Tag Archives: Education

Is a Western Style of Education Appropriate for Developing Countries? (Education and Development Post 3/3)

Previous Post: What are the Barriers to Providing Universal Education? (Education and Development 2/2)

Many of the education systems in developing countries are modelled on those of the west – in that they have primary, secondary and tertiary sectors, they emphasise primary academic subjects such as English, Maths, Science and History and they have external systems of exams which award qualifications to those who pass them. The idea that a Western style of education is appropriate to developing countries is supported by Functionalists/ Modernisation Theorists and generally criticised by Dependency Theorists and People Centred Development Theorists.

Functionalist thinkers (Functionalism is the foundation of Modernisation Theory) argue that Western education systems perform vital functions in advanced industrial societies. These functions include (a) taking over the function of secondary socialisation from parents (b) equipping all children for work through teaching a diverse range of academic and vocational subjects, (c ) sifting out the most able students through a series of examinations so that these can go on to get the best jobs and (d) providing a sense of belonging (solidarity) and National Identity. Functionalists thinkers such as Emile Durkheim and Talcott Parsons saw national education systems with their top-down national curriculums and examinations as being essential in advanced societies.

It follows that Modernisation Theorists in the 1950s also saw the establishment of education systems as one way in which traditional values could be broken down. If children in developing countries are in school then they can be taught to read and write (which their parents couldn’t have done in the 1950s given the near 100% illiteracy rate at the time), and the brightest can be filtered out through examinations to play a role in developing the country as leaders of government and industry.

According to modernisation theory, school curriculums should be designed with the help of western experts and curriculums and timetables modelled on those of Western education systems – with academic subjects such as English, Maths and History forming core subjects in the curriculums of many developing countries.

However, there are a number of criticisms of the Modernisation Approach to education.

Dependency theorists have pointed out that most people in developing countries do not benefit from western style education. According to DT, education was used in many colonies as a tool of control by occupying countries such as Britain, France and Belgium. The way this worked was to select one quiescent minority ethnic group and provide their children with sufficient education to govern the country on behalf of the colonial power. This divisive legacy continued after colonies gained their independence, with school systems in developing countries proving an extremely sub-standard of education to the majority while a tiny elite at the top could afford to send their children to be educated in private schools, going on to attend universities in the USA and Europe, and then returning to run the country as heads of government and industry to maintain a system which only really benefits the elite, while the majority remain in poverty.

One potential solution to the exclusion faced by the majority of children from education in the developing world comes in the form of Non Governmental Organisations such as Action Aid, who are best known for their Sponsor a Child Campaign, in which any individual in the west can pay £20/ month (or thereabouts) which can fund a child through education. One example of a homegrown version of this charity is the Parikrma Humanity Foundation which essentially ignores the daunting numbers of uneducated children and just focuses on educating one child at a time from the slums of India, to a relatively high level, so that they can escape their poverty for good.


People Centred Development theorists criticise Modernisation Theory because of the fact that Western style curriculums are not appropriate to many people in developing countries. In short, the situations many people in poor countries find themselves in mean they would benefit more from a non-academic education, and more over one that is not explicitly designed to smash apart their traditional societies. According to PCD if people from the west want to help with education in developing countries, they should find out what people in developing countries want and then work with them to meet their educational needs. One excellent example of this is the Barefoot education movement which teaches women and men, many of whom are illiterate, in North West India to become solar engineers and doctors in their own villages, drawing as far as possible on their traditional knowledge. There is one condition people must meet in order to become teachers in this school – they must not have a degree.


It might also be the case that modern technology today means that Western Education systems are simply not required in developing countries. Bill Gates (Head of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the largest Philanthropic charitable organisation in the world which controls over $30 billion of assets, and has a similar amount pledged by wealthy individuals) – who (again unsurprisingly) believes that developing online education courses will change the face of global education in the next 15 years because they can be accessed by anyone with a smartphone. One of the leaders in the development of online courses is the Khan Academy- whose strapline is ‘You can learn anything… for free.

An interesting experiment which suggests this might just work is Sugata Mitra’s ‘hole in wall experiment’  in which he simply put computers in a hole in a wall in various slums and villages around India and just left them there – children picked up how to surf the internet in a matter of days, and even learned some rudimentary English along the way. Mitra’s theory is that children can teach themselves when they work in groups, and his intention is to develop cloud based educational material which will enable children to teach themselves a whole range of subjects.


One problem with leaving education to People Centred Development Approaches or leaving it to children to educate themselves on the internet is that this will probably leave children in poorer developing countries lagging behind in terms of the skills and qualifications required to compete for the best paying jobs in the international job market. In comparison to developing countries, developed countries spend a fortune on their education systems and children spend considerably longer in education, and there is an undeniable link between the successful education systems in South East Asia and the hours invested in education by South East Asian children in countries such as China, South Korea and Singapore and the rapid growth of these economies over the past decades. The problem with this approach is that its success may well be related to the culture of the region which emphasises the importance of individual effort in order to achieve through education.

