mark Carlisle.

It was not going to be easy: with no clear policy, Conservative politicians (and industrialists) were busy launching vicious attacks on the education service; the annual HMI report warned of the profoundly negative impact which the rapidly deteriorating state of schools was having on standards; and the teachers' dispute was rumbling on.

There were also unhelpful interventions from a number of right-wing pressure groups which had influence with the Prime Minister.

The No Turning Back group of Tory MPs published a pamphlet in July 1986 outlining their policy proposals. SOS: Save our Schools argued for the creation of independent parent-dominated governing bodies with the power to fix salaries and control expenditure; direct funding of schools by the DES on the basis of pupil numbers; and for parents to have the right to choose schools for their children. Baker was said to have been very angry when he saw the draft, and demanded changes. Thatcher, however, endorsed the pamphlet, and most of its proposals were included in the Conservative Party manifesto the following year (Simon 1991:528).

Similar demands were made by other right-wing individuals and groups, including Sir John Hoskins, Director General of the Institute of Directors, who wanted the government to introduce 'education credits'; the Hillgate Group, which demanded the removal of schools from local authority control and an independent enquiry into HMI; and even schools minister Robert Dunn, who issued a call to 'privatise education' (The Guardian 29 July 1986, quoted in Simon 1991:529).

One thing was in Baker's favour, however: he managed to persuade the Cabinet to find some extra funding, so that he was able to make 'a series of announcements relating to increased resources covering almost every area of education' (Simon 1991:529).

There would be an extra 20m for GCSE-related books and equipment and 30m for in-service teacher training. When local authorities, faced with a lack of funds, threatened to cut 9,400 places in polytechnics, Baker found an extra 54m; and when, for the same reason, the University Grants Committee warned of closures, Baker persuaded the Cabinet to find an extra 114m - and even more for the following two years.

In October Baker announced that he was prepared to settle the teachers' pay dispute, albeit on his terms. 'It cost billions', he told Peter Ribbins. 'It would have cost much less if only the Treasury had been sensible enough to have done a deal a year earlier' (quoted in Ribbins and Sherratt 1997:98).

The education budget was planned to rise from 10.49bn in 1986-7 to 11.57bn in 1987-8, with a target of 11.94bn the following year. The Guardian described the targets as 'unprecedented after recent years', but wondered whether they would survive the election (The Guardian 9 October 1986 quoted in Simon 1991:530).

The early period of Baker's stewardship, then, saw

a deliberate attempt by the government to buy itself out of the crisis - to show some concern about conditions in the schools and the health of the system as a whole (Simon 1991:530).
Baker now began to reveal aspects of education policy which would be incorporated into the Tory election manifesto. The first of these concerned City Technology Colleges.

City Technology Colleges

At the Conservative Party Conference in October 1986, Baker announced that the government intended to create around twenty City Technology Colleges (CTCs) - a new type of school for inner-city areas. He drew rapturous applause from delegates when he declared that the new schools - to be partly privately-financed - would be completely independent of local education authority control.

A glossy brochure, A New Choice of School (October 1986), stated that the purpose of the schools would be

to provide a broadly-based secondary education with a strong technological element thereby offering a wider choice of secondary school to parents in certain cities and a surer preparation for adult and working life to their children (DES 1986:2).
Baker told The Times Education Supplement that the CTCs would be a 'half-way house' between the state and independent sectors:
What we have at present is seven per cent or so in the independent sector, probably going to rise to ten per cent; and on the other side, a huge continent: 93 per cent in the state-maintained sector. ... What I think is striking in the British education system is that there is nothing in between ... Now the City Technology Colleges I've already announced are a sort of half-way house. I would like to see many more half-way houses, a greater choice, a greater variety. I think many parents would as well (The Times Education Supplement 3 April 1987).
CTCs were another attempt to destroy the power of the LEAs (and reintroduce selection) by involving private enterprise in education. A hundred of the colleges would eventually be set up across the country, each one funded - 'sponsored' - by a business, with spending per pupil far higher than in the neighbouring local authority schools.

A publicly-funded trust was set up to promote the CTCs. Chaired by Cyril Taylor, a Conservative MP who was knighted in 1989 'for services to education', its aim was to establish twenty CTCs by September 1990.

Outside the Tory party, Baker's proposals received 'a notably hostile response' (Chitty 1989:202).

BBC education correspondent John Clare argued that CTCs would rob comprehensive schools of both 'their most able and highly motivated pupils' and 'scarce teachers' in such areas as maths, physics, design and technology (The Listener October 1986 quoted in Chitty 1989:202).

Professor Ted Wragg (1938-2005) warned that CTCs would encourage early and narrow specialisation and involve a return to selection. For NUT General Secretary Fred Jarvis, the scheme was 'just another device to ensure that a minority of children get privileged treatment' (quoted in Chitty 1989:202); and NAHT General Secretary David Hart (1940-2013) observed: 'there is an urgent need for all secondary schools to have more technology-based teaching, not just for what will become the privileged few in the inner-city areas' (The Guardian 8 October 1986 quoted in Chitty 1989:202).

Nonetheless, Baker's conference speech - which received a standing ovation - helped to present the last months of Thatcher's second administration as 'the vigorous prelude to a third term, rather than the dogged performance of a team that has run out of steam' (The Guardian 8 October 1986 quoted in Chitty 1989:201).

National core curriculum

Two months later, on 7 December 1986, Baker was interviewed by Matthew Parris on London Weekend Television's Weekend World programme. He declared that the comprehensive system was 'seriously flawed', with too many pupils 'aimless and drifting' (quoted in Chitty 1989:203). A new Tory government would therefore introduce a 'national core curriculum'; schools would become responsible for managing their own budgets and would be allowed to recruit as many pupils as they wished; and there would be more choice and differentiation in secondary schools, with a greater emphasis on vocational courses for less academic children.

Baker expanded his case for a national core curriculum in two speeches in January 1987. He told the North of England Education Conference in Rotherham that:

We cannot continue with a system under which teachers decide what pupils should learn without reference to clear nationally agreed objectives and without having to expose, or if necessary justify, their decisions to parents, employers and the public (Education 16 January 1987 quoted in Simon 1991:532).
And at the Society of Education Officers' Conference, he said:
I believe that, at least as far as England is concerned, we should now move quickly to a national curriculum. By that I mean a school curriculum governed by national criteria which are promulgated by the Secretary of State but in consultation with all concerned - inside and outside the education service - and which are sufficiently flexible to allow schools and teachers to use professional enterprise and judgment in applying them to individual pupils in their particular schools. I want to finish up with criteria which are broadly accepted by those who have to apply them because they have had a say in their determination ...

I realise that the changes I envisage are radical and far-reaching and may, therefore, be unwelcome to those who value what is traditional and familiar and has often served well in the past. But I believe profoundly that professional educators will do a disservice to the cause of education, and to the nation, if they entrench themselves in a defence of the status quo. More and more people are coming to feel that our school curriculum is not as good as it could be and needs to be, and that we need to move nearer to the kind of arrangements which other European countries operate with success, but without sacrificing those features of our own traditional approach which continue to prove their worth (DES Press Release 22/87 quoted in Chitty 1989:205).

In April 1987 Baker told the House of Commons Education Select Committee that the next Tory government would legislate to ensure that all children were taught mathematics and English, science, a foreign language, history, geography and technology; and that there would be tests, based on attainment targets, at ages seven, eleven and fourteen (Simon 1991:532).

Local management of schools

A few days later, he announced yet another initiative, telling the Secondary Heads Association Conference that he planned to devolve financial control of all secondary schools, and all primary schools with over 200 pupils, to heads and governors. 'Schools should be able to determine how many staff and of what kind they should have', he said, and they should be free to decide how much to spend on lighting, heating, micro-computers (The Times Educational Supplement 17 April 1987 quoted in Simon 1991:533).

Higher education

Baker's proposed reforms were not limited to schools. In April 1987 he (together with Secretaries of State for Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland) published the White Paper Higher education: meeting the challenge, which set out the government's proposals for changes in the structure and planning of higher education.

Once again, it was clear that the intention was to reduce the power of local education authorities: major institutions of higher education under their control would be transferred to 'a new sector' to be overseen by a new Polytechnics and Colleges Funding Council (PCFC). Institutions would be 'corporate bodies under contract' to the PCFC, which would also 'plan and fund certain courses in colleges remaining with local government' (DES 1987a:v). This was necessary, it was argued, because there was evidence

that the good management of polytechnics and colleges is inhibited by the excessive engagement in their affairs of local authorities exploiting their role as the formal employer of staff and the overseer of budgetary and purchasing matters (DES 1987a:23).
While many local authorities managed their higher education colleges 'constructively', it was no longer appropriate for them to control 'polytechnics and other colleges predominantly offering higher education' (DES 1987a:28).
The Government therefore intends to secure the re-establishment of the polytechnics and other institutions of substantial size engaged predominantly in higher education as free-standing outside local authority control (DES 1987a:29).
The National Advisory Body for Public Sector Higher Education (NAB), 'with its local authority majority', would 'cease to be an appropriate planning body and will go out of existence' (DES 1987a:31).

With regard to the universities, the White Paper noted the conclusions of Lord Croham's committee, which had published its Review of the University Grants Committee on 10 February 1987. These were that

the UGC should be reconstituted as a University Grants Council, an independent body under the sponsorship of the Secretary of State for Education and Science, with revised terms of reference, a chairman with substantial experience outside the academic world, broadly equal numbers of academic and non-academic members, and a reserve power for the Secretary of State to issue directions to the Council ... the new Council should be formally incorporated, preferably by legislation (DES 1987a:37).
The government accepted 'the broad thrust of these recommendations'. It proposed, however, that in the university sector
payment of grants to institutions should be replaced by a system of contracting between them and the body to succeed the UGC. That body will be named the Universities Funding Council (DES 1987a:37-8).
The White Paper's proposals formed Part III of the 1988 Education Reform Act (details below).

Opting out

Baker had time to announce one further initiative: just three weeks before Parliament was dissolved, he hinted that a new Conservative government would allow schools to opt out of local education authority control, telling the Commons that the city technology colleges would 'point the way ahead for many other types of school after the election' (quoted in Simon 1991:533). This idea - little noticed at the time - was to become a central feature of the manifesto.

