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

John Major
   Education secretaries

1990-92 Kenneth Clarke
Kenneth Clarke
The curriculum
   National Curriculum
   Religious education
   The 'Three Wise Men' report
Teacher appraisal
Teachers' pay and conditions
   1991 School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Act
   1992 Education (Schools) Act
Further and higher education
   1991 White Paper: Education and Training for the 21st century
   1991 White Paper: Higher education: A new framework
   1992 Further and Higher Education Act
1992 General election
   Conservative manifesto
   Labour manifesto
   An unexpected outcome

1992-94 John Patten
John Patten
'Selection' becomes 'specialisation'
   1992 White Paper: Choice and Diversity
   1993 Education Act
   Issues arising from the Act
National Commission on Education
National Curriculum
   1994 Dearing Review
   1994 Warwick Evaluation
   Scotland's 5-14 Programme
Teacher training
   Circular 9/92
   1994 Education Act
Patten's downfall

1994-97 Gillian Shephard
Gillian Shephard
   Two tragedies
   Shephard's priorities
   Shephard's views
1996 White Paper: Self-Government for Schools
Post-16 education
   1996 Dearing Review
   1996 White Paper: Learning to Compete
   1996 Education (Student Loans) Act
   1996 Education (Scotland) Act
   1996 Nursery Education and Grant-Maintained Schools Act
   1996 Education Act
   1996 School Inspections Act
   1997 Education Act
Higher education
   1997 Dearing Review
Middle school closures

Labour in opposition
Tony Blair
Institute of Public Policy Research
Shadow education secretaries
   Jack Straw
   Ann Taylor
   David Blunkett
Divergent views

1997 General election
The manifestos
   Conservative manifesto
   New Labour manifesto
Labour landslide


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 16 : 1990-1997

John Major: more of the same


John Major

John Major (1943- ) (pictured) entered Parliament in 1979 as MP for Huntingdon. He was Foreign Secretary and then Chancellor of the Exchequer in Margaret Thatcher's last government.

He became Tory leader and Prime Minister on 28 November 1990, following Thatcher's resignation.

During his first year in office, his decision to involve Britain in George Bush's Gulf War in March 1991 was controversial, but his government began the long process of bringing peace to Northern Ireland and, despite the Tories' growing divisions over Europe, it successfully negotiated the Maastricht Treaty in December 1991.

Major led his party to a historic fourth general election victory on 9 April 1992, albeit with a much-reduced Commons majority of 21, but his new administration quickly ran into problems. Following the disastrous events of 'Black Wednesday' in September 1992, it was forced to withdraw Britain from the Exchange Rate Mechanism, costing the country billions and the Tories their financial credibility.

At the 1993 Conservative Party conference, Major launched his 'Back to Basics' campaign, which was widely interpreted as a call for a return to 'Victorian' moral values. Sadly for him, the campaign was undermined by a series of scandals involving members of his government and he was criticised by colleagues for his weak leadership. In June 1995 he challenged his critics by resigning and standing for re-election, easily beating his only opponent, the right-winger John Redwood.

Nonetheless, his government was doomed. The Labour Party, rebranded 'New Labour' and with Tony Blair as leader, won a landslide victory at the general election on 1 May 1997.

Major continued to serve as MP for Huntingdon until his retirement from active politics in 2001.


From Margaret Thatcher, John Major inherited an education system which had suffered a significant decline in investment and a corresponding increase in inequality. Many hoped that his government would be less harsh than its predecessor. They were to be disappointed: his administration was equally committed to selection and elitism; equally determined to continue diminishing the role of the local authorities; and equally confrontational in its attitude to the teaching profession.

Clyde Chitty argues that Major's philosophy of education was

an interesting mixture of a concern to promote Thatcherite privatising measures and a more traditional Conservative belief in the self-evident values of a meritocratic society. In his ideal world, schools would increasingly compete for pupils by offering various specialisations, with parents being encouraged to consult league tables as reliable guides to local authority, school and pupil performance. At the same time, during his administration there would be a continued blurring of the boundaries between the private and state sectors (Chitty 2009a:55).
Education secretaries

The education department was twice renamed during this period. The Department of Education and Science (DES) became the Department for Education (DFE) in April 1992, and then the Department for Education and Employment (DfEE) in July 1995. The Secretaries of State were:

Secretary of State for Education and Science:

2 November 1990Kenneth Clarke (1940- )

Secretary of State for Education:

10 April 1992John Patten (1945- )
20 July 1994Gillian Shephard (1940- )

Secretary of State for Education and Employment:

5 July 1995Gillian Shephard

November 1990 - April 1992: Kenneth Clarke

Kenneth Clarke

Kenneth Clarke (pictured), the son of an electrician, attended Nottingham High School and read Law at Gonville and Caius College Cambridge.

In 1970 he entered Parliament as MP for Rushcliffe in Nottinghamshire, and was opposition spokesman on Social Services between 1974 and 1976.

He held several ministerial posts in Margaret Thatcher's governments, becoming Secretary of State for Health in 1988.

He was appointed education secretary on 2 November 1990, just a month before John Major replaced Margaret Thatcher as prime minister. He held the post until the general election in April 1992, when he became Home Secretary and, in May 1993, Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Clarke was said to be very popular with his civil servants but he was not much loved by teachers and others in the education service. For example, he was irritated by the complexity of the national curriculum and its assessment; he was correct in that judgement but wrong when he dismissed the standard assessment tasks as 'elaborate nonsense', and returned to simple but unreliable paper and pencil exercises. He was respected for his intelligence but he never gave the impression that he was interested in education in its wider sense (Lawton 2005:109).

The curriculum

National Curriculum

In an interview with Brian Sherratt on 27 June 1994, Clarke said that one of his first priorities on becoming education secretary was to 'get in the final bits of the National Curriculum, which was rolling through this cumbersome process we had created' (quoted in Ribbins and Sherratt 1997:155). He realised he had the power to make changes to the recommendations of the various subject groups before issuing the Curriculum Orders.

I don't think anybody advised me that none of our predecessors had made the slightest change to anything that came out of these committees. I responded quite strongly to draft recommendations on the subject of music and the subject of sport, I think. I changed the history and geography curriculum from the drafts put to me (quoted in Ribbins and Sherratt 1997:155).
His motive for doing so was that he felt there was too little emphasis on knowledge in the drafts, which 'seemed to have lost the point of delivering a key knowledge on the subject that was required' (quoted in Ribbins and Sherratt 1997:156).

He was also concerned that the subject committees had been 'subjected to far too much lobbying from outside interest groups' and that this had led to an overloading of the curriculum, which was 'massive' (quoted in Ribbins and Sherratt 1997:156).

I thought the curriculum should spell out the essential corpus of subject matter, knowledge and understanding that needs to be covered, leaving some scope for the individual teacher to demonstrate his or her flair or interest in delivering the subject (quoted in Ribbins and Sherratt 1997:156).
Not everyone was happy with Clarke's interference. In an editorial in Forum (Summer 1991), Clyde Chitty and Nanette Whitbread commented:
Despite faults of over-prescription and, particularly, flawed testing, the National Curriculum had some potential for ensuring a 'balanced and broadly based curriculum' as a common entitlement from five to sixteen. ... But Clarke has abandoned that entitlement beyond 14 and instead resurrected the previously much criticised chaotic options just when comprehensive schools were busy devising new patterns, often modular, for more common and balanced learning experiences at 14-16. In arrogant contempt for professional advice, he tampers with content in the arts and humanities, then instructs SEAC to devise 'predominantly written' tests at 11 and 14, specifying 'terminal written examinations' for science and mathematics at 14 (Chitty and Whitbread 1991:67).

Implementation of the National Curriculum testing regime began in 1991. For schools, this took the form of SATs, variously referred to as Standard Assessment Tasks, Standard Assessment Tests or Standard Attainment Tests. The first Key Stage 1 tests were conducted in the summer term 1991:

This term many Infants will be minded not taught for several weeks while their teachers test seven year olds (Chitty and Whitbread 1991:67).
Although he was a 'fervent believer in testing' (quoted in Ribbins and Sherratt 1997:156), Clarke was not entirely happy with the arrangements which Kenneth Baker had put in place:
I tried to make some sense of those wretched SATs. I wasn't the greatest fan of the ten levels of attainment system, but it seemed to me that we had gone far, far too far down the track for me to try to change that. But the actual nature of the SATs and the way that they were conducted left a lot to be desired (quoted in Ribbins and Sherratt 1997:156).
The Key Stage 1 tests were 'a bit of a nightmare' and Clarke rapidly came to the conclusion that 'whoever devised them ... had not had a very good understanding of what it was really like to conduct a class of 7-year-olds' (quoted in Ribbins and Sherratt 1997:157). The science tests caused particular problems:
There was one that involved a most fantastic amount of splashing of water, which people found that a class of 7-year-olds would no doubt enjoy - the 'sinking and floating' test ... certainly didn't work as it was supposed to work - everyone got very wet (quoted in Ribbins and Sherratt 1997:157).
Clarke blamed the School Examinations and Assessment Council (SEAC) for the chaos and made some new appointments, including the head of a Surrey primary school by whom he had been 'wildly impressed':
she sat me down and gave me a most ferocious lecture about these SATs, and why they had created chaos in her school, and what was wrong with them. She persuaded me that she was genuinely not opposed to the idea of tests and results being available to the parents - it was just these particular wretched tests that she objected to (quoted in Ribbins and Sherratt 1997:157).
A year later, the second round of Key Stage 1 tests went 'extremely well', and the first league tables were produced 'with the minimum of fuss' (quoted in Ribbins and Sherratt 1997:157).

The same could not be said of the secondary school tests which, said Clarke, were 'hopelessly over-elaborate' (quoted in Ribbins and Sherratt 1997:157):

Parts of SEAC appeared to be determined just to grind on regardless with their particular approach, come what may. These tests were presented to me and my junior ministers, and as far as I can see with our comments going in one ear and out the other (quoted in Ribbins and Sherratt 1997:157).
Clarke was concerned that the bureaucracy the government had created was in danger of discrediting the policy:
I mean, the two quangos [SEAC and the National Curriculum Council] were producing mountains of paper, Swedish forests were going to produce cross-curricular themes and advice on the contents of the curriculum. And then SEAC producing these amazing sort of SATs to test it all. I was involved in trying to simplify it for a little over a year (quoted in Ribbins and Sherratt 1997:158).
Religious education

As noted in the previous chapter, the 1988 Education Reform Act had set out new rules on religious education (RE) and collective worship (school assemblies):

  • every day was to begin with an 'act of collective worship' (Section 6(1)), a majority of which were to be 'wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character' (7(1));
  • every LEA 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 were to '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)).
By the end of 1990, many local authorities were reviewing their agreed syllabuses. To aid them in this task, in July 1991 the National Curriculum Council (NCC) published
Religious Education: A Local Curriculum Framework, which sought to fulfil the Council's duty to
offer advice to SACREs, agreed syllabus conferences, and LEAs who wish to consider the desirability of drawing up attainment targets and programmes of study for religious education in their authority, and to offer advice on their construction (NCC 1991:1).
The paper included:
  • an outline of provisions of the 1988 Education Reform Act;
  • a short description of the National Curriculum framework;
  • guidance on the issues to be considered when writing attainment targets, statements of attainment and programmes of study;
  • advice on applying a National Curriculum framework to RE;
  • advice on planning the RE curriculum; and
  • tasks for groups working on a National Curriculum framework for RE.
The 'Three Wise Men' Report


By the end of 1991, a general election was looming and Labour was ahead in the opinion polls. John Major and Kenneth Clarke believed that a return to streaming and old-fashioned teaching methods in primary schools would be a popular campaign policy, so Clarke enlisted the support of the media in launching an 'attack against Plowden and all it stood for' (Wrigley 2014:25). Child-centred approaches were to be replaced by traditional 'chalk-and-talk' teaching.

In order to provide some authoritative theoretical underpinning for the campaign, Clarke commissioned Robin Alexander, Jim Rose and Chris Woodhead (pictured, left to right) to produce a discussion paper on Curriculum Organisation and Classroom Practice in Primary Schools. Announcing the appointments on 3 December 1991, he said their report would be published by the end of January 1992. The time of year, and the choice of three men to write it, inevitably led to its becoming popularly known as the 'Three Wise Men Report'.

Robin Alexander (1941- ) had been educated at the Perse School and the universities of Cambridge, Durham, London and Manchester. He had taught in schools and colleges before becoming Professor of Education at Leeds (1977-95) and Warwick (1995-2001). He went on to hold a variety of posts at Cambridge and York, and became Director of the Cambridge Primary Review in 2006.

Jim Rose (1945- ) had trained as a teacher at Kesteven College in Lincolnshire. He had held several primary school posts, including two headships, and had worked on the Nuffield Science Project at Leicester's School of Education. He had joined HMI in 1975, becoming Chief Inspector of Primary Education and then Director of Inspection for Ofsted. He retired in 1999, but was later invited to lead several reviews, including the 'Rose Review' of the Primary Curriculum in 2009 (see chapter18).

Chris Woodhead (1946-2015) had attended Wallington County Grammar School in Surrey and read English at Bristol and Keele. After holding a number of teaching posts, he had moved into teacher training, becoming a tutor on the Postgraduate Certificate of Education (PGCE) course at Oxford. His later career included administrative posts in Devon, Shropshire and Cornwall; he was chief executive of the National Curriculum Council (NCC) from 1991 to 1993, and of the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority (SCAA) from 1993 to 1994. In 1994 he was appointed head of Ofsted (more on this below).

The three were asked to review the available evidence about education in primary schools and to 'make recommendations about curriculum organisation, teaching methods and classroom practice appropriate for the successful implementation of the National Curriculum particularly in Key Stage 2' (DES 1992:1).

The report

Curriculum Organisation and Classroom Practice in Primary Schools: A discussion paper, argued that there was evidence of falling standards in some 'important aspects of literacy and numeracy' (DES 1992:1). The progress of primary pupils had been 'hampered by the influence of highly questionable dogmas' (DES 1992:1); in particular, Piaget's notion of 'learning readiness', as set out in the Plowden Report, had had the effect of 'depressing expectations and discouraging teacher intervention' (DES 1992:18).

Teachers should be instructors rather than facilitators and, while they should employ a range of organisational strategies including individual and group teaching, there should be more use of whole-class teaching.

There was a place for well-planned topic work, but greater emphasis should be put on the subjects of the National Curriculum. More specialist teaching was needed in the upper years of Key Stage 2, and the initial training, induction and in-service training (INSET) of teachers should take account of these needs, because many primary teachers were not equipped to teach subjects effectively and there was an acute shortage of specialist expertise. There should be greater flexibility in the deployment of staff as specialists, generalists, semi-specialists and generalist-consultants. The authors asked:

Can a generalist reasonably be expected to profess expertise across a curriculum of the scope and complexity of that now required by law at Key Stages 1 and 2? (DES 1992:8).
Pupils should be grouped by ability in subjects ('setted') rather than as a whole class ('streamed'), but 'teachers must avoid the pitfall of assuming that pupils' ability is fixed' (DES 1992:27).

The National Curriculum should be regularly reviewed to ensure that it made appropriate demands on pupils of different ages and abilities and that it was manageable in terms of the time, resources and professional expertise available in schools.

The authors concluded by expressing the hope that the issues they had raised would be widely debated:

It goes without saying that all the observations we offer and the changes we recommend have one over-riding purpose: achieving the highest quality of teaching for all the children in our primary schools. Since this purpose is also shared by those who provide for primary education and teachers themselves we are confident that they will readily accept the invitation we now extend to discuss and address these issues (DES 1992:54).
Clarke released the text of the report to the press in late January, two weeks before it was due for publication on 5 February.
This meant that its intended audience (ie all those involved in primary education - teachers, trainers, governors and parents) did not have the opportunity to participate in the debate the report calls for, until after the topic had been fully exposed to media hype and distortion (Thomson 1992:64).
And it was from that 'hype and distortion' that Robin Alexander was anxious to dissociate himself, according to The Independent on Sunday (2 February 1992).


The Three Wise Men Report caused considerable controversy. Teachers who had been brought up on Plowden regarded it as an attack on their most dearly-cherished values and practices. The two reports shared some things in common, however. Both were products of their age: Plowden, the progressive sixties; Alexander, Rose and Woodhead, the new age of National Curriculum subjects and testing. Both, too, were widely misquoted and misrepresented, often by people who had not read them.

There were some genuine concerns, however. Liz Thomson, Deputy Principal at Bishop Grosseteste College, had two main criticisms: first, that the authors had omitted 'any real discussion about the relationship between Key Stages 1 and 2', so that 'we are given the distinct impression that the advent of specialist approaches could well result in a two tier approach to primary education' (Thomson 1992:65).

And second, that the report lacked a sense of vision. She concluded:

If we as a profession accept uncritically the statements about primary practice and the recommendations of the 'three wise men', we will lose what is best in primary education through our own sins of omission.

The best teachers are those who can be described as thinking, researching and innovative practitioners. Their professionalism is evident through the way they reflect, articulate and question their practice. To do this, teachers need to have a vision of what they are aspiring to achieve. Without such vision and their own rationale, teachers will become little more than compliant technicians and operatives. There are few references to any kind of vision for primary education in the report, which in itself is an instrumental response to a prescribed agenda (Thomson 1992:65-6).

However, she added, the three wise men should not be criticised too harshly. Their paper had been produced in just seven weeks and, 'unlike the Magi, they did not have a guiding star for illumination' (Thomson 1992:66).

Writing in The Guardian (5 August 2008), Peter Wilby suggested that the three wise men had disagreed on a number of issues:

by all accounts, the 'wise men' of 1991 were split and Rose sat on the sidelines while the two protagonists, Chris Woodhead, later head of Ofsted, and the educational researcher Professor Robin Alexander slugged it out (Wilby 2008).
Whether the publication of the report contributed to the Tories' victory in the 1992 election is open to debate. It was certainly not, as Major and Clarke had hoped, a resounding endorsement of traditionalist views.

Teacher appraisal

The 1991 Education (School Teacher Appraisal) Regulations (1991 No. 1511) (24 July) required local education authorities (in respect of maintained schools) and governing bodies (of grant-maintained schools) to secure that the performance of teachers was regularly appraised.