Related Posts

Education and Development 1/3: Introduction

Education and Development 2/3: Barriers to Education

What are the Barriers to Providing Universal Education? (Education and Development Post 2/3)


Related Post: Education and Development (part one of three – the global picture of education and how education can promote development)

There are many barriers to improving education in developing countries which means that development through education is far from straightforward…

Read the section below and complete the table at the end of the section. 

Firstly, poverty means that developing countries lack the money to invest in education -this results in a whole range of problems – such as very large class sizes, limited teaching resources, a poor standard of buildings, not enough teachers – let alone the resources to monitor the standards of teaching and learning.

This is well illustrated in this video of Khabukoya primary school in a remote region of Kenya, near the Ugandan border.


Kenya spends 6% of its GDP on education and has a comparatively good level of education for Sub-Saharan Africa – yet this school appears to have been forgotten about. The school has 400 students and yet only one classroom with a concrete floor and desks, with all other classrooms having mud floors, and being so small that students are practically sitting on top of each other. Funding is so limited that the school relies of volunteer labour to partition the too-few classrooms they have, a task which is being done with mud and water, and to make matters worse half of the students are infected with jiggers, a parasitic sand flea which burrows into the skin to lay its eggs, which causes infections which are often disabling and sometimes fatal.

Secondly, the high levels of absenteeism in primary and especially secondary schools is a major barrier to improving literacy. Most developing countries have enrollment ratios approaching 100%, but the actual attendance figures are much lower. Even in India, a rapidly developing country, the female secondary attendance rate is 50%, while in Ethiopia, it is down at 16%.

Thirdly, the persistence of child labour- The International Labour Organisation notes that globally, the  number of children in labour stands at 168 million(down from 246 million in 2000) and 59 million of these are in Sub-Saharan Africa.Agriculture remains by far the most important sector where child labourers can be found (98 million, or 59%), but the problems are not negligible in services (54 million) and industry (12 million) – mostly in the informal economy.

Fourthly, poor levels of nutrition in the first 1000 days of a child’s life significantly reduces children’s capacity to learn effectively – malnutrition leads to stunting(being too short for one’s age) which affects more than 160 million children globally and more than 40% of under-fives in many African countries including Somalia, Uganda and Nigeria. According to the World Health Organisation children who are stunted achieve one year less of schooling than those who are not.

Fifthly, War and Conflict-The United Nations notes that 34 million, or more than half all children currently not in education, live in conflict countries, making conflict one of the biggest barriers to education. Many of these children will be internally displace refugees, but on top of this there are approximately 7 million children living as refugees in non-conflict countries (stats deduced from this Guardian article) and most of these receive a poor standard of education. In conflict countries, the vast majority of humanitarian aid money is spent on survival, with only 2% going towards education.


One of the most interesting examples of conflict preventing education (at least ‘western education especially for girls’) is the case of Boko Haram in Northern Nigeria- A terrorist organisation who gained international notoriety in 2014 when they kidnapped 200 girls from their school dormitory.

Sixthly, Patriarchal cultural values– means many girls the world over suffer most from lack of education.Pakistan and India are two countries which have significant gender inequalities in education provision – In India (one of the BRIC nations) the percentage of girls attending school lags 10% points behind that of boys, a situation which is even worse in Pakistan, the country is which Malala Yousafzai was shot by the Taliban for attending school. In this video she describes some of the fear tactics the Taliban use to prevent girls going to school – such as bombing schools which allow girls to attend and public floggings of women who allow their daughters to attend school.

Although the starkest examples of gendered educational opportunities are to be found in Asia, there is also inequality in Africa and this blog post talks about gendered barriers to education in East Africa

A seventh barrier is the lack of teachers to improve education –the link has a nice interactive diagram to show variation by country.Somewhat ironically this link takes you to an article which discusses how increasing primary education has led to problems as this has led to an increase in demand for secondary education – which many African countries are too poor to provide!

Finally, an eighth barrier is widely dispersed populations in rural areas means children may have difficulty getting to school.

Education and Development (part 1 of 3)

Ensuring inclusive and quality education for all is objective number four of the United Nation’s new Sustainable Development Goals

Under this objective The United Nations notes that:

Obtaining a quality education is the foundation to improving people’s lives and sustainable development. Major progress has been made towards increasing access to education at all levels and increasing enrollment rates in schools particularly for women and girls. Basic literacy skills have improved tremendously, yet bolder efforts are needed to make even greater strides for achieving universal education goals. For example, the world has achieved equality in primary education between girls and boys, but few countries have achieved that target at all levels of education.

Four specific challenges are identified:

  • Enrollment in primary education in developing countries has reached 91 per cent but 57 million children remain out of school
  • More than half of children that have not enrolled in school live in sub-Saharan Africa
  • An estimated 50 per cent of out-of-school children of primary school age live in conflict-affected areas
  • 103 million youth worldwide lack basic literacy skills, and more than 60 per cent of them are women


Some of the specific targets for 2030 include:

  • Ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes
  • Ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education
  • Ensure equal access for all women and men to affordable and quality technical, vocational and tertiary education, including university
  • Eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations


The United Nations argues that Massive Aid Injections are Required to promoteducation

The United Nations estimates that to achieve SDG 4 developing countries would need to increase their education expenditure by an average of 50%, which they will not be able to afford by 2030, resulting in a funding gap of $39 billion, which will need to be met by outside investors.

infographic_3 infographic_4

Education in Developing and Developed Countries: A Comparison

Looking at the global picture is one thing, but looking at statistics country by country provides a much better idea of the differences between developed and developing countries in terms of education.There are a number of indicators used to measure progress in education and just some of these include:

  • The primary enrollment ratio.
  • The mean number of years children spend in school.
  • Attendance figures (at primary and secondary school and in tertiary education).
  • Literacy rates (which can be for youth or adults).
  • National Test Results (e.g. GCSE results)
  • Performance in international tests for international comparisons – such as the PISA tests.
  • The percentage of GDP spent on education

(The main sources for data on education come from the United Nations, UNICEF, and The World Bank.)

