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‘Turning the clock back’ : the revival of Thatcherism in the Conservative Party’s education policy (2005-2015)

Françoise Granoulhac
p. 79-95

Résumé

In education as in other public services, continuities between New Labour and the Thatcher and Major administrations have often been underlined. Since 2005 the Conservatives have endeavoured to distance themselves from both their predecessors and to set out a new vision for education. This paper, which focuses on primary and secondary education, discusses and compares discourse and policy, and argues that the expected renewal has been superseded by a re-enactment of 1980s policies and a revival of Thatcher’s ideas and values. It identifies several economic and political factors accounting for the recent ’Thatcherite turn’ in education, which should also be considered in the wider historical context of the protracted development of state education in England in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Here, “New Conservatives” will refer to the Conservative-led Coalition Government.

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Texte intégral

Introduction

  • 1 In the social and educational sphere, Thatcherism is commonly associated with the fundamentally lib (...)

1Talking about a revival of Thatcherism might sound paradoxical when one considers the continuities in education policy between former New Labour and Conservative governments. We may indeed think that the influence of Thatcherism has remained powerful and that neo-liberal policies in education have to some extent rallied the two major parties, with differences in style rather than substance to tell them apart. However, David Cameron’s election to party leadership in 2005 was heralded as a break with the past and a promise of modernization, especially in social and societal issues. Seventeen years after the Education Reform Act, which overhauled a “national system, locally administered”, to introduce autonomy, diversity and competition, the challenge was to break away from what they saw as Labour’s managerial approach and the New Right’s free market ideology, tinged with Margaret Thatcher’s personal moral values1. This paper will examine discourse and policy as regards primary and secondary education, before considering the reasons which may account for the ‘Thatcherite turn’ taken by the Conservative-led coalition policies after 2010. It will seek to show how the Conservative Party’s project for education has revived Thatcherite themes and values, ‘turning the clock back’, as its Liberal Democrat allies had feared, to a stratified, multi-layered system, at odds with the new leadership’s pledge of renewal.

Breaking away from Thatcherism ? The New Conservatives’ discourse of renewal

  • 2 Thatcher, M., 1987.
  • 3 Quoted in Wilby, P., “Margaret Thatcher’s legacy is still with us – driven on by Gove”, The Guardia (...)
  • 4 Conservative Party, 2007, p.3.
    See also David Cameron’s speech “Modern Conservatism”: “We have a pi (...)
  • 5 The idea of a collective responsibility and a moral duty is repeatedly emphasized in the Education (...)

2Central to the reassessment of Thatcherism in 2005 was a reflection on the role of the state. A new understanding of the relationship between educational and social issues and of its significance for policy intervention runs through speeches and policy papers produced in the early years of David Cameron’s leadership. The Breakdown Britain and Breakthrough Britain reports published in 2006 and 2007 as well as the 2007 Green Paper Raising the bar, closing the gap were all concerned with the causes of educational failure and its human and social impact. It was the responsibility of the Conservatives, once back in power, to address those issues. Talk of “extremist teachers”, “hard left education authorities”2 and “‘self-righteously socialist’ civil servants”3 gave way to a commitment to social justice and social responsibility. The link between poverty and under-achievement was clearly stated and the duty of the state in that respect was, in the words of David Cameron, “to work tirelessly for social justice and a responsible society”4. The notion of a collective responsibility for children’s educational achievements thus gained ground, in sharp contrast with Thatcher’s consumerism and individualism5.

3Concerns for social mobility, higher attainment for all, as well as the promotion of community values obviously tied in with a Big Society agenda geared towards local empowerment and “social growth”6. However the problem was framed in educational rather than political or social terms, and competition between schools remained the favoured method of achieving success, in keeping with the belief that “progressive aims” were best achieved through « conservative means »7.

  • 8 The phrase refers to the attacks directed at teachers in the Black Papers published in the 1970s an (...)

4As for the tricky and symbolic issue of grammar schools, David Cameron expressed his reluctance to allow their expansion, although he later had to backtrack. The shift to centre ground in the party’s discourse could also be seen in the new and pacified relationship envisaged with teachers and local authorities, who had for so long borne the brunt of Margaret Thatcher’s hostility. To improve relations with education professionals, it was planned to scale down the number of centrally-driven initiatives and to free schools and local authorities from excessive bureaucracy. Trusting the teachers (teaching being labelled as “the most important profession”), restoring their authority and professional status was clearly a departure from the former “discourse of derision”8.