DES Circular 12/91 School Teacher Appraisal (24 July) provided local education authorities and schools with guidance on implementing the Regulations.

Teachers' pay and conditions

1991 School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Act

The 1991 School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Act (25 July) established a teachers' pay review body, replacing the Interim Advisory Committee on School Teachers' Pay and Conditions, which had been set up in 1987.

The new body, whose members would be appointed by the Prime Minister, was to

examine and report on such matters relating to the statutory conditions of employment of school teachers in England and Wales as may from time to time be referred to the review body by the Secretary of State (Section 1(1)).
It would make recommendations regarding the remuneration of teachers 'and such of their other conditions of employment as relate to their professional duties and working time' (1(2)). The Secretary of State would 'give directions to the review body as to considerations to which they are to have regard and as to the time within which they are to report' (1(4)).

The Act gave the Secretary of State extensive new powers. He could

make provision by order giving effect to the recommendations of the review body, with or without modification, or making such other provision with respect to the matters referred to the review body as he thinks fit (2(1)).
In other words, he could, if he chose to do so, simply ignore the advice of the review body.

Grant-maintained schools would not necessarily have to comply with pay and conditions orders: the Act allowed their governing bodies to apply for exemption (3(1)).


1992 Education (Schools) Act

Having imposed the National Curriculum and its associated testing regime, the government now turned its attention to the third element in its reform of the education system: the inspectorate. From now on, school inspections would be conducted by privatised inspection teams overseen by the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) though, strangely, this was not named in the Act.

The 1992 Education (Schools) Act (16 March) made provision for the appointment of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools in England (section 1), who would inform and advise the Secretary of State about 'the quality of the education provided by schools' (2) and make an annual report (4). A corresponding appointment would be made for Wales (5).

Section 9 provided for the regular inspection of county, voluntary, special, grant-maintained and independent schools; city technology colleges, city colleges for the technology of the arts; and maintained nursery schools. Inspectors would be required to report on

(a) the quality of the education provided by the school;
(b) the educational standards achieved in the school;
(c) whether the financial resources made available to the school were being managed efficiently; and
(d) the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils at the school (9(4)).
All school inspectors would need to be registered (10).

Inspection of religious education in voluntary and grant-maintained denominational schools would be conducted by

a person chosen by -
(a) the foundation governors, in the case of a controlled school; and
(b) the governing body, in any other case (13).
Faith schools would thus be subject to two complementary inspections: a 'Section 9' inspection (which became Section 11 in the 1996 School Inspections Act) covering the National Curriculum and other matters such as equal opportunities and health and safety, and a 'Section 13' inspection (Section 23 in 1996) covering the religious education under the control of the governors and foundation bodies.

Local authorities would retain the right to run their own inspection services and could submit tenders for work in other authorities, provided that 'the full cost of providing the service is recovered by way of charges made by the authority to those using the service' (14).

The Secretary of State could require any governing body of a maintained school, or proprietor of a private school, to provide information (16).

Schedule 2 to the Act set out the arrangements for school inspections:

Every inspection shall be conducted by a registered inspector with the assistance of a team (an 'inspection team') consisting of persons who are fit and proper persons for carrying out the inspection (Schedule 2 Section 3(1)).
Each inspection team was to include at least one member 'without personal experience in the management of any school or the provision of education in any school' (Schedule 2 Section 3(2)). These became known as 'lay inspectors'.

Every inspector was required to complete a course of training approved by the Chief Inspector (Schedule 2 section 4); and governing bodies were, if possible, to arrange for parents to meet the inspection team (Schedule 2 section 6).

Following an inspection, the registered inspector would be required to submit a report (and a summary of it) to the governors, the local authority (in the case of maintained schools), and the Secretary of State. Copies of the report were to be made available to the public (Schedule 2 section 9).

Governing bodies were to

prepare a written statement ('the action plan') of the action which they propose to take in the light of [the] report and the period within which they propose to take it (Schedule 2 section 10).
In the case of a school 'considered to be at risk', the Secretary of State could require that implementation of the school's action plan should be monitored (Schedule 2 section 11).

Ofsted came into being on 1 September 1992, with Stewart Sutherland (1941-2018) as the first Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools (HMCI). (Previously, the head of HMI had been known as Senior Chief Inspector.) Sutherland, a Scottish academic and religious philosopher, had been appointed Vice Chancellor of London University in 1990.

The first round of inspections was due to take place in 1993, as John Patten noted in a House of Commons written answer:

OFSTED - the Office for Standards in Education - opened on 1 September 1992. Her Majesty's chief inspector, Professor Stewart Sutherland, and his staff are now preparing for the first round of second school inspections to start in September 1993 (Hansard House of Commons 20 October 1992 Vol 212 Col 265W).

Ken Jones has argued that Ofsted was 'in one sense the product of two decades of Conservative critiques of state education, but in another it was the very reverse of their ideals' (Jones 2003:115). It carried out 'detailed and often unsympathetic inspections of schools' (Jones 2003:133).

For Professor Denis Lawton, Director of the London Institute of Education, the 1992 Education (Schools) Act was 'little short of disastrous' because it reduced HMI, which had had 'a distinguished history', to a 'rump' which would act as 'a kind of quality control within Ofsted' (Lawton 2005:110).

The Labour Party was concerned about the effect of privatising 'a particularly sensitive part of the education service', and about the cost-effectiveness of Ofsted - which did, indeed, prove to be 'extremely expensive' (Lawton 2005:110).

The establishment of Ofsted did little to raise teachers' morale. They quickly discovered that an inspection involved huge amounts of paperwork and form-filling; they were suspicious of the motives and abilities of some of the private contractors; they found the week of the inspection itself extraordinarily stressful; and they had concerns about the accuracy and fairness of some of the published reports - which was understandable, given that their careers were at stake.

The style of inspection became more like an inquisition, so much so that teachers began to dread Ofsted visits, not necessarily because they were unsure about their own competence, but because masses of paperwork were required before, during and after an inspection (Lawton 2005:110).
Teachers did manage to find amusement in some aspects of the process, however, such as the inclusion of a 'lay inspector' in every inspection team. The joke in school staffrooms was that to be a lay inspector you had to know nothing about education.

In September 1994, Stewart Sutherland was replaced as HM Chief Inspector of Schools by Chris Woodhead who, two years earlier, had been one of Kenneth Clarke's 'three wise men' (see above). Woodhead appeared to take a positive delight in criticising teachers and, as a result, became something of a hate figure in schools up and down the country.

Teacher morale deteriorated even further when government ministers began using Ofsted reports as a basis for 'naming and shaming' so-called 'failing' schools.

In his interview with Brian Sherratt in 1994, Kenneth Clarke explained why the Tories had felt it necessary to create Ofsted. The 'old schools inspectorate' (HMI), he said,

didn't inspect a lot of the schools at all, except on a very, very infrequent basis. It regarded its most important role as developing ideas on policy of its own and advising ministers about those ideas; so they were keener on their input to ministerial policy than they were on changing anything in the schools themselves. And they didn't report very openly, except in broad-brush terms on matters of general policy all the time. They were very supportive of the schools, and in the main they were very good people. But the independent inspectorate reorientated the whole outfit and gave it a role that fitted the reforms (quoted in Ribbins and Sherratt 1997:153-4).
Clarke's successor as education secretary, John Patten, agreed. He told Brian Sherratt in May 1994 that HMI
were people who'd achieved some distinction in the teaching profession. They were able to go into classrooms, report on exactly what they saw, and make their assessments on the basis of the nationwide experience they had from going into classrooms across the whole country. They still are. But the cycle of HMI inspections meant that out of 23,000 schools in the system, only 200 a year had a full inspection; at that rate it meant that a secondary school would get inspected once every forty years before Ken's reforms, and a primary school once every two hundred years. Now it's every school, as you know; in striking contrast, it's once every four years (quoted in Ribbins and Sherratt 1997:183).
Furthermore, HMI reports had focused mostly on 'what teachers were doing rather than on what pupils were achieving - on inputs rather than outputs'; and when the reports were published - as they had been since Keith Joseph 'took that bold decision some ten years ago' - there was 'no way of ensuring that appropriate action was taken' (quoted in Ribbins and Sherratt 1997:183).
Ken Clarke changed all that. He put in place a system which would ensure that all schools were inspected with the rigour of the 200, that the standards schools achieved were set out in full, that they took any action necessary to improve performance, and that the governing body and senior management were accountable (quoted in Ribbins and Sherratt 1997:183).

Further and higher education

The government published two education White Papers in May 1991: the first, Education and Training for the 21st century, dealt with further education; the second, Higher Education: A New Framework, with higher education.

Each had a laudable aim: the first, to 'end the artificial divide between academic and vocational qualifications' (DES 1991a:ii); the second, to abolish the 'binary divide' or 'binary line' - the 'increasingly artificial distinction between universities on the one hand and polytechnics and colleges on the other' (DES 1991b:4).

Some of the White Papers' other aims were contentious, however. The first proposed the removal of colleges from local authority control: LEAs would 'no longer have a role' (DES 1991a:Vol II:39); and both sought to turn further and higher institutions into independent businesses which would have to compete for students and funding.

1991 White Paper: Education and Training for the 21st century

The White Paper Education and Training for the 21st century was published in two volumes. (References in this section are to Volume I except where otherwise shown.)

It began by declaring that:

The school reforms introduced under the Education Reform Act are already strengthening the education system for pupils up to the age of 16. Youth Training has been transformed. We plan to build on these reforms, so that a fully-integrated system of education and training exists which allows steady progression from school through to further and higher education, and to training in work. Our policies will promote continuous learning from the age of 5 through education and throughout working life (DES 1991a:3).
The government's aims - 'of engaging more young people in education and training, and raising their attainment' - would 'require improvement throughout the system' (DES 1991a:3). It therefore proposed to:
  • establish a framework of vocational qualifications that are widely recognised and used, and that are relevant to the needs of the economy;
  • promote equal esteem for academic and vocational qualifications, and clearer and more accessible paths between them;
  • extend the range of services offered by school sixth forms and colleges, so that young people face fewer restrictions about what education or training they choose and where they take it up;
  • give Training and Enterprise Councils more scope to promote employer influence in education, and mutual support between employers and education;
  • stimulate more young people to train, through the offer of a training credit;
  • promote links between schools and employers, to ensure that pupils gain a good understanding of the world of work before they leave school;
  • ensure that all young people get better information and guidance about the choices available to them at 16 and as they progress through further education and training;
  • provide opportunities and incentives for young people to reach higher levels of attainment;
  • give colleges more freedom to expand their provision and respond more flexibly to the demands of their customers (DES 1991a:3).
In order to ensure that colleges were 'free to respond to the demand from students and employers for high-quality further education' (DES 1991a:58), the White Paper proposed that sixth-form and further education colleges should be removed from local authority control:
The Government intends to legislate to remove all colleges of further education, which offer a minimum level of full-time or part-time day release education, from local authority control.

The Government intends that sixth form colleges should also be removed from local authority control. ... Sixth form colleges will be able to carry on their strong academic traditions. But the change will provide opportunities for them to extend the vocational education they offer and to attract wider client groups. We expect many of them to seize those opportunities (DES 1991a:58-9).

From 1 April 1993, colleges would be funded directly by the government, through new Councils to be 'appointed by and responsible to the Secretaries of State for Education and Science and for Wales' (DES 1991a:59).

A new funding regime would be 'designed to provide a powerful incentive to recruit additional students and reduce unit costs. ... There are great opportunities for increased participation and efficiency gains' (DES 1991a:59). Although it was not spelt out in the White Paper, it was clear that the government expected the colleges to compete for students: they would be 'free to respond to their customers' and would thus be encouraged to be 'efficient' and 'effective' (DES 1991a:64).

The colleges would work closely with the Training and Enterprise Councils (TECs), which already had specific responsibilities for work-related further education.

Over the following decade, the government's policies would create

a modern system of academic and vocational qualifications, both of a high standard and both highly valued, which offer ladders of opportunity right through from school to work and throughout working life [and]

a real partnership between education and business, so that both can work together to create a learning environment at the transition from school to work, and to make what is taught at school more relevant to the world of work (DES 1991a:64).

The government attached great importance to systems which would ensure the quality of education and training provided by the colleges. Of the three existing levels of quality assurance - the colleges themselves, the examining and validating bodies, and the external assessors - the roles of the first two would be 'unchanged by the new arrangements' (DES 1991a:Vol II:38); but the new funding Councils would have responsibility for:
a) ensuring that quality systems in general form a satisfactory basis for the funding being provided: responsibility for quality flows from responsibility for finance; and

b) making specific financial allocation decisions which should be informed by quality judgements (DES 1991a:Vol II:39).

Presenting the White Paper (and that on higher education) to the House of Commons on 20 May 1991, Kenneth Clarke said:
The White Paper sets out in detail the Government's proposals for further education colleges and sixth-form colleges. As I announced to the House on 21 March, we intend that those colleges will become autonomous institutions outside local authority control.

The colleges will be funded by national Further Education Councils in England and in Wales. They will receive each year a core budget plus additional funds according to the actual number of students enrolled. In that way they will have a powerful incentive to recruit and retain additional students, both young people and adults. The councils will not manage the colleges. They will follow the model of the funding council that has so successfully steered the remarkable growth of the polytechnics after we freed them from the control of local government (Hansard House of Commons 20 May 1991 Vol 191 Col 639).

Labour's shadow education secretary, Jack Straw, replied:
The Secretary of State has just confirmed the removal from local control of the 557 further education, tertiary and sixth-form colleges of England and Wales and their enforced transfer to centralised control from Whitehall. Is the Secretary of State aware of the enormous opposition that those plans have aroused within his own party? What is his response to the views of many local authority Conservative leaders, including Mr. Tim MacNamara, the leader of Hampshire county council, who said on Friday that the Secretary of State was hell bent on destroying local education authorities without any idea of what to put in its place'; who complained of the Secretary of State's 'government by denigration', and who said these changes were blighting all planning of 16 to 19 education? Was not the same Mr. MacNamara correct to accuse the Secretary of State of acting 'for wholly doctrinal reasons'? ...

Is the Secretary of State aware that only three years ago, by section 120 of the Education Reform Act 1988, the Government imposed new duties on local education authorities in respect of further education? Ministers then expressed 'great confidence that local authorities will fulfil their duty to promote further education'. They spoke of the need for strategic planning for further education by LEAs. What has happened since then to justify these changes? With 60 per cent of 16-plus provision transferred to central control, leaving 40 per cent in local authority sixth forms, who will now plan the system - or is it all to be left to some kind of bogus market? (Hansard House of Commons 20 May 1991 Vol 191 Cols 641-2).

The White Paper was 'generally considered to be unsatisfactory' (Lawton 2005:109), The Independent (21 May 1991) describing it as a 'Timid Tory Plan for Training'. The Labour Party favoured a more radical solution involving a broader curriculum, while the left-leaning think-tank, the Institute for Public Policy Research (lPPR), recommended the creation of a British baccalaureate.

1991 White Paper: Higher education: A new framework

In his Foreword to Higher Education: A New Framework, Prime Minister John Major wrote:

In higher education, our key reform will be to end the increasingly artificial distinction between universities on the one hand and polytechnics and colleges on the other. This will build on our plans to transform education and training for 16-19 year olds by removing the barriers between the academic and vocational streams (DES 1991b:4).
The White Paper announced 'changes in the five main areas which currently seal the binary line in place', namely:
  • funding for teaching;
  • funding for research;
  • degree awarding powers and quality assurance;
  • institutional titles and governance; and
  • pay and conditions (DES 1991b:7).
The government believed that
it is in the interests of universities, polytechnics and colleges to continue to look for increased levels of funding from private sources in particular from industry and commerce, from benefactors and alumni, and from present sources of fee income. Such private income can enhance considerably the independence of individual institutions. The Government accepts that public funds will remain the main source of income for funding the projected expansion of student numbers (DES 1991b:10).
The existing 'separate channels' for the funding of teaching in universities on the one hand and polytechnics and colleges on the other would hinder efficient further expansion of higher education provision. The government therefore proposed to introduce 'a single funding structure for teaching in universities, polytechnics and colleges' (DES 1991b:14).

With regard to the funding of research, the White Paper set out the following principles:

  • Plurality: there should be two channels of public research:
    • general funds, to be used at institutions' discretion; and
    • funds tied to specific projects.
  • Competition: to promote further the most effective use of resources within higher education, all institutions should be able to compete for research funds.
  • Selectivity: research funds should be distributed selectively, as now, on the basis of assessment of research quality. This will continue to reward quality, encourage innovation and make the best use of resources.
  • Accountability: the principle of accountability must apply to higher education institutions receiving general research funding, in the same way as for other bodies receiving substantial public funds. The Government is determined to ensure greater transparency in the planning and use of general research funds, as well as clearer funding arrangements for Research Council projects (DES 1991b:18-19).
A new framework for higher education was needed because 'The binary line underpins the current territorial responsibilities within Government for funding higher education'. Its abolition therefore required 'a fresh settlement of those responsibilities' (DES 1991b:21).

Arguments for 'complete coherence' pointed in favour of 'one single Funding Council operating across Great Britain or the United Kingdom as a whole' (DES 1991b:21). However, the government intended to introduce separate Funding Councils for higher education in England, Scotland and Wales.

To ensure fair competition across territorial boundaries, the funding allocations by each territorial Secretary of State to the relevant body will be informed by the Government's general policy on higher education. Subject to that, funding will take account of each particular set of territorial circumstances, such as the different structure and duration of degree courses in Scotland (DES 1991b:22)
The Open University would, for funding purposes, be 'brought within the ambit of the new Funding Council for England' but would 'retain its general UK mission' (DES 1991b:23).

With regard to the quality of teaching and learning, there was a need for 'proper accountability for the substantial public funds invested in higher education'; and students and employers needed 'improved information about quality' if the full benefit of 'increased competition' was to be obtained (DES 1991b:24).