A selected breakdown of some of these statistics shows the enormous differences in education between countries:

Ethiopia  Kenya  India   The UK(6th in world) 
Youth Literacy Rate Male 62.00% 82.00% 88.00% 100%
Youth Literacy RateFemale  47.00% 80% 74.00% 100%
Primary attendance  65.00% 74.00% Male 98%Female 85% 100%
Secondary attendance  16.00% 40.00% Male 58%Female 48% 100%
GDP PPP $1200 $1800 $4000 $36000
%of GDP spent on education 4.70% 6.00% 3.30% 5.8%

In the UK, The government spends nearly £90 billion a year on education, employing over 400 000 teachers (all of whom have to be qualified)and over 800 000 people in total in the education system. Education is compulsory from the ages of 4 to 18, meaning every single child must complete a minimum of 14 years of education, and the majority of students will then go on to another 2-3 years of training in apprenticeships or universities. In the primary and secondary sectors, billions of pounds are spent every year building and maintaining schools and schools are generally well equipped will a range of educational resources, with free school meals provided for the poorest students.

Since the 1988 education act, all schools are regularly monitored by OFSTED and thus every school head and every single teacher is ultimately held to account for their results, and the system is very much focused on getting students qualifications – GCSEs and A levels, of which there is a huge diversity. At the end of secondary school, around 70% of students have 5 good GCSEs, but even those who do not achieve this bench mark have a range of educational and training options available to them.

It might sound obvious to say it, but there is also a generalised expectation that both students (and staff) will attend school – attendance is monitored regularly and parents can be fined and even sent to jail if their children truant persistently.

In addition to getting students GCSEs, schools are also required to a whole host of other things – such as teach PSHE lessons, prepare students for their future careers,foster an appreciation for multiculturalism,monitor ‘at risk students’ and liaise with social services as appropriate. Schools are also supposed to differentiate lessons to take account of each individual students’ learning needs.

Of course there are various criticisms of the UK education system, but after 16 years of schooling the vast majority of students come out the other end with significantly enhanced knowledge and skills. Finally, it is worth noting that girls do significantly better than boys in every level of the education system.

Things are very different in many poorer countries around the world – For a start the funding difference is enormous, more than a hundred times less per pupil in the poorest countries; many school buildings are in a terrible state of repair, and many schools lack basic educational resources such as text books. Attendance is also a lot worse, especially in secondary school, and in some regions of India 25% of teaching staff simply don’t show up to work (while reporting very high levels of job satisfaction). A third significant difference is that there is no OFSTED in developing countries, and so schools aren’t monitored- teachers and schools aren’t held accountable for student progress, which is reflected in the fact that a huge proportion of students come out of the education system with no qualifications.

How Can Education Promote Development? 

There is no doubt that education can promote development…

Firstly, education can combat poverty and improve economic prosperity. For every year at school education increases income by 10% and increases the GDP growth rate by 2.5%.Teaching children to read and write means they are able to apply for a wider range of jobs – and potentially earn more money, rather than being limited to subsistence agriculture.

Secondly education can be used to improve health.School can be used to pass on advice about how to prevent diseases and thus improve health and they can also be places where free food and vaccinations can be administered centrally (as is the case in the UK) – improving the health of a population.

Thirdly, education can combat gender inequality.This is illustrated in the case study of Kakenya Ntaiya, who, at the age of 11 agreed with her father that she would undergo FGM if he allowed her to continue on to secondary school, which she did, eventually winning a scholarship to study in the United States. There she learnt about women’s rights and returned to her village in Kenya and set up a girls only school where currently 100 girls are protected from having to undergo FGM themselves.


Fourthly, education can get people more engaged with politics. You need to be able to read in order to engage with newspapers and political leaflets and manifestos, which typically contain much more detailed information than you get via radio and televisions. Thus higher literacy rates could potentially make a country more democratic – democracy is positively correlated with higher levels of development

Related Posts

Education and Development 1/3: Introduction

Education and Development 2/3: Barriers to Education

The Corporate Takeover of Education? Pearson’s Rapidly Expanding Control of UK Qualifications

Amidst the other aspects of the privatisation of education (Marketisation, Academies, Free Schools, Apprenticeships, Tuition Fees etc.) you may have missed this aspect!

Pearson PLC is a FTSE 100 company worth nearly £10 billion with sales of £4.9 billion and a £720 million profit in 2014, whose best-known subsidiary is Britain’s largest exam board, Edexcel, which generates a a profit of £60 million a year.