Structural reform and the move back to orthodoxy

  • 9 The 1988 Education Reform Act allowed schools to opt out of local authority control and operate ind (...)
  • 10 City Technology Colleges were designed, in the words of former Education Secretary K. Baker, as a “ (...)
  • 11 Kenneth Baker was Education Secretary from 1986 to 1989.

5In contrast with the new rhetoric, the direction of policy after 2010 shows a move back towards orthodox neo-liberal principles which is most noticeable in the area of structural reform. The flagship policy of the Conservative-led coalition has been the expansion of Labour’s academies programme, itself modelled on the Grant-Maintained Schools9 and CTCs10. What academies owe to the Grant-Maintained Schools and the CTCs established by Kenneth Baker11 in the 1980s is acknowledged in the White Paper The Importance of Teaching published in 2010 :

  • 12 Department for Education, 2010, p. 51

In this country, the record of independent state schools provides a striking testimony to the power of autonomy. City Technology Colleges (CTCs) were introduced in the late 1980s as innovative new schools outside local and central bureaucratic control. They were the forerunners of Academies.12

6Under academy status, schools can enjoy greater freedom in curriculum matters, the organisation of the school day and school terms, the recruitment of teachers for whom they can set their own pay scales.

  • 13 Fisher T., 2012, p. 234.
  • 14 Department for Education, op.cit., 2010, p. 54.
  • 15 Charter schools were introduced in the USA in the 1990s. They are state-funded autonomous schools, (...)
  • 16 Department for Education, Open academies and academy projects awaiting approval, 13 March 2015, htt (...)

7They are not accountable to the local authority and make up an independent state sector directly funded by the Department for Education. All three parties had been committed to granting more autonomy to schools, in the belief that autonomy breeds success13, but the hallmark of the Conservative approach has been its scale and thoroughness in reforming educational provision. The Education Secretary, Michael Gove, had very early made it clear that academies were to become the standard model of state schooling “with outstanding schools leading the way”14, which was a reversal of New Labour’s policy, originally targeted at disadvantaged areas. A further step in “liberating the supply-side” has been taken with the launch of Free schools, which are intended to make educational provision more responsive to local demand. Inspired by the Swedish and American models15, Free schools are independent state schools which can be set up and run by parents, faith groups, charities and non-profit-making organisations. As of November 2014 there were 4296 academies in England, compared to 210 in 2010, out of 20,000 primary and secondary schools. Meanwhile the number of Free schools rose to 252, with 170 more in progress, a number which is set to rise again under the new Conservative administration, following the May 2015 General Elections.16

  • 17 Stevenson, H., 2011, p. 188.
  • 18 See Merrick, J., 10 February 2013: “All academies and free schools in England, which are the Educat (...)

8The large-scale move towards self-governing schools, state-funded but independent from local authority control is particularly significant : the new system is based on a contractual relationship, rather than a public service agreement, between the Department for Education and the schools’ governing bodies. Those schools may be stand-alone academies, or may be run by educational chains already trading on the lucrative market of educational services. Howard Stevenson, writing about the academies programme, has argued that it represents “the realisation of “neo-liberal ambitions”17. If set against Margaret Thatcher’s original objective, which was to dismantle comprehensive education and ‘roll back the state’, the New Conservatives’ reforms can indeed be regarded as a further stage towards the fulfilment of this project. While the idea of educational vouchers, once popular with New Right thinkers in the 1980s, has not been taken up by the Coalition government, diversification, autonomy and increasing privatisation of services within the state system have created market-like conditions. To confirm the trend, barriers to a wider participation of educational chains have been removed and no objection has been raised – at least by the Education Secretary – to for profit organisations running schools, as in Sweden18. Such policy initiatives have been replicated in other public services, most notably in the NHS, where an internal market, open to private sector providers, has been established over the same period.

Reviving Thatcherite themes : the ambiguities of empowerment

  • 19 Conservative Party, op.cit., 2007, p.6.

