Coalition Education Policies 2010- 2015: A Summary

NEW March 2016: Click here for a PowerPoint presentation in which I try to summarise the key points made in the following document.

Click here for an assignment on Coalition Education Policies


Introduction: Some Advice to Students

This document  has proven to be rather longer than I had originally anticipated and I think, therefore, that I should warn students against spending too much time on what is a relatively small, albeit important, element in the new Advanced Level Sociology specifications. Your  teachers will no doubt provide excellent information and guidance as to appropriate time allocation but I hope that once you have covered the requisite textbook materials you may be able to use some of the links in my document to extend your knowledge a little and then summarise the information more concisely for examination purposes.

You may find it more useful to "dip into " the document [ using the following links] than to read it from beginning to end! Also you may read a  summary of Coalition Education Policies here

The Coalition Government was very active in the area of education policy  but because  Coalition education policies  have been in operation only for a short time  and others may well be modified  by the new Conservative Government elected on May 7th 2015  there have been few detailed assessments of them which of course means that they cannot be evaluated with certainty.

I begin this document with 5 preliminary readings designed to introduce students to some of the main issues which are to be covered here. After a brief discussion of previous Conservative and Labour Government's education policies  I then consider the overall political orientation of the Coalition Government,  list its most, significant education policies, list some general criticisms of these policies  and then  provide some further slightly more detailed information on specific policies.

In particular Advanced Level Sociology students are also required to evaluate education policies from different sociological perspectives and I have also provided an assignment which I hope will help you to assess the extent to which some Coalition education policies may well be influenced by New Right Ideology.

As I was finishing this document The Coalition's Record on Schools: Policy, Spending and Outcomes 2010-2015 by Ruth Lupton and  Stephanie Thomson was published. It is a first class paper providing more detailed, insightful information on Coalition schools policies.

In December 2017 the Education Policy Institute published a report entitled Access to High Performing Schools which has important implications for the analysis of Coalition Education Policies. This Report has been summarised by the BBC and  by Schoolsweek .

In July 2018 UCL /Institute of Education published a highly significant report on Coalition Education Policies. Click here for a UCL/Institute of Education item with links to the full report and click here for Observer coverage of the report

·       Introductory Readings

·       Conservative Governments 1979-1997 and Labour Governments 1997-2010

·       Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and  Ideology: General

·       Main Coalition Education Policies

·       Coalition Education Policies and Ideology

·       General Criticisms of  Coalition Education Policies


1.     Reform of the National Curriculum

2.     Free Schools

3.     The EBacc, the EBacc Certificate and Reform of GCSE courses. [including Comparable Outcomes]

4.     League Tables and New Measure of Accountability at GCSE Level

5.     The Reorganisation of GCE Advanced Level Courses


6.The Discontinuation of the EMA and the Aim Higher Programme

7. The Sure Start Programme: Labour, Coalition and Conservative Governments

8.     The Pupil Premium

     Introductory Readings

1.     Click here for article offering conflicting views on Coalition education policies

2.     Click here for Coalition Education Minister Nick Gibb's perspective on the new National curriculum and related matters

3.     Click here for article by Polly Toynbee on David Cameron and the Conservatives: scroll to the Education section of the article

4.     Click here  for a useful short Radio 4 discussion from 2013 on the proposed changes to GCSE courses

5.     Click here for BBC item on international tests


Conservative Governments 1979-1997 and Labour Governments 1997-2010

Conservative governments of 1979-1997 were heavily influenced by the ideology of the New Right which contains both neo-liberal and neo-conservative elements. With regard to education policy neo-liberalism led the Conservatives in the direction of continued support for Private Education and Grammar schools , the Assisted Places Scheme and the development of the quasi -market in education which was designed to give parents much greater choice of schools for their children which was to lead to improved overall education standards as successful schools attracted increasing numbers of pupils while unsuccessful schools  would lose pupil numbers and eventually be faced with closure. Successive Conservative governments claimed also that inefficiency within the education system could to a considerable extent be blamed also on inefficient Leas  and that the educational prospects of disadvantaged students could be improved also as the operation of the quasi-market in education would improve the educational prospects of all pupils. Meanwhile the Neo-Conservative elements of New Right ideology led the Conservatives  to support an increased emphasis on school discipline traditional teaching methods and streaming  and to reject  the more progressive teaching methods and mixed ability teaching which had been allegedly been more popular in the 1960s and, according to the neo-Conservatives were to blame for much of Britain's relative educational decline.

New Labour Governments accepted much of the Conservatives choice and diversity agenda and as a result increased the number of Specialist Schools and introduced  the Academies Programme  but they also introduced  a range of educational measures [ Education Action Zones, Sure Start Centres, the Excellence in Cities Programme and the Education Maintenance Allowance which  could be seen as a examples of social democratic "compensatory education.

During the years of Conservative Government 1979-1997 and Labour Governments 1997- 2010 overall educational achievements as measured by examination results did improve: the percentage of pupils gaining 5 or more GCE ordinary levels and subsequently 5 or more A*-C GCSE grades increased; more pupils passed GCE Advanced Level Examinations; more pupils enrolled on Higher Education courses and more young people embarked upon various schemes of vocational education and training. However it has been argued also that very substantial social class inequalities in educational achievement , gender differences in educational achievement and ethnic differences in educational achievement remain despite the range of policies introduced by Conservative and Labour Governments. Indeed critics have argued that the development of quasi markets in education and the growth of income inequality under both Conservative and Labour Governments have been  key factors causing the continuation of inequality of educational opportunity although both Conservative and Labour supporters of the education quasi-market have rejected these criticisms . 

In opposition both Conservatives and Liberal Democrats often supported Blairite education reforms, sometimes voting in favour of policies which several Labour MPs were unwilling to support. As Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove emphasised the need to drive up overall education standards and to promote increased social mobility through education, a theme which has been strongly supported also by Liberal Democrat Education Ministers.  Subsequently Coalition education policies have exhibited both similarities with and differences from the policies of previous Labour Governments.

Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and  Ideology  : General


One would expect the direction of education policies under the Coalition Government to be dependent, at least to some extent upon the overall ideological positions of the Conservatives and liberal democrats respectively. Unfortunately, however, it is not easy to determine the parties’ ideological positions with any certainty. Here is a little introductory information on this complex topic!!


There are certainly significant disputes surrounding the ideological beliefs of the current Conservative Party leader David Cameron. As Leader of the Opposition David Cameron appeared keen to distance himself from the legacy of Thatcherism and in several respects to shift the Conservative Party towards the “centre ground” in a manner which he hoped nevertheless would not overly antagonise Thatcherites within the Party . Thus  while claiming that he is “not a particularly ideological politician” he has also identified himself as both an economic liberal and a social liberal supporting what he believes to be the economic benefits of Thatcherite neo-liberal economic policies while also distancing himself from Thatcherite neo-conservatism on issues such as family policy and law and order although Cameron has still articulated neo-Conservative attitudes to law and order on occasion, for example in relation to the urban disturbances of 2011..


He has also identified himself with a modern  version of the One Nation Conservatism associated with earlier Conservative leaders such as Disraeli and Macmillan and  although he continued to praise Thatcherite economic reforms he noted also that by 2010 there would be many new voters who knew little of Thatcherism; he stated that the Conservatives must challenge Labour in the key areas of health and education policy; he praised the work of public sector professionals ; he has emphasised the increased importance of environmental protection  and the continuing importance of foreign aid; and he signalled a significant shift in Conservative social policy by recognising the significance of both absolute and relative social policy. At the same time the Conservatives have emphasised that overall income inequality increased under Labour Governments 1997-2010 [ while it has been reduced between 2010 and 2012/13 although it has also been pointed out that income inequality is expected to increase again from 2013/14 onwards. Nevertheless the Conservatives claimed that it is they rather than Labour who can be best relied upon to defend the interests of the poor and to promote greater equality of educational opportunity., a claim which is, of course,  disputed by the Labour Party. Also in a telling phrase that “There is such a thing as society but it is not the same thing as the state” he sought to distance himself both from Thatcherite individualism and from the excessively bureaucratised statism which he claimed was typical of New Labour policies. Instead he promised the development of “The Big Society” in which Third Sector charitable institutions and greater societal participation would help to alleviate the social problems which in his view had not been amenable to solution by the over-centralised Blair- Brown State.


 While some political analysts have tended to accept David Cameron’s self-definitions as a “ modern”, ”compassionate, “One Nation” Conservative  others have denied that he has repositioned the Conservatives on the "centre ground." They claim that  in all essentials Cameron has accepted Thatcherite neo-liberal economic policies; that one should also not overstate his divergence from Thatcherism on law and order questions; that his commitments to environmentally friendly policies have not been sustained in government; and that his plans for increased civic engagement have been met with generalised cynicism and have achieved little. Meanwhile, however on the Right of the Conservative Party Cameron’s apparent One Nation Conservatism, his links with the Liberal Democrats and his [and, according to the Right] insufficient Euroscepticism have been seen as all too real and a cause for alarm rather than celebration. Finally because he is perceived by some as Thatcherite and by others as One Nation Conservative this has led some to argue that in reality he is the ultimate ideologically rootless, pragmatic politician .


Disputes as to the real nature of David Cameron's beliefs is ongoing. In an article published by the Institute for Public Policy research Sunder Katwala  [ Click here for Ideology in Politics: Reflections on Lady Thatcher's Legacy] has argued that David Cameron provides a master class in political ambiguity ;  the eminent political theorist Vernon Bogdanor [see here] accepts that Cameron should be seen as a one nation Conservative [ a view endorsed among other by Professor Philip Norton and journalist Matthew D'Ancona];  the eminent political journalist Steve Richards [see here and here]  disputes these views and is supported in academic studies by Matt Beech and Simon Lee and by Richard Hayton. Short comments either endorsing or rejecting the perception of Cameron as One Nation Conservative may be found in this recent Observer article.

Meanwhile the Liberal Democrats, especially those influenced by so-called Orange Book Liberalism, have similarly accepted much of the neo-liberal policy programme but at the same time have emphasised strongly the importance of the relief of poverty and the encouragement of social mobility. Bearing in mind these general elements of Cameronian Conservative and Liberal Democrat ideologies one would have expected that Coalition education policies  would incorporate attempts to advance the significance of a quasi-markets within the education system  and policies designed  to advance equality of opportunity and as, is indicated below this overall strategy is illustrated most clearly in the expansion of Academies, the introduction of free schools and the Pupil Premium.

It was also to be expected that in the early stages of Coalition both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats would attempt to focus more on policy agreement than policy disagreement but policy disagreements there have certainly been and at the 2013 Liberal Democrat Conference Nick Clegg used his leadership speech to spell out what he considered to be 16 important ways in which the Liberal Democrats had succeeded in modifying Conservative policies . With regard to education policy, according to Nick Clegg , the Liberal Democrats had prevented the bringing back of "O Levels" and the re- introduction of a two-tier examination system for 15-16 year olds, the introduction of profit-making in State Schools and the introduction of new larger child care ratios which although they would have reduced the costs of childcare would also, according to Nick Clegg, have reduced the overall quality of childcare.    Click here for Guardian coverage of Nick Clegg's 2013 Liberal Democrat Conference Speech. [Some of these issues will be discussed in more detail later in the document.] It has been noted also that relationships between former Secretary of State Michael Gove and the teaching profession were  often been less than harmonious and some have claimed to detect a rather more conciliatory approach to the teaching profession by new Secretary of State Nicola Morgan.


