According to the New Right’s beliefs, the role of education is to instil drive, initiative and enterprise. The New Right believe this will come from competition between schools and colleges, motivating teachers to improve standards and providing parents and students with a choice of schools and colleges.
Does competition between schools raise standards? Measured in terms of GCSE and A-Level results, standards are improving as the 2011 GCE and GCSE results showed. However this may have little or nothing to do with competition between schools.
Is a choice of schools available? In some areas there is no alternative to the local comprehensive. In other areas where choice exists, middle class parents are in a better position to get their children into the best schools using the so-called ‘postcode lottery’.
Can schools make up for the inequalities in the wider society? With good management and high quality teaching, can schools provide equality of opportunity for students from low-income backgrounds? Available evidence suggests that the answer is ‘no’ (Halsey et al. 1997)
The New Right’s impact on education is based on the following: Conservative traditions, mainly from the 1980s and 1990s. The New Right see themselves as being similar to functionalists and they believe in the freedom of the individual with less central control. The New Right believe in free market principles within education with a desire to reduce public spending.
The New Right’s policies to reduce social inequality are not given a high priority as they do not believe that such issues are the responsibility of the state.
The New Right wants national prosperity and believes that a competitive economy requires competitive schools that seek to outperform each other via league tables and Ofsted reports.
The New Right views education as an important part in the process of socialisation. They believe that education can help socialise children through religious assemblies, the National Curriculum and citizenship lessons.
The New Right wants educational policies that will increase choice with market principles to raise standards. If a school is successful, it will attract parents and children purely because it is successful. The New Right believes that all parents have the right to send their child to a successful school – hence their support of parental choice. The New Right also believes that a successful school will gather sufficient momentum to build on its successes. They also see the major role of education is the development of skills and knowledge required to compete in the outside market. They believe that schools should be managed in the same way as businesses – something Hargreaves referred to as ‘Kentucky Fried Schooling’ (1989).
The New Right have been influenced by J. Buchanan & C. Tullock (1962) with their public choice theories. They believe that bureaucracy and democracy are likely to produce inefficient and ineffective services with the producers dominating the decision-making process and not the consumers. Buchanan and Tullock see our education system as a monopoly where consumers cannot freely choose alternatives. They believe that education reflects the interests of teachers and the bureaucrats and that pupils and parents have little control over education.
Have the ideas of the New Right influenced education?
The New Right have based a lot of their ideas on the education systems seen in the USA, Canada and Australia. However, a lot of European countries do not have education systems based on full marketization of their education system.
Salter and Tapper (1988) believe that there are four main components of a right-wing education policy:
J. E. Chubb and T. M. Moe have proposed the full introduction of market forces in education to raise standards. They believe that in state education students, parents and citizens have a legitimate say in how that education system should be run. They believe that vested interests tend to undermine the autonomy of schools, restricting their ability to respond to the needs and wishes of parents. Chubb and Moe believe that state education is intended to serve wider public purposes as determined by politicians.
Criticisms of New Right policies:
• School versus school competition - Danger that schools will spend money on marketing the school rather than investing in resources for its pupils.
• Raising standards: Levin & Belfield (2006) analysed schools which have used greater marketization principles and found only modest improvements in student achievement but combined with greater social inequalities.
• Selection by schools: in an open market, schools select their pupils in an attempt to cream off the most able (Bartlett & Le Grand, 1993), with the result that some schools get the most able pupils and are held in high regard while other ‘sink’ schools get the least able and are guaranteed poor exam results. This cements in the public’s mind that they are failing schools that no parent would want to voluntarily send their child to. Such schools then get caught in a vicious circle as they do not get any able children attending them and have no way of improving their public rating via exam results and are almost doomed to a critical Ofsted report with a corresponding poor position in school league tables.
• Education as a means to an end: the New Right ignores the role of education in increasing an understanding of the world and developing potential.
• Full marketization means that schools are more concerned with league tables than pupils needs.
• The New Right preferred norms and values are ethnocentric and not representative of diversity.
• No parity of esteem: Middle-class schools in middle-class areas get higher funding. They do not face the same problems that working-class schools in inner-city deprived areas face and the New Right’s approach fails to tackle this.
• In 2001 David Gillborn found that competition leads to marginalisation of working class and ethnic minority students.
Courtesy of Lee Bryant, Director of Sixth Form, Anglo-European School, Ingatestone, Essex