Over the last five years Pearson PLC has aggressively expanded its control of Britain’s qualifications and assessment market.

Between 2008/09 and 2012/13 its share of the GCSE market increased from 21% to 30%

Pearsons GCSE


Its share of ‘other qualifications’ has increased from 5% to 28%

Pearsons other table

Pearsons other

However, Pearson’s share of the smaller A level market decreased slightly from 25% to 23%.

Pearsons A level

Despite the shrinking in the A level market, taken together this means that Pearson PLC now sets the examination standards for almost 30% of qualifications undertaken in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (1).

NB – There is more expansion planned! In its 2014 annual report Pearson PLC clearly states a desire to further expand its role in the UK education further, by getting more involved in such areas as the development of blended and virtual schools (e.g. Connections Education); and schools improvement programmes (e.g. through the Pearson’s School Model), and the use of ICT is central to all of this (2), although to date progress in these other areas seems to have not been as rapid as with its takeover of the qualifications market.



Do White Working Class Boys Lack Aspiration?

This useful Thinking Allowed Podcast summarises two recent pieces of qualitative social research and helps further our understanding of why white working class boys underachieve in education.

The podcast starts with Michael Wilshaw in 2013 (when he was head of OFSTED) pointing out that only 35% of white girls from low income households and 26% of white boys achieved 5 GCSEs at grades A*- C.

Wilshaw states that there is no reason why such pupils shouldn’t be able to achieve, and effectively blames their failure on a lack of aspiration among white working class boys.

Two sociologists who take issue with Wilshaw’s theory are Garth Stahl (spent nine years teaching in state secondary schools in England before conducting interviews in three London schools), and Heather Mendick ( who has researched the relationship between urban youth and schooling more generally). Together Stahl and Mendick effectively argue that white working class boys don’t lack aspiration at all, what they lack is a middle class view of aspiration, and it is this which puts them at a disadvantage in education.

Schools are Based Around a Middle Class Idea of Aspiration

Stahl argues that aspiration is a big thing in contemporary education – the dominant discourse in the system (which is unquestioned) is that learning will eventually equal earning, and that it is up to the individual student to do this on their own – i.e. the right kind of aspiration is to aspire to earn and then sacrifice now in order to get the grades to get you that income in the future.

The podcast also mentions that this discourse is tied up with the neoliberal idea of ‘self-crafting’ – or working on the self to progress – and no doubt this means that part of aspiration means skilling yourself up to make yourself more attractive to employers – you know the sort of thing – D of E and other volunteering, team sports, musical instrument, winner of the Young Apprentice.

The problem with the above is that it is a very middle class definition of aspiration – the kind of thing middle class parents spend a lot more time instilling in their children than working class parents.

White Working Class Aspirations and how They Conflict with School’s 

According to Stahl, working class boys do  have aspirations – they generally wished for a nice, ‘ordinary life’, not to be greedy, just wanting to get a decent job and to  ‘bring home the bacon’for their family.

There was a significant focus on trades (plumbing for example) as being good careers where they could do an honest days work for a decent wage, a focus on ‘authenticity’ (rather than ‘constructing an image of yourself and selling your image,, maybe?)

One point of conflict was over the paid work some of the boys did while at school – for them it was all part of their future ‘honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay’ aspiration (demonstrating a clear work ethic) but not for the school, as it conflicted with the ‘learning = earning’ discourse.

Interestingly, the boys didn’t reject school like Willis’ lads did, rather they invested in ‘ordinary learner identities’  – they didn’t want to succeed or fail and settled for middling positions in the school.

The harmful effects of the normalisation of middle class aspiration 

Mendick points out that aspiration is now used to judge people – certain aspirations which do not fit into the ‘learning = earning’ discourse are seen as failures – such as being a celebrity, having a family at a young age, or just wanting to being normal for example, all of these are seen as not good enough. The effective of this is normalises a middle class pathway through life and to further denigrate working class culture and aspiration as inferior.

This is supported by Stahl who found that the boys he interviewed had a sense of working class pride, but they weren’t so loud and proud of this identity like Willis’ lads were in the 1970s.

Mendick also found evidence of some middle class children just wanting out from this competitive culture – it’s not just the working classes who are disempowered.

Finally, and depressingly, the researchers both found a widespread acceptance of self-blaming for failure.

Brief Commentary

I think these pieces of research are an invaluable antidote to the dominant culture of middle class aspiration which has infiltrated our education system.

These ideas about aspiration and individual responsibility haven’t just emerged out of thin air after all – as Zygmunt Bauman would probably out, they’re just part of the wider social process of individualisation – Where individuals are expected to find biographical solutions to system contradictions.

I think more students should question the ‘learning = earning’ equation, because in the future formal education and qualifications may well not be the best way for kids to guarantee a secure income (if, indeed they can ever gain a secure income).

Finally, we should ask ourselves whether there’s anything wrong with ‘merely’ aspiring to having a decent job, paying your way, and feeling like you’re contributing to society, rather than always wanting to ‘work harder, earn more cash and so on….’

This is only a selective commentary from the podcast, read the research if you want to find out more…!