Main Coalition Education Policies . [Click here for links to media coverage of the 2010 Education Whitepaper]

The Conservative- Liberal Democrat  Coalition outlined its analysis of the current state of English education  together with its proposals for educational reform in its  Whitepaper The Importance of Teaching which was published in November 2010. Key points made in the Whitepaper included the following.

  1. Although there was much to commend in the English Education system there were also important defects which need to be rectified.
  2. Comparative international tests revealed that in several respects English educational standards were falling behind those achieved in a wide range of foreign countries.
  3. It would be necessary  to correct what the Government perceived to be the problem of grade inflation which allegedly was reducing the credibility of both GCSE and GCE Advanced level examination. This was to be achieved  via a greater emphasis on examinations relative to course work and the introduction of more difficult syllabi and stricter marking criteria.
  4. Also inequalities of educational opportunity were greater in England than in many other countries and might well be increasing. Thus, for example, it was pointed out  in the White Paper that each year of approximately 600,000 new pupils about 80,000 were eligible for free school meals  but that of these 80,000 typically only about 40 students per year would gain places at Oxbridge colleges , less than the number of places gained by pupils from several individual public schools.
  5.  It was argued that significant reforms of vocational education were necessary because too many school and college students were currently enrolling  on vocational courses which both employers and universities considered to be of limited usefulness.
  6. Although most school students were well behaved more should be done to address the bad behaviour of a limited number of pupils which was undermining the overall effectiveness of the education system.

The Coalition announced that a range of new policies would be introduced to deal with these perceived problems.

  1. Head teachers and individual teachers would be given greater powers to maintain school discipline including powers to search pupils, to restrain them physically using reasonable force and  to make use of "same day detentions." Also the process of school exclusion would be streamlined to facilitate exclusion of "difficult" pupils.
  2. Schools would be encouraged to introduce  blazers, school uniforms , house systems and Prefect systems as additional means of maintaining good order
  3. A clear indication that the Government remained supportive of setting and /or streaming  as efficient methods of grouping.
  4. Measures would be taken to improve the effectiveness of teacher training with a greater proportion of such training to be spend inside actual classrooms.
  5. Career changes into teaching from other professions including the military would be facilitated in the hope that this too would improve the overall quality of the teaching profession.
  6. There would be an acceleration of the development of the quasi-market in education via the reorientation and rapid expansion of Labour's Academies Programme and the introduction of the Free Schools Programme. Most  importantly whereas Labour's so-called Sponsored Academies were designed to replace schools  which deemed to be underperforming  the Coalition, while continuing with Sponsored Academies also legislated to enable schools that were already performing well to opt for so-called Converter Academy status .
  7. There would be a review of the National Curriculum with the aim of increasing its complexity and rigour. Greater weight would be given to correct spelling, punctuation and grammar in the assessment of examination grades.
  8. The teaching of reading via synthetic phonics would be encouraged.

9.     Secondary schools were to be encouraged to enter larger proportion of their students for more traditional subjects. This was to be achieved by designating English , Mathematics, Sciences, Modern Languages, History and Geography as so-called EBacc subjects and announcing that School league table positions would now be assesses in terms of the proportions of pupils attaining 5 or more GCSE A*-C grades in EBacc subjects as well as in terms of the proportions of pupils gaining 5 or more A*-C grades in any subjects but including English and Mathematics.

  1.  The system of vocational education would also be reformed to deal with its perceived inadequacies. The provision or more facilities for technical education for example  via the setting up of University Technical Colleges and the greater emphasis on basic literacy and numeracy as a means of promoting future employability. The Wolf Report would subsequently lead to the downgrading and/or scrapping of many vocational courses which had previously been ranked equivalent with GCSE courses.
  2. The White Paper referred to what the Government perceived as the defects of modularisation at both GCSE and Advanced level  which signalled that reforms to both GCSE and GCE Advanced level courses might in future be considered necessary.
  3. Subsequently proposals were announced for the introduction of a new EBACC certificate  which appeared to signal the eventual demise of the GCSE but  in response to criticism this proposal was shelved fairly rapidly and the Government announced instead that new and apparently more rigorous GCSE syllabi would be introduced beginning in September 2015.
  4. A Pupil Premium would be introduced to help to channel additional resources towards pupils who were at an economic disadvantage as indicated by their eligibility for free school meals.
  5. The Government signalled its intention to increase the age at which young people would be able to leave education and training to 17 in 2013 and 18 in 2014.


Some Further Government Initiatives

  • In November 2010 the Coalition Government announced that the attainment floor below which Secondary Schools would be defined as "failing" would be raised from 30% of pupils attaining 5 or more GCSE A*-C including English and Mathematics to 35% and  a floor of 50% is to take effect from 2015. Click here for new targets announced November 2010  and here for 2011 announcement of higher targets from 2015. The attainment floor was raised to 40% in 2012/13
  • Also and very importantly the Coalition had announced in early November 2010 its intention to raise University tuition fees  to a maximum of £ 9000 pa and following further discussion in the Houses of Commons and Lords legislation was passed in December  2010 to raise to tuition fees to a maximum of £9,000 per year from 2012/13. According to the Coalition, increased tuition fees are necessary to finance the expansion of higher education and also fair since it will be students themselves that benefit from Higher Education in terms of higher future earnings.
  • The Coalition has emphasised its continued support for Private Education . The Coalition has emphasised that many private schools generate very good examination results which is assumed to confirm the high standards of teaching in these schools. The Coalition recognise also that private school pupils are especially likely to gain entry to elite occupations and emphasise that state schools must aspire to provide similar opportunities for their pupils. State school standards can be improved to some extent by closer collaboration with private schools.
  • Conservative Governments 1979-97 had sympathised with the expansion in the number of Grammar Schools and David Cameron faced some opposition within the Conservative Party when he sought to distance himself from this policy. In the event no new Grammar schools have been opened between 2010 and 2015 but there remains evidence of substantial support within the Conservative party for the expansion of Grammar Schools. Click here for grammar schools and here  and here for possible opening of a new grammar school
  • There have been controversies surrounding the development of the Sure Start Programme under the Coalition government. Critics have claimed that several hundred Sure Start centres have been closed while the Government has argued that the decline in the number of Sure Start centres has arisen primarily [but not entirely] as a result of amalgamations of smaller centres. There have been controversies surrounding the development of the Sure Start Programme under the Coalition government. Critics have claimed that several hundred Sure Start centres have been closed while the Government has argued that the decline in the number of Sure Start centres has arisen primarily [but not entirely] as a result of amalgamations of smaller centres. Click here and here for recent information on Sure Start closures. [Thanks to Fran Nantongwe  for drawing my attention to these articles.]
  • The discontinuation of the EMA [Education Maintenance Allowance] scheme  which channelled financial support to relatively underprivileged  students on the grounds that the scheme targeted resources inefficiently and its replacement by what the Government claimed would be a more effective system


 Coalition Education Policies and Ideology


Advanced Level Sociology students are also required to evaluate education policies from different sociological perspectives and I have also provided an assignment which I hope will help you to assess the extent to which some Coalition education policies may well be influenced by New Right Ideology.

As Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove often stated that his overall approach to education policy was based upon a practical search for "what work"  rather than upon ideological considerations. He also expressed support for several of the education policies developed by Labour's Schools Minister Lord Andrew Adonis and backed strongly by Prime Minister Tony Blair. However it has been argued that Labour's approach itself reflected some sympathy  with New Right thinking and with the New Right-influenced education policies which had been pioneered in the era of Thatcherism. It has of course been argued that the influence of New Right thinking on Labour governments was moderated to some extent by their commitment to a rather mild version of social democracy and it might similarly be argued that Coalition education policies have also been influenced heavily by the Conservatives' ongoing commitment to New Right Ideology modified to some , perhaps limited, extent  by the mild social liberal ideas of their Liberal Democrat coalition partners.

The Coalition Government has continually emphasised the necessity of raising average educational standards but has noted also the particular difficulties faced by disadvantaged pupils whose levels of educational attainment are in many cases significantly blow the average as measured. for example, by their performance in GCSE and GCE Advanced level examinations and by statistics on access to Higher Education. The Coalition has argued that it prioritises increases in educational opportunity for disadvantaged students and in this respect the introduction of the Pupil Premium is intended to improve the prospects of more disadvantaged pupils although it is at least possible that the abolition of the EMA , the increase in Higher Education Tuition fees and the alleged scaling down of the Sure Start programme may be counterproductive in this respect. Further information on these policies is provided later in the document

The arguments of Mr Gove  and his supporters that  Coalition education policies were practical. non-ideological measures designed to improve the overall effectiveness of the education system have been applied to the changing of teaching training schemes, the  teaching of reading through phonics, the changes to the content of the National Curriculum, the development of more rigorous GCSE and GCE Advanced Level courses to be assessed via examination rather than coursework, the introduction of more challenging school inspections, higher examination pass rates as measurement criteria of school efficiency, measures to foster better discipline and a calmer learning environment, greater emphasis on streaming , banding and setting rather than mixed ability teaching and the development of more effective vocational education policies .

However it has also been claimed that some of these policies were in fact ideologically driven at least to some extent and that the influence of New Right neo-liberalism can be seen especially in the expansion of the Academies Programme, the introduction of  the Free Schools programme, the continued support for Private Education and for Grammar Schools [although no new Grammar Schools have been built] and the substantial increase in Higher Education tuition fees.

All of these policies are designed to promote the increased quasi -marketisation  of education which, according to its supporters will drive up overall educational standards. Thus it is claimed that quasi-marketisation will restrict the powers of public sector bureaucrats who strive to promote the growth of state-controlled education partly in order to further their own careers and partly because they are subject to excessive influence from powerful teachers unions and leftist intellectuals. Instead under quasi-marketisation more schools are created which are free form public sector bureaucratic control and which can offer a wider educational choice to parents and their children. In turn parents will use their greater freedoms  to shun ineffective schools [ which may therefore be subject to closure , or, indeed , academisation] in favour of the more effective schools which will therefore expand  thereby improving the overall quality of education to all pupils, including the poorest who., it is claimed are particularly disadvantaged by the currently ineffective education system. Higher tuition fees for Higher Education are similarly designed to lead to the expansion of effective universities at the expense of ineffective ones.