The White Paper listed five 'aspects of quality assurance in higher education':

  • Quality control: mechanisms within institutions for maintaining and enhancing the quality of their provision.
  • Quality audit: external scrutiny aimed at providing guarantees that institutions have suitable quality control mechanisms in place.
  • Validation: approval of courses by a validating body for the award of its degrees and other qualifications.
  • Accreditation: in the specific context of the Council for National Academic Awards (CNAA), delegation to institutions, subject to certain conditions, of responsibility for validating their own courses leading to CNAA degrees.
  • Quality assessment: external review of, and judgements about, the quality of teaching and learning in institutions (DES 1991b:24).
In a chapter on Institutional titles and governance, the White Paper proposed 'allowing polytechnics, if they wish, to adopt a university name or to include it in their titles'. Any such name changes 'would require approval by the Privy Council to ensure consistency in approach and no duplication' (DES 1991b:32).

Finally, with regard to pay and conditions of service, employers in higher education would be expected 'to settle their own negotiating arrangements' in the light of the White Paper's proposals. The government would 'continue to influence pay and conditions of service through the level of funding provided for the new Higher Education Funding Councils' (DES 1991b:35).

Commenting on the White Paper in his 1994 interview with Brian Sherratt, Clarke said

what seemed to me mad was to have two totally different systems of distributing money, and relationships with the Department, with bodies all of whom would have been called a university in other countries in the world. ... I thought we could devise for the lot of them parity of esteem, parity of status, and a system which was a fairer way of distributing the money for teaching and research, and would encourage and bring the best out of all of them (quoted in Ribbins and Sherratt 1997:158-9).

1992 Further and Higher Education Act

Proposals from both these White Papers were incorporated into the 1992 Further and Higher Education Act (6 March); the 1992 Further and Higher Education (Scotland) Act (16 March) provided for similar arrangements in Scotland.

Part I of the Act, dealing with further education, provided for the establishment of Further Education Funding Councils (FEFCs) (Section 1); and removed further education and sixth form colleges from local authority control (11).

For Benn and Chitty, the removal of the local authorities from the further education sector was a damaging development. The colleges - now 'further education corporations' - would be subjected to 'quango-funding and control through a privatised market' (Benn and Chitty 1996:14).

Furthermore, local authorities would no longer be able to develop strategic plans:

there were to be no local systems, only individual education 'businesses' competing with one another for 'customers' within the centrally controlled legislative framework (Benn and Chitty 1996:14).
Part II of the Act dealt with higher education. It ended the 'binary divide' between the universities and other providers - the colleges and polytechnics - by making them all 'higher education corporations', funded by new Higher Education Funding Councils (HEFCs) (62), which replaced the Universities Funding Council and the Polytechnics and Colleges Funding Council (63). It also abolished the Council for National Academic Awards (CNAA) (80).

Following the Act, the polytechnics and the Scottish central institutions all became universities, almost doubling the number of universities in the UK.

In 1993 the larger colleges of the University of London effectively became independent universities when they were granted direct access to government funding and the right to confer degrees; the constituent institutions of the University of Wales were later given the same rights.

1992 General election

Conservative manifesto

In its section on 'Schools, Pupils and Parents', the Conservative manifesto for the 1992 election, The Best Future for Britain, stressed the importance of choice and diversity and promised a 'Parent's Charter':

Under the Parent's Charter, all schools will have to provide at least one written report on the progress of each child each year. Information on the performance of all local schools will be given to parents, enabling them to exercise choice more effectively.

We believe all parents have the right to choice in education - not only those who can afford school fees. Young people differ in their interests and aptitudes, and we need a range of schools to offer them the best opportunities. We have always fought to maintain diversity in education, protecting the right of local people to preserve their grammar schools, and defending independent schools against mindless Labour attacks. And we have always valued the important contribution made by the churches to our children's education.

It promised the completion of the ten-subject National Curriculum; 'regular and straightforward tests' for all 7-, 11- and 14-year-olds by 1994; the creation of more nursery places; and the publication of 'full information ... about the performance of all local schools in each area'.

Popular schools which were over-subscribed would be 'given the resources to expand'; and grant-maintained schools would be able to 'change their character'. The Assisted Places scheme would continue to give 'access to independent education to many families who could not otherwise afford it'. The 'partnership between the state and the churches in education' would be strengthened.

The Tories promised to 'reinforce the professionalism of teachers and the esteem in which they are held'. There would be 'regular appraisal of teachers', and 'reform of the teacher training system to make it more effective in developing classroom skills'.

Sixteen-year-olds would be 'free to choose between college, work-based training and sixth form studies'. The 'well-respected A-level examinations' would be defended; and there would be improvements in vocational education, including a new General National Vocational Qualification (GNVQ).

A Conservative government would 'continue to expand the number of students in higher education' and abolish 'the artificial "binary line" between universities and polytechnics'. (This had already been legislated for by the time of the election.) The introduction of student loans had given students '30 per cent more money for their living costs than the former system of grants alone', and the government would 'continue to provide generous support for students and to expand our student loans commitment'.

Finally, the 'training revolution' which the Tories had initiated would continue 'to create a framework within which men and women of all ages can develop skills, gain qualifications and shape their own futures'.

Labour manifesto

Meanwhile, the Labour manifesto, It's time to get Britain working again, included a section on 'Raising standards in our schools'. It declared that:

Good education is the best investment in Britain's future. All girls and boys, from every background, must be able to discover their talents and fulfil their potential.

We want every child to get qualifications that count. We need safe, disciplined schools, where professional teachers work closely with parents. Learning must become a lifetime opportunity, with new chances to update skills at work.

That is our vision of a well-educated Britain.

The manifesto noted that 'Britain today invests a smaller share of our national wealth in education than in 1979', and that 'more and more parents are now being forced to pay for essentials in a system which should be free'. Labour would provide an additional 600m for education over two years and then 'continue steadily to increase the share of Britain's national wealth invested in education'. There would be more nursery places and a nationwide childcare strategy. Education standards would be raised through 'better teaching, smaller classes and modern books and equipment'.
Within 12 months, we will end the scandal of primary school classes of over 40 children. We will then establish and steadily reduce maximum limits on class sizes, until no primary school child is taught in a class of more than 30.
Increased funding would be provided for class and library books, equipment and laboratories. 'We will start to tackle the backlog of school repairs. For instance, we will invest 30 million to ensure that within 12 months, no child has to use an outside lavatory'.

Teachers would be 'guaranteed a proper salary and career structure'. A General Teaching Council for England and Wales would be created to raise professional standards; there would be 'higher quality training' and better support for newly-qualified teachers.

A national Reading Standards Programme would be established, with a Reading Recovery Programme 'to help those in difficulty'. There would be better provision for children with 'special needs or special abilities'.

With regard to selection, the manifesto said:

Nine out of ten secondary school children are in comprehensive schools. We will end selection at 11 where it still exists. We will introduce a fairer system for all school reorganisations, with independent public enquiries. We will phase out the Assisted Places scheme (without affecting pupils currently on a place, or offered one from September 1992) and redirect the savings to meet wider educational needs.
Instead of the Conservatives' privatised schools inspectorate, there would be an Education Standards Commission which, together with HMI, would 'monitor the performance of every school'.

All schools would be 'free to manage their day-to-day budgets'; local education authorities would be given 'a new strategic role'; grant-maintained schools would be 'freed from central government control'; and they, and the city technology colleges, would be brought into 'the mainstream of the local school system'.

An unexpected outcome

Although opinion polls had predicted a narrow Labour victory, the Conservatives won the general election on 9 April 1992 with a Commons majority of 21. Some political commentators suggested that Labour's defeat was a result of the party's commitment to raising income tax; others argued that it was due to Neil Kinnock's poor judgement in staging, on the eve of the election, a triumphalist rally in Sheffield which many found distasteful.

Teachers who had hoped for a more constructive, less confrontational, approach to education were profoundly disappointed.

Following the election, the Department of Education and Science (DES) was renamed the Department for Education (DFE) and John Patten was appointed Secretary of State for Education.

1992-1994: John Patten

John Patten

In a profile of John Patten (pictured), The Independent (13 February 1993) described his family as 'earnest, tight-knit, happy, though materially impoverished'. His father was a gardener; his mother a devout Roman Catholic from the Czech minority in Austria.

Brought up as a Catholic, Patten attended the Jesuit-run Wimbledon College and then read geography at Sidney Sussex College Cambridge. He taught at Oxford (1969-1979), becoming Fellow and Tutor at Hertford College in 1972.

He entered Parliament as MP for the City of Oxford in 1979, moving to Oxford West and Abingdon in 1983 following boundary changes. He held a number of junior ministerial posts at the Northern Ireland Office and in the Ministry of Health, served as Minister of State for Housing, Urban Affairs and Construction (1985-87) and then became Minister of State at the Home Office.

His appointment as secretary of the renamed Department for Education (DFE) in April 1992 was 'unexpected' (The Independent 13 February 1993). He was to preside over

a further hectic and paradoxical period of educational change, which led both to the eclipse of 1980s Conservatism, and to the consolidation of its achievements; to a new rise in opposition to its policies, and to their acceptance as the basis of further change (Jones 2003:140).
He held controversial views on religion, believing, for example, that children should be taught about hell because an absence of fear resulted in criminality and bad behaviour in schools; and he had no time for progressive ideas in education:
He is convinced that modern educational theories have damaged the chances of people from poor backgrounds and is obsessive in his dislike of those he holds responsible (The Independent 13 February 1993).
Like Margaret Thatcher, he seemed to regard teachers and educationists as the enemy.
His skirmishing with the profession over the policies he inherited - encouraging schools to opt out of local authority control, league-tabling schools by exam results, testing the national curriculum - has been predictable (The Independent 13 February 1993).
He avoided meetings with the teacher unions and was reluctant to address their conferences. He refused high-profile television interviews because 'he lacks self-confidence and has no great grasp of the detail of what has suddenly become his field' (The Independent 13 February 1993).

He was arrogant and tactless: he described representatives of the National Association of Parent-Teacher Associations as 'neanderthals' (The Independent 13 February 1993); and, three weeks after becoming education secretary, he launched an extraordinary attack on Birmingham's Chief Education Officer, Tim Brighouse, telling a party conference fringe meeting: 'I fear for Birmingham, with this madman let loose, wandering the streets, frightening the children.' Brighouse sued, and won a substantial out-of-court settlement, which he donated to educational charities (The Guardian 24 April 2007).

Patten became a life peer following the 1997 general election.

'Selection' becomes 'specialisation'

Patten was as keen as John Major to undermine the comprehensive system, but he realised that public support for comprehensive schools was a problem - one which even Thatcher had been unable to solve. There had been widespread parental opposition to the reintroduction of selection in the wake of the 1979 Education Act; the number of schools choosing to adopt grant-maintained (GM) status had been disappointing; and few firms had agreed to sponsor city technology colleges: the fifteenth and last of these - Kingswood City Technology College in Bristol - had been given approval in April 1991.

A new strategy was needed. Patten's solution was to convert 'selection' into 'specialisation'. In an article in the New Statesman and Society (17 July 1992), he argued that:

Selection is not, and should not be, a great issue of the 1990s as it was in the 1960s. The S-word for all Socialists to come to terms with is, rather, 'specialisation'. The fact is that children excel at different things; it is foolish to ignore it, and some schools may wish specifically to cater for these differences. ...

Such schools are already emerging. They will, as much more than mere exotic educational boutiques, increasingly populate the educational landscape of Britain at the end of the century, a century that introduced universal education at its outset; then tried to grade children like vegetables; then tried to treat them ... like identical vegetables; and which never ever gave them the equality of intellectual nourishment that is now being offered by the National Curriculum, encouraged by testing, audited by regular inspection. (Patten 1992:20-21 quoted in Chitty and Dunford 1999:27)

Critics, however, warned that giving parents the choice of a diverse range of schools would ultimately result in selection of pupils by the schools themselves.

1992 White Paper: Choice and Diversity

Patten ignored the critics and described his White Paper, Choice and Diversity: A new framework for schools, published in July, as a 'landmark' which would decide the shape of schooling for the next quarter century.

The government believed that school autonomy and parental choice, combined with the National Curriculum, were together 'the keys to achieving higher standards in all schools' (DFE 1992:15). A single new body, the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority (SCAA), would replace the National Curriculum Council (NCC) and the School Examinations and Assessment Council (SEAC).

A Funding Agency for Schools would be created as part of 'the evolution of a new organisational framework for the education service' (DFE 1992:19). As more schools became grant-maintained, the Funding Agency would take over the responsibilities of local education authorities (LEAs).

School admission arrangements - to be 'exercised increasingly at the school level' - would be designed to 'secure the maximum parental choice possible' (DFE 1992:28). Grant-maintained schools and LEAs would be encouraged to cooperate on admissions, but the Secretary of State would be able to impose common procedures if necessary.

LEAs would be required to increase delegation to their schools under their schemes of local management, and would be able to 'supply support services to GM schools on competitive terms' (DFE 1992:31). The government would 'maintain and strengthen the partnership between the state and the Churches and other voluntary bodies in both LEA maintained and GM schools' (DFE 1992:31).

Chapter 8 of the White Paper was devoted to spiritual and moral development. The government would

continue to emphasise the importance of the school's role in promoting pupils' spiritual and moral development through its teaching and pastoral care (DFE 1992:37)
LEAs would be required to review agreed syllabuses for religious education if they had not already done so; grant-maintained schools would be able to use 'any agreed syllabus adopted since the Education Reform Act 1988'; and there would be changes in the constitutions of agreed syllabus conferences and SACREs 'once 75% of either primary or secondary pupils in the LEA are in GM schools' (DFE 1992:37).

With regard to pupils with special educational needs, the White Paper declared that they should be educated in ordinary schools 'to the maximum extent possible' (DFE 1992:40).

The government wished to see 'much greater diversity and specialisation by schools, particularly in technology, while still ensuring that the full National Curriculum is offered to all pupils'. The 'developing network of specialist Technology Schools, with CTCs at its centre', would be extended through the Technology Schools Initiative (DFE 1992:43).

A separate chapter dealt with implementation of these proposals in Wales.

Most of the White Paper, however, was devoted to strategies to persuade more schools to opt out of local authority control and become grant-maintained. It claimed that there had been 'rapid and successful growth in the number of grant-maintained schools' (DFE 1992:19). In fact, in the four years following the 1988 Education Reform Act, there had been just 428 decisive 'opt-out' ballots in England and Wales, of which 331 were in favour (Chitty 2009a:56). In Scotland, only one school had chosen to become grant-maintained (Fisher 1993a:24).

The government therefore proposed a series of measures which it clearly hoped would increase the number of grant-maintained schools:

  • there would be no need for a second resolution of the governing body before a school held a parental ballot on GM status (DFE 1992:33);
  • a school applying for GM status would be able 'simultaneously to propose a significant change in its character or size' (DFE 1992:33);
  • the Education Assets Board would have 'strengthened powers to settle disputes between governing bodies and LEAs in order to speed up the transfer of assets to an approved GM school' (DFE 1992:33);
  • there would be stronger measures 'to prevent LEAs removing assets from schools approved for GM status' (DFE 1992:33);
  • special schools would be allowed to apply for GM status (DFE 1992:40);
  • 'failing schools' would be taken over by an Education Association and, once they had achieved 'a satisfactory level of performance', they would 'be considered for GM status' (DFE 1992:48);
  • small primary schools, particularly in rural areas, would be able to opt together for GM status as a group of schools or 'cluster' (DFE 1992:52); and
  • the government would consult on the introduction of a 'new and simpler method of calculating grant to GM schools' (DFE 1992:55).
The White Paper ended with a summary of what Patten hoped it would achieve: 'a great transformation in education which will take at least a decade to work through' (DFE 1992:64).
The education system of the 21st century will be neither divisive nor based on some lowest common denominator. Diversity, choice and excellence will be its hallmarks, with each child having an opportunity to realise his or her full potential, liberating and developing his or her talents.

This is the Government's vision for education in this country. This White Paper is another important step towards its realisation (DFE 1992:64).

To many, however, the White Paper appeared to be based on the educational theories of the 1930s. The Spens Report (1938), for example, had argued that, on the basis of intelligence and aptitude, children could be divided into three groups - the academic, the practical, and the rest - and that, if justice were to be done to 'their varying capacities', they required 'types of education varying in certain important respects' (Spens 1938:125).

Similarly, the White Paper declared that

Uniformity in educational provision presupposes that children are all basically the same and that local communities have essentially the same educational needs. The reality is that children have different needs. The provision of education should be geared more to local circumstances and individual needs: hence our commitment to diversity in education (DFE 1992:3-4).
Critics argued that the White Paper could more appropriately have been titled 'Chaos and Perversity'. Its central policy - that of 'diverting more money away from LEAs into schools which were encouraged to become more and more market oriented' - was criticised
not only by Labour, but by the press and even by moderate Conservatives for over-emphasising choice, especially in the form of grant maintained schools that were free from local authority interference (Lawton 2005:110).
Ann Taylor, the newly-appointed shadow education secretary, objected to the White Paper's punitive approach to school improvement (Lawton 2005:111).

In Don't sell pupils short, an article for the Roman Catholic paper The Tablet (10 October 1992), Patten explained that he had devoted a whole chapter of his White Paper to 'Spiritual and Moral Development' because he believed that 'schools must not be value-free zones' (quoted in Tombs 1994:86).

Six months later, the National Curriculum Council published its contribution to the debate about national morality and the part schools could play in developing it. Spiritual and Moral Development a discussion paper (April 1993) argued that 'Schools should be expected to uphold those values which contain moral absolutes' (NCC 1993:4) and it listed these as:

  • telling the truth;
  • keeping promises;
  • respecting the rights and property of others;
  • acting considerately towards others;
  • helping those less fortunate and weaker than ourselves;
  • taking personal responsibility for one's actions;
  • self-discipline (NCC 1993:4).
1993 Education Act

The White Paper's proposals formed the basis of the 1993 Education Act (27 July). Published in two volumes totalling 290 pages containing 308 sections, it was the largest piece of legislation in the history of education.