Identity, Neoliberalism and Aspiration – Educating White Working Class Boys, and Mendick as studied the relationship

Urban Youth and Schooling

Free Schools – Arguments and Evidence for and Against


This is relevant to the educational policy aspect of the education topic within the sociology of education.

What Are Free Schools?

A Free School in England is a type of Academy, a non-profit-making, state-funded school which is free to attend. Free schools are not controlled by a Local Authority (LA) but instead governed by anon-profit charitable trust.

To set up a Free School, founding groups submit applications to the Department for Education. Groups include those run by parents, education charities and religious groups. Ongoing funding is on an equivalent basis with other locally controlled state maintained schools, although additional start-up grants to establish the schools are also paid.

Between 2010 and 2015 more than 400 free schools were approved for opening in England by the Coalition Government, representing more than 230,000 school places across the country.

Similarities between Local Authority schools and Free Schools

  • They are both free for students to attend

  • They are both have similar amounts of funding

  • They are both subject to same rules about how the select students (they have similar admissions policies)

  • They are both subjected to Ofsted inspections

Differences between Free Schools and Regular State Schools

Local Authority Schools

Free Schools

Must follow the National Curriculum

Don’t have to follow the National Curriculum

Funding controlled by Local Authority

Funding comes straight from government

‘standard’ school day and term times

Free to set school days and term times

Teachers must be qualified

Teachers don’t have to be qualified

A brief history and overview of types of Free School

Free Schools were introduced by the Coalition government in 2010 general election as part of the Big Society initiative. The first 24 Free Schools opened in autumn 2011.

Since 2011, any Local Authority in need of a new school must seek proposals for an Academy or Free School, with a traditional Local Authority school only being allowed if no suitable Free School or academy is proposed. Since July 2015 the government is regarded all new academies as Free Schools – hence if there’s demand to establish them, any new school being established will be a free school.

To date, since 2010 there have been around 400 Free Schools established, which translates into about 250 000 school places, and the government hopes to establish an other 500 Free Schools over the next few years.

Types of free school

The majority of free schools are similar in size and shape to other types of academy. However, the following are distinctive sub-types of free school:

Studio school – A small free school, usually with around 300 pupils, using project-based learning.

University Technical College – A free school for the 14-18 age group, specialising in practical, employment focused subjects, sponsored by a university, employer or further education college.

Arguments for Free Schools

Free schools are a very good example of a neoliberal policy – the government is taking power away from Local Education Authorities (local government) and giving more power to parents, private businesses and charities to run schools.

Supporters claim that

  • There is a higher proportion of outstanding free schools – Twice as likely according to C4’s Full Fact
  • Free schools create more local competition and drive-up standards -
  • They allow parents to have more choice in the type of education their child receives, much like parents who send their children to independent schools do.
  • They also claim that free schools benefit children from all backgrounds – which could especially be the case with….
  • We need more school places – because of the recent increase in the birth rate, not to mention increasing migration and free schools could play a crucial role in this. In fact, where primary schools are concerned, about 70% of applications for free schools are in the areas where there is most need for new schools (See Channel Four’s Full Fact)

Arguments against Free Schools

Critics argue that…

  • There is a higher proportion of failing Free Schools – According to this article (March 2015) from The Independent newspaper Free Schools are a failure: One third of them have been rated ‘inadequate’ or ‘requires improvement’ compared to only one fifth of Local Authority Schools.
  • This list of failures includes three school closures, worst of which seems to have been the Al-Madinah free school which imposed strict Islamic practice on staff and students (for example by forcing even non-muslim female teachers to cover up) and was found to be so bad that OFSTED had to create a new category of ‘dysfunctional’ to grade it before ordering it to close.
  • Free schools benefit primarily middle-class parents with the time to set them up, fueling social segregation – I can really see this being the case with ‘studio schools’. (I can’t help but imagine a nice, small school with extensive playground and playing fields in a Devonshire village, so nice in fact that the yummies occasionally leave their 4WDs at home and walk the school run, at least when they’re not in the mood for heels.)
  • Free schools divert money away from existing schools – There is a set amount of money in the education budget, and if free schools (and academies) get initial start up grants from the government (which some do) this means relatively less money for the Local Education Authority maintained schools.
  • They are not actually needed and have lead to a surplus of school places – More than half of Free Schools opening in 2012 opened with 60% or less of the student numbers predicted by the impact assessment documents of each institution, leaving more than 10% spare places. Elsewhere, where Free Schools are fully subscribed, regular Local Authority schools have surplus capacity. This replication of capacity is grossly inefficient.5. People don’t actually want Free Schools – Polling in April 2015 put public support for Conservative proposals to increase the number of Free Schools by at least 500 at 26%.
  • While the image of Free schools might be of motivated parents setting them up, Peter Wilby, writing in The Guardian, predicted that Free Schools would be run by private companies rather than parents, teachers or voluntary groups. There is also the fact that in 2012 over 60% of free school applications were made by faith groups.

Analysis – Free Schools Good or Bad?

To be honest at this stage it’s difficult to say – because Free Schools have only been around for five years, and because there are so few of them – it is difficult to make reliable comparisons between the results of free schools and local authority schools.

