Education system in England is divided into three main levels. These are the primary level, the secondary level, and higher education. For primary education, the age at enrolment is usually 5 years. By the age of 11 years, a majority of the pupils will have already enrolled for high school education. They continue with their study till around the age of fifteen years for those pursuing a GSCE (general certificate for e secondary education).
On the other hand, those wishing to pursued high school to an advanced level (up to form six) stay in school till the age of seventeen years. The greatest percentage of students and pupils in England attend schools run by the state. This makes the government an influential stake holder in educational matters (Rouse &. McLaughlin, 2000, p. 67). Similarly, these schools are also required to follow a national curriculum.
There are two main government departments that are charged with the responsibility of dealing with educational matters in England. They include the department for children, schools and families’ and the department for business, innovation and skills. This paper will explore the role of government policies in Higher education. In addition, the paper shall also proceed to discuss and evaluate the extent to which government policies should influence practices in English schools.
Influence of Government Policy in Higher Education
After the end of the Second World War, there have been many attempts to reform the UK education system, often with the main aim being to try and make it more productive. The list of education policy reforms that have been attempted over the last 50 years in England’s educational system is a bit extensive. Quite recently England and Wales have introduced various initiatives towards market-oriented reforms to their education system, in an in order to raise educational standards.
The most outstanding reform is that parents have increasingly been given much more choice in terms of the school attended by their children. Similarly, schools have been forced to be more accountable in managing their resources. The other important reforms in England’s educational system include a national curriculum, strong attempts by the government to raise participation in post-compulsory schooling and the introduction of tuition fees for higher education (Tomlinson, 2004, p. 235).
Higher education in England has continued to change over the years and has come to be regarded by many as a success story. There has been a progressive growth in the number of people participating in higher education in England since the late 1960s. However, despite this continued growth in participation, there have been some serious concerns which have been raised about the people who are able to access higher education. In the past, participation in higher education has largely been the preserve of persons who come from the higher socio-economic groups in the UK. Findings by Machin and Vignoles, 2004 indicate that the gap in higher education participation between richer and poorer students actually continued to widen during the mid and late 1990s.
The increased participation in higher education has resulted in many students from poor back grounds being able to go for higher education than it was the case before. Despite of this development, poor students are less assured of participating in higher education compared to their peers who come from well of backgrounds and this remains as a great concern for the government.
In regard to higher education, the government policy in the past twenty years has been to enable and encourage further expansion in higher education. This expansion is necessary for two main reasons; first there is a need to increase the supply of skilled labour so that England can compete globally (Kate & Palachio, 1995, p. 102). Secondly, the government wants to increase the chances for all to attain higher education regardless of their socio- economic back ground.
Initially, higher education was free for students. However, due to higher education participation during the 1980s and 1990s, it became a problem because as the numbers of students continued to increase, the funding remained almost constant and at times was reduced. For example, according to Clark, Conlon and Galindo-Rueda, 2005 between 1989 and 1997 per student funding fell by 36%.In response to these problems, the government introduced a tuition fee in year 1998. The fee was for a maximum of £1,000 per year and had to be paid prior to the student starting the year of study in higher education.
Poorer students were at that time were exempted from paying tuition fee and were also entitled to a small grant to enable them to meet their maintenance cost while they under took their studies at the university (Sign, 1995, p. 203). Overtime, the grants were reduced in value and they were eventually phased out in the year 1999 and they were replaced with a loan that would be payable when the student graduated and was earning. In 2003, the Labour government proposed some further reforms in higher learning. The purpose of the new reforms was to allow universities to increase their funding, by charging higher tuition fees on students, and for institutions to differentiate themselves by charging higher or lower fees than other institutions. Universities will therefore be able to charge a higher amount, up to £3,000 per year.
The fee is not payable up front however. Instead the fee debt will be paid after the graduation and on an income contingent basis. In other words, graduates rather than students will pay back tuition fee loans and if their income level is sufficiently low they do not have to meet the debt payments on the loan. According to Blundell, Dearden and Sianesi, The demand for graduates still outnumbers the supply and so there is still a significant payoff for possessing higher educational qualifications.
This is likely to see more government involvement in the financing of higher education. This is made clear by the fact that during the early 1990s, there was no significant shift in the graduate wages despite the increase in the number of graduates and in fact has actually risen sharply at the same time as the supply rises (until the 2000s when it stays flat).It is however important to note that after the year 2004, there have slight changes in the wages paid for some recent graduates in particular subjects like arts and humanities (Walker and Zhu, 2005).