1987-1990 Taking control

Conservative election manifesto

A month before the 1987 election, Thatcher told the editor of the Daily Mail that a more positive and dynamic approach to education was now needed:

We are going much further with education than we ever thought of doing before. When we've spent all that money per pupil, and with more teachers, there is still so much wrong, so we are going to do something determined about it ... There is going to be a revolution in the running of the schools (Daily Mail 13 May 1987 quoted in Chitty 1989:196).
This revolution would involve reducing the powers of the local education authorities, reversing 'this universal comprehensive thing', and 'the breaking-up of the giant comprehensives' (Daily Mail 13 May 1987 quoted in Chitty 1989:196).

The education section of the 1987 Conservative election manifesto began by declaring that

Parents want schools to provide their children with the knowledge, training and character that will fit them for today's world. They want them to be taught basic educational skills, They want schools that will encourage moral values: honesty, hard work and responsibility. And they should have the right to choose those schools which do these things for their children (Conservative Manifesto 1987).
It listed four 'major reforms':
  • we will establish a National Core Curriculum;
  • within five years governing bodies and head teachers of all secondary schools and many primary schools will be given control over their own budgets;
  • we will increase parental choice; and
  • we will allow state schools to opt out of LEA control (Conservative Manifesto 1987).
The Times Educational Supplement (22 May 1987) described the manifesto as embracing 'the ideology of vouchers in all but name' (quoted in Chitty 1989:187).

The main objective of Tory education policy was now clear - 'to break the power and control of local authorities as the condition for developing a variety of competing types of secondary school' (Simon 1991:534). Junior education minister Robert Dunn set the tone of the Tory election campaign, announcing that the party would embark on a course which would eventually lead to 'the denationalisation of education'. Right-wing Tories must be patient, he said, and wait 'just a little bit longer' for local authority control of education to be 'finally broken' (The Times Educational Supplement 15 May 1987 quoted in Simon 1991:533).

There was widespread opposition to the Tories' proposals. Their claim that the existing system was failing was bizarre, argued the The Times Educational Supplement, given that they had been in power for eight years:

After eight years of Conservative rule Mrs Thatcher's ministers might reasonably be cast in the role of defenders of the present education system. Not a bit of it. Mr Kenneth Baker's stance is that of a radical iconoclast ... he admits no responsibility for the present state of education. ... The kind of destructive criticism which has characterised the government's dealings with the schools over the past six years has been profoundly damaging to the long-term health of the education service (The Times Educational Supplement 15 May 1987 quoted in Simon 1991:534).
The local authority organisations enlisted the support of parents and teachers; the TUC ran its own campaign under the slogan 'Education under Threat'; and the Secondary Heads Association declared its 'unequivocal opposition' to city technology colleges.

In an article entitled 'A Dangerous Totalitarianism', Oxfordshire's Chief Education Officer Tim Brighouse (1940- ) argued that the proposed legislation was 'as dangerous as it is breathtaking' (The Times Educational Supplement 24 April 1987 quoted in Simon 1991:534); and Dr Graham Leonard, Bishop of London and Chair of the Church of England's Board of Education, warned that any attempt to destroy the local authorities would be 'both foolish and dangerous':

If any political party is contemplating an education system in which individual school governing bodies are responsible only to themselves and the secretary of state, then they must realise they would be destroying an essential layer of professional support within the structure (The Times Educational Supplement 1 May 1987 quoted in Simon 1991:536).
Meanwhile, the Labour Party, now led by Neil Kinnock, produced a more measured manifesto. It promised:
  • nursery education available for all three- and four-year-olds whose parents wanted it;
  • smaller classes;
  • up-to-date books, equipment and buildings without the need for fund-raising;
  • free school meals and the restoration of nutritional standards;
  • proper recognition of teachers 'as well qualified professionals, in their systems of rewards, in the procedures for negotiation of their employment conditions and in participation in the development of education';
  • cooperation with local education authorities 'to secure a flexible but clear core curriculum agreed at national level';
  • a School Standards Council;
  • a new profile of achievement for all pupils;
  • improved links between schools and home;
  • proper funding for the GCSE curriculum and examination;
  • an end to the 11 plus 'everywhere'; and
  • abolition of the Assisted Places Scheme and other subsidies to private schools (Labour manifesto 1987).
This was, says Brian Simon, an 'essentially evolutionary' policy which 'contrasted sharply with that of the Tories' (Simon 1991:537).

As the election campaign reached its peak, there was apparent disagreement between Baker and Thatcher over 'opted out' (grant maintained) schools: he denied that they would be allowed to select their pupils and charge fees; she suggested that they would. In a leading article, The Times Educational Supplement accused the Tories of 'Making it up as They Go Along'. Tory policies, the paper said, had been 'dreamt up by back-room advisers' whose only knowledge of education came from 'a coterie of far-right academics and publicists' (The Times Educational Supplement 29 May 1987 quoted in Simon 537).

Undaunted by the criticism, Thatcher told the BBC's Election Call programme on the eve of the election:

In some ways, I wish we had begun to tackle education earlier. We have been content to continue the policies of our predecessors. But now we have much worse left-wing Labour authorities than we have ever had before - so something simply has to be done (reported in The Guardian 11 June 1987 quoted in Chitty 1989:197).
In the event, the Liberal-SDP Alliance took a significant number of votes from Labour, and the Tories won the election with a reduced - though still large - majority.

Section 28

The major piece of education legislation in Thatcher's third term was to be the 1988 Education Reform Act. While preparations for that were being made, however, there was another piece of unfinished business for the Tories to attend to - one which enabled the Thatcher government to intensify its war on 'left-wing Labour authorities'.

The controversy surrounding the children's book Jenny lives with Eric and Martin, which had erupted during debates on the 1986 Education (No. 2) Act, led some in the Tory party to call for stronger measures to clamp down on the equal opportunities policies of some local authorities.

In the House of Lords, the Earl of Halsbury, Tony Giffard, tabled his Local Government Act 1986 (Amendment) Bill which, he said, would prevent local authorities

from giving financial or other assistance to any person for the purpose of publishing or promoting homosexuality as an acceptable family relationship or for the purpose of teaching such acceptability in any maintained school (Hansard House of Lords 18 December 1986 Vol 483 Col 311).
The bill was lost, but its content was put forward as Clause 27 of the 1988 Local Government Bill by Tory MP David Wilshire. It was supported by, among others, Tory MP Jill Knight, who told the Commons that 'children under two have had access to gay and lesbian books in Lambeth play centres' (Hansard House of Commons 9 March 1988 Vol 129 Col 377).

Vigorous attempts to mitigate the potentially damaging effects of the clause were made by Liberal MP Simon Hughes and others. Hughes told the Commons that

the clause is damaging in its width, and the provisions that the Government intend to introduce to deal with the problem are also damaging. They are damaging to individuals who may well need the benefit of education, counselling, support and the opportunity to meet and discuss with other people their own and others' sexual orientation. They are also damaging to our pluralist society (Hansard House of Commons 15 December 1987 Vol 124 Cols 990-1).
Conservative members, he said, had
sought to raise the spectre of local authorities, especially those supported by other political parties, campaigning for the mass transformation - if that is biologically and genetically possible - of the land into a cast of rampaging homosexuals (Hansard House of Commons 15 December 1987 Vol 124 Col 991).
Labour MP and former Greater London Council leader Ken Livingstone was equally critical:
Conservative Members are responding to a wave of hysteria and bigotry that has been whipped up by the popular press ...

Nowhere have the hysteria and bigotry been whipped up more than on the issue of the book "Jenny lives with Eric and Martin". It filled acres of newsprint. What was the reality? One copy of one book in one teachers' centre that one teacher had taken out to read became the centre of a wave of hysteria that has turned it into a best seller. The people who published the book will probably want to make a donation to the popular press for advertising it. Should such nonsense be the basis of legislation? (Hansard House of Commons 15 December 1987 Vol 124 Col 1010).

Attempts to amend the clause were defeated, however, and it became notorious as Section 28 of the 1988 Local Government Act (24 March). It said:
A local authority shall not -
(a) intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality;

(b) promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.

It is difficult to resist the conclusion that the wording of Section 28 - particularly its use of the phrase 'pretended family relationship' - was designed to be deliberately offensive. It effectively legitimised homophobia.

Section 28 was 'a key cultural and symbolic event in the recent history of sexual politics', which 'played an important role in undermining the confidence and professionalism of teachers' (Chitty 1994a:16). Its effect on the teaching of sex in schools, however, was negligible, because sex education had already been removed from the control of LEAs in the 1986 Education Act, something Jill Knight and her friends had conveniently forgotten.

Section 28 was eventually repealed by New Labour in November 2003.

Towards the Education Reform Act

In her speech at the Opening of Parliament on 25 June, the Queen said:

My Government will take action to raise standards throughout education and to extend parental choice. Legislation will be introduced to provide for a national curriculum for schools, delegation of school budgets and greater autonomy for schools. It will also reform the structure of education in inner London, give greater independence to polytechnics and certain other colleges and support the establishment of city technology colleges (Hansard Queen's Speech 25 June 1987 Vol 118 Cols 38-40).
She also announced that
There will be guaranteed places on the youth training scheme for school leavers under 18 who do not go into employment. Legislation will be introduced to enable benefit to be withheld from those who refuse a place (Hansard Queen's Speech 25 June 1987 Vol 118 Cols 38-40).
Kenneth Baker wasted no time in making preparations for his 'Great Education Reform Bill' ('GERBIL' as it became known).