As it stands, Free Schools seem to be having a polarising effect on educational achievement – with both a higher proportion of schools achieving outstanding and being graded unsatisfactory at the same time. This is pretty much what you’d expect when you give middle class parents etc. with cultural capital a fat wedge of cash and a considerable degree of freedom to run their schools in a way that they see fit.

Whether or not you think polarisation is a good thing probably depends on your politics. If you’re right-leaning (neoliberal or new right) you’d probably interpret these trends in a positive way – more success at the top end should eventually drag all of the other schools up, even if there’s a few initial teething problems with a higher proportion of schools failing at the bottom. Eventually, demand for those failing schools should fall so they’ll either close or be taken over by the more successful schools.

However, if you’re more left-leaning then you’d probably hypothesise that the children in the outstanding free schools are probably those from middle class backgrounds, and those in the failing schools – probably more likely to be from working class backgrounds, so all we are seeing here is an intensification of the reproduction of class inequality, although we don’t yet have the data to assess this.

Find out More…

Given the ideological nature of Free Schools, be careful of where you source your information form – A good starting point to find out more is go to Channel Four’s Full Fact which takes a cautious look at the statistics on various aspects of Free Schools.

Sociological Perspectives on Modern Apprenticeships in the UK

The material below is relevant to the Vocationalism topic within the Sociology of Education and  should help students to answer essay questions such as ”Evaluate Sociological Perspectives on the role of Vocational Education”, or various questions on contemporary education policies, as well as hopefully just being of general interest.

What are Modern Apprenticeships?

An apprenticeship is a job with training which allows an individual to earn while they learn, whilst gaining a nationally recognised qualification. Apprentices aged 19 and over are entitled to the National Minimum Wage at the same level as regular employees, but 16-18 year olds can be paid less – £3.30 an hour (from October 2015) compared to £3.87 an hour for regular employees. Of course an apprentice aged 19 or over would probably be paid less than a qualified person the same age, given that they are less experienced.

Apprenticeships are available for anyone aged 16 or over, but the most common ages for people starting them is 16-24. Apprenticeships must last for a minimum of one year, but can take up to five years to complete.

There are three main levels of Apprenticeship:

– Intermediate apprenticeship (level 2)

– Advanced apprenticeship (level 3)

– Higher and degree apprenticeships (level 4 or above).

Apprenticeships are tied into more traditional vocational qualifications – anyone undertaking a level two apprenticeship will work towards a related city or guilds or BTEC qualification, while anyone doing a higher level apprenticeship will work towards a degree.

Apprenticeships are available in over 170 industries the most popular apprenticeships in 2014 by sector being:

  • Health and social care
  • Business administration
  • Management
  • Hospitality and catering
  • Customer service
  • Children’s care learning and development
  • Retail
  • Construction skills
  • Engineering
  • Hairdressing

So in short apprenticeships are basically on the job training leading to a qualification, and besides saying this, it’s impossible to give a representative account of what a ‘typical’ apprenticeship looks like given the huge variation.

How many people are doing apprenticeships?

  • Since 2010 there have been over 2 million apprenticeship starts – so more than 2 million people in the country (unless they’ve emigrated since) have either done them or are doing them.

  • In 2013-14 there were 500 000 apprenticeship starts

  • In 2013-14 850 000 people were earning and learning while doing an apprenticeship

  • There are typically over 25000 apprenticeships being advertised online at any one time.

Why have apprenticeships grown so quickly?

I put it down to three things -

  • Underlying historical demand for vocational training courses as opposed to academic learning – The UK has had a large NEET population (16-24 year olds not in employment, education or training) for over a decade now, which suggests there has been a significant demand for alternative pathways to employment other than courses offered in colleges.

  • The recent government ‘pincer movement’ on young people – 18 year olds are now (since 2015) required to be in some kind of training or employment, and combined with the government clamp down on benefits for young people, this means they have fewer options.

  • Government support for employers – The government invested £1.5 billion in apprenticeships in 2014-15 and from 2016 will exempt employers from paying National Insurance Contributions for under 25 year olds. Basically government support makes it cheaper to hire apprentices.

What are the benefits of apprenticeships?

Firstly, looked at statistically, they seem to offer economic benefits to most apprentices, employers and the economy more generally – Mainly taken from the ONS web site….

  • 90% of apprentices stay in employment after the apprenticeship has finished.

  • 70% stay on with the same employer.

  • 19% of level three apprentices advance on to Higher Education.

  • Businesses report an increase in productivity of £214/ week when they hire apprentices (which effectively means they cost the average company nothing given the low wages!).

  • Small businesses get a £1500 grant towards the start up costs of New Apprenticeships if they employ 16-24 year olds. (Any training costs for 16-19 year olds are, possibly obviously, covered by the government.)

  • For every pound of government investment in apprenticeships, the economy gets £18 – £28 back (estimates vary).

  • Apprenticeships were estimated to contribute £34 billion to the UK economy in 2014

Secondly, they diversify the education system – offering a much greater choice of training opportunities by a much wider range of providers than Further and Higher education providers could ever hope to provide.