In the era of Thatcherism [1979-90] Conservatives often argued against the Comprehensive principle, against progressive teaching methods, against mixed ability teaching and in favour of increased educational selection, traditional teaching methods and streaming setting and banding. Conservatives [and especially perhaps neo-Conservatives] argued that children's education was being blighted as  a result of the relative neglect of the teaching of numeracy and literacy skills necessary for secure future employment and for the efficiency of the economy as a whole while ineffective progressive teaching methods, emphases on pupil autonomy and freedom of expression at the expense of traditional respect for teachers' authority, excessive concerns with issues of class, gender, ethnicity and sexuality all linked with dangers of political indoctrination by left-wing teachers were combining to create a crisis in our schools which in the future could potentially undermine the entire social order.

It may well be the case that in contemporary times these neo-Conservative arguments are advanced rather less forcefully but Mr Gove's critics have argued that he and his supporters have intervened excessively in some aspects of curriculum content to promote neo-Conservative values and that the Govian emphasis on the importance of stricter discipline, school uniforms, prefect and house systems  and streaming/ banding and setting at the expense of mixed ability teaching [as well as the already mentioned continued support for Private Schools and Grammar Schools ] would all combine to give a rather more neo-Conservative tone to the school environment.

Critics of Coalition education policies have argued that insofar as they have been influenced by New Right Ideology they have been misguided. With regard to the possible influence of neo-liberalism the critics have denied that  that the accelerated expansion of the quasi market in education[ which began with the Conservative  1988 Education, continued under subsequent Labour Governments and has accelerated as a result of the Coalition's Academies and Free Schools programmes]  will drive up educational standards including the educational standards of the poorest.

Thus although in theory these education policies were designed to increase parental choice there could be no overall increase in parental choice in small towns with only one secondary school or in larger towns and cities where the more popular secondary schools were already full and over-subscribed. In these latter cases critics claim the quasi-marketisation of education has actually benefited middle parents and their children disproportionately since it is these middle class parents who are much more likely to be able to use their cultural, economic and social capital to ensure that the oversubscribed effective state schools themselves would actually choose their children thereby indirectly reducing the educational opportunities of more disadvantaged pupils. It is particularly significant also that a recent report by the House of Common Select Committee on Education has concluded that there is currently no conclusive evidence that the Academies and Free Schools programmes have resulted in any improvement in overall educational standards. Also, as has been outlined elsewhere on this site, the continued existence of private schools and grammar schools has been criticised as undermining equality of opportunity.    Click here for information from  a recent [2013] Sutton Trust Report suggesting that "almost a third of professional parents have  moved home for a good school.

 Critics have also rejected the neo-Conservative analysis of the defects of the education system. Thus they have argued  that most teachers used a sensible mixture of traditional and progressive methods, that it was important for pupils to discuss important contemporary issues and that the overwhelming majority of teachers wished to encourage  their students to think for themselves  and not to indoctrinate them in any way. Furthermore it has been argued, most notably by Marxists, that a neo-Conservative approach to education is likely to inculcate into pupils exactly the kind of undesirable deference which prepares them to accept with out demur subsequent low paid employment in what Marxists perceive to be an exploitative, unjust, unequal capitalist system. Meanwhile interactionists argue that the streaming, banding and setting favoured by the Coalition compounds the educational difficulties of the more disadvantaged pupils by subjecting them to negative labelling processes which adversely affect their progress.

General Criticisms of  Coalition Education Policies

The Coalition Government have obviously defended these policies very energetically but the policies have also met with substantial criticism. Click here for article offering conflicting views on Coalition education policies

 It is difficult to assess the relative strengths and weaknesses  of individual policies  because they have been operative at most for a limited amount of time and in some cases have not yet been implemented. Nevertheless I shall first list some of the broad criticisms of Coalition policies and then provide some sources of more detailed information which may help you to make your own assessments. This last  section of the document should, however,  be regarded as “work in progress “ and  I am hoping to supplement it as more information becomes available. 

  1. It has been argued that although the UK has fallen down the international education league table as measured by the PISA rankings it is ranked much more highly when different educational criteria are used as for example in a recent Economist Survey. It is possible therefore that Coalition has overstated the defects of the current education system. Click here for BBC coverage of the Economist survey.
  2. It has been argued that problems of grade inflation have been much overstated in a manner  which has undermined the achievements of individual students.
  3. It is argued that the reorientation of teacher training away from university Education departments and toward classroom practice reduces access to important theoretical ideas which would prove very useful throughout teachers’ entire careers. Click here for further discussion of this point from the Guardian.
  4. The general criticisms of the quasi-marketisation of education apply in particular to the rapid expansion of quasi-marketisation under the Coalition and important specific criticisms have been made of the Coalition's Academies and Free Schools Programmes most recently by the House of Commons Select Committee on Education which has stated that there is no conclusive evidence that the expansion of Academies and free Schools has resulted in improved  educational attainment.
  5. Critics argue that closer links between private and state schools are unlikely to lead to significant improvements in educational opportunities for disadvantaged  pupils and the continued existence of the private sector as currently organised is itself seen as one of the main sources of inequality of educational opportunity
  6. Continued support for setting and/or streaming is criticised by those educationalists committed to the extension of mixed ability teaching which they see as a means of preventing the negative labelling which they associate with setting and/or streaming.
  7. It is argued that the Coalition’s emphasis  on the strengthening of teachers’ disciplinary powers and the symbolic value of uniforms , blazers and house and prefect systems reflects an essentially neo-Conservative approach to education which is out of step with the ideology of progressive education which of course is itself at odds with neo-Conservative thinking.
  8. It has been argued that the Coalition have prioritised the teaching of reading through synthetic phonics and that other methods of teaching reading may be more effective
  9. It has been claimed that the as Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove and his close advisors have intervened  counterproductively in the development of the curricula of particular subjects and of teaching methodologies and that in so doing they have imparted and excessively traditionalist bias to both.
  10. It has been argued that the priority attached to EBACC subject entry has led to an undesirable marginalisation of EBACC subjects.
  11. It has been claimed  that the marginalisation of coursework as a method of assessment has been misguided.
  12. It has been claimed that the reorganisation of the GCE Advanced Level courses and in particular the decoupling of AS and A2 examinations is misguided because the transition from GCSE Level to Advanced Level is thereby made more difficult in ways which may affect disadvantaged students especially adversely.
  13. It has been argued that the introduction of the Pupil Premium , although praiseworthy, is unlikely to increase equality of educational opportunity significantly.
  14. It is argued that the phasing out of the Educational Maintenance Allowance and its replacement by what critics consider to be a less effective support system combined with the significant increase in Higher Education tuition fees are both likely to increase inequality of educational opportunity. Click here for BBC item on Higher Education applications.
  15. It is argued that , as with previous government policies, Coalition initiatives to improve the quality of technical education are unlikely to be successful.
  16. Professor Basil Bernstein argued many years ago that "Education cannot compensate for society." Thus he claimed deep seated social inequalities were key causes of inequalities of educational achievement  with the implication that the reduction of poverty and inequality  was crucial to the achievement of a more meritocratic society.  Critics argue that the broader social and economic policies of the Coalition Government have done little or nothing to reduce social inequalities with the result that the prospects for reducing inequalities of educational attainment remain bleak indeed.
  17. It has been argued that although the Coalition stated that despite the difficulties associated with "economic austerity" the Schools budget would be protected this did no apply to spending on post 16 education  with the result that by 2014 many schools were facing serious financial difficulties. Click here for recent  Independent coverage of Schools' budget difficulties. 
  18. The House of Common Public Accounts Committee has recently voiced its concerns as to the overall effectiveness of the DfE. Click here for recent Guardian coverage of a Public Accounts Committee investigation.


Several of these criticisms may well turn out to have considerable force but it must also be noted that at the same time Government spokespersons have defended their policies strenuously against such criticisms and also that the policies in question have in some cases been in operation for only a limited amount of time and in other cases are yet to be implemented. In the next section of the document I provide some further information on specific Coalition education policies but it must be recognised that it is clearly impossible to make a full evaluation of these policies at this moment in time.


Specific Coalition Education Policies: Some Further Details


  • Reform of the National Curriculum

The National Curriculum was first introduced in 1988  and modified in some ways between 1988 and 2010.tSecretary of State Michael Gove announced the launch of a review of the National Curriculum in January 2011 and it was subsequently announced that the new National Curriculum was to be introduced in September 2014. However the Association of School and College leaders  claimed [ Click here] that it would  be very difficult to introduce the National Curriculum by September 2014 and as a result it was agreed that the new NCs for KS4 English and Mathematics would be introduced  in September 2015   and that  the new NC for KS4 Science would be introduced in September 2016 .

Click here for  the DFE's Framework Document: The National curriculum in England which publishes the basis framework of the National Curriculum, the Programmes of Study for all National Curriculum Subjects and regulations relating to the teaching other  compulsory subjects [RE and Sex and Relationships Education{ in Secondary Schools}] and non-compulsory optional subjects. The basic framework is outlined very succinctly on pages 1-7 of the Report

 Within the new National Curriculum  there are Core NC subjects English , Mathematics and Science which are compulsory at all key stages and Foundation subjects of which PE is compulsory at all key stages and Art and Design, Citizenship, Design and Technology, Geography, History, ICT, Modern, Foreign Languages and Music which are compulsory at some key stages but not others [See P.6 of  the above report]

It is also stipulated that schools must teach RE at all key stages and Sex and Relationship Education in Secondary Schools.

Several Foundation Subjects are not compulsory at Key Stage 4 which creates space in the Key Stage 4 curriculum  for schools to offer non-NC subjects such as Business Studies, Religious Studies and Sociology at Key Stage 4 Level.

Several significant criticisms of specific aspects of the National Curriculum have been made . It has been argued that there is excessive emphasis on English Mathematics and Science at Primary School level and that  that although it is important to "stretch" pupils" parts of the new National Curriculum will be too difficult for many pupils and that this could "probably lead to more disaffection and failure". It is also claimed that  that there is too much emphasis on correct spelling, punctuation  and grammar , that primary school pupils should not be expected to master the terminology of clause analysis which used to be taught only in secondary schools, if at all and that  there is in general  too much emphasis on the memorisation of facts. More specific criticisms have been made of Programmes of Study in particular subjects: for example it was argued that  an excessively chronological approach will would be taken  in the teaching of History [ click here] , that there would be undue emphasis on the positive achievements of Britain's imperial past and that insufficient attention would be given to issues relating to climate change  .  However you may Click here for Michael Gove's decision to abandon the removal of  Climate Change from the Geography curriculum but as protests against Climate Change gathered pace in 2019 students and teachers continued to criticise what they see as the still inadequate opportunities for the discussion of climate change within the National Curriculum although spokespersons for the DfE dispute such claims .



Further Information

You may click here  for BBC Q and A on changes to the National Curriculum and here for initial BBC coverage and click here fora Guardian article on the publication of the National Curriculum each of which .which provides useful introductory information and then use the following links if you require more detailed information on more specific matters relating to proposed changes to the National Curriculum.

Click here for criticism of Michael Gove's approach to the primary curriculum.