Its first five parts covered:

I Responsibility for education

  • roles of the secretary of state and funding authorities (Sections 1-11);
  • new rules about school places, admissions and religious education (12-21).
II Grant-maintained schools
  • measures to make it easier for schools to become grant-maintained (22-37);
  • measures regarding property, staff and contracts (38-47);
  • establishing new GM schools (48-54);
  • the government of GM schools (55-80);
  • funding of GM schools (81-95);
  • change of character of GM schools (96-103);
  • closure of GM schools (104-116);
  • groups of GM schools (117-127);
  • further education in GM schools (128);
  • provision of benefits and services by local education authority (129);
  • other matters, including religious education, admissions (130-155).
III Children with special educational needs
  • legal definition (156);
  • Code of Practice (157-158);
  • duty of provision (159-164);
  • identification and assessment procedures (165-176);
  • special needs tribunals (177-181);
  • special schools and independent schools (182-190).
IV School attendance
  • school attendance orders (192-197);
  • offences and supervision orders (198-202);
  • exemption (203).
V Schools failing to give an acceptable standard of education
  • extension of the Education (Schools) Act 1992 (204);
  • inspections and reports (205-209);
  • special measures (210-212);
  • new powers and restrictions (213-217);
  • education associations (218-228).
Part VI Miscellaneous covered a huge range of matters:
  • establishment of new schools by local authorities and other 'promoters' (229-230);
  • nursery education in GM schools (231);
  • rationalisation of school places (232-237);
  • incorporation of governing bodies (238-239);
  • the right of parents to withdraw a child from sex education lessons except those contained in the National Curriculum (240-243) (see Issues arising below);
  • abolition of the National Curriculum Council (NCC) and the School Examinations and Assessment Council (SEAC) and their replacement by the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority (SCAA) (244-248);
  • Curriculum Council for Wales (249-253);
  • review of agreed syllabuses for religious education (254-258) (see Issues arising below);
  • inspection of religious education and collective worship (259) (see Issues arising below);
  • admissions and exclusions (260-262);
  • provision of information about city technology colleges (263-265);
  • admission appeals committees (266-270);
  • sponsor governors for aided secondary schools (271);
  • proposals for alteration of schools eligible for GM status (272-273);
  • revision of local management funding schemes (274-276);
  • clarification of the period of compulsory schooling (277);
  • education support grants (278-279);
  • charges for musical instrument tuition (280);
  • assistance for voluntary schools (281-286);
  • endowments in voluntary and GM schools (287-288);
  • independent schools (employment of teachers, corporal punishment not to be 'inhuman or degrading') (290-294);
  • provision of goods and services to GM schools by LEAs (295);
  • abolition of the requirement for LEAs to have education committees (296-297);
  • supplementary matters (298-308).
Issues arising from the Act

The local authorities

In the second of his interviews with Brian Sherratt (on 6 June 1994), Patten was asked how he saw the future role of local education authorities, given that the 1993 Act provided for the Funding Agency for Schools (FAS) to take over many of their responsibilities as the number of grant-maintained schools increased. He replied that, in some local authority areas,

the FAS will be in total charge because more than 75 per cent of the places in the secondary sector are grant-maintained; so in those areas the LEA has a more residual role. No one has to have an LEA, a Local Education Authority, any more after the 1993 Act. I think in one or two areas they're looking at putting some of the functions of the LEA together with some of the functions of the Social Services Department and, where there are Housing Authorities, Housing as well, with a kind of all-singing, all-dancing service providing a sort of role (quoted in Ribbins and Sherratt 1997:192-3).
Sex education

In 1991, the National Curriculum Science Orders had been revised to include teaching at Key Stage 3 about HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) and AIDS (Acquired Immunity Deficiency Syndrome), which had become a major public health issue during the 1980s.

However, Patten and his deputy, Emily (Baroness) Blatch (1937-2005), seem to have been 'profoundly influenced' (Chitty 1994a:17) by campaigns led by the pressure group Christian Action Research and Education and the fundamentalist Plymouth Brethren sect. Both groups called for a ban on compulsory sex education in schools and the removal of all mention of HIV/AIDS from the National Curriculum.

The result was Section 241 of the 1993 Education Act, which

  • removed everything except the biology of reproduction from National Curriculum Science: there was to be nothing about HIV/AIDS or any other sexually transmitted disease;
  • gave parents the right to withdraw their children from 'compulsory' sex education lessons; and
  • took away from the governors of secondary schools the power to decide whether or not the school would provide sex education.
In a letter to The Times (17 July 1993), Valerie Riches, director of the right-wing pressure group Family and Youth Concern, supported the changes:
The right to withdraw children from lessons must be maintained until the sex education lobby shows itself both willing and capable of promoting responsible attitudes towards sexual behaviour, marriage and family life (quoted in Chitty 1994a:17).
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) and the children's charity Kidscape disagreed. NSPCC policy officer Eileen Hayes warned:
there is a potential danger that if parents were abusing a child and had the right to remove it from sex education lessons for whatever reason, it might be an advantage to keep that child in ignorance ...

We feel that if children have some rudimentary sex education and information about their bodies, they are in some way protected against abuse. Otherwise they may be too ignorant to realise what is going on (The Times Educational Supplement 16 July 1993 quoted in Chitty 1994a:17).

Right-wing attitudes to sex education were not shared by the vast majority of parents. A survey conducted by the Health Education Authority, reported in The Times Educational Supplement (4 November 1994), found that 94 per cent of parents supported sex education in schools, with 80 per cent in favour of schools teaching about HIV and AIDS. Only one per cent of parents intended to withdraw their children from the lessons. There seemed to be 'general confidence in the role of teachers in the whole area of sex education', though this view was 'not shared by a quarter of Muslim parents and 17 per cent of Hindus' (Chitty 1995:19).

In 1987, DES Circular 11/87, Sex education at school, had said:

The Secretary of State considers that the aims of a programme of sex education should be to present facts in an objective and balanced manner so as to enable pupils to comprehend the range of sexual attitudes and behaviour in present day society; to know what is and is not legal; to consider their own attitudes, and to make informed, reasoned and responsible decisions about the attitudes they will adopt both while they are at school and in adulthood (DES 1987b:4).
This paragraph, argues Chitty, 'clearly had the hand of HMI on it' (Chitty 1995:19).

On 6 May 1994, Patten issued Circular 5/94, Education Act 1993: Sex Education in Schools, which set out a 'moral framework for sex education':

The Secretary of State recognises that sex education ... should lead to the acquisition of understanding and attitudes which prepare pupils to view their relationships in a responsible and healthy manner. It must not be value-free; it should also be tailored not only to the age but also to the understanding of pupils. ... schools' programmes of sex education should therefore aim to present facts in an objective, balanced and sensitive manner, set within a clear framework of values and an awareness of the law on sexual behaviour. Pupils should accordingly be encouraged to appreciate the value of stable family life, marriage and the responsibilities of parenthood. They should be helped to consider the importance of self-restraint, dignity, respect for themselves and others, acceptance of responsibility, sensitivity towards the needs and views of others, loyalty and fidelity. And they should be enabled to recognise the physical, emotional and moral implications, and risks, of certain types of behaviour, and to accept that both sexes must behave responsibly in sexual matters. Teachers need to acknowledge that many children come from backgrounds that do not reflect such values or experiences. Sensitivity is therefore needed to avoid causing hurt and offence to them and their families; and to allow such children to feel a sense of worth. But teachers should also help pupils, whatever their circumstances, to raise their sights (DFE 1994b:6).
Rachel Thomson, Information Development Officer of the Sex Education Forum, argued that the problem with sex education in Britain was that it had become totally politicised. 'People on the political Right see sex education as an opportunity for social engineering', she told The Observer (7 November 1993). 'They are worried about recent changes in sexual behaviour and see sex education as a chance to turn the clock back' (quoted in Chitty 1995:20).

For Clyde Chitty, it was

a source of much regret that the Government should have made such an unholy mess of giving schools and teachers sound advice on the all-important area of sex education. This is surely a part of the curriculum where young people should be encouraged to talk freely about values, emotions and relationships. The price of pupil ignorance is the very state of affairs that the Government claims to want to change (Chitty 1995:20).
Religious education

The new provisions relating to religious education and collective worship were set out in Sections 254-259 of the 1993 Education Act and explained in Circular 1/94 Religious Education and Collective Worship, published by the Department for Education on 31 January 1994.

An unusually long and detailed Circular (63 pages), it set out the legal responsibilities of head teachers, governors, local authorities, SACREs, agreed syllabus conferences, teachers, and teacher trainers in the light of the 1993 Act.

The Circular said:

Every school must by law provide religious education and daily collective worship for all its pupils, with the exception of those pupils who are withdrawn from these activities by their parents. It is a matter of deep concern that in many schools these activities do not take place with the frequency required or to the standard which pupils deserve. The Government's aim is therefore to improve the quality of the religious education curriculum for pupils in order to ensure that they have the best possible opportunity to develop through this area of the curriculum (DFE 1994a:9).
At the same time, the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority (SCAA), which had replaced the National Curriculum Council, issued guidance for Standing Advisory Councils on Religious Education (SACREs) in the form of National Model Syllabuses for RE. On the day these were published, the London Evening Standard welcomed the increasing focus on Christianity as part of the government's social agenda:
Ministers believe the move will underscore the need to restore traditional family values and help reduce the number of schoolchildren involved in crime (Evening Standard 25 January 1994).
Writing in Forum (Autumn 1994), David Tombs, lecturer in Theology and Religious Studies at Roehampton Institute, argued that
New Right social interests continue to underpin the government's attempts to influence and control religious education. Two concerns may be identified in the development of government attitudes to religious education. First, pressure for religious education to be predominantly Christian; second, emphasis on moral instruction in Christian values. These developments can only be fully understood when the New Right ideological agenda behind them is recognised (Tombs 1994:85).
Despite the White Paper's title Choice and Diversity, the clear impression was that 'in government eyes moral education [is] concerned with authority and conformity far more than personal choice and cultural diversity' (Tombs 1994:86).

National Commission on Education

In his presidential address to the annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in August 1990, Sir Claus Moser (1922-2015) (pictured), Warden of Wadham College Oxford and Chancellor of Keele University, called on the government to set up a Royal Commission on education.

When the government refused, Moser set up the independent National Commission on Education (NCE), funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and chaired by Lord Walton of Detchant.

The Commission's final report, Learning to succeed: a radical look at education today and a strategy for the future, published in 1993, listed seven main goals:

  • high-quality nursery education must be available for all 3- and 4-year-olds;
  • there must be courses and qualifications that bring out the best in every pupil;
  • every pupil in every lesson has the right to good teaching and adequate support facilities;
  • everyone must be entitled to learn throughout life and be encouraged in practice to do so;
  • the management of education and training must be integrated, and those with a stake in them must have this recognised;
  • there must be a greater public and private investment in education and training to achieve a better return; and
  • achievement must constantly rise and progress be open for all to examine (NCE 1993:397-408).
The NCE was concerned about the Major government's obsession with creating 'a greater variety of secondary schools' and warned that 'as we see it, there is a serious danger of a hierarchy of good, adequate and "sink" schools emerging within the maintained system' (NCE 1993:180).

The aims of giving all children access to 'high-quality' schooling and of creating greater choice and diversity were simply not compatible:

As we see it, the main task for the future will not be to concentrate on producing highly educated elites, but to achieve higher learning outcomes for all, and particularly for those in the middle and lower bands of attainment. ...

At present, there is a conflict between, on the one hand, moves towards a greater diversity and choice of schools and, on the other hand, an ideal of equal access for all children to 'high-quality' education. Laudable principles for schools may often work against each other: serving a local community and catering for all abilities as in the comprehensive ideal; or encouraging choice of secondary school. For example, a community school where the neighbourhood is not socially mixed may not have a broad enough social or ability range to operate in a truly comprehensive manner. Choice, when exercised, is often used to escape from the local school, thereby working against the community school ideal. Similarly, those parents who are exercising their choice are tending to use it in favour of schools with other pupils of an 'appropriate background' (NCE 1993:181-2).

Clyde Chitty found the NCE report disappointing. Reviewing it in Forum, he noted that there was only one reference to comprehensive schools in the index:
The Report cannot bring itself to come out unequivocally in favour of a major prerequisite of future advance: the establishment at the secondary level of a national system of community comprehensive schools with no selective or independent enclaves (Chitty 1994b:61).
The Commission's hope that its vision for the future would be shared by the government was 'wishful thinking of a rarefied kind' (Chitty 1994b:61):
Nothing that has happened in the past fifteen years gives one any cause to expect that any significant part of the National Commission agenda for change will be implemented by John Major and his miserable team at the DFE (Chitty 1994b:61).

National Curriculum

The National Curriculum had been designed and constructed with very little input from practising teachers: they had been prevented from being curriculum innovators and demoted to being curriculum 'deliverers'.

Based on discrete subjects, it made integrated 'topic' and 'project' work difficult; it was hugely overloaded with content, so that its introduction had resulted in falling standards in some 'important aspects of literacy and numeracy' (DES 1992:1); and its assessment procedures were cumbersome, to say the least.

With the government's promise (in its 1992 election manifesto) that 'information about the performance of all local schools' would be published, three inevitable - and undesirable - effects quickly became apparent:

  • schools became unwilling to take on pupils with learning difficulties, since they tended to depress overall test results;
  • teachers were encouraged to concentrate their efforts on children who were on the borderline between one level and the next, rather than on those who needed attention most; and
  • the curriculum became skewed by the need to practise for the tests.
It was not only teachers who wanted the National Curriculum reviewed. Right-wing think-tanks and pressure groups were unhappy with aspects of the first version and campaigned for
the simplification and 'Anglicisation' of the national testing system, so as to emphasise basic skills and the English cultural heritage (Jones 2003:141).
The New Right gained control of the curriculum and assessment councils, where they provoked strong opposition from teachers, especially from teachers of English. By the spring of 1993, teachers were considering a boycott of English tests for 14-year-olds (The Independent 13 February 1993); and there was a widespread boycott of Standard Assessment Tests (SATs) in 1993-4.

As a result, Patten was forced to commission a review of the National Curriculum and, in April 1993, he appointed Sir Ron Dearing to lead it.

1994 Dearing Review

Dearing (1930-2009) (pictured) was a career civil servant who had held various senior positions, including that of Chief Executive of the Post Office. In 1993 he was appointed Chancellor of the University of Nottingham.

He was asked to 'undertake a Review of the National Curriculum and of the framework for assessing pupils' progress' (Dearing 1994:3) and, in particular,

i the scope for slimming down the curriculum;
ii how the central administration of the National Curriculum and testing arrangements could be improved;
iii how the testing arrangements might be simplified; and
iv the future of the ten-level scale for recognising children's attainment (Dearing 1994:3).
Dearing produced an interim report in July 1993; his final report, The National Curriculum and its Assessment, was submitted to Patten on 20 December 1993 and published in 1994.

It argued that the National Curriculum was 'fundamental to raising educational standards', but that

Urgent action is needed to reduce the statutorily required content of its programmes of study and to make it less prescriptive and less complex (Dearing 1994:7).
The statutory curriculum Orders should therefore be subject to a 'closely co-ordinated review' (Dearing 1994:7) with a view to
i reducing the volume of material required by law to be taught;
ii simplifying and clarifying the programmes of study;
iii reducing prescription so as to give more scope for professional judgement;
iv ensuring that the Orders are written in a way which offers maximum support to the classroom teacher (Dearing 1994:17).
Key Stages 1-3

At Key Stages 1-3 (for pupils aged 5-14), the content of the curriculum should be reduced so that twenty per cent of teaching time would be 'for use at the discretion of the school' (Dearing 1994:21). The first priority for this discretionary time should be to support work in the basics of literacy, oracy and numeracy; schools should be accountable to their governing bodies for using the time released effectively.

The School Curriculum and Assessment Authority (SCAA) should review the attainment targets and statements of attainment with a view to reducing their number. 'No further major changes should be made to the National Curriculum Orders for five years following the review' (Dearing 1994:9)

Appendix 6 of the review set out advice to primary schools on how the level of record keeping, which had been 'a heavy burden for many teachers' (Dearing 1994:14), could be reduced. Dearing himself is said to have reckoned that a primary teacher might have to assess pupils against up to one thousand attainment statements in a year; his review 'provided some relief to teachers who were drowning in assessment requirements' (Wrigley 2014:24-25).

However, the pressure was still heavy, especially for teachers of younger primary pupils, and it had damaging results: 'the statutory requirement to report attainment levels in every subject, and multiple strands in some, inevitably distracted from their traditional focus on teaching children to read' (Wrigley 2014:25).

Key Stage 4

At Key Stage 4 (ages 14-16),

schools should have greater opportunity to offer a curriculum which meets the distinctive talents and individual aspirations of their students. The mandatory requirements should be limited to English, mathematics and single science, physical education and short courses in a modern foreign language and technology. Religious education and sex education must, in addition, be taught by law. Careers education is also particularly important at this key stage (Dearing 1994:9).
Dearing 'justified the abandonment of Key Stage Four in the form envisaged in 1987' (Chitty 2013:135) on the grounds that it would allow 'greater scope for academic and vocational options' (Dearing 1994:9). He called for 'the development of three broad educational pathways in post-16 education and training' (Dearing 1994:19):
  • the 'craft' or 'occupational' - equipping young people with particular skills and with knowledge directly related to a craft or occupation through National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs).
  • the 'vocational' - a midway path between the academic and occupational - leading to General National Vocational Qualifications (GNVQs).
  • the 'academic', leading to A and AS levels (Dearing 1994:19).
Vocational qualifications should be developed for use at Key Stage 4 as part of a wider curriculum; the requirement for National Curriculum short courses to be combined with another short course for accreditation purposes should be abandoned; the balance between the content of National Curriculum subjects and GCSE syllabuses should be reviewed; and the removal of history and geography from the mandatory subjects at Key Stage 4 should be implemented immediately.

Dearing expanded on these proposals in an address to the Secondary Heads Association's annual conference in Bournemouth in March 1994, when he announced that 14-year-old students would soon be able to study for qualifications in one or other of five vocational areas: manufacturing, art and design, health and social care, leisure and tourism, and business and finance (The Financial Times 21 March 1994 quoted in Chitty 2013:136).