9Evidence of the difficulty for the Conservative party to break away from former policy patterns is visible in the promotion of “empowerment through choice”19 as a rationale for the reforms.

  • 20 Wright, A., 2012, p.282.

10It is both a spin-off from Big Society theory and a Thatcherite theme20. But the “empowerment” claim is double-sided : while groups of parents can now set up their own schools, they often lack the skills and expertise to run them, and those new “start-ups” will most likely be – and are already managed by companies specialising in the education business. Likewise, conversion to academy status does not automatically require parents’ consultation but only governors’ approval, and can even be forced upon schools falling below the achievement targets. As a centrally-driven process, empowerment remains therefore limited and relative.

  • 21 Department of Education, The Importance of Teaching, The Schools White Paper, London : The Stationa (...)
  • 22 Department for Education, “Schools Commissioner calls for more Academies in Essex”, Press release, (...)

11On the other hand it provides a gateway for new entrants into the educational marketplace and could ultimately favour a return to a two-tier system of education. The expansion of an autonomous, self-governing sector has encouraged private sector provision of educational services, from school improvement support to HR management or curriculum innovation. As a consequence, the local authorities’ role in education, far from being restored, has been further undermined by the perspective of sweeping conversion to academy status and creation of more Free schools. Local councils, re-defined as “champions of choice (…) for parents and families”21, have been side-lined and left with the management of a dwindling number of schools – often with a more challenging intake. Around one third of English pupils are now educated in academies, which prevail in the secondary sector (56 %, as against 13 % in the primary sector). In some areas like Essex, they account for more than 80 % of all secondary schools, compared to 16 % of all primaries22. When a new school is planned, it has to be either an academy or a Free school. Faced with the reluctance of many primary school head-teachers and governors to switch to academy status, the Department for Education has encouraged the creation of multi-academy trusts to provide adequate support to school leaders and to develop partnerships. Whichever phase of education is concerned, the consequences on the teaching staff are self-evident, as more teachers will now be employed in academies, which do not have to follow the national agreement on pay and conditions. By limiting teachers’ empowerment to the space of the classroom and covertly altering their conditions of employment, the Coalition government has failed to appease, let alone win over the teaching profession and has rekindled tensions and conflicts of former decades.

Back to fundamentals : values, curriculum and hierarchical divisions

  • 23 Gibb, N., Speech to the Reform Conference, 1 July 2010, quoted in White, J., 2010, p. 304.

12The legacy of Thatcherism in the Conservatives’ education policy can also be noted in the traditional values underpinning the curriculum. The transmission of a national – essentially British - heritage, a classic approach to pedagogy, emphasis on order and authority in the classroom belonged to a conventional conservative repertoire which Margaret Thatcher fully endorsed. Those values surface again in the Green Paper Raising the bar, closing the gap and in the White Paper. To tackle under-achievement and poor behaviour, a return to traditional teaching methods has been advocated, especially in the 3 Rs, as well as setting by ability and stricter discipline. The National Curriculum has been taken back to its original purpose, in reaction to what Schools Minister Nick Gibb called “an ideology that puts the emphasis on the process of learning rather than on the content of knowledge”23. In this new content-based curriculum priority is given to fundamental subjects such as English, science and maths, rather than media studies, clearly a move back to the 1988 version.

  • 24 One may particularly remember the focus on personalised learning all through the New Labour years. (...)
  • 25 Gove, M., 2009. In a speech to the Royal Society of Arts, the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, la (...)

13The accountability framework has remained largely unchanged : regulation and central control are not relaxed : testing is hardly scaled down, targets are still imposed by the Department for Education (a new benchmark of 40 % of pupils obtaining 5 good GCSE passes has been set). More rigorous exams as well as tougher inspections are also intended to drive up standards in all state schools : a new “English Baccalaureate” has been introduced to provide a more challenging and rigorous assessment of pupils’ skills on a wider range of subjects, while OFSTED inspections are now required to focus on educational outcomes rather than a school’s efforts towards inclusion. Once conceptualised as socio-educational centres under New Labour24, primary and secondary schools are therefore being re-shaped along the lines set in the 1980s and re-orientated towards a strictly educational function, with a clear academic bias25.