 Click here and here for changes to Key Stage 2 English tests and   here for a nice article on History in the curriculum by Tristan Hunt and here for a critical letter from the Independent on the History curriculum and    here and here  and here  for disputes between Education academics and Michael Gove over the nature of the National Curriculum changes.  Click here for Michael Gove's decision to abandon the removal of  Climate Change from the Geography curriculum. Click here for BBC information on ED Hirsch and here for more detailed information from BBC's Analysis Programme and here for Michael Gove and the core knowledge curriculum and here for information on Massachusetts schools and  Click here for an exceptional article in the Guardian by Richard J. Evans on  History n the National Curriculum  Click here for of Michael Gove's approach to the primary curriculum

Click here for Coalition Education Minister Nick Gibb's perspective on the new National curriculum and related matters





  •  Academies


·       Please note that in July 2017 the Education Policy Institute published a new , detailed report entitled The Impact of Academies on Educational Outcomes . Click here for this report which also has a concise and very useful executive summary which may be especially helpful for students.

The Coalition Government's approach to Academisation has differed in several important respects from the Academies programme of previous Labour Governments.

  • In June 2010 the Coalition Government announced that all Secondary, Primary and Secondary Schools would eventually be permitted to apply for Academy status but that  priority initially would be given to schools judged outstanding by OFSTED whose applications would be accepted automatically. Subsequently from November 2010 schools judged good but with outstanding features were also invited to apply and their applications would be assessed by DFE  officials. These Schools were defined as Converter Academies
  • Other Schools were then invited to apply but only if they were joined in a partnership with schools judged outstanding or good with outstanding features or partnered with an alternative high performing educational institution. [Click here for BBC coverage of Academy sponsorship of other Academies. There can be problems!]
  • University Technical Colleges, Free Schools and Studio Schools [ defined in "Unleashing Greatness" as "new schools for 14-19 year-olds delivering project-based practical learning alongside mainstream academic study"] would also become Academies as would some Special Schools and Pupil Referral Units
  • Meanwhile schools deemed to be failing might also be compelled to become Sponsored Academies as under the previous Labour scheme..
  • In November 2010 the Coalition Government announced that the attainment floor below which Secondary Schools would be defined as "failing" would be raised from 30% of pupils attaining 5 or more GCSE A*-C including English and Mathematics to 35% and  a floor of 50% is to take effect from 2015. Click here for new targets announced November 2010  and here for 2011 announcement of higher targets from 2015. The attainment floor was raised to 40% in 2012.
  • Also in November 2010   the Government announced that it intended to oblige force 200 under-performing primary schools to become Academies .This target was achieved by January 2013 by which time the Government had stated that a further 400 under-performing Primary Schools would soon become Sponsored Academies.
  •  Click here for DFE data on the growth of the Academies programme to July 2015.By July  2015 the total number of open academies stood at 4722.
  • In practice the expansion of Academies was if anything greater than the Government had expected and as is indicated above this expansion was driven mainly by the growth of "Converter Academies" which were to be independent of Local Authority control but were not required to attract any sponsorship.
  • These Converter Academies included a significant number of Foundation Schools[ schools already operating with some autonomy from their LEAS] and Selective Grammar Schools as well as a limited number of Private Schools. It should be noted that Selective Schools were allowed to remain selective on becoming an Academy but that no non-selective school could opt to become selective after becoming an Academy. Click here for  an Independent article on Private Schools becoming academies. 
  • Whereas supporters of the Academies Programme have welcomed the Coalition Government's decision to oblige an increasing number of Primary Schools [especially those deemed to be "failing" to become Academies there have also been criticisms of alleged Government heavy- handedness  in this respect. Thus there was controversy  when the Downhills Primary School [ Click here and here ]was forced to become an Academy despite the wishes of many parents and teachers and when parents of children at the Roke Primary School [ Click here ]  were allegedly given little influence over the choice of sponsor when the school was re-established as an Academy.
  •  It has also been claimed that in several cases OFSTED inspectors have given inaccurate negative assessments of primary schools' progress in order to facilitate the acceleration of the academisation in the primary education sector[ as reported, for example, in a Guardian article by John Harris but denied by Government spokespersons. [ Click here for John Harris on Primary Academisation and click here for  comments from the Conservative Leader of  Lancashire County Council alleging excessive pressure is being employed by the DFE to encourage academisation, claims which of course are denied by the DFE ]
  • It was increasingly argued that the DfE was ill-equipped to deal with the oversight of the increasing number of academies and this led to the appointment of 8 Regional School Commissioners who would be tasked with the oversight of Academies in each region. Each Regional Commissioner would be assisted by a Head Teacher Board consisting of 4 Academy Head Teachers [ elected by all academy heads in that region] and 2-4 additional experienced professionals appointed by the Regional School  Commissioner. The RSCs and the Head Teachers Boards began to operate from the Summer of 2014.   Click here and here for articles providing a very useful insight into the work of the Regional School Commissioners and click here for a critical view of the Regional School Commissioners

·        The House Of Commons Education Select Committee Report on Academies and Free Schools. {Click here for the full report on Academies and Free Schools   and scroll to Section 2  pp 10-24 for the section on Academisation and Pupil Progress]

The members of this committee have been advised by Professor Stephen Machin who has himself conducted important and highly respected research on the possible effects of academisation on pupil attainment some of which is summarised in my own summary document on Academies. The Committee concentrate their research primarily on the effects of sponsored academisation on pupil progress arguing that it is to soon too assess the effects of the Converter Academies.

Their key conclusion is that "Current evidence does not allow us to draw firm conclusions on whether academies are a positive force for change. According to research we have seen, it is too early to judge whether academies raise standards overall or for disadvantaged children. This is partly a matter of timing. We should be cautious about reading across from evidence about pre-2010 academies to other academies established since then."

 With regard to the Sponsored Academies and attainment  the main points included in the Report include the following.


·       There is evidence that rates of improvement in GCSE pass rates [5 or more A*-C GCSE pass rates] have been faster in sponsored academies.

·       However given that attainment levels in sponsored academies started from a lower level some narrowing of the attainment gap between sponsored academies and non –academies was to be expected.

·       It is also important to note that despite some relative improvement attainment levels in sponsored academies have remained below the average national level  although this is entirely predictable given that the original sponsored academies were set up in areas of relative social deprivation

·       In any case there as significant differences in attainment levels as between individual  academies and between academy chains. The ARK and Harris chains have been especially successful but others have not.

·       here is evidence that although the main benefit of academisation is said to be increased individual school autonomy many academies are not actually modifying school practices very significantly.

·       Insofar as attainment levels in sponsored academies are improving more rapidly this may be due to the fact that academy students have been entered disproportionately for “GCSE Equivalent” courses rather than actual GCSE courses. Attainment levels in sponsored academies tend to be much lower when only GCSE courses are considered.

·       Although the DfE argue that the rate of improvement in GCSE pass rates of pupils eligible for free school meals is faster in sponsored academies than in comparable non –academies this has been disputed by other analysts such as Henry Stewart.

·       It has been argued, most notably by O. Silva and S. Machin, that sponsored academies have done little to improve the attainment levels of pupils considered to be in the lowest 20% of the ability range.

·       There is evidence of strong improvement in non-academies suggesting that academisation  is certainly not the only route to school progress.

·       There are claims that high quality leadership, high quality teaching and sufficient capital resources are more important determinants of pupil progress.


With regard to Converter Academies the main conclusions of the Report are as follows

·       It is in general far too soon to assess whether academisation has led to increased pupil progress given that these schools have only experienced academisation for a maximum of four years.

·       The vast majority of Converter Academies were high performing schools , often with relatively socially advantaged intakes and so one would have expected continued improvement in such schools irrespective of academisation.


·       Please note that in July 2017 the Education Policy Institute published a new , detailed report entitled The Impact of Academies on Educational Outcomes . Click here for this report which also has a concise and very useful executive summary which may be especially helpful for students.



Academies, The Conservatives and the 2015 General Election

  • Not withstanding the conclusions of the Select Committee David Cameron has announced that if the Conservatives win the forthcoming General Election his Government intends to target “mediocrity” within the education by means of further expansion of academisation , a proposal which has quickly attracted criticism from educationalists.  Click here  and here for BBC coverage and here for Guardian coverage of Conservative plans for further mass academisation.

·          Click here  and here and here for articles on Academies from The Conversation

·        Click here for Guardian coverage and here for BBC coverage of DfE report on Academy Chains .


·        This concludes the section on Academies for the time being. There will be continuing controversies as to their effectiveness for the foreseeable future which you can follow in the press and broadcast media. For example you may click here the Guardian’s regularly updated archive of articles on Academies.

·        Click here for a summary assessment of Academies published in May 2017



 Click here for Free Schools Q and A  and here for  a BBC item for and against free schools and here for a critical item from the New Statesman and here for BBC coverage of a Conference for supporters of Free Schools and here for Observer coverage of Labour policy in relation to untrained teachers in Free Schools and Academies. Click here for an Independent article on the variety of Free Schools and here  and here for a similar Guardian articles. Click here for information from the BBC on the enforced closure of a Free School in 2013

The setting up of Free Schools was proposed in the Conservative Manifesto of 2010 and given approval in the Academies Act of 2010 which also paved the way for existing state primary and secondary schools to become Academies. Free Schools are established as Academies independent of Local Authorities and with increased control of their curriculum, teachers' pay and conditions  and the length of the school day and terms. They may be set up by groups of parents , teachers, businesses, universities, trusts and religious and voluntary groups but are funded by central government. Note also that several Free Schools have been set up by chains which already run several Academies and that some Free Schools have transferred from the Private to the State sector.

As of March 2015 there were 408 Free Schools open and David Cameron announced that if re-elected the Conservatives hoped to open a further 500 Free Schools by 2020.. Click here for BBC item  from March 2015

The New Schools network has been set up as a charity with government funding to advise groups wishing to set up Free Schools and such groups are also very likely to contract an Education Provider to deliver the educational services necessary for the running of the schools although such education providers are not currently allowed to make a profit out of the running of the schools.

Click  here for the New Schools Network website and here for some complexities of statistics and here for further information

The Government's decision to fund the setting up or Free Schools can be seen as an important aspect of its general support for the operation of a quasi-market in education. Thus it is argued that in localities where parents or teachers or other groups believe that the local authority schools are unsatisfactory they will now have the opportunity to set up Fee Schools and that increased competition between the new Free Schools and existing local authority schools will drive up overall educational standards as has occurred , according to the Government, in Sweden where such a system is in operation. Furthermore the UK Government claim that the introduction of Free Schools will increase equality of educational opportunity for disadvantaged pupils currently being taught in under-performing local authority schools. [However, as is indicated in some of the links critics argue that the UK Government's interpretation of the Swedish experience with Free Schools is not entirely accurate.

The UK Government's case in favour of Free Schools is essentially that the operation of the quasi -market will drive up average educational standards and that disadvantaged pupils will benefit from this but the scheme has also been subjected to substantial criticisms as listed below.

