Twenty years of progress? English education policy 1988 to the present

Geoffrey Whitty

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66 Citations (SciVal)


This article assesses the period following the 1988 Education Reform Act (ERA) and reflects on the main continuities and discontinuities in policy emphases since that Act. It begins by outlining education policy under the Conservatives from 1979. In this, it shows how the Conservative's simultaneous pursuit of marketization and centralization in education, nowhere more so than through the ERA, provides a key illustration of Neave's (1988) `evaluative state'. In then considering the record of New Labour on education, the article identifies three central strands of policy: first, targeted attempts to tackle disadvantage and, second, an emphasis on school improvement, both of which focus on schools themselves rather than the context in which they operate, and, third, the notion that school diversity and parental choice will lead to higher standards for all. This discussion is used to show the significant continuities between Conservative and New Labour policies in terms of the drive for an essentially market-based education system. In discussing the tensions that have arisen through New Labour's attempts to address disadvantage within a market-based policy framework, the article closes by commenting on the extent to which a new direction in education policy is emerging under Gordon Brown's premiership.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)165-184
Number of pages20
JournalEducational Management Administration and Leadership
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2008


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