After 30 years of ‘go compare’, English education is a wild west

When Gary Phillips started his career as a young teacher, the education world was a radically different place. There were no league tables, no Ofsted, no academies or free schools. Parent choice and competition had barely registered on the national consciousness. The Guardian reports.

All that changed 30 years ago this summer with the introduction of the 1988 Education Reform Act, a huge piece of legislation that introduced the national curriculum and the idea of diversity and a “schools market” in which parents would vote with their feet, in theory encouraging the best schools to expand and the worst to improve or close.

When Phillips took over at Lilian Baylis in the late 1990s, the school was in the doldrums. Barely 10% of its pupils achieved five good GCSEs and attendance was chronically low.

Today it is outstanding on every count, oversubscribed and achieving impressive results with a diverse intake. The 1988 reforms played an unambiguous role in that improvement, says Phillips: “They shone a spotlight on schools failing young people like this one.”

In the past six months I have been researching a new book, The Best For My Child. Did the schools market deliver?, which looks back at the 30 years since the passage of the 1988 act. The unease Phillips voices about the market reforms came through interviews with many of the key players in recent education reform.

The English schools hierarchy is as powerful as ever, with some choices only available to a select group of parents who can afford hefty fees, move to the catchment of a successful school, or pay for costly private tuition to pass high-stakes entrance exams. Popular schools haven’t expanded to accommodate all comers, as pure market advocates predicted, and failing schools have proved hard to close down.

The complex interaction between choice, admissions practices, house price and performance measures has led to segregation typified by schools with radically different profiles from their local communities.

But perhaps the biggest weakness of the market has been the failure to guarantee enough good teachers – and challenging schools that struggle in performance measures often find it the hardest to recruit good teachers. “We have tripled the number of young people coming out of university with degrees but we haven’t increased substantially the number who are prepared to become teachers,” says Gary Phillips.

The Best For My Child. Did the schools market deliver? by Fiona Millar will be published by John Catt this month

Read the full article After 30 years of ‘go compare’, English education is a wild west

Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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