1.   It is claimed that they will be set up disproportionately in affluent neighbourhoods and that they may attract "better" teachers from local authority schools

2.   They may be set up in areas where local authority schools are already undersubscribed thus wasting resources.

3.   They may attract the better performing pupils from local authority schools thereby undermining them

4.   The combined effects of points 1-3 may be that they lead gradually to the development of a two-tier education system.

5.   There is a danger that although Free School Education Providers are not currently allowed to make a profit this condition could be relaxed in the future leading to the indirect privatisation of parts of the education system.

6.   Free Schools do not need to employ qualified teachers [which to some extent negates the second part of point above.

7.   They may give too much freedom to faith based schools or fundamentalist agendas although the UK Government point out that safeguards ensure that  such schools must teach a broad and balanced curriculum and that creationism must not be taught as a valid scientific theory   

Click here for  a BBC item for and against free schools which provides further very useful information relating to the above 7 points.


Click on the following links for additional information  if required

Click here for BBC coverage of critical OFSTED report on Muslim Free School

Click here, here and here for BBC coverage of possible Coalition conflicts over Free Schools and Academies

Click here for full and regularly updated Guardian coverage of Free Schools [ 433 articles as of December 14th 2013]

Click here and here and here and here and here for further information from the BBC.

Click here and here for items from the Daily Telegraph .

Click here for NAS/UWT opposition to free schools

Click here for a detailed Report on Free Schools [published November 2017]  by the Education Policy Institute



·       The EBacc, the EBacc Certificate , proposals to abolish GCSEs and the non-introduction of these proposals and subsequent changes announced in June 2013 and delays to the introduction of these reforms, announced in September 2013 and announcement in November of  timing of Introduction of new system.

[Click here  for a Guardian item and here for a BBC item and here for the scrapping of the GCSE  and here for the scrapping of the EBacc Certificate and here for a more detailed article on the demise of the EBacc Certificate]

The EBacc

Michael Gove announced in November 2010 that Secondary Schools' performance would be assessed not only in terms of the percentages of their students attaining 5 or more GCSE A*-C grades including English and Mathematics but also in terms of percentages of students attaining the so-called EBacc {English Baccalaureate] which demanded achievement of GCSE A*-C grades in English Mathematics, Science, a foreign language and History or Geography. This policy reflected Mr. Gove's belief that attainment of good GCE grades in EBacc subjects provided a good indication of sound all round educational achievement and that it would discourage some schools from entering their students for "easier" GCSE courses [including vocational GCSEs] in an attempt to inflate their overall GCSE pass rates.

Nevertheless the introduction without prior warning of the EBacc qualification was criticised as unjust since many students had chosen their GCSE options unaware that this would deny them the possibility of gaining the EBacc qualification while overall school league table positions were in some cases unexpectedly affected adversely. Other critics argued that the status of Vocational GCSEs and of GCSEs in subjects such as Art, Drama, Music, Computer Studies   Religious Studies and Sociology would thereby be undermined [and some Computer Studies courses were subsequently added to the EBacc list .]

Also once detailed analyses of GCSE examination results were published it was clear that the difference between students eligible and ineligible for free school meals  in achievement of 5 or more GCSE A*-C Grades including English and Mathematics was even greater in relation to the attainment of the EBacc subjects, a fact that could be expected to undermine even more the future education prospects of disadvantaged students unless major initiatives [which seem unlikely ] are introduced to compensate for these disadvantages. 

GCSE examinations have continued to be subject to criticisms that the courses are lacking in academic rigour and that the ever increasing pass rate suggests not that pupil achievement is increasing but that the examinations are becoming easier partly because competition for entrants among examination boards encourages them to engineer higher pass rates and because with this aim in mind examination boards have organised examiner-teacher meetings at which examiners have given teachers too much information about future examination questions.

The EBacc Certificate

Although such criticisms have been rejected by many Michael Gove announced what appeared to be very much like the beginning of the end of GCSE examinations in September 2012.See here for Guardian coverage of the EBacc Certificate proposals Thus under Mr. Gove's proposals:

  1. GCSE examinations in key subjects were to be replaced by a new qualification called the EBacc Certificate with the first new examinations in English, Mathematics and Sciences introduced in September 2015 for first examination in 2017.
  2. EBacc Certificate examinations in History, Geography and Languages would be introduced subsequently.
  3. The new EBacc courses would be more difficult than existing GCSE courses and a larger percentage of examination marks would be allocated for correct spelling, punctuation and grammar.
  4. Nevertheless the EBacc Certificate examinations were to be taken by a wide range of pupils and there would be no return to the previous GCE O level-CSE split. [It had been suggested that Mr. Gove had favoured such a division but that this had been rejected by Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg.
  5. Also under the new system the distinction between higher Tier and Foundation Tier examinations which exists in the GCSE system would be discontinued.
  6.  It was, however, admitted that under the new system more students might leave school with no formal qualifications although Mr. Gove claimed that this was overly pessimistic while stating that students who did indeed leave with no formal qualifications would be provided with a detailed "Record of Achievement" by their schools.
  7. Each individual EBacc Certificate subject would be delivered by a separate examination board  thereby reducing the possibility that competition between examination boards would lead to declining standards.
  8. GCSE courses could be expected to operate alongside the gradually expanding EBacc Certificate for several years but their long term future certainly did seem to be in doubt. 

However these proposals attracted considerable criticism and in January 2013 Mr Gove announced that they would be scrapped and that GCSE examinations would continue for the foreseeable future. However new changes to the organisation of GCSE courses were announced in June 2013 and these new changes [along with subsequent modifications are summarised below.

The Reorganisation of GCSE Courses

Addition August 2016: Comparable Outcomes

GCSE and GCE Advanced Level Results improved steadily in the early 21st Century leading some to claim that this illustrated not that the quality of teaching and learning was improving but that the degree of difficulty of the examinations. Consequently both GCSE and GCE Advanced Level results have come to be determined by the use of a technique known as comparable outcomes whereby examiners seek to determine the percentages of students attaining each GCSE  grade with reference to attainment levels in Key Stage Two examinations  results and to determine percentages of students attaining each GCE Advanced Level Grade with reference to attainment levels in GCE examinations.. Usage of this system has halted the yearly improvement in GCSE  and GCE Advanced Level Grades. The following links provide further information on Comparable Outcomes.

Click here and here and here and here and here and here for information on Comparable Outcomes.



1.     The first new courses in “Core GCSE subjects” would be introduced in September 2015 for first examination in 2017 with new courses in other subjects to be introduced later which meant that for several years “new” and “old” GCSE courses would be taught contemporaneously.

2.     It was hoped initially that new course in 9 core GCSE subjects [English, English Lit, Maths, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Combined Sciences, History and Geography] would be introduced in 2015 with other courses introduced in September 2016 but it was announced later that only English, English Lit. and Mathematics would be introduced in September 2015 

3.     The new courses would be introduced only in England and the devolved Welsh and N Irish education authorities announced that they would continue with the existing GCSE system while GCSE courses are in any case not taught in Scotland. This led to speculation that the new English GCSEs might be termed “I” levels to differentiate them from N. Irish and Welsh GCSEs but this suggestion was not in the event adopted.

4.     All assessments would take place at the end of the two year courses; There would be no modularisation, no course work except in a minority of subjects where it would be deemed appropriate  an d the  controlled assessments [accounting for 25% of the marks in History, English Literature and Geography] would be abolished. [Consultations on coursework components have continued for some considerable time and you may click here for the situation as of January 2015].

5.     Retakes of English, English Lit and Mathematics would still be available in November.. 

6.     The new courses were to be graded from 8 to 1  rather than from A*-G  although in November 2013 it was agreed that instead the new course would be graded from 9 to 1

7.     The distinction between Foundation and Higher Tier examinations would be abolished..

8.     The new courses would in general be more difficult, examinations would be based more on essay –type questions  and overall pass marks would be set higher.

9.     Addition. In the new GCSE Science courses it was decided that practical work would no longer be assessed but this decision has provoked widespread criticism and may possibly be reversed. Click here and here and here for further information. It has been OFQUAL which decided that practical work would no longer be assessed but Coalition ministers may "persuade" OFQUAL to reverse this decision.


  • Some further information

·       Click here and here for information on the scrapping of proposals for the EBacc certificate

·       Click here for a BBC Q and A on GCSE

·       Click here for Guardian coverage and here for BBC coverage of possible rebranding of GCSEs as "I Levels"

·       Click here, and here and here and here and here and here for BBC coverage and here for Guardian coverage of June 2013 changes. The 4th link is to a particularly useful, short Radio 4 discussion on the proposed changes

·       Click here and here for critical assessments of the new system from the Guardian.

·       Click here for BBC coverage and here for Guardian coverage of the delay of GCSE and A level reforms and here for confirmation of the changes

·       Click here for BBC coverage of GCSE grading and demotivation

·       Click here for further information from a House of Commons  Library Standard Note.]

·       Click here for Guardian coverage of new government policy on continuing study of Mathematics and English for pupils who have failed to gain GCSE  Grade  C passes in these subjects




League Tables

By 2014 GCSE examinations had been made more difficult in several respects . Many non-GCSE courses had either been scrapped completely or excluded from League Table calculations and only pupils’ first examination attempts were included for league table purposes. Also excluded were IGCSE examination results which had the effect of relegating many prestigious Public Schools to the bottom of the League Tables because their pupils are entered mainly for IGCSE examinations. In the State Sector the net effect has been that the number of secondary schools said to be underperforming [ where less than 40% of pupils achieve 5or more  good GCSE passes including English and Maths  and the proportion of pupils making expected progress is below the median percentage for all state-funded mainstream schools] doubled from 154 to 330.

Click here and here  for BBC coverage and here for Guardian coverage of the 2014 examination results.   

·        Changes to the methods of assessing school and pupil progress at GCSE Level.

It has regularly been suggested that schools have responded to the 5 or more GCSE A*-C accountability criterion by concentrating their attention on students who are on the borderline between achieving and not achieving this level with the result that less attention is focussed on lower achieving students with potentially adverse consequences for their educational prospects . However an additional accountability criterion designed to deal with this issue  is to be introduced in 2016. Further information can be found via the following links.

·       Click here for BBC coverage of Mr Gove’s decision to block early GCSE entry

·        Click here for a very useful detailed item from the DFE

·       Click here for BBC coverage of changes to school accountability measurement

Click here for BBC discussion of 2018 league tables


Click here for Michael Gove letter to OFQUAL  Click here and here and here and here for Guardian coverage and here and here and here for BBC coverage. The last link provides information on Labour plans to reverse the Gove reform.

It was announced by OFQUAL on November 12th 2012 that from September 2013 students would be able to sit GCE AS and A2 examinations only in the Summer. In support of this change of policy it was argued that it would discourage "bite Size" learning whereby interconnections between different elements of a subject were insufficiently recognised, enable students and teachers to spend more time on actual learning and teaching rather than direct preparation for examinations and inhibit the continuing development among students of a "resit culture.". However critics of the change argued that the opportunities for resits were especially helpful to students, often from disadvantaged backgrounds, who found the initial transition  from GCSE to AS/A2 work more difficult such that consequently the ending of resit opportunities was likely to result in increased inequality of educational achievement.