Special needs

The National Curriculum should be available to pupils with special educational needs, and special needs teachers should be involved in its revision (Dearing 1994:11).


With regard to assessment, Dearing argued that

The ten-level scale is unnecessarily complex and excessively prescriptive. It suffers from duplication and inconsistencies. These failings explain some very real problems teachers have experienced in implementing the National Curriculum (Dearing 1994:11).
However, the purposes the scale was intended to serve were sound, and it should therefore be retained but improved, with
i a substantial reduction in the number of statements of attainment to provide a definition of what is expected at each level, which is sufficiently clear and rigorous to be of use to teachers but which avoids the excessive detail of the present approach;
ii a reduction in the number of attainment targets to reflect the slimming down of the statutorily required curriculum (particularly at Key Stages 1 and 2);
iii the definition, where necessary, of more even steps between levels (Dearing 1994:12).
The national tests in the core subjects should be simplified 'as far as possible without sacrificing validity and reliability'; and 'the time which is needed to administer the tests must continue to be reduced' (Dearing 1994:13).

Systems of moderated teacher assessment should underpin standards but should not be bureaucratic or require excessive amounts of teacher time; for Key Stage 3, statutory teacher assessment of non-core subjects should be introduced or reintroduced. The Group set up by SCAA to advise on the value-added approach to the measurement of school performance should report by June 1994.

Finally, Dearing argued that the ten-level scale was unnecessary 'for the majority of students at Key Stage 4', and he therefore recommended that 'it should not be used at this key stage' (Dearing 1994:70).


The government accepted Dearing's recommendations so that, by the time the Conservatives left office in 1997, the Key Stage 4 curriculum 'bore little resemblance to the framework devised ten years earlier by Kenneth Baker' (Chitty 2013:136).

The compulsory subjects in maintained secondary schools were now: English, maths, science, design and technology, information technology (as a separate subject or coordinated across other subjects), a modern foreign language, and physical education. The humanities and arts were demoted to being optional extras: pupils had to choose between history or geography; art or music.

Secondary schools also had a statutory duty to provide religious education in accordance with a locally agreed syllabus, and a programme of 'carefully structured sex education' (Chitty 2013:136). Careers education was scheduled to become a statutory part of the secondary curriculum from September 1998. In those parts of Wales where Welsh was spoken, it was an additional 'core' subject.


Myra Barrs, Director of the Centre for Language Education, argued that Dearing had left a 'trail of confusion' behind him, which was 'likely to be most marked at Key Stage 4', where he had 'casually demolished a common system of examining at 16+ which it had taken more than twenty years to establish' (Barrs 1994:36).

But the most problematic element in the final report was unquestionably Sir Ron's decision to retain the 10-level scale as the basis for National Curriculum assessment, despite much public agonising about its inadequacies. It is hard to see how we can go on working with a basic framework for assessment which is obviously so deeply flawed (Barrs 1994:36).
Ken Jones has argued that, by reducing the amount of detail and removing 'the stronger signs of the traditionalist and ethnocentric enthusiasms of the New Right' (Jones 2003:141), the revised National Curriculum
marked the end of the New Right's curricular influence, at the same time as it helped embed the curriculum, and its associated testing system, at the consensual centre of English schooling (Jones 2003:141).
Speaking in May 1994, just after the publication of the Review, Patten said:
I've added my own twiddles to it; all children between 5 and 7 to have some British history; English to be given close attention in all subjects, whether it's geography or history; if you can't communicate and express yourself in English, then you can't function. We'll have to see what teacher-land makes of it over the next three months, but I think we have got the makings of a settlement now, which I hope will be in place by January next year, when the papers go out to all the schools so they know what they're doing for September 1995 (quoted in Ribbins and Sherratt 1997:185).
He hoped that the next five years (1995-2000) would be
a period of peace and quiet where we can concentrate on the outputs; on making sure that the test papers are rigorous enough; against a background of some stability, which I'm sure practising teachers would welcome (quoted in Ribbins and Sherratt 1997:185).
1994 Warwick Evaluation

The Dearing Review was not the only manifestation of anxiety about the National Curriculum: there were particular concerns about the teaching of English.

There was widespread dissatisfaction with the English component of the National Curriculum from the moment it was introduced in schools in the autumn term, 1990. Six months later the National Curriculum Council (NCC) commissioned the University of Warwick to undertake an evaluation of it: work began in September 1991.

To complicate matters, a year later the NCC advised the Secretary of State that the English Order needed revising. The Secretary of State asked the NCC to conduct a review, and this was completed in March 1993. The Warwick project team, led by Professor Bridie Raban, Urszula Clark and Joanna McIntyre, therefore had to conduct their evaluation against this changing background.

The Warwick team published an interim report in 1992; their final report, Implementation of English in the National Curriculum, was completed in August 1993 and published in 1994 by the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority (SCAA), which had replaced the NCC in 1993.

The 'Warwick Evaluation' concluded that teachers had 'welcomed National Curriculum English as a workable framework within which their work with pupils can develop', and that it could be 'strengthened best through further support and sharply targeted guidance' (Warwick 1994:126).

It made the following recommendations:

  • practical guidance should be made available on various elements of the English Order;
  • there should be clearer guidance and support for primary teachers in identifying and preparing schemes of work which adequately catered for progression and differentiation as well as coverage of content;
  • there should be clearer guidance on the distinction between teaching English in the context of other subjects and using English as a medium of teaching and learning for all subjects;
  • more consideration should be given to the way time was made available and used for teaching the early stages of learning to read at both Key Stages 1 and 2;
  • the influence of SATs on the teaching of English should be carefully monitored;
  • teachers should be given clear explanations of the terms 'More Advanced Reading Skills', and 'Knowledge about Language'; and
  • the pace of change should be slowed down, allowing time for a period of stability during which teachers could make professional decisions about the best ways of planning and teaching English in the National Curriculum (Warwick 1994:126-7).
Scotland's 5-14 Programme

Meanwhile, as noted in the previous chapter, developments in Scotland, although 'largely motivated by the same political principles', had taken 'a very different direction from that in England' (Fisher 1993a:24).

Scotland's version of the National Curriculum - 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).

National Tests, for pupils in years 4 and 7, had been presented by the government as 'an essential plank of the 5-14 Programme' (Fisher 1993a:25), and introduced in 1990-91, when Michael Forsyth (1954- ) was Minister of State for Scotland. They had faced immediate and widespread opposition: 'almost total parental rejection ... and boycott by significant numbers of teachers' (Fisher 1993a:25). Forsyth, however, had displayed a 'contemptuous and dismissive attitude' to teachers, and it was left to James Douglas-Hamilton (1942- ), who succeeded him in April 1992, to repair the damage done to relations with the profession.

Douglas-Hamilton quickly reopened dialogue with the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), the country's largest teaching union, and publicly acknowledged that the National Tests were seen as 'alien and threatening' (Fisher 1993a:25). He agreed that, in future, teachers would administer tests (in reading, writing and maths) when they felt that a pupil, or group, was ready for them. 'This approach was that which a great many teachers were arguing for all along' (Fisher 1993a:25). The main emphases were on formative and summative assessment; there was

fierce resistance to anything that could be construed as an attempt to establish 'league tables' (Fisher 1993b:71).
Meanwhile, a committee chaired by John Howie 1936-2011), Regius Professor of Maths at the University of St Andrews, recommended that, at secondary level, there should be two new qualifications - a 'Scottish Baccalaureate' (ScotBac), and a 'Scottish Certificate' (ScotCert), replacing the 'Scottish Highers' which had had 'an unbroken and distinguished history' (Fisher 1993a:25) since their introduction in 1888.
ScotBac would be a three-year group award for 40% of pupils over 16. There would be 10 subjects at various levels, with a points system to indicate the overall score. ScotCert would be a two-year, mainly vocational course with a modular structure. It would be aimed at 60% of the 16-plus school population and pupils could leave school at S4 with ScotCert part 1 (Fisher 1993a:25).
Some warmly welcomed the proposals; others warned that they would mean
the end of the comprehensive system and possibly the restoration of the old system of grammar and secondary modern type schools (Fisher 1993a:25).
In the event, Howie's recommendations proved too radical and were not adopted.

In the spring of 1993 Aileen Fisher noted that, for Scottish primary teachers,

the sense of being totally swamped by change has to a large extent been tempered by the fact that much of the change and development is seen as valuable (having been led less by dogma than by consensus, and developed principally by practitioners), and can be paced. ...

The most contentious issue, that of National Testing, has been defused and this can be seen as a demonstration of, and victory for, what the Government had not perhaps foreseen in quite the way it has turned out, the growing sense of partnership in Scotland between schools and parents (Fisher 1993a:26).

By the autumn, however, teacher workload was becoming an issue:
even with the reassurances regarding time-scale, and the abundance of valuable supportive material provided both regionally and nationally, the sector of the profession responsible for pupils in the 5-14 age range is nevertheless feeling overwhelmed and daunted by the prospect of a round of prioritising, target-setting, implementing, establishing criteria for success, evaluating (and always with the dread of perhaps having to go back to the drawing board) and moving on to the next curricular area, for the next eight to ten years (Fisher 1993b:72).
It became clear that planning and implementation of the 5-14 programme could not be done within contractual hours, and that additional resources, particularly increased staffing levels, were unlikely to be forthcoming. At its Annual General Meeting in May 1993, therefore, the Educational Institute of Scotland committed itself to a campaign on teacher workload, including a 'work to contract'.
It remains to be seen what effect this will have on the progress of the National 5-14 Programme. While it has been seen as valuable, not over prescriptive, and in keeping with what most see as educationally valid, there is nevertheless a feeling of 'too much, too soon', and a desperate need for some sort of breathing space (Fisher 1993b:72).

Teacher training

The Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (CATE) had been established in 1984 'to advise the Secretaries of State for Education and Science on the approval of initial teacher training courses in England and Wales'. In order to confer qualified teacher status (QTS), courses had to comply with criteria set out by the Secretary of State, to be inspected by HMI and to be recommended for approval by CATE.

The original criteria concerned the selection of students, the qualifications and experience of staff, course organisation, minimum amounts of time devoted to subjects and methods, along with education and professional studies.

Circular 9/92

Circular 9/92 Initial Teacher Training (Secondary Phase), issued by the DFE and the Welsh Office on 25 June 1992, set out new criteria and procedures for the accreditation of initial teacher training (ITT) courses, based on three main principles:

i. schools should play a much larger part in ITT as full partners of higher education institutions (HEIs);
ii. the accreditation criteria for ITT courses should require HEIs, schools and students to focus on the competences of teaching; and
iii. institutions, rather than individual courses, should be accredited for ITT (DFE/Welsh Office 1992:1).
Since CATE's inception, there had been 'a steady increase of central control over teacher education and training, especially initial teacher education' (Lawton 2005:112) and, while some central control was unobjectionable, the model that had developed out of CATE was wrong because
It was essentially a training model rather than an educational model; the CATE criteria were then transformed into narrow objectives or 'competencies' more suitable for plumbers than for teachers whose classroom behaviour had to be sensitive and flexible (Lawton 2005:112).
1994 Education Act

The 1994 Education Act (21 July) accelerated this process. It made provision for the replacement of CATE by the Teacher Training Agency (TTA) and laid down regulations concerning the conduct of student unions.

For Lawton, the TTA was 'even more objectionable ... its approach was symbolised by its title - it was now concerned with training not education' (Lawton 2005:112).

Summary of the Act

Part I of the Act dealt with the Teacher Training Agency, a 'body corporate' which was to act as a funding agency and to provide 'information and advice on teaching as a career' (Section 1(1)).

Its objectives were:

(a) to contribute to raising the standards of teaching;
(b) to promote teaching as a career;
(c) to improve the quality and efficiency of all routes into the teaching profession;
(d) to secure the involvement of schools in all courses and programmes for the initial training of school teachers;

and generally to secure that teachers are well fitted and trained to promote the spiritual, moral, social, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils and to prepare pupils for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of adult life (1(2)).

It would have 'between eight and twelve members appointed by the Secretary of State' (2(1)); they would include teachers with experience in schools, higher education, or teacher training, (2(2)); denominational schools and special educational needs (2(3)).

The Secretary of State would also

have regard to the desirability of including persons who appear to him to have experience of, and to have shown capacity in, industrial, commercial or financial matters or the practice of any profession (2(4)).
The Teacher Training Agency and the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales would be responsible for the funding of teacher training (Sections 4-11).

The Act permitted schools to provide teacher training:

The governing body of any county, voluntary or maintained special school, or of any grant-maintained school, may -
(a) provide courses of initial training for school teachers, or
(b) join in a partnership or association with other eligible institutions, or (alone or jointly with other eligible institutions) establish a body, for the purpose of providing such courses (12(1)).
However, such school-based courses of initial teacher training would be open 'only to persons holding a degree or equivalent qualification granted by a United Kingdom institution or an equivalent degree or other qualification granted by a foreign institution' (12(2)).

The Act amended previous Acts dealing with grants for teacher training (13) and the qualification of teachers (14); and set out the Agency's duty to provide information (15).

Part II of the Act dealt with Students' Unions. It required the governing bodies of all universities and colleges to

take such steps as are reasonably practicable to secure that any students' union for students at the establishment operates in a fair and democratic manner and is accountable for its finances (22(1)).
In particular,
  • a students' union should have a written constitution, reviewed at least once every five years;
  • a student should have the right not to be a member of the union;
  • officers should be elected by a secret ballot of all members;
  • the financial affairs of the union should be properly conducted and its expenditure monitored by the governing body;
  • allocation of resources to groups or clubs should be fair, set down in writing, and freely accessible to all students;
  • details of affiliation to external organisations should be made public;
  • affiliations should be approved by members annually or more frequently; and
  • students' unions should have clear complaints procedures (22(2)).
Governing bodies were required to
prepare and issue, and when necessary revise, a code of practice as to the manner in which the requirements set out above are to be carried into effect in relation to any students' union for students at the establishment, setting out in relation to each of the requirements details of the arrangements made to secure its observance (22(3)).

Patten's downfall

In January 1994 Patten was reported to be proposing that, after the next general election, all schools should be compelled to become grant-maintained (The Times Educational Supplement 28 January 1994).

Five months later (on 6 June 1994), he told Brian Sherratt that there had been 1,122 'yes' ballots and that there were about a thousand grant-maintained schools 'either operating or they've published their proposals and they're about to start'. It was 'a very successful process', he claimed, though he admitted that the number of ballots had 'reduced in recent months', partly as a result of the government's unpopularity, which meant that 'people aren't so inclined to do things that they know the government want' (quoted in Ribbins and Sherratt 1997:189).

His desire to see an ever-increasing level of selection - presented as specialisation - was all the more extraordinary, given that a survey had just revealed that Scotland, which was entirely comprehensive, was achieving significantly better academic results than England: the proportion of pupils achieving the equivalent of five GCSE A-C grade passes in Scotland was 52 per cent; in England it was 38.4 per cent (Benn and Chitty 1996:164).

Patten lost his job as education secretary in the Cabinet reshuffle of July 1994. In his letter to John Major (quoted in The Independent 20 July 1994), he wrote:

My dear Prime Minister,

When we met last night, you explained that you no longer wished me to remain as Secretary of State for Education, and I am writing to say how glad I have been to serve in Her Majesty's Government.

With my best wishes for the future,
Yours ever,

He stood down as an MP three years later at the 1997 election.

Many in education breathed a sigh of relief at his going. The editors of Forum, Clyde Chitty, Liz Thomson and Nanette Whitbread, commented:

There will be few who regret the eventual fall from grace of the former Secretary of State for Education, John Patten. The most amazing aspect of his tenure was that he managed to stay as long as he did. He will be remembered for his vanity, his arrogance and above all his inability to listen to the advice, wisdom and experience of others. His successor, Gillian Shephard, at least looks as though she is listening and has lost no time in making contact with teacher unions and other groups who had either been ignored, derided or insulted by Patten (Chitty, Thomson and Whitbread 1994:67).

1994-97: Gillian Shephard

Gillian Shephard


Born in Cromer in Norfolk, Gillian Shephard (pictured) was educated at North Walsham Girls' High School and gained an MA in Modern Languages at St Hilda's College Oxford. She served as a teacher and an inspector in Norfolk and worked for Anglia Television for two years.

First elected to Parliament in 1987 as MP for Norwich South West, she held several posts in Margaret Thatcher's last government, and in 1990 became Deputy Chair of the Conservative Party.

Following the 1992 general election she was appointed Secretary of State for Employment, then Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in 1993. She became Secretary of State for Education in July 1994, and oversaw her department's merger with the Department of Employment, to become the Department for Education and Employment (DfEE), in July 1995.

She was made a life peer in 2005 and has held various posts since then: she was Chair of the Council of the Institute of Education until 2015 and Deputy Chair of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission until 2016.

Two tragedies

Two tragedies involving schools occurred during Shephard's period as education secretary.

On 8 December 1995, Philip Lawrence, head teacher of St George's School in Maida Vale, London, was stabbed in the chest when he went to the aid of a 13-year-old pupil who was being attacked by a gang of youths from another school: he died in hospital that evening. The killing raised questions about the safety of pupils and the security of schools.

And on 13 March 1996, Thomas Hamilton shot dead 16 children and a teacher at Dunblane Primary School, near Stirling, before committing suicide. There were widespread demands for greater gun control, as a result of which two Firearms (Amendment) Acts were passed in 1997: the first, by John Major's government; the second, imposing further restrictions, by Tony Blair's administration.