There is evidence that there exist inequalities in the higher education as far as HE participation among poor and rich students is concerned (Machin and Vignoles, 2004; Marcenaro-Gutierez, Galindo-Rueda and Vignoles, 2004, p. 302). This can be attributed to the fact that most of the poor students do not meet the laid down qualifications of Higher Education system. Failure to meet these qualifications can be attributed to the introduction of the fees payment system in the United Kingdom education system which means that the poorer students are not able to afford enrolling in institutions which offer higher education. As such, this has worsened the inequality situation.
This therefore brings about the question of whether high returns posted by institutions of higher learning in terms of fee collection reflect the student participation in the education system (Shuttleworth, 1993, p. 119). It has been noted that most of the students in these institutions are therefore the rich, thereby bringing about questions of the social and economic mix of university students. Due to this, it is necessary that fee payment policies in such institutions of higher learning be reviewed in such a way that will enable students coming from poor backgrounds to enrol in these institutions thereby reducing participation inequalities between the rich and poor students (Marcenaro-Gutierrez, Galindo-Rueda and Vignoles, 2004, p. 125).
From above discussion, it can be concluded that the government can influence educational practices through various ways. These include financing, curriculum development, monitoring, and regulating standards of education. The government’s involvement in education has received both positive and negative appraisals. Some critics have argued that compulsory education keeps people longer in school that they are willing to stay. It is therefore commonly held by this group of critics that compulsory education wastes time for those who do not wish to remain in school for a stipulated period of time (Boaz, 2008, p.155).
Some sociologists like Jackson Toby have argued that this could lead to violence and this disrupts learning making it even more difficult foe those willing to learn to be unable to do so ( Boaz, 2008 , p.155). Compulsory learning has also been cited as going against the individual right of exercising their personal freedom and choice. Many educational libertarians would argue that the states involvements in education through compulsory education should be limited since many children in Great Britain were being educated through private means before the introduction of compulsory education (Boaz, 2008, p.155)
There are also those who are of the opinion that the government should charge fewer taxes on the people. This way, people can remain with enough resources to be able to pay for the education of their children. This has been the dominant argument presented by many conservative politicians in the past and partly to day. Some teachers have also questioned the need for the government to regulate what students are taught especially the subjects that not covered within the national curriculum (Akker, Kuiper & Hameyer, 2003, p.24).
This has been seen as a limitation for both teachers and learners for it slows the level of learning.The main argument in relation to government regulation of educational curriculum is that the emergence of new technologies opens up opportunities that can positively change the curriculum practices, community and professional development among both teachers and learners (Akker, Kuiper & Hameyer, 2003, p.24).
Pertaining to the government’ s involvement in the monitoring and setting of standards within educational systems, there is an argument that the central government usurps the power and authority through legislation of the local education authorities which do most the work. Local education authorities for example are directly involved in the upkeep of school infrastructure like buildings and procurement of essential materials needed to facilitate learning.Therefore, government involvement in monitoring education services and setting standards is seen as a means of coercing and intimidating the local educational authorities and those involved with running educational affairs at the local level( Locke , 1974, 21-23).
Despite the various arguments that have been presented against the involvement of the state in education matters, there is the need to educate the high number of children in England whose families cannot afford to educate them in prestigious private schools. Consequently, the government should continue to provide funding state run schools and if possible increase the level of funding for these particular schools (Kogan & Packwood, 1974, p.2).
There is still the important need of educating people to provide the needed expertise in various fields. In England, this is being done using the work related learning approach. This is another important area in which the government should be more involved. Again, the government should be particularly be more involved in monitoring the activities of local educational authorities because public resources invested in state run schools must bring value for money (Kogan &Packwood, 1974, p.2).
Bearing these factors in mind, the government s involvement should be more in the development of policies that enable the integration of new technologies in curriculum development instead of restricting the authority of LEAs and those involved at policy making at the local level. This would be of great importance in transforming the specialist schools to enable them become more efficient and competitive globally.
The government should also be less involved in regulating the national curriculum and leave this responsibility to the policy makers at the local level to regulate the content and standards of education in their areas of jurisdiction. The government should also limit the obligatory collective Christian worship in state run schools and leave this discretion to the schools managers. This is an essential tool in fostering religious tolerance and help students to be more accommodative of other religious beliefs. This should be a function of school administrators and the government’s involvement in this area should be minimal (Ward, p.73-75).
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