He appointed subject working groups, who were asked to provide interim reports by January 1988 and final reports within a year. He presented the groups as bringing together education professionals and notable figures in fields such as science and history. However,

In reality hardly any members were teachers currently working in state schools. The enthusiasm in the working groups instantly overloaded the new curriculum: the history content alone could have filled half a school timetable. Even though ministers selected the group chairs, this did not avoid subsequent direct interference if outcomes were unwelcome (Wrigley 2014:23).
Baker invited Professor PJ Black, then head of the King's Centre for Educational Studies at King's College London, to lead a 'Task Group on Assessment and Testing' (TGAT); and he published consultation papers on
  • the introduction of a national curriculum in maintained schools in England and Wales;
  • the devolution of most of the financial responsibility for running schools to governing bodies;
  • giving parents the right to send their children to the school of their choice;
  • enabling schools to opt out of local authority control;
  • educational services which might be charged for;
  • the governance, financing and legal basis of further education;
  • the universities and higher education; and
  • allowing London boroughs to opt out of the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA).
Despite being issued at the beginning of the holiday season, these papers provoked a good deal of public debate and thousands of critical submissions to the DES, particularly on the opting-out proposal:
Overwhelming condemnation of the government proposals to allow schools to opt out of local authority control has come from education officers, teachers, local government and all the larger organisations of parents. ... It is now clear that Mr Kenneth Baker will face unprecedented hostility from educational professionals if he presses ahead without significant amendments to his opting out legislation (The Times Educational Supplement 2 October 1987 quoted in Simon 1991:539-40).
Taken together, the proposals regarding devolution of budgets, open enrolment and opting-out were intended to introduce market principles to the education system. Some commentators warned that this would damage local systems of comprehensive education.

Tessa Blackstone (1942- ), Master of Birkbeck College, argued that children's futures were now 'threatened by a scheme casually destructive of the best in the maintained system, dangerously divisive, and administratively unworkable' (The Guardian 9 June 1987 quoted in Chitty 1989:211); others warned that the government's proposals would 'raise costs and lower efficiency'. Educational planning would, in future, be a matter of 'picking up the bits and presiding over the bankruptcies after the consumers have made their educational purchases' (The Times Educational Supplement 17 July 1987 quoted in Chitty 1989:211).

To coordinate opposition, the Council of Local Education Authorities, teachers' and parents' organisations, the Institute of Directors, the Trades Union Congress and the Anglican, Roman Catholic and Methodist churches joined forces to set up a Standing Conference on Education. Its first meeting, in Birmingham on 26 October 1987, was attended by 180 representatives from 60 organisations, who expressed 'virtual unanimity on all the main issues' (Simon 1991:541).

Baker ignored all the criticism, declaring that

we will not tolerate a moment longer the smug complacency of too many educationists, which has left our national educational performance limping along behind that of our industrial competitors (The Independent 8 October 1987 quoted in Simon 1991:540).
The National Curriculum

The National Curriculum 5-16: a consultation document, published within a month of the election victory, proposed a curriculum consisting of ten 'foundation subjects' which were to be 'followed by all pupils during compulsory schooling' (DES/Welsh Office 1987:6).

Maths, English and science would form 'the core of the curriculum', and 'first priority will be given to these subjects'. The other foundation subjects would comprise technology, history, geography, art, music, physical education and, for secondary pupils, a modern foreign language (DES/Welsh Office 1987:6).

Religious education was 'already required by statute, and must continue to form an essential part of the curriculum' (DES/Welsh Office 1987:8).

Other themes - such as health education and use of information technology - would be taught through the foundation subjects: 'For example, biology can contribute to learning about health education, and the health theme will give an added dimension to teaching about biology' (DES/Welsh Office 1987:8).

The document proposed that the National Curriculum would comprise 'attainment targets' for the core subjects; 'programmes of study' which would 'reflect the attainment targets, and set out the overall content, knowledge, skills and processes relevant to today's needs which pupils should be taught in order to achieve them' (DES/Welsh Office 1987:10); and an assessment process which would include 'nationally prescribed tests done by all pupils' (DES/Welsh Office 1987:11). An 'expert Task Group on Assessment and Testing' would be appointed to advise on this (DES/Welsh Office 1987:12).

A National Curriculum Council (NCC) would be established to 'ensure that the Secretary of State always receives external professional advice before he presents legislation to Parliament on the national curriculum in schools' (DES/Welsh Office 1987:17); and a School Examinations and Assessment Council (SEAC) would advise the Secretary of State on 'what public qualifications can be offered to pupils during compulsory schooling' (DES/Welsh Office 1987:18). The members of both Councils would be appointed by the Secretary of State, who would thus have taken to himself an extraordinary (and hitherto unthinkable) level of control of school education in England.

The consultation document was met with disbelief on the part of many teachers and educationists, who objected that the proposed curriculum was

conceived of entirely in terms of traditional subjects, with little or no acknowledgment of the curriculum debate which had been going on both inside and outside the DES since at least 1976 (Chitty 1989:209).
There was no mention of integrated studies, the environment, personal and social education, psychology, sociology, politics or economics.

Dennis Lawton commented:

the Baker proposals for a national curriculum represent not a radical step forward but a retreat away from the ideals of comprehensive education to a thinly-disguised minimalist position, with a few concessions to pluralist ideology. Mr. Baker's plan for a national curriculum may be accompanied by some of the common curriculum rhetoric, but does not share its ideals. Like the earlier Conservative proposals for the Assisted Places Scheme (1981), the 1987 education reforms, with their 'opting out' facilities, signal a clear message: 'State schools may be good enough for others, but not for our children' (Lawton 1988b:19).
This theme was taken up by Professor Richard Aldrich (1937-2014), of the London Institute of Education, who pointed out that 'national' was hardly an appropriate description of a curriculum which did not apply to schools in Scotland or Northern Ireland, nor to independent schools in England:
What concept of a national curriculum and of a national education, indeed what concept of a nation, underlies this document? Is it that teachers in independent schools can be trusted to provide a balanced curriculum and appropriate standards of education whilst teachers in state schools can not? Is it that pupils in independent schools can be trusted to make the right choice of subjects and to work hard, whilst those in state schools can not? (Aldrich 1988:29).
Aldrich had two other criticisms of the proposed National Curriculum.

First, he argued that its 'most striking feature' was that it was 'at least 83 years old' (Aldrich 1988:22): it was virtually the reincarnation of the 1904 Secondary Regulations, as the comparison he provided demonstrates:

Foreign Language
Physical Exercise
Manual Work/Housewifery
Modern Foreign Language
Physical Education

(Aldrich 1988:22)

Aldrich commented:

Thus in essence the proposed national curriculum, in so far as it is expressed in terms of core and foundation subjects, appears as a reassertion of the basic grammar school curriculum devised at the beginning of the twentieth century by such men as Robert Morant and James Headlam. This curriculum is now to be extended to primary and comprehensive secondary schools (Aldrich 1988:23).
Secondly, he argued that
the consultation document, though entitled The National Curriculum, is essentially concerned with testing, ... the list of core and foundation subjects is simply designed to facilitate that testing (Aldrich 1988:23).
In this respect, he said, the origins of the National Curriculum lay even earlier: 'the historical antecedent is clearly the Revised Code of 1862':
In that year Robert Lowe, member of a government which was determined to reduce central expenditure on elementary education, introduced a system of payment by results whereby grants to schools were based upon standards of attainment reached by children in a very limited range of subjects ... The curriculum was thus subordinated to the demands of a test procedure which was itself employed to justify a reduction in educational expenditure, although this latter aim was expressed in terms of securing value for money (Aldrich 1988:23).
For radical educationist and primary head teacher Michael Armstrong (1934-2016), there were 'three great fallacies' in the proposed national curriculum: those of the subject, the test and delivery.

With regard to subjects, he commented:

the Government's list, as it stands, is more or less arbitrary - but then what isn't in this Bill - and wholly unargued. Why, for example, should science be closer to the heart of the primary school curriculum than art - except on the most crassly utilitarian grounds? Why should the moral sciences - ethics, civics, philosophy - be less fundamental than the physical sciences - unless it be that the latter might appear to be less politically sensitive? Why should history and geography be preferred to Social Studies - other than for reasons of political prejudice? Or art and music to drama and dance? Why is there no mention of craft - or is it simply subsumed under technology? The Government may like to argue that there cannot be time for everything and that choices had to be made, but it refrains from defending the particular choices which it HAS made (Armstrong 1988:74).
On testing, he noted the government's statement that 'At the heart of the assessment process there will be nationally prescribed tests done by all children to supplement the individual teacher's assessments' (DES/Welsh Office 1987:11) and described it as 'the most dispiriting sentence in the whole dismal document' (Armstrong 1988:75). Tests, he argued,
whether of the kind which Mrs Thatcher prefers or of the kind which Professor Black prefers, measure no more than the SHADOW of achievement. Their role is peripheral to assessment. They help us, sometimes, to diagnose particular weaknesses, to locate gaps in knowledge, to detect unevenness in development, or to estimate proficiency at accomplishing a limited number of set tasks. But when the shadow is mistaken for the substance - when nationally prescribed tests are placed at the CENTRE of a school's assessment of its pupils and become the chief criterion of comparison between children, teachers and schools - then children's individual accomplishments will at best be caricatured and at worst be altogether denied (Armstrong 1988:75).
As to delivery - 'the third and greatest fallacy of the National Curriculum' (Armstrong 1988:75) - he commented:
Throughout the consultation document, throughout the Bill itself, knowledge is portrayed as a commodity, delivered by teachers, grocery boys, as it were, of the curriculum, to children. The metaphor of delivery diminishes the status both of teachers and of children at the same time as it lends a spurious authority to the concept of knowledge. For to treat knowledge as a commodity is to place it out of reach of the process of critical inquiry in which it has both its origin and its significance. It is to suppose that knowledge is altogether independent of the circumstances of human experience and the social order: independent of social conditions, of relationships of power, of the interest and purposes of those by whom or to whom it is to be delivered. ...

Such a conception is of course only too convenient to those who exercise power in our society, inasmuch as it allows them to control access to knowledge and so to preserve it from the radical scrutiny which might threaten their own authority (Armstrong 1988:75).

Armstrong concluded:
The central responsibility - and the unfulfilled but attainable goal - of popular education is to provoke and sustain the critical enterprise of every child in every school. The present Government has chosen to ignore, to evade, and in the last resort to deny this responsibility. I find it hard to imagine that the children of this country have ever been more grossly betrayed (Armstrong 1988:76).
Despite all the criticisms, Thatcher remained determined, telling the 1987 Conservative Party Conference that the National Curriculum was necessary because
Children who need to count and multiply are being taught antiracist Mathematics, whatever that may be. Children who need to be able to express themselves in clear English are being taught political slogans. Children who need to be taught to respect traditional moral values are being taught that they have an inalienable right to be gay (quoted in Wrigley 2014:21).