Shephard's priorities

Shephard's time as education secretary was busy: in 1996 alone there were five education acts, a further Dearing Report and two White Papers: Self-Government for Schools and Learning to Compete: education and training for 14-19 year olds. But it was mainly a period of consolidation:

All five Acts were very much in the Thatcher-Major tradition of 'efficiency' in the sense of tidying up the system, and emphasising competition, choice and the market. ... The consolidation process continued in the next year with the Education Act (1997), the last before the general election, which by negotiation with the other parties was unopposed in the House of Commons (Lawton 2005:114).
In the first of two interviews with Brian Sherratt, in October 1994, Shephard explained why she felt a period of consolidation was needed:
at this stage, and for my time here, we've got to do a lot of listening, we have got to devote a fair amount of time to consolidation, to stability, to getting the reforms thoroughly bedded in and refined where we need to, so that they can actually flower. That is a rather dull thing to say, because of course it's always more fun to say, 'I want to turn this or that upside down'. But as far as schools are concerned, I believe we want a period of consolidation and stability, and I believe that's what teachers think too. I'm certain the public think so (quoted in Ribbins and Sherratt 1997:204-5).
There were, however, three areas in which she hoped to initiate developments: higher education, where the need was 'to take stock and also to see what needs to be done to respond to the changes which have been taking place in the sector'; vocational education, where more work was needed on 'the effectiveness and the currency of NVQs, GNVQs ... that side of the work has got to have due emphasis paid to it now, and we need to be certain of where we are going'; and early years education, which she was 'keen to tackle ... while not of course seeking to reduce the diverse provision that already exists' (quoted in Ribbins and Sherratt 1997:205).

Two years later, in March 1996, she told Sherratt:

I came to the Department with a number of objectives: the introduction of full-scale nursery education; a thorough and fundamental review of higher education; an emphasis on the importance of vocational education, and, overall, a very strong emphasis on standards. I am delighted to have been in the position to have introduced a qualification for head teachers. I think the ability of a head teacher is without doubt the most influential factor in improving standards in everything in schools (quoted in Ribbins and Sherratt 1997:214).
Shephard's views

Gillian Shephard was seen as 'someone who knew about education from direct experience of the maintained system' (Lawton 2005:109) and was regarded by many teachers as less confrontational than her predecessor. Her views on education, however, were similar.

In her second interview with Brian Sherratt, in March 1996, she made it clear that she regarded local education authorities as a mixed blessing. Some had used Ofsted reports as a basis for preventive measures to drive up standards; but others had 'allowed schools to get to the stage of failing', which was 'reprehensible and incomprehensible' (quoted in Ribbins and Sherratt 1997:215-6). Asked whether the local authorities had a long-term future, she replied 'I'm not sure' (quoted in Ribbins and Sherratt 1997:216).

She claimed that schools were 'now subject to less central control and interference' (quoted in Ribbins and Sherratt 1997:217). Given all that the Conservatives had done since 1988, it is unlikely that many heads or teachers would have agreed with her.

Like Patten, she was in favour of selection - sometimes disguised as specialisation. She told Sherratt:

If a school wants to specialise in a particular subject, it may want to make corresponding changes in its admissions policy. That is one reason why I'm proposing to give GM schools more control over their admission arrangements (quoted in Ribbins and Sherratt 1997:218).
When John Major told the Social Market Foundation that he was proposing to extend selection (reported in The Times 20 March 1996), Shephard supported him, telling Brian Sherratt that comprehensive schools should
look at anything which they feel helps raise standards and helps them to develop a specialism, perhaps, to build on their own strengths and to accede to parental wishes. And in all those cases, to have a partially selective entry, or indeed fully selective entry, may be the answer. And we are indeed currently completing consultation on pushing up the 10 to 15 per cent that schools can select without having to publish statutory proposals (quoted in Ribbins and Sherratt 1997:221)

1996 White Paper Self-Government for Schools

Shephard's low opinion of local authorities and her support for selection were evident in Self-Government for Schools, published in June 1996, which set out the government's proposals for giving grant-maintained schools more freedom, for extending choice and diversity, and for encouraging the establishment of new grammar schools.

The Foreword to the White paper, signed by Gillian Shephard, John Major and Welsh Secretary William Hague, argued that grant-maintained schools, city technology colleges, technology and language colleges, and the Assisted Places scheme had all 'greatly enriched the diversity of schooling available'. It was now time to 'build on that progress' (DfEE 1996a:iii):

This White Paper proposes new measures to extend self-government for all schools, by giving them more power to decide how to spend their budgets, and by giving grant-maintained schools new freedoms to decide how they should develop. It proposes new ways of extending choice and diversity, by encouraging new grammar schools, by giving all schools more power to select pupils by ability or aptitude, and by helping more schools to specialise in particular subjects (DfEE 1996a:iii).
To extend choice and diversity, the government proposed
  • 'to encourage existing schools to put forward proposals to become grammar schools';
  • to give all grant-maintained schools the power to select up to half their pupils 'by general ability, or by ability or aptitude in particular subjects';
  • to give LEA Technology and Language Colleges the power to select up to 30 per cent of their pupils 'by ability or aptitude in their specialist subjects';
  • to give all other LEA schools the power to select up to a fifth of their pupils 'by ability or aptitude'; and
  • to require all school governing bodies to consult parents annually on whether to introduce an element of selection 'as a means of adding to the diversity of local schooling' (DfEE 1996a:3).
As to the role of the local education authorities, the White Paper noted that the establishment of grant-maintained schools and local management of schools in the LEA sector had shown that 'schools can run their own affairs successfully with little or no LEA involvement'. As a result, there was now 'increasing recognition that it is not the task of LEAs to control or run schools (DfEE 1996a:48).

Nonetheless, there was 'a significant continuing role for LEAs' (DfEE 1996a:49), which included:

  • organising forms of education outside schools;
  • school place planning;
  • handling complaints;
  • allocating and monitoring school budgets;
  • organising support services for individual pupils;
  • promoting quality in schools;
  • coordinating school networks and developing good practice, 'particularly in carrying out national initiatives' (DfEE 1996a:49)

Post-16 education

1996 Dearing Review

During the late 1980s and early 1990s a variety of national bodies and think-tanks from the left to the centre-right had produced 'positive and radical proposals' (Benn and Chitty 1996:15) for vocational education. All acknowledged that Britain had fallen behind internationally and was failing to compete with the rest of the world industrially.

The contrast with Germany was particularly striking, as Howard Glennerster noted:

We have the same numbers of university-level qualified people in the population but less than half the proportion of vocationally qualified. In 1988/9 British trainees graduating in mechanical engineering at craft level numbered 2,400 while the number of Germans was 35,000 (Glennerster 1998:53).
Simple expansion of the number of places on courses was not the answer, however:
The opportunity cost of training is high in Britain and the rewards relatively poor. The private rates of return, future earnings gained compared to the cost of earnings lost in taking lower-level training, are so poor in the UK that young people's lack of interest in taking them is not surprising (Glennerster 1998:53).
In an attempt to address these problems, Gillian Shephard invited Sir Ron Dearing to conduct a review of the existing system of post-16 qualifications, with a view to encouraging greater parity of esteem between academic and vocational qualifications. In her letter to Sir Ron (10 April 1995) she asked him to have particular regard to the need to
  • maintain the rigour of General Certificate of Education (GCE) Advanced (A) levels;
  • continue to build on the current development of General National Vocational Qualifications (GNVQs) and National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs);
  • increase participation and achievement in education and training and minimise wastage;
  • prepare young people for work and higher education; and
  • secure maximum value for money (Dearing 1996:1).
Supported by a team drawn from the Department for Education and Employment (DfEE), the National Council for Vocational Qualifications (NCVQ), the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority (SCAA) and the Further Education Development Agency (FEDA), Dearing produced his Review of Qualifications for 16-19 Year Olds which was published by SCAA in March 1996. It made 198 recommendations.

It began by noting that there were 'at least 16,000' qualifications for 16-19 year olds (Dearing 1996:11), and it argued for the creation of a national framework of qualifications embracing the academic and the vocational at four levels: entry, foundation, intermediate and advanced (Dearing 1996:12). This framework, 'besides enabling everyone to understand the levels of the various qualifications', would have 'the important purpose of making plain that academic, applied and vocational qualifications are of equal value' (Dearing 1996:14).

The Review called for greater cooperation between the regulatory and awarding bodies, bringing together the functions of the NCVQ and SCAA (Dearing 1996:28). The government should 'encourage awarding bodies to come together across the binary line to create new joint arrangements for awarding the GCSE, A level and GNVQ' (Dearing 1996:34).

The importance of 'work-based routes' and of the opportunity for work experience, both of which gave 'greater relevance to study for many young people', had been stressed by many respondents to the Review (Dearing 1996:36). The Youth Training scheme, established in 1990, catered for 280,000 16- to 19-year-olds in 1995; while Modern Apprenticeships, launched nationally in 1995, had funding for up to 60,000 16- and 17-year-olds in 1996-97 (Dearing 1996:39).

The National Record of Achievement (NRA), introduced in 1991, had been intended as 'a tool for lifelong learning' and designed to help individuals 'plan their future development in education, employment or training' (Dearing 1996:41). Dearing recommended that 'The NRA should be reviewed and relaunched, possibly under a new name which would reflect its wider role in personal development' (Dearing 1996:44).

There was an urgent need to improve key skills, particularly those of 'communication and the application of number' (Dearing 1996:46):

all schools, colleges, and training bodies that receive public funding to provide education and training for 16-19 year olds (including Youth Training, the new National Traineeships and National Entry level provision, and Modern Apprenticeships) should provide opportunities for all young people to develop these skills and to have them assessed (Dearing 1996:54).
Dearing called for the creation of a National Advanced Diploma (Dearing 1996:68), at the heart of which would be 'two full A levels, or a full Advanced GNVQ, or a full NVQ at level 3, or agreed equivalents' (Dearing 1996:68).

There was a need for more rigour and coherence in vocational qualifications, including GNVQs and NVQs.

For A Levels, the need was for greater comparability: between subjects, between awarding bodies, and between syllabuses: 'The sheer number of syllabuses, and in some cases, options within syllabuses, makes it difficult to ensure that there are consistent standards' (Dearing 1996:86). There were also concerns about changes in standards over time: did the rise in achievement reflect 'improvements in teaching and a rising level of achievement by students', or did it reflect 'a depreciation of the standards of the qualification'? (Dearing 1996:89). A study was being undertaken by Ofsted and SCAA but results were not yet available.

Advanced Supplementary courses (AS Levels) had been introduced in 1987 as a way of encouraging students to broaden their A level studies. Take-up had remained low, however: figures for 1995 showed 'a decline in entries, to fewer than 50,000 for the whole of England, Wales and Northern Ireland' (Dearing 1996:104). A 'reformulated' AS Level - renamed 'Advanced Subsidiary' - should therefore be developed 'as a means of encouraging greater breadth of study in full-time 16-19 education and training and to reduce wastage for students who do not proceed to the full A level' (Dearing 1996:107).

The Review made a number of recommendations relating to four groups which it said had been poorly served in the past: lower attainers, under-achievers, those with learning difficulties, and those with exceptional ability; it stressed the need for better careers education and guidance; and recommended that there should be monitoring of candidate achievement by gender, racial origin, socioeconomic group, disability and learning difficulty, to ensure greater accessibility.


Dearing had produced a thorough, wide-ranging and detailed examination of qualifications for 16- to 19-year-olds, and made a large number of recommendations to improve rigour and coherence and achieve greater parity of esteem.

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).
Sadly, it was not to be. Although Gillian Shephard acknowledged that 'we are very far from having a parity of esteem between vocational and academic routes' (quoted in Ribbins and Sherratt 1997:215), she argued that
what is essential is that the rigour is retained in A level. Indeed that A level is retained. But that we give the opportunity to broaden what can be offered at the same time. But rigour is all-important - we cannot leave it (quoted in Ribbins and Sherratt 1997:215).
1996 White Paper: Learning to Compete

In the event, the Major administration chose to ignore most of Dearing's advice and made it clear that

it would not be changing the segregated academic education of the 16-19 group. It would stick to the separate 'A' level examinations in England and Higher Certificate in Scotland (or some new version of these). The qualifications system itself was not being unified; academic and vocational courses were not being integrated; and institutions were not being reorganised into a coherent system - though government initiatives hoped to make it look as though this was happening (Benn and Chitty 1996:17).
It was another missed opportunity - and a particularly disappointing one, given that the number of students staying on after 16 had risen since the introduction of the common GCSE exam in 1986.

In her Foreword, Gillian Shephard described Learning to Compete: Education and Training for 14-19 Year Olds as the 'first ever White Paper on the education and training of 14-19 year olds in England'. Its publication (in December 1996) was therefore 'an important event' (DfEE 1996b:2).

She went on:

It sets out the Government's vision of the education and training world we shall need to meet the demands of the next century, and an exciting and challenging programme of action to take us there. It sharpens our commitment to a more coherent and effective framework for learning in all its forms, full time and part time, academic and vocational, education and training. It establishes a clear entitlement for all 14-19 year olds to high quality learning which helps them make a successful progression into work, whether directly or via Higher Education; encourages further improvement of their skills in the future; and meets employers' needs. It explains what the Government will be doing with its partners to ensure that as many young people as possible make the most of what is available - including those who stumbled at the first attempt (DfEE 1996b:2).
The White Paper set out the government's 'ambitious vision for first class 14-19 learning based on high participation, high attainment and effective progression into further learning and work' (DfEE 1996b:3). Its priorities were
to help young people make better choices in the light of the developing labour market, to improve all 14-19 learning as a preparation for working life, and to tackle under-achievement; thereby driving up attainment to meet the National Targets for Education and Training (DfEE 1996b:3).
To improve participation and achievement, a new Learning Credits entitlement for all young people aged 14-21 would be introduced from September 1997; a Charter for Learning, to follow in 1998, would 'explain to young people their Learning Credits entitlement and how best to use it' (DfEE 1996b:3).

All secondary schools would be able to offer Part One GNVQ qualifications to 14-16 year olds from September 1998; and work was already in hand to design new A Level and AS qualifications and a revised model for all GNVQs. Further reviews should ensure that, by April 1998, all vocational qualifications should be 'clear, up-to-date, meet industry requirements, and [be] subject to robust assessment' (DfEE 1996b:4).

There would be National Traineeships for 16- to 19-year-olds and a 'Relaunch' strategy to 'identify disaffected 14-19 year olds and bring them back into learning' (DfEE 1996b:4).

A new external inspection regime for work-based training providers would be introduced in 1997-98 as one of the measures to improve quality assurance and performance information.

The White Paper ended with a 'challenge to action':

The Government has set out its vision, priorities, and plans for action with its key partners. It has new proposals to help drive towards the National Targets. It challenges young people - and employers and providers - to assess their own performance in key areas and commit themselves to excellence in 14-19 learning (DfEE 1996b:49).


1996 Education (Student Loans) Act

The 1996 Education (Student Loans) Act (29 April) amended the 1990 Education (Student Loans) Act to allow the Secretary of State to subsidise private sector student loans.

1996 Education (Scotland) Act

Part I of the 1996 Education (Scotland) Act (18 July) provided for the establishment of 'a body corporate to be known as the Scottish Qualifications Authority' (Section 1(1)), whose members would be appointed by the Secretary of State (1(3). Its functions were to include devising and monitoring qualifications (2), accreditation (3), quality assurance (4) and advising the Secretary of State (5). The Scottish Examination Board and the Scottish Vocational Education Council were abolished (Section 19)

Part II empowered the Secretary of State to make grants for the education of children under school age; Part III dealt with elections to School Boards; Part IV allowed the Secretary of State to 'make provision for the testing and assessment of pupils undertaking the first or second year of secondary education in public or self-governing schools' (32).

1996 Nursery Education and Grant-Maintained Schools Act

Nursery education for all 3- and 4-year-olds whose parents wanted it had been promised in the manifestos of both main parties at successive general elections since the 1970s.

Progress had been slow, however. By 1995-1996 there were places for around 60 per cent of the age group. 'This was still a long way from the targets set two and a half decades earlier. It was also well below the levels in many other European countries' (Glennerster 1998:43).

The 1996 Nursery Education and Grant-Maintained Schools Act (24 July) empowered the Secretary of State to 'make arrangements for the making of grants in respect of nursery education' (Section 1(1)).

Grants could be payable to local education authorities 'in respect of nursery education provided at schools maintained by them', and to 'authorities and other persons of such descriptions as may be prescribed in respect of nursery education provided by them' (1(3)).

Providers of nursery education for children with special educational needs could be required to 'have regard' to the provisions of the code of practice imposed by the Education Act 1993 (section 157(2)).

Along with the Act, Shephard announced the introduction of a voucher scheme for nursery education. She told the Commons:

The introduction of the nursery education voucher ... builds on the influence that parents have gained under our policies. It reinforces the key role of parents in choosing the right setting for their children ... It gives them the opportunity to influence the education provided (Hansard House of Commons 22 January 1996 Vol 270 Col 25).
And in her 1996 interview with Brian Sherratt, she explained the reasoning behind the nursery voucher scheme:
For far too long people have been emphasising the interest of the 'institution', and indeed the debate surrounding the introduction of vouchers shows that we haven't got very far along the road of separating out the interests of providers from those of the customer, which is very regrettable. The debate over nursery vouchers has certainly focused attention on that. It is quite clear that the Opposition and many local education authorities are still utterly absorbed by the interest of providers in institutions. Now the world has moved on entirely from that in every other respect, in every other sphere, and why not education? And, therefore, this introduction of vouchers is seminal, it's very important (quoted in Ribbins and Sherratt 1997:214).
She hoped to introduce a similar type of scheme - 'learning credits' - for post-16 education: an independent study had been conducted and its findings were out for consultation. Such a scheme, she said, would be 'very much more complex because we wouldn't be starting from scratch, as we are with nursery vouchers, but nevertheless it could work' (quoted in Ribbins and Sherratt 1997:214).

Her desire to extend such schemes was doomed, however: New Labour won the 1997 election and abolished her nursery vouchers.

Section 7 of the 1996 Act concerned borrowing by grant-maintained schools. It allowed the governors

to borrow such sums as the governing body think fit and, in connection with such borrowing, to grant any mortgage, charge or other security over any land or other property of the governing body (7(1)).
Such borrowing, however, 'may only be exercised with the written consent of the Secretary of State' (7(3)).

1996 Education Act

Like the 1993 Education Act, the 1996 Education Act (24 July) was another huge piece of legislation. Indeed, at 557 pages containing 583 sections and 40 schedules, it was twice as long as the 1993 Act.