  • 26 Gove, M., 2014.
  • 27 Under this scheme, children from low-income families could benefit from subsidised places in indepe (...)

14What best illustrates – at a symbolic level - the return to hierarchical divisions is the reference to the independent sector as a model whose ethos and methods should inspire all state schools : “My ambition for our education system is simple”, Michael Gove declared, “when you visit a school in England standards are so high all round that you should not be able to tell whether it’s in the state sector or a fee paying independent”26. But the promotion of independent schools ethos also suggests that, as with the 1980s Assisted Places Scheme27, the realisation of social mobility and equal opportunity is based on an elitist view of meritocracy resting on the central role of schools and their leaders. The multiple factors bearing on educational disadvantage are thus disregarded, in a belief that only schools and school leadership “can make a difference”, a phrase often heard in the 1980s.

  • 28 The Local Schools Network, the Anti-Academies Alliance are among the most prominent of these organi (...)

15The range of initiatives derived from 1980s Conservative educational thinking is therefore far-reaching and clearly over-rides issues of empowerment. Progressive ends and conservative means seem to have clashed. A re-organisation of schooling is currently taking shape, which may result in new hierarchies, with a supposedly successful diversified sector driven by academies on the one hand and a ”second-best” council-run community schools sector with varying academic performance on the other. Calls for more school partnerships hardly conceal the fact that the partnership models or cooperation practices already in place operate within self-contained environments. Academy chains often run their own school improvement services, while the development of school clusters among “county schools” is also a response to reduced local authority funding. Last, the creation of University Technical Colleges for 14-19 years old, promoted by former Education Secretary Kenneth Baker, can be read as a restoration of the separate academic and vocational pathways. It is of course difficult to know how those reforms are mediated on the ground, where the local political majority or campaigning organisations may offer resistance to government initiatives28. But the direction of policy clearly breaks away from Labour’s attempts to mitigate the effects of competition and contradicts the Conservative party’s own discourse of renewal.

Accounting for the ’Thatcherite turn’ in education

16This brings me to my last point which is to try and understand why Cameron’s Conservative Party has turned the clock back on their initial commitments and why the expected renewal has so far proved elusive.

  • 29 Michael Gove was the Education Secretary from 2010 to July 2014.

17One may look in three directions, firstly, within the Coalition, at the influence of the Liberal Democrats, secondly within the Conservative party itself, at the tensions between different political factions and thirdly, within the Department for Education, at the personal influence of the Secretary of State, Michael Gove29.

  • 30 The Pupil Premium is a fixed amount of money (£430) given to schools – in addition to the funding t (...)
  • 31 A case in point is the disagreement over childcare reform plans aiming to reduce the cost of childc (...)

18In their five years in office, the Liberal Democrats have been unable to sway Conservative education policy and steer Coalition decision–making towards the centre ground. In the Coalition programme for government, the balance was clearly tilted towards the Conservatives’ proposals : nothing was said about a more prominent role for local authorities which the Lib Dems strongly supported, or even about a reduction in class size, estimated at £ 2.5bn. Other aspects of Liberal Democrat policies seemed at odds with Tory priorities : the idea of a “good local school”, accountable to the local authority, the inclusion of vocational qualifications within the examination framework were definitely not on the agenda. The Pupil Premium, and a free school meal scheme for under-sevens were indeed the main concessions made by the Conservatives to their partners in government – although the Pupil Premium had been part of the Conservatives’ proposals30. Relations between Nick Clegg and Michael Gove became more and more strained and clashes multiplied over exam reforms, employment of unqualified teachers in Free schools or spending on childcare31. In May 2014 Nick Clegg accused the Education Secretary of using funding earmarked for local authorities to finance the expansion of Free schools. In October 2013 The Independent published a special report entitled “Coalition in crisis over free schools and academies” which laid bare the Lib Dems’ leader’s disillusion about his party’s influence and what he thought were ideologically-driven Conservative policies :

  • 32 Quoted in Merrick, 20 October 2013.