Thirdly (but I would need to look into this further to verify it) they seem to be offering a very real alternative for young people who would otherwise be NEET because there is a distinct correlation between the increase in apprenticeships (mostly taken up by 16-24 year olds) and the recent decrease in the number of NEETs. (Of course correlation doesn’t necessarily mean causation, but in this case I think it’s pretty safe to conclude that it does!)

What are the downsides of Apprenticeships?

You wouldn’t think there were any judging by the ONS site, but if you dif around there are those who voice some legitimate criticisms of Modern Apprenticeships

Firstly: Apprenticeships might really about firms getting cheap labour:

Kathy Glover from The New Left Project points out that it’s cheaper for an employer to hire an apprentice than someone qualified – Glover cites one case study of an estate agent who sacked most of their staff in order to replace them with cheaper apprentices. Not only is this bad for the experienced, sacked staff, it’s difficult to see how a cohort of apprentices can learn anything without any more experienced people to.

There is also some evidence that the Engineering sector in the UK is preferring cheaper apprentices over already qualified people.

Also, the number of in-work training programmes have reduced by about 250 000 in recent years, which suggests that work places are simply shifting their training onto apprenticeships – meaning the government pays for it rather than them paying for it, in which case apprenticeships aren’t about more training, there just about the tax payer paying for it, not the employer.

Secondly: Apprenticeships don’t necessarily lead on to real jobs:

Firms are not obliged to take apprentices on full time after their training period and it’s cheaper for an employer to hire a string of apprentices for one-two years at a time rather than to take someone on.

The rapid expansion of more apprenticeships might even harm the wider job market in certain sectors – Glover cites UK manufacturing, which despite declining employment in recent years, has greatly increased the number of apprenticeships – BAE systems, for example, has expanded its apprenticeships programme by 25%. This must mean decreased demand for already qualified people.

Thirdly: Apprenticeships are really about saving the government money

Kathy Glover points out that Apprenticeships allow the government to cut costs because it is much cheaper for them to pay a couple of thousand pounds or so to an employer for a year rather than to have a young person on unemployment benefit.

The problem with this is that it might mean that some people on apprenticeships are worse off than when they were on benefits. She uses the case study of Michael, 16, from Liverpool, employed at a large charity shop through the retail apprenticeship scheme to illustrate this:

“I work 37.5 hours a week for £100 a week with around 20 other staff, most of who are on some sort of work placement or volunteers. My auntie, who I live with, has lost around £70 a week in benefits due to me going on this apprenticeship because I’m now classed as being in full-time employment. The council has done things like deduct £3 per week from her housing benefit which I’ve been told I must now pay. I don’t get any separate travel expenses so I’ve also got to pay for the two hours travel per day out of my wages. By me going on this apprenticeship we’re worse off than when I was in college so I’m considering leaving the scheme and going back into education.”

Fourthly, Modern Apprenticeships remain heavily gender stereotyped

For example, females take up 94% of positions in early years childcare but only 1 and 2% respectively in construction and plumbing. All other sectors also conform to gender stereotypes.

Average wages for apprenticeships also vary between males and females – for males the average is £186 compared to females who earn on average £147 per week (2007 figures). This is because the sectors where females dominate are the lowest paid (such as early years childcare), and have little scope for career progression, so are mainly level 2 and 3 apprenticeships. The sectors where men dominate tend to offer apprenticeships which are higher paid and offer greater career progression, onto level 4 apprenticeships for example – in sectors such as engineering and IT.

Fifthly, in some sectors the training you receive may be of a very low standard

Only 22% of apprenticeships in customer service and 13% in hospitality and catering are offered at level 3, and a retail or customer service needs to only complete a minimum of two hours training a week.

Tess Lanning of the IPPR suggests that this is because Government targets to increase the number of apprenticeships, combined with a lack of interest from many employers, have led to a watering down of what constitutes an apprenticeship. New Labour widened apprenticeships to include level 2 qualifications, which evidence suggests have little to no value in the labour market, and opened them up to adults, meaning they have lost their purpose as a tool to prepare young people for entry into the labour market.

Apprenticeships: Should you do one?

I guess this depends on what sector you’re looking at – If you’re interested in Engineering then it’s probably worth spending a bit more time researching your options than if you were interested in going into retail or hospitality…

The Apprenticeships Self-Development Pack for young people is designed by the government for you to work through to see if an Apprenticeship is for you – Warning – This links pretty much exclusively to the government’s own propaganda videos about how great apprenticeships are and oozes ‘careers advisory document’ out of every pore, and yes there is the dreaded skills assessment exercise at one point too.

Ultimately it’s down to you whether you do an apprenticeship or not, but whether or not you do one, keep the following question in mind – Assuming university isn’t for you, and assuming you want/ need a job, then do you actually have the choice not to do some kind of apprenticeship, or have you been steered into it by social forces?

Further Reading/ Sources used

Apprenticeships: Fact Sheet for Parents (the best introductory summary sheet I’ve found on the topic but warning – complete lack of critical content!)

Facts, Figures and Statistics about Apprenticeships – Does what is says – The main source I’ve used for any statistical information above.

The Youtube Apprenticeship Channel – featuring apprentices and employers talking about the advantages of apprentiships (warning – complete lack of critical content!)#

Further Education and Skills: Learner Participation and Outcomes

Also see links in the document above.