Task Group on Assessment and Testing

The Report of the National Curriculum Task Group on Assessment and Testing was submitted to Baker on 24 December 1987. It began by listing four criteria for a national assessment scheme:

  • the assessment results should give direct information about pupils' achievement in relation to objectives: they should be criterion-referenced;
  • the results should provide a basis for decisions about pupils' further learning needs: they should be formative;
  • the scales or grades should be capable of comparison across classes and schools, if teachers, pupils and parents are to share a common language and common standards: so the assessments should be calibrated or moderated;
  • the ways in which criteria and scales are set up and used should relate to expected routes of educational development, giving some continuity to a pupil's assessment at different ages: the assessments should relate to progression (para. 5).
It also made clear that there were concerns to be addressed:
  • the undesirable effects of testing on children (stress etc);
  • the possible damage to relationships between parents and schools;
  • the fear that external tests would 'impose arbitrary restrictions on teachers' own work, and so limit and devalue their professional role' (para. 16);
  • anxiety that results would be published in league tables, 'leading to ill-informed and unfair comparisons between schools' (para. 18); and
  • the danger that teachers would 'teach to the test' (para. 58).
Despite these concerns, the Report went on to propose a system of testing at ages 7, 11, 14 and 16 (at the end of what would become known as the 'key stages') in which each pupil was to be assessed on ten 'Levels' across hundreds of 'attainment targets' in the ten National Curriculum subjects. This was hugely complicated and, in the view of many teachers, never had a chance of working.

Thatcher herself disapproved of the proposals and favoured simpler external tests of children at 7, 11 and 14 (The Guardian 10 March 1988), presumably because she was less interested in the educational validity of the assessment system than in whether, coupled with other measures, it would promote the education market she was so determined to create.

The fact that the TGAT report was 'received warmly by many educationists, if not by Mrs Thatcher and the New Right', argued Caroline Gipps, was mainly due to 'a sense of relief after the suggestions for national assessment outlined in the National Curriculum Consultative Document' (Gipps 1988:4).

TGAT's real trick, she said, had been

to adopt educative forms of assessments (graded assessment and records of achievement) or at least their rhetoric, in which the student competes against his or her self, and much is under his or her control, and to harness them to the highly competitive arrangements required by GERBIL, while cloaking them in the benign language of 'formative' assessment and 'profiles of attainment'. These forms of assessment can be used formatively and possibly even diagnostically, but make no mistake: the competition and comparison will be malign for many children and are likely to be more powerful in their impact than the positive aspects (Gipps 1988:6).
Subject working groups

The interim reports of the Mathematics and Science Working Groups were published in January 1988.

The maths report - 'an intelligent discussion of the nature of mathematics, learning problems involved, pupil attitudes and like matters' (Simon 1991:543) - did not support the type of 'bench mark' mass testing which Baker wanted, so he wrote a sharp letter to the group's chair who resigned, pleading pressure of other responsibilities. Baker appointed a new chair and several new members.

The science group's interim report was more acceptable to the government, though it, too, warned against mass, prescriptive testing at 7, 11, 14 and 16.


Meanwhile, developments in Scotland, although 'largely motivated by the same political principles', were taking 'a very different direction from that in England' (Fisher 1993a:24). Aileen Fisher, head teacher of Castle Kennedy Primary School in Dumfries and Galloway, argued that this was due to

the degree of resistance to any change which was perceived by teachers, parents, academics, and other interested bodies such as the Churches, as imposition of 'alien' ideas and principles which might harm and ultimately destroy what they strongly felt to be the distinctive features of Scottish education. To put it more crudely, much proposed change was perceived as an attempted 'Englishing' of Scottish education (Fisher 1993a:24).
Scotland's version of the National Curriculum - the 5-14 Programme - was developed in response to the Secretary of State for Scotland's consultation paper Curriculum and Assessment in Scotland: a policy for the '90s, issued in November 1987. The paper identified the need for:
  • clear guidance on what pupils should be learning in primary schools and in the first two years of secondary schools;
  • improved assessment of pupils' progress; and
  • better information for parents about the curriculum and about their children's performance.
The 5-14 Programme provided 'guidelines rather than prescription' (Fisher 1993a:24). These guidelines were based on examples of good practice identified by Review and Development Groups which were 'largely made up of practising teachers' (Fisher 1993b:70). Although, like the English National Curriculum, each curricular area was presented in strands, with levels, the attainment targets were 'fairly broad' and there was 'room for a great deal of flexibility as to content' (Fisher 1993a:24).

The Education Reform Bill

When the Education Reform Bill was published, on 20 November 1987, it was immediately clear that, despite 16,500 overwhelmingly critical responses to the consultation papers, its 137 clauses

precisely reflected the proposals as originally outlined ... In particular, no concessions had been made on the two central features of the policy in so far as they concern the schools - open enrolment and opting out (Simon 1991:542).
Baker was, however, forced to abandon the requirement that the core curriculum should occupy 80-90 per cent of the secondary school timetable.

In relation to schools, the bill covered the national curriculum; testing and assessment; open enrolment; financial delegation; opting out; the break-up of ILEA; and city technology colleges.

Clauses on further and higher education dealt with financial delegation to colleges; independence of polytechnics and new funding arrangements for polytechnics and universities; and the ending of tenure in universities and elsewhere (Simon 1991:542).

Concerns were expressed about the enormous number of new powers to be taken by the Secretary of State. 'From the 30 or so foreshadowed in the consultation papers, these were now calculated as varying between 175 and 200' (Simon 1991:542).

Speaking at a meeting of the Standing Conference for Education in Birmingham on 26 October 1987, former ILEA Chief Education Officer Peter Newsam (1928- ) said that what he was concerned about was not the individual operation of these powers, 'but the cumulative effect' in deciding who, in the future, 'will be effectively responsible for what goes on in each individual school' (quoted in Simon 1988:137).

He went on:

what if one day this country were to find itself with a Secretary of State possessed of a narrow vision of what education in a democracy should aspire to be, coupled with a degree of self-regard and intolerance of the opinions of others that caused him or her to seek to impose that vision on others? (quoted in Simon 1988:139).
Writing in The Observer, Tim Brighouse expressed similar concerns:
When I hear the honeyed words and see the easy smile, I go back to the detailed words in the consultation document. The Secretary of State ... would have ... a power to appoint governors in grant maintained schools ... to terminate grant ... to set (for all state schools) attainment targets and programmes of study ... to set out arrangements for assessment which schools will follow ... to specify what public qualifications can be offered to pupils ... to approve GCSE syllabuses ... to approve or reject schemes for financial delegation ... to appoint governors to polytechnics and some colleges of further education (The Observer 11 October 1987 quoted in Simon 1988:138).

For the right-wing campaigners of the Institute of Economic Affairs and the Hillgate Group, however, the bill was 'something of a victory' (Chitty 1989:187). The Hillgate Group, which had been launched in 1986 with the publication of the pamphlet Whose Schools? A Radical Manifesto, welcomed its proposals for grant-maintained schools and open enrolment as 'the first steps towards the goal of providing an independent education for all' (quoted in Chitty 1989:187).

Second reading

Presenting his bill to the Commons for its second reading on 1 December 1987, Baker said it would 'create a new framework, which will raise standards, extend choice, and produced a better-educated Britain' (Hansard House of Commons 1 December 1987 Vol 123 Col 771).

He went on:

The need for reform is now urgent. All the evidence shows this - international comparisons, the reports of Her Majesty's inspectors and, most recently, the depressing findings on adult illiteracy. It must be a matter of regret for all hon. Members, on both sides of the House, to see the figures issued last week which suggested that 5.5 million of our people - 13 per cent of our population - had difficulty in reading and writing. ...

Lord Callaghan was alive to this more than 10 years ago when, in his Ruskin college speech, he drew attention to the need for change. But the so-called great debate produced no action. There is now a growing realisation that radical change is necessary (Hansard House of Commons 1 December 1987 Vol 123 Col 771).

For the opposition, Jack Straw (1946- ), who had become Labour's shadow education minister on 13 July, argued that the bill would 'severely damage' education:

From beginning to end the Bill is based upon a deception. Its very title - 'Education Reform Bill' - is a fraud; it should be called the 'Education (State Control) Bill'. Under the guise of fine phrases like 'parental choice' and 'decentralisation', the Bill will deny choice and instead centralise power and control over schools, colleges and universities in the hands of the Secretary of State in a manner without parallel in the western world.

Under the guise of arguments for an agreed core curriculum, the Bill will seek to impose a centralised state syllabus. Under the guise of higher standards the Bill will label children as failures at the ages of seven, 11, 14 and 16, impose selection and segregate children by class and by race (Hansard House of Commons 1 December 1987 Vol 123 Col 781).

From the Conservative back benches, former Prime Minister Edward Heath (1916-2005) launched a stinging attack on the government for failing to provide adequate time for consideration of 'a massive Bill of immense importance both to the future of today's children and the future of this country' (Hansard House of Commons 1 December 1987 Vol 123 Col 790).

He went on:

I am sick to death of education in this country being knocked in the way that it is, largely for political purposes, and of teachers being constantly hammered. The great majority of our teachers are good and devoted people as I have found in my constituency and my home area. However, they are now completely demoralised because of the treatment that they have received.

The inspectorate of the Education Department is also demoralised because no notice is taken of what it says. On its inquiries into ILEA, has not the inspectorate said that it should continue? However, its view has been ignored. The morale of the inspectorate is low, as is that of the headmasters who find that their views are not even solicited. Indeed, they will now be laboured with the financial control of schools. Anybody would think that they wanted that, but they do not (Hansard House of Commons 1 December 1987 Vol 123 Col 792).