“Parents don’t want ideology to get in the way of their children’s education […] What they want, and expect, is that their children are taught by good teachers, get taught a core body of knowledge, and get a healthy meal everyday. What’s the point of having a national curriculum if only a few schools have to teach it ? […] Diversity among schools, yes. But good universal standards all parents can rely on, too.”32

  • 33 Auda-André, V., 2010. See also Dorey, P., 2007.
  • 34 Philip Blond, author of Red Tory: How Left and Right have broken Britain and how we can fix it, 201 (...)

19The dominance of a staunch Conservative line in the implementation of Coalition education policy may thus appear as a lost opportunity for the party to chart a new course and, for example, work out a new relationship with local authorities and with teachers. This may also be linked to the Conservatives’ inner divisions and the marginalisation of social Conservatism advocates. A fairly large number of Tory MPs have remained hostile, either on ideological or economic grounds, to a more welfare-orientated agenda which would imply higher spending33. The Red Tories’ social conservatism34, which had been influential in shaping David Cameron’s Big Society project, seems to have lost its edge. Even ResPublica’s proposal for new Military Academies to tackle the problem of failing youngsters was met with scepticism.

20According to Philip Blond, one of the founders of ResPublica, the social dimension of the Big Society programme has been dropped, surrendered to the deficit reduction imperative.

  • 35 “Supply-side reform is not a sufficient condition for growth: an economic approach that worked, for (...)
  • 36 In 2010, the Treasury announced cuts in education spending of 25% over four years (BBC, 2010). Whil (...)

21While endorsing the government’s education reforms, Blond argued in 2011 that “old economics have killed new politics”35. Indeed in education, only school budgets have been relatively protected from severe spending cuts36. But funding allocated to local authorities to provide for welfare-based initiatives such as early years education, youth programmes or capital programmes has been dramatically cut back. At the end of the Coalition’s term in office, only statutory services such as provision of “basic need” places could be financed, albeit with huge difficulties in some areas. A project of renewal is unlikely to flourish within a tight budget, a situation mirroring again the cuts suffered by local authorities in the 1980s and 1990s.

  • 37 Gove, M., 2009.
  • 38 Jones, K, 2014, 102.

22Could we then claim that the Thatcherite turn in Conservative education policy has been a default option, brought about by budgetary constraints, inner tensions, unwillingness to compromise with the Liberal Democrats ? I would be tempted to say yes and will suggest that part of the answer also lies within the Department for Education. The increased powers of Education Secretaries since 1988 give added weight to their personal influence, and in the case of Michael Gove, the Education Secretary from 2010 to 2014, personal beliefs and political action are closely linked. His ideas, personal values and communication style have displayed a complex combination of neo-liberal thinking and traditionalist views. He actually described himself as “an unashamed traditionalist”, supporting “the value of liberal learning, the wider spread of knowledge as an uncontested goal in its own right”37. Although he did embrace David Cameron’s discourse of renewal, his understanding of social mobility is essentially based on the idea of meritocracy, which implies selection38. With Michael Gove, as with Margaret Thatcher, the defence of meritocracy sits alongside a deep-rooted hostility towards the “educational establishment”, which he calls The Blob, after a monster in a 1950s film. However it is not only a question of style. Michael Gove’s personal stamp on Conservative education policy can be seen in a few high-profile choices : the decision to scrap the Building Schools for the Future programme, as well as the introduction of the E-Bacc in September 2010, were clearly linked to the Secretary of State’s “politics of conviction”, as was the endorsement of the independent sector. If David Cameron has been called “heir to Blair”, Michael Gove may well deserve the title of “heir to Thatcher”. His replacement by Nicky Morgan in July 2014, less than a year before the 2015 General Elections, may have been prompted by a desire to ease tensions and avoid confrontation about sensitive issues.

Conclusion

23I have tried in this paper to show how Thatcherism still shapes the New Conservatives’ education policy. One could argue that this legacy has been part of a more global shift, in western countries, towards increased privatisation of educational systems.

24While Conservative discourse emphasized the responsibility of the state in improving opportunities for young people, the reforms introduced since 2010 have actually taken the reverse direction and to a large extent realised the Thatcherite dream of letting market principles rule over public education. Under the Coalition government Margaret Thatcher’s vision of education, as expressed in a 1971 statement, seems to have materialised :

  • 39 Thatcher, M., 1971.

