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December 21, 2008 / C H Thompson

From tripartite to comprehensive schools and the New Right

by Sam Cook a former student

The problem with the tripartite system was the 11+ exam was seen as unfair and inaccurate. The test was clumsy as it couldn’t predict a child’s intellectual development, moreover it disadvantaged children from working-class homes who couldn’t afford any additional tutoring or went to a primary school which wasn’t so committed to feedingexampa_468x336 grammar schools.

Therefore the children who tended to go to grammar schools were middle-class to upper/middle-class, while lower middle/working-class tended to go to secondary modern schools (very view technical schools were ever built) as well as this problem other criticisms of the tripartite system were identified.

Because the process of selection was constructed by social-class as opposed to ‘pure’ intellectual ability the newly elected Labour government of 1965 starting reorganising secondary education by encouraging the growth of a comprehensive school system.

When the Labour Party was defeated in 1970 around 30% of schools were comprehensive by the end of that decade around 80% of secondary schools were comprehensive like Twynham and Highcliffe School.

However some local authorities still kept the selection process such as Bournemouth – (this means children in this area sit an 11+ test for the grammar school. If you don’t sit the test or you fail it you go to a secondary modern school like avonbourneAvonbourne or Porchester). To-date there still remains 165 grammar schools in England and Wales.

The idea of comprehensive schools is there is no selection, in contrast the 11+ is a selection test, meaning pupils of all abilities can attend a comprehensive school. The only restrictions are one of where you live; you need to be in a particular catchment area in order to attend a particular school.

The strengths and weaknesses of a comprehensive education are explored on this page.

Though the comprehensive system addressed many parents’ concerns, some parents still didn’t like the idea of being told which school their child should go to especially if it was described as a ‘bog standard’ comprehensive. However this idea of parents being ‘told’ which school their children must attend was addressed by the Conservative government’s 1988 Education Act. This act created a new social policy designed by the New Right. What the 1988 Education Act introduced is explained in greater detail below:

The Act meant parents were now free to ‘shop’ around for the best school. Like consumers shop around for the best pair of jeans, parents could now shop around to seek out the best school for their child. The reason parents’ might prefer to shop around for the best state school for their child is because there is a wide difference in what a child achieves in one school compared with another in the same area. To get a better understand of what I mean, girls-shoppingread this BBC article here.

In the same way when you shop you look out for market signals. Market signals are things like price, reputation, quality and reliability of product. So in order to create some market signals on schools the Conservative government of the period introduced Ofsted who would inspect schools for quality and reliability; while at the same time exam data would be made available to schools could be ranked on performance.

Parents could now read Ofsted reports and compare exam results in the form of league tables and send their child to the ‘best’ school. By getting schools to compete with each other so they could move up the league tables, the government thought this competition would improve results and school standards would rise. This has become known as the marketisation of the education system because parents are free to ‘shop’ using exam results, Ofsted reports and league table positions to find out which is the best school to send their child to.european-top-football-league-tables_1

The outcome of this was middle-class parents were more inclined to understand Ofsted reports and study league table information. Combine this with the fact middle-class parents have higher incomes and so were
able to move into the catchment areas of the good schools and you create what is termed as the post-code lottery. This is where some people are able to use the marketisation of the education system to their advantage.

Return to education overview

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