Like many others, he was concerned about the extent of the Secretary of State's new powers:
Will he enjoy this situation so much then, when a Labour Minister inherits all the powers that the Secretary of State is taking unto himself? The Secretary of State has taken more powers under the Bill than any other member of the Cabinet (Hansard House of Commons 1 December 1987 Vol 123 Col 792-3).
When it came to the vote, Ted Heath was the only Conservative to abstain, 'as Tory colleagues bayed and barracked on the back benches' (The Times Educational Supplement 4 December 1987 quoted in Simon 1991:543). The second reading of the bill was passed by 348 votes to 241.

Committee stage

It was at the committee stage of the bill that two government ministers - Michael Heseltine and Norman Tebbit - proposed the complete abolition of the Inner London Education Authority. London parents reacted immediately, organising a ballot supervised by the Electoral Reform Society, which showed that of the 137,000 parents who voted (57 per cent of those eligible), 94 per cent opposed ILEA's abolition. Despite this clear opposition, the clause was added to the bill.

There was now growing hostility to the bill on a national scale. The annual conference of the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations, representing more than four million parents, launched a campaign which focused particularly on the opting out proposals. A rally at the Royal Albert Hall organised by the National Union of Teachers was addressed by Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops. The Trades Union Congress organised a parliamentary lobby and mass rally at Westminster Hall. The National Union of Students organised demonstrations and meetings, both locally and nationally.

Speaking at the North of England Education Conference in January 1988, former Senior Chief Inspector Sheila Browne (1924-2015) described the bill as 'a legislative sledgehammer' which was the result of 'the sad decline of working trust between and among the partners' (The Times Educational Supplement 8 January 1988 quoted in Chitty 1989:153).

On 19 March, more than five hundred people attended a conference organised by Forum with the support of 25 national organisations representing parents, teachers, students, voluntary organisations, local authorities and the labour movement.

Edward Blishen's report on the conference for Forum included the text of a 'Statement of Intent', which was unanimously agreed by acclamation:

This conference ... wishes to place on record its clear rejection of all the major measures in the Education 'Reform' Bill. Those present pledge themselves to continue the fight against this reactionary measure while it is still under discussion in Parliament. In the view of the Conference, this Bill, if carried without serious amendment, threatens the destruction of the whole publicly provided system of education, which has been built up, with great effort and sacrifice, since the passage of the Education Act of 1944. ...

If the Education Bill is, in fact, carried, virtually unamended, Conference members pledge themselves to carry through a powerful campaign in the country to protect schools and colleges from the Bill's worst effects, and to preserve and develop the publicly provided system of education at all levels. In particular, Conference pledges itself to fight to strengthen the existing system of Comprehensive primary and secondary education under popular, democratic control (Blishen 1988:73).

For Jackson Hall, former Chief Education Officer for Sunderland, the bill marked the termination of the constitutional settlement drawn up in 1944: 'the Bill is not about the development or reformation of the 1944 settlement, but about replacing it' (The Times Educational Supplement 1 April 1988 quoted in Chitty 1989:154).

Tim Brighouse agreed. Writing in the local authority journal Education, he commented:

Fundamentally, the Education Reform Bill, like other parts of current legislation, is an attack on the distribution of power between central and local government in favour of the former. It may be that as the twenty-first century approaches and in a country of 55 million people with a proud history in defence of human rights and in the peaceful practice of democracy, it is proper that we should rely on a simple crude vote of the population every five years to give democratic control over all the major aspects of our life. On the other hand, it may induce in an ever-increasingly educated people such a sense of powerlessness which will threaten the last vestiges of democracy (Education 15 April 1988 quoted in Chitty 1989:153).
Critical analyses of the bill were published in haste. They included Take Care, Mr Baker! by the political journalist Julian Haviland; Education in the Market Place by Professor Ted Wragg; and Bending the Rules: the Baker 'Reform' of Education by Brian Simon.

Despite this avalanche of criticism and the fact that, during the committee stage of the bill, almost every clause had been challenged, 'not a single concession of any importance was made by the government', and the bill returned to the Commons for its third reading in March 'virtually unchanged' (Simon 1991:544).

The bill in the Lords

In the House of Lords, the bill was read for the first time on 11 April, and there were then several weeks of intensive debate on every aspect of it. Opposition peers were particularly concerned about the proposals relating to ILEA, opting out, and the universities. An amendment requiring that there should be further consideration of ILEA's abolition gained 'widespread cross-bench and even Conservative support' (Simon 1991:547), but was voted down.

The only significant victory was an amendment on opting out which required that more than half of all parents registered to vote in a ballot should support the move. This was not accepted by the government, though the final clause did include a concession: if less than half the parents voted in the first ballot, a second ballot had to be held within fourteen days.

The government did, however, accept some of the Lords' amendments relating to universities, those mainly concerned with the definition of academic freedom and the abolition of academic tenure.

On the issue of religious education - which had been 'almost totally ignored, interestingly, in the original Bill' (Simon 1991:549) - the Lords agreed an amendment from Tory right-wingers that collective worship should be 'wholly or mainly of a Christian character'.

Final debates

The final Commons debates on the bill took place in July, when 'a large number of government amendments were rushed through in minimum time, in spite of opposition protests' (Simon 1991:549).

There was some discussion of provision for children with special needs, whose education had been largely ignored in the bill. Klaus Wedell, Professor of Educational Psychology at the London Institute of Education, commented:

The Educational Reform Bill (ERB) appears to have been drafted within a conceptual framework which is different from that adopted by the Warnock Report (1978), the 1981 Act on Special Educational Needs, the House of Commons Select Committee Report (1987), and subsequent developments in this area of education. Indeed, the original Government Consultative Document on the National Curriculum (1987) made only one reference to special educational needs, and that was to pupils with Statements. In its original form, the ERB itself made similar sparse reference to Special Educational Needs (SENs) (Wedell 1988:19).
Many of the amendments to the bill, he said, had been
necessitated by the discordance between the terms of the Bill and current thinking and practice relating to the education of children and young people with special educational needs (Wedell 1988:19);
and he concluded:
the Bill as originally put forward, and the responses to calls for its amendment, have raised serious doubts as to whether the aims will be achievable by the means proposed from the point of view of those concerned for children and young people with SENs. The 1981 Act was seen as a commitment to progress. In spite of its name, it is difficult to see the Education Reform Act in this light (Wedell 1988:21).

1988 Education Reform Act

The 1988 Education Reform Act (29 July) was the most important education act since 1944.

Its major provisions concerned:

  • the curriculum:
    • the National Curriculum
    • new rules on religious education and collective worship
    • the establishment of curriculum and assessment councils;
  • admission of pupils to county and voluntary schools;
  • local management of schools (LMS);
  • grant maintained (GM) schools;
  • city technology colleges (CTCs);
  • changes in further and higher education; and
  • the abolition of ILEA.

Summary of the Act


Chapter I: The Curriculum

The Act provided for a 'basic curriculum' to be taught in all maintained schools, consisting of religious education and the National Curriculum (Section 2(1)).

The National Curriculum would set out 'attainment targets' - the knowledge, skills and understanding which children would be expected to have by the end of each key stage; the 'programmes of study' to be taught at each key stage; and the arrangements for assessing pupils at the end of each key stage (2(2)).

There would be three 'core subjects' (mathematics, English and science); six foundation subjects (history, geography, technology, music, art and physical education); plus a modern foreign language at key stages 3 and 4 (3(1-2)). Schools in Welsh-speaking areas of Wales would also teach Welsh.

The Act defined key stage 1 as ages 5-7, key stage 2: ages 8-11, key stage 3: 12-14, and key stage 4: 15-16 (3(3)).

It set out new rules on religious education: every school day was to begin with an 'act of collective worship' (6(1)), a majority of which were to be 'wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character' (7(1)); every local education authority was required to set up a standing advisory council on religious education (SACRE) (11(1)) consisting of representatives of religious groups, the Church of England, teachers and the local authority (11(4)); and Agreed Syllabuses for Religious Education should 'reflect the fact that the religious traditions in Great Britain are in the main Christian whilst taking account of the teaching and practices of the other principal religions represented in Great Britain' (8(3)).

(The 1988 Act's requirement that most 'acts of collective worship' must be 'wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character' was significant because Britain was now a multicultural society: in contrast, the 1944 Education Act never mentioned Christianity - because it was taken for granted.)

Two new councils were to be established: the National Curriculum Council (NCC) and the School Examinations and Assessment Council (SEAC). (There would also be a Curriculum Council for Wales). The members of the councils would be appointed by the Secretary of State (14(1)).

The NCC would be required to review all aspects of the curriculum and advise the Secretary of State, carry out programmes of research and development, publish and disseminate information relating to the curriculum and perform 'such ancillary activities as the Secretary of State may direct' (14(3)).

SEAC's functions were similar in respect of examinations and assessment; it was also to make arrangements with appropriate bodies for the moderation of assessments made in pursuance of assessment arrangements (14(4)).

Chapter II: Admission of Pupils to County and Voluntary Schools

The Act introduced new rules governing the admission of pupils to maintained schools (26, 27), in particular the conditions which were to be met if the authority responsible for admissions to a school wished to reduce the 'standard number' of places in a year group (28).

Chapter III: Finance and Staff

Before 1988, schools had had control of 'capitation' (expenditure on books and materials), while all other financial matters, including the employment of staff and the maintenance of buildings, were the responsibility of the local authority.

The 1988 Act gave governors control of almost the whole budget, under what became known as 'local management of schools' (LMS). 'It shall be the duty of the authority to put at the disposal of the governing body of the school in respect of that year a sum equal to the school's budget share for that year to be spent for the purposes of the school' (36(2)).

School budgets would be determined on the basis of an 'allocation formula' based on the number and ages of the pupils in the school and the number of pupils with special needs (38(3)). Each local authority was required to submit a scheme for this financial delegation (39).

Responsibility for the appointment and dismissal of staff would be transferred from the local authority to schools' governing bodies (44-46).

Chapter IV Grant-Maintained Schools

The Act made provision for the establishment of grant-maintained schools which would be independent of local authorities and funded directly by central government. It dealt with the schools' governing bodies (53-59); the conduct of parents' ballots to decide whether schools should seek grant-maintained status (61); the transfer of property and staff to the governing bodies (74-5); and the grants (maintenance, special purpose and capital) payable to the schools (79). It made clear that funds directed to grant-maintained schools would be deducted from the relevant local authority budget (81).