Further significant changes were announced by Michael Gove in January 2013 for introduction in September 2015.[  It was subsequently agreed that the new GCE Advance Level syllabi would be introduced more gradually:  some would be introduced in September 20015 more in 2016 and Mathematics and Further Mathematics would be introduced in September 2017. Click here for further information from a House of Commons  Library Standard Note.]

  1. GCE A Level courses would now be examined only at the end of the 2 Year Course.
  2. GCE AS courses would be retained but as stand alone courses [lasting one or two years] and not as part of the progression to a full GCE A Level qualification.
  3. The Russell Group of 24 leading universities would participate in the development of new GCE Advanced Level Courses in Mathematics, Further Mathematics, English Literature, Biology , Chemistry and Physics, Geography, History, and Modern and Classical Languages: i.e. subjects which the Russell Universities deemed most useful indications of suitability for entry to their university courses. Click here for additional information on the involvement of the Russell Group Universities2017 AS-level drop by 42% after reforms | Schools Week

You may use the above links to investigate Michael Gove's rationale for these policy changes and some of the criticisms which have been made of them.  Click here for a BBC item on disputes as to the usefulness of AS examination results as predictors of University degree results [May 2013] . Click here for BBC coverage and here for Guardian coverage of the delay of GCSE and A level reforms and here for BBC coverage of criticisms from Oxford University admissions officer of proposed changes .Click here for recent Guardian information on the proposed reduced role of practical examinations in A Level Science courses.   Click here for  a recent [January 2015] Guardian article reporting UCAS concerns that some students may be disadvantaged by the reorganisation of  GCE A Level courses.

Click here  and here  for further information surrounding the abolition of practical work assessment in the new A level Science examinations.

Click here for an article form Schools Week on reducing entries for AS Level examination 2015-17 

  • Vocational Education: the Wolf Report, University Technical Colleges and the Technical Baccalaureate.

UK Governments have long recognised that the nature and quality of the education system could affect significantly the productivity of labour and hence the competitiveness of the UK economy and this has been a major motivation for government attempts to improve overall educational standards and to emphasise that educational curricula should as far as possible reflect the needs of industry and commerce for an appropriately skilled workforce.

The Coalition Government has introduced a range of education policies which it believes can improve overall education standards and has focused also on what it sees as the need for reform of the provision of vocational education. The Secretary of State for Education  Michael Gove outlined his general approach in September 2010 when he announced the setting up of a review of vocational education for 14-19 year olds to be led by Professor Alison Wolf. Click here for a summary of Mr Gove's views. Thus according to Mr. Gove:

  • It was important that if young people were to become productive workers they should attain a good general level of education especially in English Mathematics and the Sciences .
  • Without these fundamentals actual vocational qualifications would be regarded as inadequate by employers which would undermine the employability of students studying for these qualifications.
  • However because of the evaluation of schools in terms of the percentages of their students attaining 5 or more GCSE A*-C grades including English and Mathematics some schools had encouraged their students to take composite vocational courses deemed equivalent to as many as 4 GCSEs rather than to opt for subjects such as Modern Languages, History and Geography . Mr Gove believed that in so doing some schools in the pursuit of higher league table positions were actually undermining their own students' employability .

Professor Wolf's Review, published in 2011. reached very similar conclusions. Thus the Review stated that although there were many good apprenticeship schemes there were also many courses which "did not do people any good " and that students on vocational courses should be made to keep up with academic subjects such as Mathematics and English. According to the review between 1/4 and 1/3 of 16-19 year old students were on courses which do not lead to jobs or training schemes and this view was supported by another expert , Professor Lorna Unwin  who was especially critical of Level 1 and 2 NVQ courses which were deemed equivalent to GCSEs. and who stated that "There are too many people at the lower levels . These courses do not give progression because the qualifications are just not good enough." [Quoted in The Guardian]. Soon  the Coalition Government responded to the Wolf Review in no uncertain terms by removing several thousand vocational qualifications from the school league tables  although it remained abundantly clear that vocational education has a very important role to play within the overall education system. [Click here for and here  and here and here for some further information]

Very similar conclusions were drawn in relation to the provision of vocational education for students aged 16-19  and this led to the unveiling of so-called Tech Level Qualifications in December 2013 for first teaching from September 2014..

Click here for Guardian coverage of new government policy on continuing study of Mathematics and English for pupils who have failed to gain GCSE  Grade  C passes in these subjects and click here for TES coverage of difficulties in implementation of this programme. 


Another important initiative in relation to vocational education has been the setting up of University Technical Colleges under the aegis of the Baker Dearing Trust. It was stated in the Conservative Party General Election Manifesto that  if elected the Conservatives would facilitate the building  of 15 such schools by 2015 but as of September 2015 39 such colleges were in operation and it is projected that by 2017 more than 55 would be either open or under construction. 

University Technical Colleges are Academies which are geared to the technicality oriented education of 14-18 year olds. As stated for example on the Norfolk University Technical College Website they aim to offer students "a high status, full-time technically oriented education that blends academic education and hands -on opportunities".  In many cases students will study the 5 current English Baccalaureate subjects along with additional technical/ vocational subjects in their first two years before proceeding to specialise more fully on technical/vocational subjects in their final two years. They are sponsored by universities and their curricula are influenced by local and national businesses  which also guarantee to provide students with relevant work experience. It would appear , therefore, that such college will provide high quality academically based vocationally relevant education which should improve students' employment opportunities and contribute in some measure to long term increases in economic efficiency.

 Teachers unions have argued that students will have to make the decision whether to attend a University Technical College at the early age of 13 and that the effects of this may be to increase the academic -vocational divide although this criticism is rejected by supporters of University Technical Colleges who point out that students will continue to study EBacc subjects and claim that the vocational focus of the colleges actually stimulates interest in academic subjects. Click here for a BBC Q and A on University Technical Colleges and Click here  and Click here  for additional information and   here for the Website of Norfolk University Technical College  and here for a detailed interview with Lord Baker. 

In October 2013 major new plans have been unveiled for the expansion of University Technical Colleges and the setting up of Career Colleges. Click here and here and here for Independent coverage of this initiative.

Click here for a Guardian article on University Technical Colleges published in September 2015 and here for an article from Schools Week published in September 2016 and here for a Guardian article on UTCs and vocational education in general published in February 2017 and here for an article suggesting that Michael Gove had himself opposed UTCs. This article also discusses some of the difficulties faced by UTCs 2015-18

Click here for a Parliament Research Briefing  on UTCs and here for an assessment of the performance of UTCs from the NFER.



  •    Vocational education is provided also by means of Apprenticeships  which may involve a combination of on the job training and college attendance leading to a recognised qualification.
  •    Apprenticeships were for many years associated primarily  with the skilled manual trades such as plumbing, engineering and building  but nowadays the main sectors providing apprenticeships are Business, Administration and Law, Engineering and Manufacture, Health Public Services and Care and Retail and Commercial Enterprises.
  •    Consequently there are now more female than male apprentices and there are significant gender differences in the choice of apprenticeships in different sectors.
  •    Over 2.4 million apprenticeships were created between  2010/11 and 2014/15 and the current Conservative Government is aiming to create 3 million new apprenticeships between 2010 and 2015.
  •   Apprenticeships may currently be undertaken at 3 levels: Intermediate, Advanced and Higher equivalent to GCSE Level , Advanced Level and Post-Advanced level standards.
  •   The vast majority of apprenticeship schemes are at Intermediate and advanced Levels and in 2014/15  only 4% of apprenticeships were at the Higher Level. However this percentage is increasing albeit from a low level.
  •   There are many good schemes which should ensure career progression but considerable concern has been expressed as to the quality of some Intermediate Level apprenticeships  especially in Care  and in Retail
  •    Particularly scathing criticisms come from an OFSTED Report published  in October 2015. Respondents to the survey variously stated that they felt they were being used a cheap labour to be replaced once their apprenticeships ended and that their apprenticeships offered no real training. Indeed some respondents  were actually unaware that they were on an apprenticeship scheme.
  •   The OFSTED Report uncovered schemes where participants completed their apprenticeships with only low level skills such as serving or cleaning floors.
  •   Thus the Report claimed,  “As well as stifling the career opportunities of these apprentices, the low quality process undermines the status of apprenticeships  and devalues the brand.”
  •   One is reminded here of some of the criticisms  which were made of YTS schemes as early as the 1980s .However the expansion of better schemes at all levels is to be welcomed and Government Ministers state that they are very keen to eliminate deficiencies where they occur

Click here for a detailed report on Apprenticeships from the House of Commons Education Select Committee March 2015]

Click here for a critical assessment of current apprenticeship schemes from the Independent [August 2015]

Click here for a House Of Commons Research Brief on Apprenticeships

Click here for OFSTED Report and here for BBC coverage of this report. October 2015



  • Education Maintenance Allowances were first piloted in 1999 and introduced throughout the UK in 2004 in order to encourage young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to remain in education. There were made  available to all 16 -19 year olds whose Household income is less than £30,810 p.a.  and are following academic or vocational courses up to Level3 [AS and A2 levels or AVCEs], some LSC -funded courses and courses leading to apprenticeships. The rates of payment related to Family Income are shown below

Family Income

Weekly EMA

Up to £20,817


£20,817- £25,521


£25,522- £30,810


  • By 2011 -12 about 650,000 students were receiving EMAs of between £10 and £30 per week.
  • It is estimated that around a half of all 16 year olds are eligible for EMAs of at least £10 or more per week.
  • Eligible pupils receive a weekly term -time allowance of £10, £20 or £30 depending upon the precise level of household income which is available for the two or possibly 3 year duration of their course so long as they fulfil the terms of their EMA contract which must be negotiated with their school, college or training provider and lays down conditions as to regular attendance and necessary progress.
  • The award of an EMA does not result in the reduction in any other social security benefits for which households may be eligible.
  • Successful students may also be eligible for additional financial bonuses and may continue to work part-time without losing their eligibility so long as they are meeting the terms of their contract.

The Conservatives had denied during the 2010 General Election Campaign that they would abolish the EMA  but following the formation of the Coalition Government George Osborne announced in the 2010 Public Spending Review that the EMA would in fact be replaced by "more targeted support. The Government claimed that at £560 Million p.a. the scheme was expensive and that it was also wasteful because , according to research from the NFER 90% of students would continue their courses  without the payment.

However controversy soon arose as critics claimed that the Government had misinterpreted the results of this NFER study , a conclusion supported by the main author of the study. Click here and click here  for BBC coverage of  discussion of research surrounding the ending of the EMA .

When the Government had announced that the EMA was to be scrapped it did announce that a targeted replacement scheme would be introduced but there were nevertheless fears that about 300,000 students would lose their EMAs midway through their courses ..