Unlike the 1993 Act, however, it made few new provisions but consolidated into a single Act previous legislation from the 1944 Education Act onwards. Indeed, it

tidied up to such an extent that there was virtually nothing left of the 1944 Education Act which until 1988 had been the key to the post-war education service (Lawton 2005:114).
1996 School Inspections Act

The 1996 School Inspections Act (24 July) consolidated the provisions of the Education (Schools) Act 1992 and Part V of the Education Act 1993.

It covered:

  • the arrangements for HM Inspectorate in England and Wales (Sections 1-6) and for the registration of inspectors (7-10);
  • the procedure for inspections (11-22);
  • the inspection of religious education (23);
  • the provision of inspection services by local education authorities (24-25);
  • arrangements regarding schools requiring special measures (26-30), including the establishment of education associations (31-41); and
  • the inspection of computer records (42).
1997 Education Act

The passage through Parliament of the 1997 Education Act (21 March) was affected by the forthcoming general election, which the Tories were expected to lose. However, it was still a wide-ranging Act.

Part I contained a single section providing for the extension of the assisted places scheme to primary schools:

In section 479 of the Education Act 1996 (the assisted places scheme), in subsection (2) (by virtue of which a 'participating school' must be one providing secondary education), the words 'providing secondary education' shall be omitted.

Part II (Sections 2-9) dealt with behaviour in schools. Governors were given new responsibilities in relation to discipline and behaviour (section 2); teachers were permitted to use 'such force as is reasonable' to restrain pupils (4), and to detain pupils after school without parents' consent (5). The limit for periods of exclusion was raised from 15 to 45 days (6); and local authorities were required to prepare plans for dealing with children with behavioural difficulties (9).

Part III, dealing with school admissions, limited the right to refuse admission to partially-selective schools (10); amended the admission rules for children who had been permanently excluded from two or more schools (11-12); and allowed schools to require parents to sign home-school partnership agreements (13-14).

Part IV provided for the introduction of 'baseline assessment schemes' (15-18); and allowed the secretary of state to require governors to set annual performance targets for pupils (19).

Part V provided for the establishment of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) and a corresponding body for Wales, replacing the National Council for Vocational Qualifications (NCVQ) and the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority (SCAA), which were abolished (21-36). The secretary of state was given the power to veto courses leading to external qualifications (37).

Part VI gave the secretary of state the power to require the Chief Inspector to arrange for the inspection of local authorities (38-41).

Part VII required that all pupils at 'the relevant phase of their education' were to be provided with a programme of careers education (43-46).

Part VIII dealt with various miscellaneous and general matters, including: the governance of pupil referral units (47-48); access to pupils by non-employed adults (49); the costs of teachers' premature retirement (50); the definition of 'school' (51); and the compulsory school age (52).

Higher education

1997 Dearing Review

In May 1996 Gillian Shephard - together with the Secretaries of State for Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, and with cross-party support - appointed a committee chaired by Ron Dearing

to make recommendations on how the purposes, shape, structure, size and funding of higher education, including support for students, should develop to meet the needs of the United Kingdom over the next 20 years (Dearing 1997:1).
The Committee's report, Higher Education in the learning society, was published in July 1997, two months after Labour had come to power. It made 93 recommendations, including:
  • the provision of higher education should be expanded to allow for widening participation, particularly among women, ethnic minorities, and students with disabilities;
  • there should be a focus on students' learning skills;
  • there should be development and increased use of Communications and Information Technology;
  • there should be diversity of provision of higher education;
  • public spending on higher education should increase with the growth in Gross Domestic Product;
  • public funding of institutions should take more account of student choice;
  • the government should review how students repay loans;
  • further reviews of higher education should take place every ten years (Dearing 1997:370-382).

Middle school closures

As noted in chapter 12, the development of three-tier systems, involving first (or lower) schools, middle schools, and upper schools, had been extraordinarily rapid during the 1970s, reaching a high point in the early 1980s. But they began to disappear during the late 1980s, a process which became more rapid in the 1990s.

David Crook has argued that, in addition to a lack of sustained party political support, there were four main reasons for the demise of the middle schools:

  • they had different age ranges and were accordingly deemed 'primary' or 'secondary', so they suffered from an 'identity problem';
  • their staffs were often a mixture of former primary and former secondary teachers, so they suffered from a clash of what Hargreaves had described as 'two cultural inheritances' (Hargreaves 1986:198);
  • their financial viability was questioned - especially in the light of falling rolls (ie fewer pupils); and
  • their educational justification became problematic following the introduction of the National Curriculum, whose key stages they straddled (Crook 2008:122-123).
The last two of these factors proved decisive.

Falling rolls made the middle schools more expensive to run: the obvious solution was to close them. School closures are usually unpopular with parents, who prefer their children to attend nearby schools rather than having to travel long distances. This did not apply in the case of middle schools, however: when they closed, their pupils simply went to the local first school (which became a primary school) and then on to the local secondary school (the age range of which was extended from 13-18 to 11-18). The result was that the primary and secondary schools became bigger, resulting in cost savings.

The National Curriculum's Key Stages 1-3 (covering ages 5-7, 7-11 and 11-14) created a problem for schools in three-tier systems, because they straddled these age boundaries. First and middle schools had to liaise over which parts of the Key Stage 2 curriculum they would teach; and middle and upper schools had to agree on which parts of the Key Stage 3 curriculum they would teach.

Bearing in mind that an upper school might have three or four feeder middle schools, each teaching different areas in different subjects at Key Stage 3, and that a middle school might have six or even more feeder first schools all teaching different areas in different subjects at Key Stage 2, it quickly became clear that this was a logistical nightmare. (As a middle school head, I had some experience of it myself!) It was much simpler to have the transfer between schools at a break between Key Stages, at age 11.

Many parents and teachers, however, liked the ethos of middle schools and wanted to keep them.

When the debate about the future of Oxford's middle schools began in the early 1990s, one of the arguments used by their supporters was that national research showed a drop in attainment in the year after children moved into secondary schools. This drop did not appear to occur when the children stayed on in middle schools for an extra couple of years. It was also argued that children aged 11-12 fared better socially in smaller middle schools than in larger comprehensives. Despite these arguments, and a strong campaign by middle-school parents and teachers, Oxford's middle schools were closed in 2003.

Nationally, there are now (2017) around 110 middle schools in 17 local authorities.

(For more on middle schools see chapters 11, 12, 15 and 17 of this history and the website of the National Middle Schools Forum.)

Labour in opposition

Neil Kinnock resigned as Labour leader following the party's defeat in the 1992 general election and was replaced by the Scottish Labour MP John Smith (1938-1994) who died suddenly two years later on 12 May 1994. Each had sought to make Labour more electable by pursuing centre-left policies.

Tony Blair

Following John Smith's death, Tony Blair (1953- ) (pictured) was elected party leader on 21 July 1994.

Blair, whose father was a university lecturer, had been educated at the Chorister School in Durham and then Fettes College in Edinburgh. He read Law at St John's College Oxford, where the Anglican priest Peter Thomson, a fellow student, fostered his interest in religion and left-wing politics; and in 1980 he married Cherie Booth, a Roman Catholic.

He entered Parliament in 1983 as MP for Sedgefield, a newly-created constituency in County Durham. In his maiden speech in the House of Commons, on 6 July, he said:

I am a Socialist not through reading a textbook that has caught my intellectual fancy, nor through unthinking tradition, but because I believe that, at its best, Socialism corresponds most closely to an existence that is both rational and moral. It stands for co-operation, not confrontation; for fellowship, not fear. It stands for equality, not because it wants people to be the same but because only through equality in our economic circumstances can our individuality develop properly (Hansard House of Commons 6 July 1983 Vol 45 Col 316).
He was appointed shadow Home Secretary by John Smith in 1992.

On becoming party leader two years later, he quickly set about taking the party further towards the political centre, rebranding it 'New Labour'. In April 1995 he persuaded the party to scrap Clause 4 of its constitution and so abandon its historic commitment to public ownership of key industries.

Institute of Public Policy Research

Many of the ideas which underpinned New Labour's policies - including those on education - were influenced by the Institute of Public Policy Research (lPPR), which had been launched in 1988 by Labour-supporting businessman Clive (Lord) Hollick (1945- ).

Its first chair was Tessa Blackstone (1942- ) (pictured), Master of Birkbeck College and a former chair of the Fabian Society; its first director was social reformer James Cornford (1935-2011), previously director of the Nuffield Foundation; one of its first full-time researchers was David Miliband (1965- ), who would later become head of Blair's policy unit and then a junior education minister.

Between 1990 and 1994, lPPR published a number of 'very important policy and discussion documents on education' (Lawton 2005:114). One series, the Education and Training Papers, included:

  • A British Baccalaureate: Ending the Division Between Education and Training (David Finegold, 1990), which proposed a new examination structure offering 16- to 19-year-olds a mixture of academic and vocational courses, together with political and social education and community and work experience;
  • Markets, Politics and Education: Beyond the Education Reform Act (David Miliband, 1991), which did not dismiss the notion of an education market entirely, but argued that it should be regulated so as to avoid the creation of winners and losers; and
  • A National Curriculum for All: Laying the Foundations for Success (Philip O'Hear and John White, 1991), which criticised the national curriculum as it had developed since 1988 and set out proposals for a better alternative.
In addition to this series of papers, IPPR published several longer studies on education.

Education: A Different Vision (1993), edited by Professor Ted Wragg (1938-2005) and former NUT General Secretary Fred Jarvis (1924-2020), sought to counter the argument implicit in Patten's 1992 White Paper Choice and Diversity that 'the market will provide'.

In her introduction to Educational Reform and its Consequences (1994), Professor Sally Tomlinson (1936- ), an adviser to shadow education secretaries Jack Straw and Ann Taylor, suggested that the educational reforms of the 1980s and 1990s had 'not been notable for their grounding in research findings', and that 'a large Parliamentary majority has enabled government to push through policies whose nature and possible outcomes were unresearched' (Tomlinson 1994:2).

She went on:

Indeed, Ministers of Education have been at pains to distance themselves from research, even that which they themselves commissioned, when the results did not accord with ideological preference. The problematic implementation of many of the reforms, notably those relating to curriculum and assessment, parental choice, the impact of market competition on schools and pupils, and the effects of the erosion of local democracy, is largely because research on these issues was not commissioned, or research results were used only in support of preconceived policies (Tomlinson 1994:2).
Instead, she argued,
The new vision must be built on the notion of genuine democracy and transcend individualism, recognising that individuals can and must come together as a society. They can and must engage in public debate over economic, social and political arrangements if they want to reconstruct the values, beliefs and practices of their society. The system of education will express and create the values and framework of an educated democracy (Tomlinson 1994:5).
Denis Lawton suggests that
The importance of IPPR in reviving and re-presenting Labour education ideas should not be under-estimated. Many of the documents included socialist moral values reformulated as 'a new vision' opposed to the Tory market view (Lawton 2005:117).
Some of Labour's own education policy papers of the time were influenced by aspects of IPPR thinking. Today's Education and Training: Tomorrow's Skills, for example, produced in 1991 by Jack Straw and Tony Blair, then shadow employment secretary, was 'a reasonable paper ... close to IPPR thinking' (Lawton 2005:117). Others reflected an interest - shared by both Jack Straw and David Blunkett - in research on 'effective schools'.

Shadow education secretaries

Labour's shadow education secretaries during this period were:

13 July 1987Jack Straw (1946- )
18 July 1992Ann Taylor (1947- )
20 October 1994David Blunkett (1947- )

Jack Straw

Jack Straw (pictured) attended Brentwood School in Essex and then read Law at Leeds. In 1969 he was elected President of the National Union of Students.

Two years later, as a Labour councillor for Islington, he became a member of ILEA and was elected its Deputy Leader in 1973. He entered Parliament as MP for Blackburn in 1979.

As shadow education secretary, he repeatedly challenged the Conservative government over its policies, calling for an end to eleven-plus selection and criticising plans for grant-maintained schools.

Ann Taylor

Ann Taylor (pictured) attended Bolton School and then read Politics and History at the University of Bradford.

She entered Parliament in 1974 as MP for Bolton West, was Assistant Whip in James Callaghan's government, and held several opposition front-bench posts, before being appointed shadow education secretary on 18 July 1992.

She 'performed well in her Shadow Education role: she was committed to education, trusted by teachers and other educationists' (Lawton 2005:118).

Opening doors to a learning society

Under Ann Taylor's leadership, a green paper on education was prepared for consideration at the party's 1994 annual conference (she is believed to have written most of it herself). The final version of Opening doors to a learning society was published on 26 July 1994. It declared that Labour would 'put a stop to the bewildering range of experiments currently being carried out on the nation's children and the institutions which serve them' (Labour Party 1994:3). However,

that cannot mean a static system; however fatigued we are with the pace of change, we cannot simply freeze our education system where it is now. There must be change - constructive change, based on consent (Labour Party 1994:3).
Labour's education policy would be guided by five principles: access for all, quality and equity, continuity, accountability, and partnership. Each principle was 'justified in terms of values - not just market choice' (Lawton 2005:119). Of the last, the green paper said:
A civilised society cannot operate when its education system is undermined by confrontation. Policies should be determined after consultation and decision making should be shared. Central government should create the framework for education whilst the local delivery of services must be the responsibility of those who are democratically and professionally accountable. Professionals must be recognised as such. Parents must be actively involved in their children's educational lives. Last, but not least, the wishes and needs of pupils themselves must be recognised and respected, and they must be central to this partnership. Confrontation must be replaced by co-operation (Labour Party 1994:5).
Although Taylor herself was an enthusiastic supporter of comprehensive schools, the document was somewhat ambivalent on the question of selective secondary education:
Labour upholds the comprehensive principle that each and every child is entitled to the best education we can provide. We will ensure that this principle is extended in practice (Labour Party 1994:9).
The 'prescriptive national syllabus' would be replaced with 'a framework national curriculum that applies to all schools'; and instead of 'overburdensome and educationally flawed tests', there would be 'assessment procedures that have the confidence of parents and teachers alike' (Labour Party 1994:14). Labour would promote 'an integrated and inclusive approach' for children with special needs (Labour Party 1994:19); and there would be 'mainstream education, training, or training in work for two years after 16' for every young person (Labour Party 1994:22).

The party's strategy for locally managed schools would be 'based on the principles of subsidiarity, local accountability, and genuine partnership' (Labour Party 1994:27). There would therefore be 'a thorough review of all educational quangos', which had 'escalated in number and have been packed with Conservative acolytes'; the Funding Agency for Schools would be abolished; and all schools - including city technology colleges and grant-maintained schools - would be brought within 'the local democratic framework' (Labour Party 1994:27).

Labour would end the Assisted Places Scheme, 'which subsidises the independent fee-paying sector at the expense of the public sector and denies equality of opportunity' (Labour Party 1994:27).

Opening doors to a learning society had been 'the outcome of a wide-ranging and extensive consultative exercise' which had demonstrated Taylor's 'energy and commitment' (Chitty 2013:67).

Writing in Forum (Spring 1994), Taylor suggested that her green paper was

the start of an exceptional type of consultation which has not been seen since the preparation of the 1944 Education Act. For the first time for years all those involved in education can have their say in developing a new consensus to guide policy making (Taylor 1994:4).
The paper was 'not a statement of policies to be imposed by politicians' but rather 'a statement of principles and values that should guide policy making to ensure a high quality education for all' (Taylor 1994:4).

Education, she argued, was 'not only about the learning of blocks of facts between the ages of 5 and 16' (Taylor 1994:5):

It is about developing personal skills and the self-confidence and self-esteem to apply them. It is about the spirit of enquiring and challenging ideas, uncomfortable though that can be for politicians as well as others.

The Labour Party does not wish to claim to have all the solutions or a monopoly on wisdom. We are committed to listening to all those involved in and concerned about education. We want to provide a lead in the development of a new consensus (Taylor 1994:5).

In the same number of Forum, Liz Thomson, Deputy Principal at Bishop Grosseteste College in Lincoln, suggested that
There is much within this Green Paper which is worthy of further debate, discussion and development. The emphasis on consultation and consensus is to be welcomed; particularly after the long, bleak years of Tory autocracy and assertion. However, there will be those who say that consensus is not enough. The exploratory nature of much of the document has already been criticised. Let us hope that the consultation process will result in a clear formulation and assertion of an education policy which is fit for those it is designed to serve (Thomson 1994:29).
For Denis Lawton, the document was 'a serious and successful attempt to combine Labour Party ethical values and principles with the needs of a modernising society' (Lawton 2005:120).

And in an interview with Clyde Chitty in 2012, Sally Tomlinson argued that the green paper was

a genuine attempt to marry 'Old Labour' beliefs in comprehensive education with new ideas related to pedagogy and the role of teachers - an attempt to champion traditional Labour values in a modern setting (quoted in Chitty 2013:69).
Tony Blair, however, was unhappy with the document. At the press conference held to mark its publication, he made it 'quite clear ... that he did not share its general approach' (Chitty 2013:69). He emphasised the need to raise standards in state education, and was 'careful to avoid endorsing traditional party pledges to abolish the existing grammar schools in England and Wales and limit financial help for the independent sector' (Chitty 2013:70).

Three months later, at the party's annual conference in October 1994, both Blair and Taylor 'avoided making specific policy promises' (Chitty 2013:70). They said nothing about grant-maintained schools, school league tables or national testing at ages 7, 11, and 14. Instead, Blair claimed that education would be 'the passion of his administration', and that he would not 'tolerate children going to run-down schools, with bad discipline, low standards, mediocre expectations or poor teachers'. 'If schools are bad', he declared, 'they should be made to be good. And if teachers can't teach, then they shouldn't be teaching at all' (The Times Educational Supplement 7 October 1994 quoted in Chitty 2013:70).

By now, Taylor was aware that her position as Labour's education spokesperson was under threat, 'largely on account of her broad support for comprehensive education' (Chitty 2013:67). And just two weeks after the conference, on 20 October 1994, she was replaced as shadow education secretary by David Blunkett.

Blair's preference for choice rather than equality was illustrated by his decision to send his son to the Oratory School, a Roman Catholic grant-maintained school. For some Labour MPs and supporters, this amounted to hypocrisy (The Observer 4 December 1994).