Chapter V Miscellaneous

The Act provided for the establishment of City Technology Colleges (CTCs) and City Colleges for the Technology of the Arts (CCTAs) (105) and laid down new rules governing what could, and what could not, be charged for in maintained schools (106-111).


Higher and Further Education

Part II of the Act made changes to the provision and funding of higher and further education and provided for the establishment of two new funding bodies: the Universities Funding Council (UFC) and the Polytechnics and Colleges Funding Council (PCFC), whose members would be appointed by the Secretary of State. Local authorities which funded institutions would be required to produce a scheme for financial delegation similar to that required for the funding of schools.


Education in Inner London

Part III of the Act provided for the abolition of the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA) and the transfer of its responsibilities, properties, rights and liabilities to the inner London boroughs.


Miscellaneous and General

Part IV of the Act covered a number of other matters, including: the establishment and functions of an Education Assets Board; academic tenure; grants; unrecognised degrees etc.


The Education Reform Bill which Baker had presented to the House of Commons in November 1987 had had 137 clauses and eleven schedules. The Education Reform Act which received the Royal Assent on 29 July 1988 contained 238 clauses and thirteen schedules. With its 101 additional clauses - most of them tabled by the government itself - the Act had become, in the words of Peter Wilby and Ngaio Crequer, 'a Gothic monstrosity of legislation' (The Independent 28 July 1988 quoted in Chitty 1989:219).

Many commentators saw the Act as marking the end of the triangular model of education government which had been established in 1944 and in which central government, local authorities and schools were equal partners.

For Clyde Chitty, the passing of the Act was a clear indication that the 'partnership years' were 'now truly over' (Chitty 1989:153).

The central purpose of the Education Reform Act is that power should be gathered to the centre and, at the same time, devolved on to school and parent, both processes being at the expense of mediating bureaucracies, whether elected or not. On the one hand, the Act opens up education to the forces of competition; alongside this process, the arrangements for the school curriculum are designed to ensure that pupils will not be exposed to controversial material which challenges accepted values and ways of thinking (Chitty 1989:219-20).
Morris and Griggs wrote of
the destruction of the partnership between government, local authorities and teachers which had been the foundation of our education system for many years ... The potential for conflict in one of the most sensitive areas of our public affairs will be enormous (Morris and Griggs 1988:24).
Chitty and Dunford later argued that the 'meretricious agenda' of the 1988 Act had been in many ways 'a tribute to the remarkable resilience of the comprehensive ideal' (Chitty and Dunford 1999:25). Having failed to get selection reinstated in 1979, the Tories had now used
devices like opting out, open admission, city technology colleges and the introduction of 'local markets' ... as attempts to introduce selection by the back door (Chitty and Dunford 1999:25).

After the Act

Commencement dates for the various parts of the Act were set out in Section 236.

Most of Part I (dealing with school matters) came into force immediately, including the sections dealing with the National Curriculum, local management of schools, and City Technology Colleges. Most of Part II (higher and further education) would be effective from 1 April 1990. The rest of the Act 'shall come into force on such date or dates as the Secretary of State may by order appoint' (Section 236(6)).

National Curriculum

Speaking to Peter Ribbins in May 1994, Baker said that he was 'very proud of what emerged from the National Curriculum discussions' and disappointed that 'some of my successors have messed around with it rather too much' (quoted in Ribbins and Sherratt 1997:101).

His biggest regret was that he had not been able to 'open up the number of teaching hours issue':

I knew that the curriculum we were developing was going to be demanding, but we never expected it to take up 80 per cent of the school week. I should have pushed harder for one extra teaching period a day. ... It is wrong that within the English education system the hours taught by teachers in front of a class are lower than any country in Europe, and significantly lower than in America and Japan (quoted in Ribbins and Sherratt 1997:101).
As to the assessment arrangements:
I knew it was becoming too complicated. All my instincts told me it was getting too complicated. It was something I would have redressed if I had stayed on in the Department, for I could see disaster staring us in the face (quoted in Ribbins and Sherratt 1997:110).
Despite these concerns, he felt that 'too much has been made of the difficulties of the curriculum and of testing, quite frankly' (quoted in Ribbins and Sherratt 1997:114).

In the event, it would take almost a decade for the National Curriculum and its associated assessment regime to be fully implemented, by which time it had been shown to be unmanageable, especially at the primary level, and had been revised.

Religious education

By November 1990 around forty local authorities were reviewing their agreed syllabuses for religious education. Many of them were considering attainment targets, programmes of study and other structural forms from the National Curriculum either as part of a new syllabus or as an addendum to an existing syllabus. Some were using Attainment in RE, a handbook for teachers published by the Regional RE Centre based at Westhill College in Selly Oak, Birmingham.

Attainment in RE was based on four principles:

  • that the structures for religious education should be, as far as possible, within the same broad educational guidelines as those for the core and foundation subjects of the National Curriculum;
  • that in religious education, priority should be given to defining attainment and that the processes and outcomes of the subject should not be determined by what can be precisely measured;
  • that the provisions for religious education should be built on the progressive educational foundations of recent agreed syllabuses and good practice in schools; and
  • that determining details of content (i.e. which religions should be studied) was a matter for local education authorities (Westhill 1989:3).
The scheme suggested ten attainment targets arranged in three groups ('profile components'):
A Knowledge and Understanding of Religion: Worship and Meditation, Celebration, Lifestyle, Authority, Belief and Identity;
B Awareness of Life-experiences: Natural World, Relationships, Ultimate Questions, Expressing Meaning; and
C Exploring and Responding: Exploring and Responding (Westhill 1989:5-8).
Westhill published a second document, Assessing, Recording and Reporting RE, in 1991.

Meanwhile, a group based at Exeter produced Forms of Assessment in RE (the FARE project), which proposed six attainment targets: Awareness of mystery, Questions of meaning, Value and commitments, Religious belief, Religious practices, and Religious language.

(For more on the revision of local authority agreed syllabuses after the 1988 Act, see my dissertation Rewriting Oxfordshire's Agreed Syllabus for Religious Education post 1988: the process and the issues.)

Local management of schools

Local management of schools (LMS) significantly changed the role of head teachers and governors.

Heads were no longer primarily educationalists but institutional managers. They had to learn about recruitment and selection procedures, employment law, health and safety legislation, maintenance of buildings etc.

Governors now had legal responsibilities in relation to the control of a school's budget and to the appointment and dismissal of staff. No one explained how unpaid volunteers could be held legally accountable. Inevitably, fewer people were prepared to take on the role.

Because school budgets were to be based largely on pupil numbers, schools had to attract as many pupils as possible in order to survive. This led to some bizarre cases of schools offering gifts to parents who enrolled their children.

In the event, the freedom which LMS was supposed to offer schools proved largely illusory. Schools soon found that, as their staff costs amounted to around 85 per cent of the total budget, any scope for changing spending priorities was severely limited. Furthermore, innovation and diversity of practice were hampered by greater central control and dramatically increased accountability, as Green has argued:

Most state schools were cautious. Even those which were tempted by new 'market independence' did so often with ideas of competitive success and expansion over other schools rather than for motives to innovate. Schools found their own ways of fitting in to the new arrangements, some ventured towards a business model of operation whilst others held on to their ideals of being a part of a welfare state. Either way, they lost influence over the content of the curriculum and increasingly also over how it should be taught. The national system tightened up and schools lost opportunities for creative thinking (Green 2005:55).
For the government, however, LMS served three purposes:
  • it was an important element in the creation of an 'education market';
  • it took financial control away from the local authorities; and
  • it enabled the government to blame the schools for poor management when budgets were cut - as they were from the second year of LMS onwards. Indeed, school budgets were cut in six of the eight years following 1988.
Grant-maintained schools

The government lost no time in trying to persuade schools to opt out of local authority control. The Grant Maintained Schools Trust, described as 'an entirely independent, non-profit making body' (Simon 1991:550), was launched the day before the bill received the Royal Assent, and immediately sent every secondary school a glossy leaflet, The New Choice in Education (a confusingly similar title to the 1986 CTC booklet - A New Choice of School).

The government offered various inducements to persuade schools to become grant-maintained, including substantial additional funding at the expense of the remaining local authority schools. They were allowed to select a proportion of their pupils on the basis of ability or aptitude.

A few secondary schools applied to become grant-maintained in the first year or two. Most of these were schools threatened with closure under reorganisation schemes - 'Very few schools ... voted to opt out simply to free themselves from local authority control' (Simon 1991:551). A survey in The Times Educational Supplement (16 June 1989) showed that

of the nineteen schools given the go-ahead to become grant maintained, thirteen were escaping amalgamation, closure, or evolution as comprehensive schools (from grammar); three wished to avoid changes in selection procedures. A further seven schools had submitted opting-out proposals and were awaiting a decision - all these without exception wished to avoid amalgamation, closure etc. Of sixteen further schools which had voted to opt out but had not yet submitted proposals for grant maintained status, ten were doing so to avoid amalgamation, reorganisation or closure, etc. Three schools had their opting-out proposals rejected, while fifteen, after balloting, had voted against opting out (Simon 1991:561).
By January 1990, 32 schools had had their applications to become grant-maintained approved (Simon 1991:561).

After that, the financial incentives to opt out were reduced and even fewer schools applied. Most of those that did were in Conservative-controlled LEAs, where spending on education tended to be lower. By 1992 the government was

very disappointed that there had been no rush, over the preceding four years, to opt for grant-maintained status, especially in Labour-controlled local authorities. By the 1992 election there had been only 428 decisive 'opt-out' ballots in England and Wales and, where these had been carried out, voters in 97 schools had been opposed to opting-out, with only 331 voting in favour. In Scotland, no school had gone grant-maintained (Chitty 2009a::56).
Grant-maintained status was eventually abolished by New Labour.