In March 2011 the Coalition Government announced that  it would replace the EMA scheme [estimated cost £560M p.a.]  with a new fund for  low income earners [ estimated cost £160M p.a. ] and that £15 M of this £160M will be used to give 12,000 of the most disadvantaged 16-19 year olds bursaries of £1200 p.a.  The rest of the funds would be added to the existing "learner support fund" [estimated cost £26M p.a.]  which is given to schools, colleges and other learning providers to use at their discretion. The Government also announced details of the gradual phasing out of the EMA payments. [See BBC Q and A on EMA.]  However  click here and here  and here for discussion of controversies which soon surrounded the successor scheme

Further Information

Click here for a Conservative view

Click here for a New Statesman article

Click here for Channel 4 Factcheck

  • The End of the Aim Higher Programme

The Aim Higher Programme was introduced by the Labour Government and was designed to provide information and activities designed to encourage children to consider the benefits of Higher Education. It was geared especially toward children whose parents had not themselves undertaken Higher Education courses. You may click here for further information about the Aim Higher programme and you can then discuss its likely effectiveness with your teachers.

 The Coalition announced that the Aim Higher Programme would close at the end of academic year 2010-2011 and  that alternative policies would be introduced to encourage HE participation among pupils unlikely otherwise to enter  HE. Click here for further information from the Guardian. and here for information from the BBC and here and here for information from the Times Higher Educational Supplement.  {I have not as yet been able to find any information on the effectiveness of alternative Coalition policies.

  • The Sure Start Programme under Labour , Coalition and Conservative Governments


Labour' Sure Start Programme [Click here for a DCFS video on YouTube which presents Sure Start Centres in a lively. , positive light . Click here Guardian on Sure Start and Click here for more from the Guardian on Sure Start. Both Guardian Reports highlight some possible problems with the Sure Start Programmes. However a recent [2019] IFS study  suggests that  Sure Start Centres under Labour significantly improved the health prospects of poorer children Further  information follows on the Sure Start programme and the Coalition Government and Conservative Governments.

It has often been suggested that the Sure Start Programme has been influenced at least to some extent by the organisation of the Operation Headstart Programme which had been introduced in the USA in 1965 as an attempt at early intervention to promote the development of disadvantaged children via the encouragement of better parenting techniques. The first Sure Start centres were set up in 1998 and concentrated in areas of severe social deprivation. They were  designed to provide facilities in deprived areas for childcare, early education, health and family support services  and employment advice for families with children under 5 with the aim of reducing child poverty and social exclusion. Between 2006 and 2008 additional centres were set up in less disadvantaged areas while by 2010 the aim was to provide a total of 3500 Sure Start Centres to reach all children under 5 in all areas of the country.

The original overall rationale for the Sure Start Programme was based upon the general idea that parents in deprived areas might well be very keen to do the best for their children but that their lack of knowledge and parenting skills might put their children at a considerable educational disadvantage even before they entered school which would would then restrict their future educational progress throughout their school careers. Recent support for the rationale behind the Sure Start Scheme is provided in several studies which suggest that many children from economically deprived backgrounds enter First Schools at a considerable disadvantage relative to middle class children.

For example the necessity for some forms of assistance for children in disadvantaged families has been emphasised in the research of Professor Feinstein who has shown that social class disadvantages tend to affect the intellectual progress of poorer children even before they enter First School  and in more recent research from the Sutton Trust.

 Click here for information on Professor Feinstein's research findings and click here for BBC coverage of the recent Sutton Trust Research.

 Click here for a BBC item on the Sure Start Scheme suggesting its benefits may be limited

Click here for recent [July 2011] BBC Radio 4 Analysis Programme on Sure Start.

Click here for a Guardian article outlining the history of the Sure Start Programme to 2011

Sure Start and the Coalition Government 2010-15 and the Conservative Governments   2015-.

There have been controversies surrounding the development of the Sure Start Programme under the Coalition government. Critics have claimed that several hundred Sure Start centres have been closed while the Government has argued that the decline in the number of Sure Start centres has arisen primarily [but not entirely] as a result of amalgamations of smaller centres. Click here and here for recent information on Sure Start closures. [Thanks to Fran Nantongwe  for drawing my attention to these articles.]

Click here for Government research: Children's centres: their impact on children and families .[December 2015]

Additions June 2019

It later  came to be argued that the rate of closure of Sure Start Centres under the Coalition and Conservative Governments has been faster than official data suggest and also that Sure Start Centres have improved the health outcomes of children in poorer areas  which may be assumed to have had some beneficial impact on their educational opportunities. For further details:

Click here for a 2019 report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies. This item also contains a useful summary video

Click here for Guardian Coverage of the IFS Report

Click here  for Guardian Trust Coverage of  a 2018 Sutton Trust Report on closure of Sure Start Centres


Click here for DfE information on current values of the Pupil Premium and procedures for overseeing the effectiveness of the Pupil Premium. In 2014-15 and 2015-16 annual Pupil Premium rates have been set at £1300 and £ 1320 for Primary age pupils and £935 ad £ 935 for Secondary age pupils. Schools may be allocated £1900 p.a. to spend on additional resources for looked after children. {See DFE publication for details].

The following table provides recent information on students achievements at GCSE level related to eligibility or ineligibility for free school meals . The  key purpose of the Pupils' Premium is to target additional school resources on looked after children and those eligible for Free School meals.

The following information on Gender, Free School Meal Eligibility and GCSE Attainment has  been, extracted from  SFR 2011/12 and SFR 2012/13 and SFR 14  on GCSE Attainment and Pupil Characteristics


Table : Gender, Free School Meal Eligibility and Percentages of Pupils gaining 5 or more GCSE A*-C  Grades including English and Mathematics 2008/9 - 2014/15 and Percentages of pupils achieving the EBacc [ with grades 9-4 in English and Maths  2016/17 [Source : DFE SFRs 2011/2012  - 2016/17: GCSE Attainment and Pupil Characteristics: English State Schools]


Table : Gender, Free School Meal Eligibility and Percentages of Pupils gaining 5 or more GCSE A*-C  Grades including English and Mathematics 2008/9 - 2016/17 [Sources : DFE SFR Various Years:  GCSE Attainment and Pupil Characteristics: ]

Pupil Category

% gaining 5 or more A*-C GCSE Grades inc English and Maths in 2008/9

% gaining 5 or more A*-C GCSE Grades  inc English and Maths in 2009/10

% gaining 5 or more A*-C GCSE Grades inc English and maths in 2010/11

% gaining 5 or more A*-C GCSE Grades inc. English and Maths in 2011/12

% gaining 5 or more A*-C GCSE Grades inc. English and Maths in 2012/2013

% gaining 5 or more A*-C GCSE Grades inc English and Maths in 2013/14

%gaining 5 or more A*-C GCSE Grades inc English  and  Maths in 2014/15 % achieving the EBacc [with9-4 grades in English and Maths]   2016/17

Boys FSM






29.2 29.3 7.6

Girls  FSM






38.0 37.2 13.2

Total FSM






33.5 33.1 10.3

Boys NFSM/Unclassified






55.4 56.2 20.4

Girls NFSM/Unclassified






65.7 65.8 31.4

Total NFSM/Unclassified






60.5 60.9 25.9

All Boys






51.6 52.5 18.7

All Girls






61.7 61.8 26.9

All Pupils






56.6 57.1 23.7
Gender Gap-F-M


7.4 7.3 9.3 8.1 10.1 9.3 8.2

Total NFSM-FSM Gap









 Between 2008/9 and 2014/15 the gender gap fluctuated between 7.3% and 10.1% while the NFSM-FSM gap fluctuated between 26.3% and 27.8% It is very important to note however that as  a result of methodological changes introduced in 2013-2014 results in 2013/14 and 2014/15 are not comparable to earlier results.

The 2016/17 data are in no way directly comparable with all of these previous years  although once again the gender gap is smaller than the NFSM Unclassified/FSM gap..


The above data indicate that the FSM-NFSM attainment gap did narrow slightly between 2008/9 and 2011/12 and this narrowing continued in 2012/13. However in 2013/14 , largely due to methodological changes in the calculation of the percentages of pupils who had attained 5 or more A*-C GCSE pass grades including English and Maths , the overall percentage of pupils reaching this standard actually fell and also  2013/14 the FSM-NFSM attainment gap actually widened . In 2014/15 there was a slight increase in the overall percentage  of pupils attaining 5 or more A*-C GCSE pass grades but the attainment % of FSM pupils actually fell and  the NFSM/Unclassified pupil- - FSM pupil gap actually increased which does suggest that the impact of the Pupil Premium must not be overstated. However it is also the case that the NFSM/Unclassified pupil- FSM pupil gap in percentages entering and achieving the EBacc did fall slightly between 2013/14 and 2014/15.


The data for 2016/17 based upon attainment of the EBacc suggest that the relationships between gender, FSM eligibility and attainment have continued although the 2016/17 are not comparable with the previous data which are based upon attainment of 5 or more GCSE A*-C grades including English and Mathematics.


1. Using  information in the above table  on Gender, Free School Meal Eligibility and Educational Attainment answer the following questions.

  • What percentage of all boys gained 5 or more A*-C GCSE grades including English and Maths in 2013/14?
  • What percentage of all girls gained 5 or more A*-C GCSE grades including English and Maths in 2013/14?
  • What percentages of boys eligible for FSM and ineligible for FSM/unclassified  gained 5 or more A*-C GCSE grades including English and Maths in 2013/14?

·        What percentages of girls eligible for FSM and ineligible for FSM/Unclassified  gained 5 or more A*-C grades including English and Maths in 2013/14?

2. Which factor seems to be the more significant influence on educational achievement :  Gender or Free School Meal Eligibility?

3. Which factor seems to be the more significant influence on educational achievement: gender or social class?

Further Information

·        The following three links on the Pupil Premium suggest that any increase in overall school finances provided via the Pupil Premium will to some extent be offset by the effects of reductions in funding elsewhere in the school budget. Furthermore it is suggested that although many schools are using the monies provided via the Pupil premium to target additional resources on disadvantaged pupils a sizeable percentage of schools are not doing so. [Click here and here for two items from the BBC and here for Channel 4's Fact Check]

·        However click here for very useful recent Independent article suggesting that the Coalition are very committed to improve the effectiveness of the Pupil premium and click here for a recent [July 2nd 2013] Guardian article

·        Click here and here for additional information from the BBC on the Pupil Premium and here for an Independent article and here for Guardian coverage of a Demos assessment

Both Conservative and perhaps especially Liberal Democratic spokespersons argue that the Pupil Premium should improve the educational opportunities of the poor and promote upward social mobility. Given the scale of the educational disadvantages faced by many such pupils many analysts argue that any improvement in equality of educational opportunity will be decidedly limited. We can certainly hope but should not expect too much.

