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The compulsory education system was introduced by the labour party in order to get rid of ignorance which was one of the five evils that the welfare state aimed to fight. Traditionally there has been conflict between the two major parties of UK. The conservative wished competition and variety in education while the labour party had been in favour of comprehensive schools. Over the past few years the parties policies with regardto education have been similar and there has been a general consensus between the parties. This essay would aim to look at the measures taken by the government to improve and assess their effectiveness.

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One of the ways in which the government have sought to raise education standard is through the introduction of national curriculum which was passed as part of the education reform Act 1988. This Act specifically stated the subjects that needed to be taught in school between the ages of 5 to 16. It also stated the amount of time spent on each subject. The main emphasis was on traditional subjects such as maths, English, history and geography. The aim was to develop meaningful standards for comparison and to ensure that all pupils across the country received appropriate knowledge and skills.

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It was believed that those subjects would achieve these aims and would therefore improve standards. However it took away the freedom previously enjoyed by schools, this was because schools were required to follow the instruction of the government. It could therefore be argued that the Act handed more power to the government. Another way was through the introduction of key stages which was also part of the education reform Act. Four key stages had developed. They were key stage 1, 2, 3, and 4. The attainment levels for those stages were specified in the 1998 Act. It made it easier to measure pupils’ attainment.

It also aimed to improve standards because pupils were expected to achieve certain attainment by the end of each key stage and if students failed then they were given extra help to equip them with achieving their expected attainment level. In addition the repeated testing was a means through which teacher and parents could track the pupils’ achievement. However concerns were expressed over the damaging, stressful effects of testing children so often. This measure again created a system of national standard by which the performance of teacher, schools and students were judged.

It also took the management aspect of learning under the central control and away from schools. The introduction of local management of school (LMS) was also a way in which the government sought to improve standards. Under this system schools were taken out of local authority direct control. This meant that schools themselves were given considerably more autonomy. This is because those schools were able to pursue their own education policies, but within the constraints of national curriculum. Schools also had power over staff recruitment and the funding of schools.

Those schools would receive funding directing from the government rather than local authorities. In order to check the standards of schools a system of inspection was introduced which applied to all schools across the country. It provides a consistent inspection of schools based on same criteria. This reinforced national standards because the inspection treated all schools equally regardless. In 1990 when major came to power the standard attainment tests (SATs) was introduced as a way to improve educational standards. They were standard examination for all pupils in state schools at ages of 7, 11, 14 and 16.

It provided a means by which children’s performance could be monitored. It also allowed for performance of teacher and schools could be compared. It was an aid to the national curriculum as it ensured that standards set in the national curriculum was met. However critics have argued that the system made schools less effective and less creative. This was because schooling was more about a specific teaching rather than the overall development of the child. SAT for 14 years olds was abolished by the labour government in 2008. A second way in which the major government sought to improve standards was through the introduction of league tables.

The league table was made up of all pupils key stages along with A-level results. It provided parents with a means by which they could compare different schools performance and so enable parent make informed choices. This promoted competition between schools as they would be forced to compete with each other for pupils, the greater the competition the greater the incentive for schools to improve educational standards. Schools had to improve the quality of education they offer in order to able to compete or would be shut down.

However there was wide concern that those schools had become exam focused and less creative as schools would teach to the test. It also had damaging and stressful effect on teachers and students. League tables were also felt to be counterproductive. They meant that some schools might not admit lower achievers and difficult pupils or even enter them for exams. The 1997 labour education polices aiming to raise education standards had similar ideas to the major government in that it believed the main way create an efficient system is through the mechanism of market.

One of them was the beacon status which was introduced for school which achieved a level of excellence. Such schools were rewarded with more resourced and higher salaries for senior staff. Schools which failed to achieve this standard were sanctioned with low payment. This improved educational standards through the means of competition between schools. School would ensure that pupils work harder so they could achieve the level of excellence and therefore the rewards. However because the inspection informs schools in advance schools are therefore able to fake excellence and may appear good but may not be in reality.

The target in schools is an example of this. Schools were given target to achieve. The targets required a minimum number of pupils to achieve the four attainment levels at four stages. This measure also aimed to raise educational standards through the means of competition. This is because school were encouraged to get the levels and therefore produce better results than other schools in order to attract consumers. However this may lead to a situation where schools refuse low ability students in order to minimise their chances of being closed. In conclusion the education standards have been raised by government polices since 1979.

All of the policies had their strengths and limitations in achieving their aim. However because education is a complicated issue and not one which has been in the hand of politician for a long period of time different methods needed to be tested in order to decided which one delivered the most benefits. We cannot therefore blame government if not all the policies delivered maximum aid to the needs of people. However the parties could be blamed for making the system inconsistent and therefore restricting us from seeing whether a system worked or not.

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Kylie Garcia

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