Marketisation – bringing out the worst in the middle classes

This documentary (The School Scandal: Playing the System, BBC1 August 2015) shows the lengths parents will go to in order to get their children into the top performing state schools in London.

Some of the schools shown have 10 applications for every place, and catchment areas of just a few hundred meters, meaning competition for these places is fierce to say the least.

It seems that middle class parents are basically prepared to commit fraud in order to make applications to the best schools, demonstrated by the following two strategies:

  1. Renting accommodation temporarily in the school catchment area while still having a main residence outside of the catchment area (this is fraudulent btw!)
  2. ‘Pew jumping’ (a term I’d never heard before) – where parents attend church for a year or two just to get their kids into a church school – here a vicar with a spread sheet demonstrates that at one point 11 out of his 23 church attendants basically stopped attending straight after school offers day – clearly they weren’t there to worship a god!

The show follows two case studies of parents trying to get their kids into their local schools – depressingly we see the screamingly middle class parents (dad’s a doctor, mum teaches in a private school) breaking out the champers as they get their child into their first choice local school, while the not so well-off (but by no means poor!) parents fail to get their child into their local church school, despite the fact that the mother had attended the church for 23 years.

The documentary ends up lamenting the fact that the system is clearly unfair – and it’s likely to carry on that way because to date there have been no prosecutions for middle class parents defrauding the system.

NB – This isn’t the only way middle class parents try to reproduce class inequality…. See here for an overview of how this works in the grander scheme of things…

Evaluating the idea of ‘underachieving’ ethnic minority pupils

It would seem that the notion of ethnic minorities underachieving is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. If you look at the stats below, with the exception of Gypsy Roma children, ‘white British’ children are outperformed by the majority of ethnic minority groups, and for those groups who lag behind, the difference is small.

It’s also worth noting that for those groups who were drastically underachieving in 2008/09 compared to the national average, have seen rapid improvement in the last five years, especially black Caribbean children. If this trend continues, we could see white children at the bottom of the ethnic league tables by 2020.


ethnicity and achievement

What all of this means is that all of that material about teacher Racism  that you have to trawl through in the text books is probably by now mostly irrelevant, except for the fact that you now have to criticise the hell out of it.

The question is now really one of why do most minority students do better.

This brief post from The Guardian is a good starting point to find the answer to this question – in which one London school teacher explains why he thinks London schools with a higher proportion of ethnic minority students tend to do better…

“It comes down to the parents’ influence. Students who’ve arrived as migrants recently are generally coming from a place where education is valued for education’s sake. Where I teach now, in a rural area, we’ve got a very homogenous set of students, all from similar backgrounds – generation after generation quite happily in a steady state where they’re not forced to improve. If you compare that with a parent and children coming over from a country where there isn’t as much opportunity, they do really have to try, and that’s a parent-led ideal that gets fed into the student. I met so many students from African and Asian countries that really wanted to learn.

“But that sort of ambition can have a positive impact on other pupils too. If there’s someone who’s a really enthusiastic learner, it’s a teacher’s job to seize on that opportunity and use it to generate an atmosphere in the classroom, and it does rub off.”

Related Posts 

Explaining differential achievement by ethnicity – the role of cultural factors

Using qualitative data to evaluate how material deprivation effects children in the UK


This post follows on from this one – The extent of material deprivation in the UK.

One of the things you need to look at for the AS Education module is the extent to which material deprivation is responsible for educational underachievement. While statistics give you an overview of the extent of poverty, and a little bit of information of the kind of things poor people can’t afford, they don’t give you much a feeling of what it’s like to actually live in poverty.

To get a feeling for day to day challenges of living in poverty you need more qualitative sources, and ‘thankfully’ we are blessed with a number of recent documentaries which look at the experience of living with material deprivation in the UK.

Watch the documentary sources below and then answer the questions/ contribute to the discussions below. The videos have all been selected because they focus on material deprivation and education in some way.

Source One – Poor Kids (BBC – 2011) – Mainly focusing on younger children


Growing up Poor (2013) – Focusing on three teenage girls – ‘caught between poverty and an uncertain future’


Poverty – Britain’s Hungry Children (Channel 4 Report, 2013) – Cites research drawn from 2500 food diaries kept by children in the UK – Some of whom live on less than half of the recommended calories. Also highlights the importance of lunch clubs to feed hungry children.

Finally watch this video – This shows you a case study of one girl from a poor background who actually made it into the best school in the area, against the odds. It’s a bit slow, but later on it gives an insight into the struggle her mum faces to raise enough cash to meet the ‘hidden costs’ of education (she has to resort to a ‘pay day loan’).


Questions/ tasks for discussion:

Q1: Draw an ‘ageline’ (like a timeline, I may have just invented the word) showing how material deprivation affects 3 year olds to 18 year olds in different ways.

Q2: From a broadly Marxist Perspective, the effects of material deprivation on children are structural, or objective if you like. Being brought up in poverty and having a poorer diet, and living in lower quality housing effectively cause poor children to do less well in education. This means that, all other (non material) things being equal (same school, same intelligence, same motivation etc) a poor kid will always do worse than a rich kid. Do you agree? Be prepared to explain your answer.