[Although I concentrate here only on the question of tuition fees there are other very significant issues affecting the future of Higher education as is indicated in this Guardian article on the future of the Humanities in Higher Education]

In December 2010 the UK Parliament passed the Coalition legislation which provided for the increase in Higher Education tuition fees in English institutions to  a maximum of £9000 p.a.  with effect from September 2012 . The precise details of the tuition fees scheme are quite complex and you may  click here  for a Q and A on Tuition Fees and University Funding from the BBC for further detailed information. Notice especially that the higher tuition fees would apply  also to English students studying at all UK Higher Education Institutions but not to N. Irish , Scottish and Welsh students studying at N .Irish, Scottish and Welsh Higher Education institutions who would however pay the higher fees if they enrolled at English Higher Education institutions. Welsh students  at English HE institutions would receive grants to cover the difference between English and Welsh tuition fees.

Click here for a Parliamentary brief providing useful summary information

Students would receive loans to cover the costs of their tuition fees. They would also receive a combination of grants and loans to help to cover their maintenance cost where the relative size of the grants and loans would depend upon parental income. Also universities were to offer a mixture of fee waivers and bursaries to help to reduce the financial hardships experienced by relatively socially disadvantaged students. It was recognised, however, that combined maintenance grants and loans would not be sufficient to cover full maintenance costs which meant that many students would need to work to supplement their grants/loans  and /or take out additional private loans.

Consequently assuming tuition fees of £9,000 p.a. and maintenance loans which varied between £5,500 p.a. and £3,575 p.a. students could well leave university with debts to the government of more than £40,000p.a. on which interest would be charged. Once new graduates were in paid employment they were to contribute 9% of any gross income above £21,oo p.a. toward repayment of their loan. Thus for example a new graduate earning £30,000 p.a. would contribute about £16 per week to loan repayment.

It was agreed initially that the £21000 threshold would be increased in line with inflation but this provision has been dropped.

It has been recognised also that many graduates on low and/or intermittent incomes would never repay the full amount of their loans  which would eventually be written off.

It was widely argued that higher tuition fees would discourage especially poorer students from entering Higher Education and the following data from UCAS Reports enables us to analyse whether and to what extent this has actually been the case.

The UCAS publishes  very comprehensive annual reports on enrolment to UK Higher Education Institutions by UK students [subdivided into the 4 countries of the UK] as well as by students from the EU and other non-EU countries. These reports also provide information on enrolment trends categorised by gender, ethnicity and social disadvantage measured according to different geographical areas and eligibility and ineligibility for free school meals. These reports themselves do cast some considerable light on the effects of higher tuition fees on Higher Education enrolment but this UCAS data has also be reanalysed by the Independent Commission on Fees set up in 2012  specifically to investigate the effects of the higher tuition fees on Higher Education enrolment. 

In this document I aim to pick out some of the main conclusions from the  2014 and 2015 reports of the UCAS .

  • Basic UK Trends

Applicants and Acceptances for Full Time Undergraduate Courses from UK Higher Education providers 2010-2015{Adapted from UCAS Report December 2014 and UCAS Report December 2015]  [Please note that the following data exclude applications from and acceptances of part-time students. I shall return to this point below]








Total Applicants







Total Accepted Applicants







Acceptance Rate







We may note from these statistics that the total number of applications to UK Higher Education Providers  rose in 2011 as more students aimed  for early enrolment rather than a gap year as a means of avoiding one year of higher fees; that applications fell in 2012  and had only narrowly exceeded their 2010 level by 2014 but that applications increased quite significantly in 2015.. The number of accepted applicants also rose in 2011 and  fell in 2012  but by 2014 had surpassed its 2010 level by approximately 25,000 and, indeed exceeded  500,000 for the first time with another significant increase in 2015..

However it is also necessary to analyse these data in more detail focusing especially upon numbers of English applicants and accepted applicants since it is these students [who apply primarily to English H.E. providers [HEPs] charging the higher fees]  who might be most affected by them.

  • Applicants and Acceptances [as above ] by Domicile Country: UK, EU and Other Countries 2010-2015 [Adapted from UCAS Report Dec 2014 and December 2015]


















Accepted Applicants







N. Ireland









Accepted Applicants
















Accepted Applicants
















Accepted Applicants
















Accepted Applicants







EU [Excl.Uk]









Accepted Applicants







Non -EU









Accepted Applicants
















Accepted Applicants







From the above table we see that , unsurprisingly the vast majority of applicants to UK HEPs are English and that the number of English applicants fell very significantly in 2012 and still had not reached its 2010 level by 2015. However the number of accepted English applicants had surpassed its  2010 level by 2013 and also increased further in 2014 and 2015 .

[However it is also the case that the Independent Commission on Fees indicated that among English 18 year olds in 2013 although the total number of applicants fell the figure for applicants as a percentage of the age cohort  actually rose which shows that we must interpret the application data with care. Unfortunately I have not been able to find trend data for the overall rate of application per head of population  among English applicants!

Be that as it may we draw the following main conclusions

  • In the UK the number of applicants rose in 2011 [as students rejected gap years in order to avoid 1 year of higher tuition fees], fell in 2012  and  did not surpass its 2010 level until 2015.
  • In the UK  the number of accepted applicants rose 2011 and  fell in 2012 but surpassed its 2010 level in 2013 and increased further in 2014 and 2015.
  • Overall UK trends are much influenced by English trends and in England the number of applicants in 2015 had not returned to its 2010 level but the number of accepted applicants surpassed its 2010 level in 2013 and rose further in 2014 and 2015.
  • Both application data and accepted application data should also be considered in terms of full population trends which, unfortunately, I do not have 


On the basis of these data we may conclude that applications and acceptances to UK Higher Education Providers now exceed the levels which existed prior  to the announcement in 2010 that student tuition fees would  increase in 2012. The number of English applicants to UK Higher Education Providers is still lower in 2015 than it was in 2010 but the number of accepted applications from English students surpassed the 2010 level in 2013 and has increased further in 2014 and 2015.  

However although applications by and acceptance of full-time students have surpassed their 2010 levels it may nevertheless be the case that in the absence of the increases in tuition fees there may have been even more applications than have in fact occurred although Higher Education providers may not necessarily have been able to accept more students than they have because of various government restrictions on student numbers.

As already mentioned  it is important to note that the UCAS data refer only to applications and accepted applications of full time students and it is abundantly clear that applications by and accepted applications of part-time students has fallen consistently since 2012 such that  the  overall total number of full-time and part-time students in UK Higher Education has actually fallen in recent years. The following links provide more information on the decline of part-time Higher Education.

  1. Click here for HESA data
  2. Click here for BBC item on decline in numbers of part-time HE students
  3. Click here and  Click here  for Guardian items on the decline in numbers of part-time HE students


The UCAS 2014 and 2015 reports also provides comparative in formation on access to HE for 18 year olds according to gender, ethnicity differing levels of residential area advantage/ disadvantage to free school meal eligibility and non-eligibility.  As expected females are shown to be increasingly likely to enter higher education relative to males and Chinese and Asian students are the most likely ethnic groups to enter HE. Students requiring detailed information and Gender, Ethnicity and access to Higher Education should consult the UCAS reports for I shall only provide summary data on variations in access to HE related to residential differences in social advantage/disadvantage and eligibility /ineligibility for free school meals.

There are considerable variations in HE entry rates across the UK and in the following summary points I concentrate for illustrative purposes on variations in entry rates for 18 year old English students .

  1. Rates of entry for all 18 year old English students have increased for students from all disadvantaged, intermediate and advantaged English areas between 2006 and 2015.
  2. Students form advantaged areas have been consistently more likely than students form disadvantaged areas to gain access to Higher Education.
  3. However the rate of increased access for students from disadvantaged areas has been greater than for students from advantaged areas which means that the relative likelihood of that students from advantaged areas would gain access to HE has fallen. Thus the advantaged-disadvantaged ratio has fallen from 3.7 in 2006 to 2.5 in 2015.
  4. However this ratio has always been considerably higher in the case of access to Higher Tariff HE institutions: in this case the ratio has fallen from8.5 in 2006 to 6.3 in 2015.
  5. That is : in 2015 students from advantaged areas were 6.3X more likely than students from disadvantaged areas to gain entry to Higher Tariff Higher Education institutions. In medium tariff institutions the ratio fell from 3.4 in 2006 to 2.3 in 2015 and in lower tariff institutions the ratio fell from 1.9 to 1.2
  6.  In relation to FSM eligibility and ineligibility comparisons are made between English 18 year old state school pupils who were eligible for free school meals at the age of  15 and those who were not. Between 2006-2015  12%-15% of 15 year-old pupils in English state schools were eligible for free school meals..
  7. HEI Entry rates for Male and Female English 18 year old state school students eligible and ineligible for Free School Meals at age 15 both increased in 2015 when they reached their highest levels.
  8. Among 18 year olds who were eligible for free school meals at age 15  16.4%  entered HEIs whereas among 18 year olds ineligible for free school meals  31.3% entered HEIs.
  9. The FSM ineligibility- FSM eligibility ratio for access to HE fell from 2.7 in 2006 to 1.9 in 2015.
  10. However in 2015 the NFSM-FSM ratios were 3.8 for high tariff HEIs ; 2.3  for medium tariff HEIs  and 1.3 for low tariff HEIs.

We see therefore that students ineligible for free school meals aged 15 were in general 1.9X more likely than pupils  eligible for free school meals aged 15 to enter HEIs  and 3.8X more likely to enter high tariff HEIs in 2015.

Click here for  an article by Professor Danny Dorling in which he points out that although the advantaged-disadvantaged ratio has fallen  the gap in access to HE between advantaged and disadvantaged students has still increased.

There have also been concerns that that the adverse impact of increased tuition fees has been felt most among  English potential mature students. For example whereas for English  students up to the age of 19 acceptances in 2013 were 2.4% lower than in 2010, they were 17.7% lower for potential English students over the age of 25. See The Independent Commission on Fees Report 2014. However I have not been able to update these statistics for 2015 and it is possible that there has been some recovery in mature student numbers . Or not??!!

 Click here for a recent New Statesman article on tuition fees and part-time and mature students.

  Click here for an assessment from the Full Fact Organisation of the impact of Coalition's decision to increase tuition fees .

Click here for a Guardian item from 2015 on Graduate enployment prospects and  click here for information from HESA. Thus the June 2016  HESA Report states "In 2014/15 of the full-time first degree leavers who were employed 71% were in posts classified as professional employment[66% in 2012/13 and 68% in 2013/14]. The remaining 29% were in occupational groups classified as non-professional." Interested readers can find a link to Table 7 which summarises the differing employment destinations of graduates in different subject areas

January 19th 2016: the end...for the time being

Click here for a page of links on Conservative Education Policies 2015-

Click here for the London Review of Education: Volume 13: No.2. Education Policy and the 2010-2015 Government. An exceptional collection of papers

Click here for Guardian article: England schools :10,000 sidelined due to league table pressure 

Click here for DfE publication; Revised GCSE and equivalent results in England 2014-15 [DFE]

Click here for Guardian coverage of  DfE publication of revised GCSE results.