In my view the strongest and most generous education system is one whose organisation, whose institutions are as various and different from each other as the needs of the people they serve and the people who serve in them.39

25In the British – and specifically English - context, this could also be viewed from a historical standpoint: it is generally agreed that the idea of public education in England long had to be struggled for, and the constitution of a state education system in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century was first based on “filling the gaps” left by voluntary provision. From that standpoint, the comprehensive ideal might appear as a parenthesis in the history of public education in England, contrary to Scotland where it became more firmly rooted. The long-standing debate over the status of public schools, the persistence of grammar schools, and now the development of academies and Free schools suggests that diversity remains a byword for social and educational differentiation. Such issues have given rise to internal tensions in Conservative, but also, to some extent, in Labour ranks. In this perspective, the ‘Thatcherite revival’ in Conservative educational thinking could be viewed as part of the recurring struggles and conflicts at play within the Conservative party and within English society at different stages in history up to the present day. Following the Conservative victory in the 2015 General Elections it is likely to continue to influence - perhaps in new, updated forms - the future of English education.

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Notes

1 In the social and educational sphere, Thatcherism is commonly associated with the fundamentally liberal view of a shrunken state, coupled with more traditional Conservative ideas about the role of the family and the responsibilities of the individual in society. Adding to this we could mention notions of tradition, differentiation and hierarchy in school organisation and curricula – and a readiness to meet the needs of industry (Tomlinson, S., 2005, pp. 29, 31-32, 44).

2 Thatcher, M., 1987.

3 Quoted in Wilby, P., “Margaret Thatcher’s legacy is still with us – driven on by Gove”, The Guardian, 15 April 2013. < http://www.theguardian.com/education/2013/apr/15/margaret-thatcher-education-legacy-gove>

4 Conservative Party, 2007, p.3.
See also David Cameron’s speech “Modern Conservatism”: “We have a picture in our minds of a Britain in which no child grows up trapped in the multiple deprivation of family breakdown, drug and alcohol dependency, decayed housing, dangerous neighbourhoods and poor education”. Cameron, D., 2006.

5 The idea of a collective responsibility and a moral duty is repeatedly emphasized in the Education Secretary’s speeches, notably in a speech to the National College Annual Conference, Birmingham, 16 June 2010: : “Unless we are guided by moral purpose in this coalition government then we will squander the goodwill the British people have, so generously, shown us. And the ethical imperative of our education policy is quite simple - we have to make opportunity more equal … We are clearly, as a nation, still wasting talent on a scale which is scandalous. It is a moral failure, an affront against social justice which we have to put right”.

6 Cameron, D., Chamberlain lecture on communities, Birmingham, 14 July 2006, <http://conservative-speeches.sayit.mysociety.org/speech/600015>.

7 Cameron, D., 2009.

8 The phrase refers to the attacks directed at teachers in the Black Papers published in the 1970s and 1980s, and to criticism, in media and business circles, of educational methods and poor standards associated with comprehensive schools. Ball, S., 2008, p. 82.

9 The 1988 Education Reform Act allowed schools to opt out of local authority control and operate independently, following a parents’ ballot. They received direct funding from the Department of Education and Science, thus becoming “Grant-Maintained”, were given ownership of land and buildings and managed their own admissions. 20% of schools became grant-maintained. Baker, M., “Gove’s Academies: 1980s idea rebranded?”, BBC News, 1 August 2010, < http://www.bbc.com/news/education-10824069>

10 City Technology Colleges were designed, in the words of former Education Secretary K. Baker, as a “half-way house” between the state sector and the independent sector. They were sponsored by businesses and their objective was to develop a business culture in education. Only a handful of CTCs were eventually created. Gillard, D., Education in England, Chapter 8, <http://www.educationengland.org.uk/history/chapter08.html>

11 Kenneth Baker was Education Secretary from 1986 to 1989.

12 Department for Education, 2010, p. 51

13 Fisher T., 2012, p. 234.

14 Department for Education, op.cit., 2010, p. 54.

15 Charter schools were introduced in the USA in the 1990s. They are state-funded autonomous schools, operating independently of school districts and enjoying greater freedoms from regulations applicable to district schools. Free schools were established in Sweden in 1992. They are run by businesses, on a for-profit basis. Vaughan, R., 24 October 2014.