Denis Lawton argues that 1990-94 were 'good years for Labour educational ideas', as the party 'came very close to producing a framework of education policies that were based on established socialist values and principles in a modernising context' (Lawton 2005:120). After 1994, however, there was a greater concern to adopt policies which it was thought would appeal to 'the educational prejudices of middle-class voters' (Lawton 2005:120).

David Blunkett

Blind from birth, David Blunkett (pictured) grew up in a deprived area of Sheffield. When he was twelve, his father died as a result of an industrial accident, and the family was left in poverty.

He was educated at schools for the blind, and went on to read politics at the University of Sheffield. In 1970, while still a student, he became the youngest-ever Sheffield City councillor; ten years later, he was leader of the Council.

Under his leadership, the Council opposed many of the Thatcher government's policies, supporting the miners in their 1984-5 strike, declaring Sheffield a nuclear-free zone, and refusing to set a budget in protest at rate-capping.

He entered Parliament in 1987 as MP for Sheffield Brightside, becoming shadow health secretary in July 1992.

His appointment as shadow education secretary in October 1994 was 'a significant turning point for Labour education' (Lawton 2005:120). He was

much more pragmatic in his approach to education, and more concerned to link education with economic efficiency. He also found it possible ... to compromise when faced with right-wing ideas from Blair and his advisers. Although Blunkett had a strong sense of social justice and the importance of quality education for all, he was very critical of teachers and shared some Tory suspicions about 'the educational establishment' (Lawton 2005:120-121).
His low opinion of teachers, and of the National Union of Teachers in particular, may have been a reflection of his 'unhappy experience as a frustrated blind pupil in the state system' (Chitty 2013:70).

According to The Observer (30 October 1994), he believed in 'old-fashioned' discipline and had little sympathy with 'progressive' educational theories. He was therefore 'quite prepared to rethink Labour's education policy' (Chitty 2013:70) and, just a month after becoming shadow education secretary, he announced that a Labour government would publish league tables of schools' examination results.

Diversity and excellence: A new partnership for schools

In January 1995, David Miliband, Tony Blair's head of party policy, invited Blunkett, adviser Conor Ryan, and educationist Michael Barber (1955- ) to a seminar in Tony Blair's office in the House of Commons. It was at this meeting that Barber suggested that the party's education policy should be based on the theme that 'standards matter more than structures' (quoted in Chitty 2013:71). This approach appealed to Blair and Blunkett because it allowed them to ignore the thorny question of what to do about the remaining grammar schools, and to focus instead on standards in all secondary schools.

The result of this and other discussions was a new policy document, Diversity and excellence: A new partnership for schools, published in June 1995. Its title, argues Clyde Chitty, was 'very meaningful': it 'would not have seemed out of place heading a Conservative education white paper' (Chitty 2013:72).

It began by stating four principles which would govern Labour's approach to the organisation of schooling:

  • schools are responsible for managing themselves;
  • accountability must exist locally to parents and the community as well as nationally to central government;
  • funding must be fair and open; and
  • admission procedures must be fair, with no return to selection through the 11-plus, and with sensible planning for efficient use of resources (Labour Party 1995:1).

It proposed that all existing categories of state schools should be replaced by just three types of school:

  • community schools, based on the existing county schools;
  • aided schools, based on the existing church schools (voluntary-aided and voluntary-controlled); and
  • foundation schools, which would 'offer a new bridge between the powers available to secular and church schools' (Labour Party 1995:15).
Foundation schools would allow
greater flexibility and devolution within the local management system as part of the local democratic framework. Building on voluntary controlled schools, the foundation schools would have an opportunity to develop within the local education system the ethos which many GM schools feel they have developed (Labour Party 1995:15).
It was hoped that most of the grant-maintained schools, specialist schools, and city technology colleges would seek foundation-school status.

As to the vexed question of what to do with the remaining 163 grammar schools, the document reiterated the party's commitment to lifelong learning and comprehensive education, but made it clear that a Labour government would not deal with the grammar schools on a national basis:

Our opposition to academic selection at 11 has always been clear. But while we have never supported grammar schools in their exclusion of children by examination, change can only come through local agreement. Such change in the character of the school would only follow a clear demonstration of support from the parents affected by such decisions (Labour Party 1995:15).
Diversity and excellence was criticised by many on the left. Former Labour deputy leader Roy Hattersley argued that
by building its policy around different classes of school, Labour is clearly endorsing selection ... once a hierarchy of secondary schools is established, those perceived as 'best' always receive more than their proper share of national resources (The Independent 22 June 1995 quoted in Chitty 2013:73).
At Labour's annual conference in October 1995, delegates expressed anger at the document's failure to deal with the remaining grammar schools and called for them to be incorporated into the comprehensive system. On 4 October, at the end of a 'somewhat acrimonious debate' (Chitty 2013:73), Blunkett famously sought to placate his critics by insisting:
Read my lips. No selection, either by examination or interview, under a Labour government (quoted in Chitty 2013:73).
His strategy worked, and the revolt collapsed - 'on the clear understanding that its chief purpose had already been achieved' (Chitty 2013:73). As we shall see in the next chapter, that was certainly not the case.

Divergent views

Some Labour left-wingers felt that Tony Blair had moved the party too far to the centre. Michael Barratt Brown and Ken Coates, for example, both longstanding Labour members, considered that:

There is a desperate desire in the country to be rid of the Tories but a growing unease at what appears to be on offer in their place. The alternative has to be discerned through a mist of vacuous aspiration and moralising sentiment and does not seem to amount to anything very real (Barratt Brown and Coates 1996:1).
In education, the softening of the party's attitude towards the remaining grammar schools was part of a concern to 'cater for middle-class voters' (Lawton 2005:120) on the part of Blair and his advisers, who had begun 'to take a particular interest in education and to interfere with the details of policy-making' (Lawton 2005:120). David Blunkett, who wanted the post of education secretary, was prepared to go along with them.

However, some Labour-supporting educationists were becoming 'increasingly apprehensive about Blair's willingness to disagree with the views of the majority of the professionals in the education world' (Lawton 2005:120).

Among those who continued to express wholehearted support for comprehensive schools were Richard Pring, director of Oxford University's Department of Educational Studies, and his colleague, Geoffrey Walford. They organised a series of fourteen lectures under the title Affirming the Comprehensive Ideal, which were given in Oxford during 1996. The lectures (later published as a book) were the outcome of a meeting between Pring and Peter Cornall, former Chief Inspector for Cornwall, at which

concern was expressed that, in the politically charged attack which currently prevailed upon the school system attended by 85 per cent of secondary school students, the ideals of that system, its considerable achievements, and the daily success of many teachers were neglected - indeed, denied to the public (Pring and Walford 1997:vii).
To conclude the series of lectures, Labour's deputy leader, John Prescott (1938- ), gave a speech at Ruskin College Oxford on 13 June 1996 in which he drew on his own personal experience to explain why
I so passionately oppose selection through the 11+ and so passionately support comprehensive education (Prescott 1997:198).
The comprehensive system, he said, was 'under fundamental attack by the leaders of the Tory Party in a way not seen for many years' and, while it was true that some schools could do better, the task of government was 'to set a framework which encourages a system to meet the needs of all our children, not the chosen few' (Prescott 1997:198).
A Labour government in which I serve will sing the praises of good comprehensive schools to the rafters. And we won't blame schools for the failings of government. But we will not flinch from criticising those that let down our children. And we won't stop working until we have raised their standards to give our children the high quality education they deserve. That is Labour's crusade. And crusade is not too strong a word for the passion that we feel for education. For we have a fundamental belief in comprehensive education, and we want to cater for the needs of every single pupil not just the 20 per cent or so who used to be creamed off at the age of 11 (Prescott 1997:198).
He concluded:
Labour thoroughly condemns the Tory blue-tinted glasses that view our schoolchildren as commodities, parents as simply consumers, schools as rival businesses and teachers as technicians. A first-class education for all is not just a political slogan. It is a crusade and a crusade that must be won (Prescott 1997:203).
John Prescott was not the only Labour politician to lecture at Ruskin in 1996. On 16 December, Tony Blair did so to mark the twentieth anniversary of Jim Callaghan's Ruskin College speech of 18 October 1976, in which the former Labour prime minister had called for a 'Great Debate' about education.

In his Ruskin College lecture, Blair declared that education would be a priority for a Labour government because 'our economic success and our social cohesion depend on it'. The themes of new Labour's education policy, he said, were clear and had 'found resonance across the country' (Blair 1996).

A new Labour government will focus on standards, especially in the basics of literacy and numeracy, in all our schools. We will expect education - and other public services - to be held accountable for their performance; we will urge teachers to work in partnership with parents, business and the community; and we will balance parents' rights with a recognition of their responsibilities (Blair 1996).
He hoped to 'forge a new consensus on education policy' which would be 'practical not ideological'. It would 'put behind us the political and ideological debates that have dominated the last 30 years' (Blair 1996).

Although the education service had been 'reformed by successive Tory governments', the questions Callaghan had posed and the issues he had raised were still relevant. A new Labour government would seek to implement the agenda which Callaghan had set:

It means a change of policy, but also a change of culture - from a commitment to the excellence of the few, to support for the talents of the many.

The country demands and our young people deserve an education system to match the best in the world. The next Labour government will set out to provide it (Blair 1996).

In his Ruskin lecture, John Prescott had referred to comprehensive schools 24 times; Blair did not mention them once.

But then, as we have seen in previous chapters, the Labour Party had always been divided in its views on comprehensive education.

1997 General election

As the deadline for the next general election - May 1997 - drew closer, the fortunes of the two main parties were very different.

The Conservatives, who had been in power for eighteen years, were perceived by many as being a spent force.

Labour, on the other hand, was selling itself as a fresh new party with a presentable young leader.

The manifestos

With Gillian Shephard as Secretary of State and David Blunkett as Labour spokesperson, the policies of the two main parties had become 'indistinguishable in many areas' (Chitty and Dunford 1999:7), so it was unsurprising that their manifestos shared a number of themes - notably, how to improve schools' performance. Significantly, both manifestos used the word 'monolithic' to describe comprehensive schools.

However, they reflected very different attitudes. The Conservative manifesto was largely negative in tone, tending to focus on failure and what to do about it: the words 'failing' and 'failed' appear repeatedly. Labour's was more positive, with only one reference to failing schools and one to failing local authorities.

Conservative manifesto

You can only be sure with the Conservatives, was the first Tory manifesto to argue for competition between schools as a way of improving standards:

Parents and teachers must have an overview of not just how much a child has learnt while at school, but how the school performs against others. Poor schooling must not be protected by a veil of secrecy. Parent power is a vital force for higher standards.
It condemned the 'years of mistaken, progressive education in the 1960s and 1970s' which, it claimed, had 'denied ... precious skills to too many children'. The Tories had 'worked ceaselessly since 1979 to put that right' and, as a result, standards in schools were rising.

They now offered parents a 'guarantee of education standards':

  • there would be national targets for school performance;
  • every school would have to set its own improvement targets;
  • parents would be given full information on the performance of their child's school; and
  • action would be taken to bring any under-performing school up to the mark.
The Tories' commitment to tests and exams was restated: they were 'essential if teachers are to discover how much their pupils have learnt, and parents are to know how much progress their children are making against national standards'. But the party now went further, declaring that 'We will publish all school test results, including the results of tests of 7 and 14 year olds', and that 'We propose also to assess every child at five'. English tests would focus on 'children's command of spelling, punctuation, and grammar'; and arithmetic tests would be taken 'without calculators'.

The government already had the power to 'take over failing schools directly and close them if necessary'; similar arrangements would now apply to local education authorities:

The authorities with the worst GCSE results and the worst results at Key Stage 2 (11 year olds) are run by Labour. Those children need our help.

We will allow for an independent inspection of education authorities and intervene directly to raise standards where education authorities are letting children down.

The manifesto acknowledged that 'the vast majority of teachers do an outstanding job', but went on to propose a rigorous appraisal system to identify 'which teachers need more help and, where necessary, which teachers need to be replaced'. Teacher training would 'stress traditional teaching methods' including whole-class teaching and learning to read by phonics.

Teachers would be given 'greater power to set detentions, to exclude disruptive pupils and to use reasonable physical restraint where necessary'; and steps would be taken 'to ensure that every school fulfils its role of providing religious education and collective worship'.

Under the heading 'Choice and Diversity', the manifesto criticised the 'monolithic comprehensive': the Assisted Places Scheme would be expanded; the number of specialist schools increased; grant-maintained schools would be allowed 'to select their pupils', and there would be a grammar school in every major town.

'New Labour' manifesto

In his Foreword to New Labour because Britain deserves better, Tony Blair declared that

Education will be our number one priority, and we will increase the share of national income spent on education as we decrease it on the bills of economic and social failure.
A New Labour government would provide nursery places for all four-year-olds; cut class sizes to 30 or under for 5- to 7-year-olds; attack low standards in schools; improve access to computer technology; and promote lifelong learning through a new University for Industry.

There would be no return to the 11-plus: 'It divides children into successes and failures at far too early an age'. But 'monolithic comprehensive schools' needed modernising:

Children are not all of the same ability, nor do they learn at the same speed. That means 'setting' children in classes to maximise progress, for the benefit of high-fliers and slower learners alike. The focus must be on levelling up, not levelling down.
Labour would 'never put dogma before children's education'. Good schools - whether in the private or state sector - would not be abolished. 'Any changes in the admissions policies of grammar schools will be decided by local parents'. Church schools would retain 'their distinctive religious ethos'.

There would be 'zero tolerance of underperformance': a 'failing school' would be closed and reopened with a 'fresh start', or run by a neighbouring good school. Education action zones would 'attack low standards by recruiting the best teachers and head teachers to under-achieving schools'.

There would be 'a stronger focus on literacy in the curriculum' so that 'within a decade every child leaves primary school with a reading age of at least 11'.

School buildings would be improved by means of public/private partnerships.

The manifesto stressed the importance Labour attached to realising the potential of new technology:

Labour is the pioneer of new thinking. We have agreed with British Telecom and the cable companies that they will wire up schools, libraries, colleges and hospitals to the information superhighway free of charge. We have also secured agreement to make access charges as low as possible.
A National Grid for Learning would 'bring to teachers up-to-date materials to enhance their skills, and to children high-quality educational materials'.

Grant-maintained schools would 'prosper with Labour's proposals':

Tory claims that Labour will close these schools are false. The system of funding will not discriminate unfairly either between schools or between pupils. LEAs will be represented on governing bodies, but will not control them. We support guidelines for open and fair admissions, along the lines of those introduced in 1993; but we will also provide a right of appeal to an independent panel in disputed cases.
Teacher training would be improved, and all new teachers would have an induction year 'to ensure their suitability for teaching'.
There will be a general teaching council to speak for and raise standards in the profession. We will create a new grade of teachers to recognise the best. There will, however, be speedy, but fair, procedures to remove teachers who cannot do the job.
Labour would introduce mandatory qualifications for the post of head teacher.

The improvement and expansion needed in higher education 'cannot be funded out of general taxation'. Labour's proposals for funding, which had been submitted to the Dearing Committee, would require graduates to repay the costs of student maintenance on an income-related basis.

Labour would 'promote adult learning both at work and in the critical sector of further education'. Public funds would be invested in Individual Learning Accounts which individuals - for example women returning to the labour force - could use to gain the skills they wanted.

Finally, Labour's University for Industry, in collaboration with the Open University, would create new opportunities for adults seeking to develop their potential:

This will bring government, industry and education together to create a new resource whose remit will be to use new technology to enhance skills and education. The University for Industry will be a public/private partnership, commissioning software and developing the links to extend lifelong learning.

Labour landslide

In just nine years (1988-1997) the Conservatives had reconstructed the education system which the 1944 Education Act had established. Instead of responsibility for schools being shared between central government, local authorities and the schools themselves, power (in theory, at least) was now shared between central government and market forces.

The Tories' abandonment of comprehensivisation and their commitment to increasing diversity of school provision in an 'education market' had resulted in greater polarisation: extra resources went to schools that were 'doing well' - usually those in 'favoured conditions and favoured contexts'; while problems were 'concentrated in a small number of dis-favoured schools or colleges' (Benn and Chitty 1996:226).

They had widened the poverty gap, with significant implications for schools:

Within state education, poverty and educational failure were strongly correlated. In secondary schools, for instance, statistics which demonstrated an overall rise in levels of attainment served to conceal a widening disparity between examination success rates in rich and poor areas. As a 1997 Ofsted survey reported, state schools with heavy concentrations of poor children were by far the worst performers at GCSE level (Jones 2003:113).
And they had promoted a right-wing vision of 'traditional' education, leading to controversies over:
sex education; religious education; spelling; the 'promotion of homosexuality'; the defence of A levels; 'race'; peace education; police involvement in schools; teacher militancy; corporal punishment; media studies; British history (Jones 2003:120).
During their eighteen years in office, the Conservatives had
  • cut education spending as a percentage of GDP;
  • removed teachers from curriculum development;
  • diminished the influence of the teacher unions;
  • weakened the power of the local authorities;
  • introduced competition in further and higher education; and
  • forced the Labour Party to rethink its education policies.
Such policies - and particularly those relating to funding, assessment and selection - had 'provoked strong oppositional movements, for which the principles of equal-opportunity-orientated reform were plainly an issue' (Jones 2003:122).
Conflict with such movements proved damaging for Conservatism, which by the mid-1990s faced protests over low levels of education spending in the English shires, large-scale opposition in Scotland to 'Thatcherism' in education, and a boycott by teachers in England and Wales of national assessment procedures. Thus, a peculiar double movement was in process: even while the basic building blocks of its system were assimilated into a two-party consensus, in other respects Conservatism's educational policies were contributing to the electoral debacle of 1997 (Jones 2003:122).
In the end, the government destroyed itself. Having called for a return to 'traditional values' in his 'back to basics' campaign, Major found himself leading an administration mired in endless allegations of sleaze, divided over Europe, and widely regarded as fiscally incompetent - a sin for any Tory government.

His government was swept away in the general election of May 1997 when Tony Blair's 'New Labour' party scored a landslide victory.


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Chapter 15 | Chapter 17