City Technology Colleges

The City Technology Colleges (CTCs) scheme fared no better. Only fifteen CTCs were ever established because few businesses were prepared to take part and the taxpayer was left to pick up the bill. The Times Educational Supplement commented:

Just what sort of a public education initiative is it which puts up 9 million from public funds for a private school? And just what sort of priorities are being pursued when one, as yet unbuilt, private school gets 9.05 million, while the county of Nottinghamshire's entire capital allocation is less than 2.5 million? (The Times Educational Supplement 27 May 1988 quoted in Chitty 1989:223).
By June 1989 60m of public money had been allocated to the scheme, and by October 1989 it was clear that 'the mounting cost to the taxpayer, together with widespread criticism of this initiative' (Simon 1991:552-3) was becoming a problem for the government. It was announced that the number of City Technology Colleges would be limited to the original twenty.

The last CTC to be authorised, in April 1991, was Kingswood in Bristol. The chair of Cable and Wireless and former Conservative Party chair David (Lord) Young contributed 2m; the government paid the remaining 8m. Edward Watson, Deputy Director of Education for Avon County Council, bitterly contrasted that 8m for capital spending on the 900 children at Kingswood CTC with the 4.5m for capital spending on the county's other 150,000 children. With the extra money, he said, all secondary schools could have been fully repaired, all the improvements they wanted could have been done, every school could have had a new science laboratory, and there would still have been enough left over to give all primary schools an extra nursery class for a year (The Guardian 3 October 2006).


Thatcher had disliked the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA) since the 1970s when, as education secretary, she had regarded it as bureaucratic and profligate. She also resented the fact that it was dominated by Labour politicians who were not afraid to comment on central government policies.

Tory MPs had called for its abolition in 1980 but were overruled by education secretary Mark Carlisle.

Thatcher had hoped to get rid of ILEA in 1986, when the Greater London Council (GLC) was abolished, but she was advised that the London boroughs were not yet ready to take on responsibility for education.

ILEA was finally abolished on 1 April 1990 and its responsibilities transferred to the London boroughs. Its destruction was an act of state vandalism: it had had a proud record of supporting schools in deprived areas and promoting curriculum development.

Covering the most deprived areas of London, the ILEA had provided a quality of support that was the envy of teachers elsewhere, including curriculum centres for each specialism where teachers not only attended courses but could collaborate actively in curriculum design and even have their ideas and resources published (Wrigley 2014:21).
In 1977, ILEA had been 'the first authority to issue a policy document outlining its aims in relation to multi-ethnic education'; and the work of its inspectorate in raising teachers' awareness of 'the problems and the opportunities of a multicultural society' was 'of considerable importance locally and nationally' (HMI 1980b:20).

ILEA was, said HMI,

a caring and generous authority with considerable analytical powers to identify problems, the scale of which is, in some cases, unique in this country. It frequently pilots imaginative or innovative approaches (HMI 1980b:120).
It was not, of course, perfect:
it does not always adequately evaluate the new approaches it introduces, avoid unnecessary duplication of provision or ensure that schools derive the greatest benefit from the additional resources made available (HMI 1980b:120).
However, HMI concluded that
If ... the Authority can continue to develop its in-service training programme and retain the goodwill of its existing teachers, and if it can continue to recruit and keep sufficient good teachers, there is enough good practice in all sectors to justify reasonable confidence that considerable further improvement can be achieved (HMI 1980b:120).
For Peter Mortimore, who was Director of Research and Statistics for ILEA and went on to become Director of the London Institute of Education in 1994, ILEA was 'founded on sound principles and committed to the wellbeing of London's citizens' (Mortimore 2008).
Much of Ilea's strength stemmed from its interest in innovation. With its economy of scale, the authority was able to develop a range of ideas, many of which were later adopted by authorities all over the UK. Initiatives such as its adult education service, specialist teachers' centres, joint inspection and advisory teams, and the research and statistics branch ... influenced developments nationally and internationally (Mortimore 2008).
While some change was undoubtedly needed, 'abolition was a grave error brought about through political spite. It has ill-served the learners of London' (Mortimore 2008).


In addition to the National Curriculum subject working groups, Kenneth Baker also appointed committees of inquiry to report on the teaching of English, the future of A Levels, discipline in schools, and educational provision for 3- and 4-year-olds.

1988 Kingman Report

The Committee of Inquiry into the Teaching of English Language, commissioned in 1987, was chaired by Sir John Kingman (1939- ). A former Professor of Mathematics at Oxford, he had been appointed Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bristol in 1985.

The Committee's terms of reference were:

1. To recommend a model of the English language, whether spoken or written, which would:
i serve as the basis of how teachers are trained to understand how the English language works;
ii inform professional discussion of all aspects of English teaching.
2. To recommend the principles which should guide teachers on how far and in what ways the model should be made explicit to pupils, to make them conscious of how language is used in a range of contexts.

3. To recommend what, in general terms, pupils need to know about how the English language works and in consequence what they should have been taught, and be expected to understand, on this score, at ages 7, 11 and 16 (Kingman 1988:73).

The 15 members of the Committee included the writer AS Byatt, the broadcaster Robert Robinson and the journalist Keith Waterhouse. Their report, The Teaching of English Language, was submitted to Kenneth Baker on 17 March 1988. It set out attainment targets for ages 7, 11 and 16 which it believed should be 'the entitlement of all pupils' (Kingman 1988:52) and it recommended that
the English working group should draw upon its proposed attainment targets in formulating profile components for the assessment of English in the national curriculum (Kingman 1988:69).
With regard to assessment, it argued that
appropriate national testing techniques be applied to language in use and that assessment of explicit knowledge about language be largely the province of individual teachers and institutions, both kinds of assessment being necessary (Kingman 1988:69).
It urged that initial teacher training courses should be re-designed 'to meet the requirements of the relevant recommendations in this report' (Kingman 1988:70) and argued that
before the end of the century a prerequisite for entry to the teaching profession as an English specialist should normally be a first degree in English which incorporates a study of both contemporary and historical linguistic form and use (Kingman 1988:70).
It recommended the establishment of a National Language Project to 'encourage working groups of teachers in participating LEAs to address the issues identified in this report' (Kingman 1988:66).

A year later, in June 1989, the National Curriculum English Working Group, chaired by Manchester University Professor and former Black Paper editor Brian Cox, published its report English for ages 5 to 16.

It proposed that there should be five attainment targets in English for pupils in key stage 2, and four in key stages 3 and 4, grouped for assessment and reporting purposes into three profile components - for speaking and listening (attainment target 1), reading (attainment target 2) and writing (attainment targets 3, 4 and 5).

The report set out programmes of study which, it said, offered 'a sound and comprehensive coverage of the essential content which pupils will need to tackle' (Cox 1989:4). It suggested that the attainment targets and programmes of study should be introduced at key stages 2 and 3 in the autumn of 1990, and at key stage 4 in autumn 1992.

1988 Higginson Report

Dr Gordon Higginson (1929-2011) (pictured) had been influential on the physical sciences sub-committee of the University Grants Committee in the early 1980s, and in 1985 had been appointed Vice-Chancellor of Southampton University.

He went on to serve as chair of the engineering board of the Science and Engineering Research Council in the 1990s, and was knighted in 1992.

In March 1987 he was invited to chair a small committee to review education for 16- to 18-year-olds. Its terms of reference were:

In the light of the Government's commitment to retain General Certificate of Education (GCE) Advanced Level Examinations as an essential means for setting standards of excellence, and with the aim of maintaining or improving the present character and rigorous standards of these examinations:

To recommend the principles that should govern GCE A Level syllabuses and their assessment, so that consistency in the essential content and the assessment of subjects is secured:

To set out a plan of action for the subsequent detailed professional work required to give effect to these recommendations (Higginson 1988:39).

The Committee's report, Advancing A Levels, published in June 1988, argued that the A Level system was too narrow and that students specialised too early. It recommended that, like the French Baccalaureate, a five-subject structure should be adopted.
We have recommended changes, mainly to increase rigour, motivation, breadth and flexibility, to improve teaching methods and to develop students' skills and attitudes. We have done so while preserving the essential nature of A levels (Higginson 1988:29).
The Committee also stressed the importance of comparability between A Levels and vocational qualifications such as those offered by the Business and Technology Education Council (BTEC):
We emphasise ... the need for continuity and compatibility of A levels with other provision for the 16-19 age group, such as BTEC, the City and Guilds of London Institute (CGLI) and the Royal Society of Arts (RSA). Responsibility for ensuring that this need is met would seem to lie with the National Council for Vocational Qualifications (NCVQ) working with SEC [Secondary Examinations Council] (Higginson 1988:36).
In 1989 the government announced that schools would in future be allowed to offer vocational courses. It intended to rationalise 'Britain's renowned jungle of vocational qualifications' (Benn and Chitty 1996:17) by creating a single system of vocational qualifications: GNVQ for educational qualifications and NVQ for qualifications gained through work.
For a brief moment it looked as if at last a British government was going to catapult the country into a position where it could compete with other industrialised countries which had already made all these changes through comprehensive education reform and an integration of vocational and academic education (Benn and Chitty 1996:17).
But it was not to be. Higginson's proposals gained widespread approval but were rejected by the Thatcher government in favour of retaining the existing system of A Levels and, as we shall see in the next chapter, the Major administration chose not to pursue the integration of academic and vocational education.

1989 Elton Report

Educated at Eton and New College Oxford, Rodney (Lord) Elton (1930- ) (pictured) had held various posts in the Thatcher governments between 1979 and 1986.

In March 1988 Kenneth Baker invited him to chair a Committee of Enquiry (consisting of Elton and six other members) to investigate discipline in schools in England and Wales and to make recommendations.

The Committee's report, Discipline in Schools, was submitted to Baker on 31 January 1989. It argued that

schools do not operate in isolation. They are an integral and immensely important part of society for which we all have a responsibility at some time in our lives (Elton 1989:9).
Good discipline was therefore the responsibility, not only of teachers, who should be helped 'to become more effective classroom managers' (Elton 1989:12), but of pupils, heads, other staff, governors, parents, local authorities, teacher trainers, curriculum councils, central government, and the School Examinations and Assessment Council.