16 Department for Education, Open academies and academy projects awaiting approval, 13 March 2015, <https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/open-academies-and-academy-projects-in-development>

17 Stevenson, H., 2011, p. 188.

18 See Merrick, J., 10 February 2013: “All academies and free schools in England, which are the Education Secretary’s personal obsession, would be free to become profit-making for the first time, and be entirely decoupled from Whitehall control”.

19 Conservative Party, op.cit., 2007, p.6.

20 Wright, A., 2012, p.282.

21 Department of Education, The Importance of Teaching, The Schools White Paper, London : The Stationary Office, 2010, 52.

22 Department for Education, “Schools Commissioner calls for more Academies in Essex”, Press release, 4 June 2014. <https://www.gov.uk/government/news/schools-commissioner-calls-for-more-academies-in-essex>.

23 Gibb, N., Speech to the Reform Conference, 1 July 2010, quoted in White, J., 2010, p. 304.

24 One may particularly remember the focus on personalised learning all through the New Labour years. The Labour administration had also overhauled the organisation of local authority education departments, by integrating health, social and educational services for children within the same structure. Following the Every Child Matters White Paper and the Children Act 2004 children’s services were established in local authorities, in order to promote the well-being of children, develop childcare provision and provide ’extended services’ on the schools’ premises.

25 Gove, M., 2009. In a speech to the Royal Society of Arts, the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, lamented the fact that “schools are less places of teaching or learning and more community hubs from which a host of children’s services can be delivered” and criticised the trend away from subject disciplines and towards thematic learning.

26 Gove, M., 2014.

27 Under this scheme, children from low-income families could benefit from subsidised places in independent schools provided they passed the entrance examination.

28 The Local Schools Network, the Anti-Academies Alliance are among the most prominent of these organisations.

29 Michael Gove was the Education Secretary from 2010 to July 2014.

30 The Pupil Premium is a fixed amount of money (£430) given to schools – in addition to the funding they already receive - in proportion of the number of pupils from deprived backgrounds that they admit.

31 A case in point is the disagreement over childcare reform plans aiming to reduce the cost of childcare by relaxing the staff to child ratio. Syall, R., “Gove says ‘Clegg showing some leg’ to LibDems over childcare”, Guardian, 12 May 2013, < http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2013/may/12/gove-clegg-lib-dem-childcare>

32 Quoted in Merrick, 20 October 2013.

33 Auda-André, V., 2010. See also Dorey, P., 2007.

34 Philip Blond, author of Red Tory: How Left and Right have broken Britain and how we can fix it, 2010 and founder of ResPublica, a Tory Think Tank that generally condemns the neo-liberal orthodoxy and proposes a new social model for a so-called Red Toryism.

35 “Supply-side reform is not a sufficient condition for growth: an economic approach that worked, for some, 40 years ago now appears not to work for any. […]The PM has given up something for nothing, ceding all his strategic and visionary thinking to George Osborne’s tactical and failing approach to the deficit”. Blond, P., 2012.

36 In 2010, the Treasury announced cuts in education spending of 25% over four years (BBC, 2010). While spending on schools has been relatively protected, early years provision has been hard hit, with 20% cuts in spending on children’s centres over three years, leading to the closure of dozens of Sure Start centres which provided “joined-up” services and support for children and families. (The Observer, 2014) Capital programmes such as Building Schools for the Future were also scrapped, allegedly to finance the Free schools programme.

37 Gove, M., 2009.

38 Jones, K, 2014, 102.

39 Thatcher, M., 1971.

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Françoise Granoulhac, « ‘Turning the clock back’ : the revival of Thatcherism in the Conservative Party’s education policy (2005-2015) », Observatoire de la société britannique, 17 | 2015, 79-95.

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Françoise Granoulhac, « ‘Turning the clock back’ : the revival of Thatcherism in the Conservative Party’s education policy (2005-2015) », Observatoire de la société britannique [En ligne], 17 | 2015, mis en ligne le 01 mai 2016, consulté le 15 décembre 2017. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/osb/1767 ; DOI : 10.4000/osb.1767

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Françoise Granoulhac

Maître de Conférences en Civilisation britannique à l'Université Grenoble Alpes

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Observatoire de la société britannique

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