Many schools, the Committee noted, had already developed approaches to discipline which included:

their systems of incentives, sanctions and support; the development of shared understanding and mutual support among members of staff; better ways of talking things through with pupils; the review and development of new approaches to curriculum content and teaching styles; and greater attention to the nature of home-school relationships (Elton 1989:63).
1990 Rumbold Report

In the spring of 1989 education secretary Kenneth Baker asked Angela Rumbold (1932-2010) (pictured), then a minister in the DES, to chair a Committee of Inquiry on 'the quality of the educational experience offered to 3 and 4 year olds'.

Rumbold had become an MP in 1982 and was a minister from 1985 to 1992. She held senior posts in Conservative Central Office and on a wide range of public bodies, but was never invited to join the Cabinet, perhaps because she was too outspoken: she once described herself as 'rather rightwing and truculent' (The Guardian 21 June 2010).

The ten members of her committee submitted their report to Baker's successor, John MacGregor, on 27 September 1990.

Starting with Quality recommended that nursery provision should be expanded and its quality improved.

It argued that

For the early years educator, therefore, the process of education - how children are encouraged to learn - is as important as, and inseparable from, the content - what they learn. We believe that this principle must underlie all curriculum planning for the under fives (Rumbold 1990:9).
Providers should therefore
guard against pressures which might lead them to over-concentration on formal teaching and upon the attainment of a specific set of targets (Rumbold 1990:9).
It stressed the importance of play, a stimulating environment, and good cooperation with parents.

Progression, it said, 'should not be seen purely in terms of intellectual competence' but should include 'health, social and emotional development' (Rumbold 1990:15).

We believe it to be of critical importance for healthy and productive living and learning that teachers do not lose sight of the child's all-round development in pursuit of detailed information exclusively about what children know and can do in the subjects of the curriculum (Rumbold 1990:15).
Greater clarity and coherence was needed in courses and qualifications for those working with young children; and all students training to teach in primary schools should spend some time with under-fives.

Finally, while diversity of provision could be healthy, there should be 'better local co-ordination', which would be facilitated if central government 'gave a clear lead, setting a national framework within which local development could take place' (Rumbold 1990:29).

Beyond Baker

In July 1989, after a little over three years as education secretary, Kenneth Baker was appointed chair of the Conservative Party - presumably, argues Brian Simon, because 'his well-known presentational skills' were now seen as 'of more value to an ailing party than to the country's educational system' (Simon 1991:557-8). 'He leaves Britain's schools in a worse state than he found them', commented The Independent (25 July 1989 quoted in Simon 1991:558).

John MacGregor

Baker's successor, John MacGregor, quickly made it clear that there would be no change in the government's education policy. His 'sixteen months of quietly tentative tinkering ended abruptly' on 2 November 1990, when he was replaced by 'the proven abrasive', Kenneth Clarke (Whitbread and Chitty 1991:67).

Grant-maintained schools in Scotland

In the 1989 Self-Governing Schools etc. (Scotland) Act (16 November), the government made provision for the establishment of grant-maintained schools in Scotland. Its attempts to persuade Scottish schools to opt out of local authority control failed, however: Scotland had 'almost no grant-maintained schools' (Jones 2003:135).

Student loans

Margaret Thatcher's last education act was the 1990 Education (Student Loans) Act (26 April). Based on the 1988 White Paper Top-up loans for students, it allowed the Secretary of State to

make arrangements for enabling eligible students to receive loans towards their maintenance out of money made available by him for that purpose (Section 1(1)).
It thus introduced what became known as 'top-up' loans for higher education students and laid the foundations for the later diminution of student grants.


After being invited by the Queen to form her first government, Margaret Thatcher (pictured) had stood outside 10 Downing Street on 4 May 1979 and quoted the prayer of St Francis of Assisi: 'Where there is discord, may we bring harmony ... And where there is despair, may we bring hope'.

The words could hardly have been less appropriate. Over the following decade, her governments created ever-increasing discord between left and right, rich and poor, employer and worker; their policies resulted in levels of poverty and unemployment not seen since the 1930s which left millions in despair.

Yet in May 1988, Thatcher told the Commons: 'Everyone in the nation has benefited from the increased prosperity - everyone' (Hansard House of Commons 17 May 1988 Vol 133 Col 801).

It was simply not true. During the 1980s

the real incomes after housing costs of the bottom tenth fell by 13 per cent, compared with a rise of 40 per cent for the average and a staggering rise of 65 per cent for those in the top tenth (Oppenheim 1997:22).
Opinions were divided - even within her own party - as to whether her policies were necessary to make Britain competitive in a rapidly developing global economy; or whether they were ruthless, cruel, and profoundly damaging to society as a whole.

The political economist Will Hutton (1950- ) was clear about the damage the Thatcher governments had done to society and the economy:

The collapse of social cohesion that comes when the market is allowed to rip through society has produced a fall in the growth rate; marginalisation, deprivation and exclusion have proved economically irrational ...

Market rule has recoiled on the state's finances; as the polarisation of society has worsened, public spending on crime, health and specialist education has increased - and social security spending itself, even though rates are meaner in relation to average earnings, has ballooned as poverty drives millions through the drab waiting room of the rump welfare state (Hutton 1996:175).

John Smyth and Terry Wrigley have argued that
The Thatcher government brought about a significant readjustment of the class structure, in the process of weakening the power of workers to resist capital. This included the widespread destruction of heavy industry and much of its strongly unionised workforce; the shift of many manual workers into self-employment, placing them in a petit bourgeois rather than working-class relationship; the marginalization of large numbers of industrial workers into chronic unemployment or insecure low-paid work (the so-called underclass); and the proletarianization of public sector professionals such as teachers through new forms of surveillance and management imported from the private sector. These are structural shifts that have had deep effects on education in Britain, though the opposition between capitalism and the working class, broadly conceived, remains central (Smyth and Wrigley 2013:20-1).
Howard Glennerster, Professor of Social Policy at the London School of Economics, noted that public expenditure on education as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) had fallen from 6.5 per cent in 1975-6 to 4.7 per cent by 1988-9 (Glennerster 1998:37). He commented:
The significance of this change should not be underestimated. No such previous reduction in education's share of the nation's resources had occurred this century, even following the Geddes' cuts' of the 1920s or the retrenchment of the 1930s. It is not to be found in the experience of any other leading nation (Glennerster 1998:36).
In 1973-4, total capital spending on education had been 4.3bn; by the time Thatcher was forced to resign as Prime Minister in 1990, it had fallen by more than half to 1.6bn (Glennerster 1998:37).

To make matters worse, schools faced huge problems caused by increasing social polarisation, as Carey Oppenheim, Senior Lecturer in Social Policy at South Bank University, pointed out. In 1979, 1.4m children (10 per cent) lived in poverty - that is, in households whose income was less than half the national average. By 1993, the figure had risen to 4.2m (32 per cent) (Oppenheim 1997:19).

In the world of education, Thatcher had few friends.

Her longstanding contempt for the local authorities, DES officials, members of HMI and the educational establishment in general, was the result, suggests Chitty, of her 'lingering resentment' (Chitty 1989:54) at her inability, as education secretary in the Heath government, to halt comprehensive reorganisation.

Writing in The Guardian, Peter Wilby argued that Thatcher had been 'an inexperienced and diplomatically inept minister in the early 1970s', when she was seen by teachers, local authorities and educationists as 'an ignorant outsider, blundering into areas that she was intellectually unfitted to understand'. Once in Downing Street, however, her revenge 'transformed education at every level' (Wilby 2013).

For Ken Jones, Professor of Education at Keele University, the Thatcher governments' educational reforms were 'a peculiarity of the English' (Jones 2003:118). They were

designed by policy elites much more strongly committed than those of Wales and Scotland to selective education, legislatively enabled by a Conservative Party strongly rooted in the south of England, and implemented most enthusiastically in those areas of the south-east that benefited from the growth of finance and services that were distinguishing economic marks of the Conservative period (Jones 2003:118).
As a result, local education authorities in Scotland and Wales held on to a stronger role than their English counterparts and there was a greater commitment to egalitarian goals.

Thatcher's reforms, which were 'piecemeal and hesitant' at first, became 'hectic and continuous' (Jones 2003:121), culminating in the 1988 Education Reform Act, which Jones describes as 'the major achievement of educational Conservatism' (Jones 2003:130):

Not only did it change the institutional pattern of schooling, but it also substantially modified its social relations and reshaped its values, meanings and objectives. To put things more strongly, it destroyed the educational culture which had developed between 1944 and 1979, and began the work of creating a different one, in which old 'social actors' were marginalised and new ones rendered powerful. What it created was successful: it established enduring ground rules for schooling in the 1990s and beyond (Jones 2003:130-1).
Clyde Chitty agrees:
The third Thatcher administration possessed the confidence and determination to adopt truly radical strategies for dismantling both the comprehensive secondary system so painstakingly built up since the 1950s and 1960s and the constitutional settlement devised in 1944 (Chitty 1989:197).
For Brian Simon, the Act
certainly created a new situation. It altered the context in which the struggles of the future will take place, as well as creating new systems, through education, of social control. Unlike any other country in Europe, the entire child population (always excepting those in independent schools) is to be subject to assessment at the ages of seven, eleven, fourteen and sixteen - as first proposed by Rhodes Boyson and the Black Paper of 1975, following the student upsurge of the late 1960s. All are to be assessed on a ten-point scale. Each, in future, is 'to know their place'. Such, at least, is the present intention (Simon 1991:557).
The half century since the end of the Second World War, said Simon, had been
a period of struggle, of rebuffs, but sometimes of victories in the continuing endeavour to ensure access for all to a full, all-round education embodying humanist objectives and including science and technology - and conceived, one might add, in a generous spirit involving recognition of the full mystery of human potential. That struggle will continue - for such must surely remain the perspective for the future (Simon 1991:558).
In the end, Thatcher's confidence and determination became an arrogant belief in her own invincibility. In the face of widespread public hostility - and opposition within her own party - she pushed ahead with the introduction of a form of poll tax. The result, in March 1990, was the worst rioting London had seen for a century. She lost the confidence of her colleagues and in November 1990 she was forced to resign. John Major became Tory leader and Prime Minister.


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Chapter 14 | Chapter 16