Essay: Outline the different approaches used by sociologists to analyse relationships between formal education systems and the economy.

Russell Haggar

Site Owner

Please note: that I have currently written 7 essays on the Sociology of Education and intent to write a few more in the near future. Note that in each case these essays are far longer than could be written under examination conditions and that although they include points of knowledge , application and evaluation I tend to use separate paragraphs for each of these categories rather than to combine several categories in each paragraph  as in  the strongly recommended PEEEL approach whereby each paragraph should included Point; Explanation, Example: Evaluation and Link to following Paragraph.

I hope that you find the information in these essays useful but would strongly recommend that you write your own essays using the PEEEL approach or something very similar to it. Obviously your teachers will advise you as to appropriate essay writing technique.

This essay ends with a summary of approximately 600 words and I hope that if students are aiming to write examination length answers to this essay question they might be able to use this summary in the construction of their own essay plans. Good luck with that anyway!


Essay: Outline the different approaches used by sociologists to analyse relationships between formal education systems and the economy.

Document last edited:16/07/2020


For recent relevant information from the BBC on Post GCSE education trends - Click Here

For recent relevant information from the BBC  on BTec courses - Click Here

Essay Plan

Introduction: Functions of Formal Education Systems

Functionalist Perspective

Marxist Perspective

Fordism, Post-Fordism, Neo-Fordism and Education

Feminist Perspective

Interactionist Perspective

Postmodernist Perspective [This section will be posted soon!]

Conservative Governments and the New Right

Labour Governments, Social Democracy and the Third Way

The Coalition Government and Education Policies 2010-2015

Some Further Developments 2015-2020



In order to analyse sociological approaches to the analysis of the relationships between  formal education systems and the economy we must distinguish between pre-industrial societies where education is provided more informally in families, churches and workplaces and industrial societies where formal education systems expand [as an aspect of structural differentiation ]to meet the needs of industrial economies for more skilled specialised workers. We must also distinguish between the formal academic curriculum and the hidden curriculum which may be defined as the set of norms and values implicitly conveyed to pupils by teachers' words and actions and by the organisational processes operating in schools.

 Most sociologists would agree that formal education systems fulfil the following functions [most of which are directly related in various ways to the economic organisation of society:

  • the transmission of knowledge and skills;
  • the provision of a bridging mechanism between the particularistic family and the more universalistic wider society ;
  • the transmission of attitudes and values as an aspect of the socialisation process ;
  • the allocation of individuals to appropriate roles in society;
  • the compensatory function whereby  disadvantaged students may receive additional assistance to compensate for  the disadvantages of a poor background.

I shall first summarise the Functionalist , Marxist, Feminist and Interactionist approaches to the analysis of relationships between formal education systems and the economy and then describe in more detail the educational policies  which successive governments have implemented in their attempts to increase overall economic efficiency.

The Functionalist Perspective

Functionalism is based upon a consensus model of society such that industrial societies are seen as basically economically efficient, democratic, and meritocratic and are believed to operate in the interests of all of their citizens. Functionalists believe that formal education systems contribute to economic efficiency and to the  effective functioning of these societies as a whole. Functionalist sociologists such as Talcott Parsons  recognised that relationships between formal education systems and the economy were important for several reasons.

1. As industrial economies become increasingly complex, formal education systems would have to expand to transmit the knowledge and skills necessary for such economies.

2. If economies are to be efficient it is desirable that individuals are allocated to their economic roles on the basis of their own individual merits and Parsons argued that the formal education system in the USA of the 1950s was indeed organised on meritocratic principles and used  complex systems of assessment, schools and colleges to evaluate fairly  the talents, strengths and weaknesses of their students .He further argued that  assessment procedures had a major impact on the employment prospects of young people concerned in that it is educationally successful students who are most likely to be allocated to occupations which are functionally most important and well-paid. Thus formal education systems have an important role to play in the meritocratic allocation of individuals to economic roles which results in greater economic efficiency and higher living standards in the economy as a whole.

3. Talcott Parsons  argued that the core values of US society in the 1950s and 1960s were beliefs in individual achievement and equality of opportunity and that schools played an important role via the hidden curriculum in socialising students to accept these values. In so doing, the US formal educational system is seen as playing a role which is highly beneficial or functional for the US economy as a whole  because:
a. Industry and commerce requires punctual, efficient, achievement -oriented ,industrious workers who identify with the aims of their employers if  an economy is to operate efficiently. [To see that this is so you might like to consider the possible  effects on the USA economy if the entire younger generation had decided to live according to the "hippie" philosophy of the 1960s. Of course this may have made for a more fulfilling life. Who knows? ]
b If formal education systems are based upon and seen to be based upon equality of opportunity the differences in economic rewards which arise from educational success or failure are seen as the outcome of a meritocratically organised educational system such that they are unlikely to be criticised. Thus is social stability maintained.{ This is quite a difficult point which may need a little further discussion in class.}

The Marxist Perspective

Marxists argue that formal education systems are designed to meet the needs of the capitalist economy and to ensure that the interests and privileged lifestyles of the capitalist ruling class  are sustained while working class children are prepared primarily for employment in low skill, low status, low paid, alienating jobs. It is admitted that some working class students will be successful in education and achieve social mobility but claimed by Marxists that this serves merely as a smokescreen which hides the inequality of opportunity which is central to capitalist educational systems.

In the Marxist view the continuation of capitalism depends upon the availability of workers with different levels of skill ready to play significantly different roles and to accept significantly different levels of income in the capitalist economy. In addition  capitalism demands that the education system via the Hidden Curriculum[ and in conjunction with the other agencies of socialisation] ensures that there is broad based ideological support for capitalism. It follows that so long as the capitalist system remains even if the education system operates with a little relative autonomy, social class, ethnic and gender differences in educational achievement and attitudes sympathetic to the continuation of capitalism will remain because they themselves are essential to the continuation of capitalism.

Marxists are critical of Conservative and Labour approaches to education policy because both of these approaches are sympathetic to the continuation of the capitalist system which , according to Marxists, inhibits the  possibility that education policy can be used to the real advantage of all members of society. According to Marxists   even radical social Democrats are unlikely to challenge the capitalist system and therefore unlikely to introduce truly liberating education policies which means that education policies will continue to have an important role to play in the reproduction of capitalist class structures. In the Marxist View only the abolition of capitalist can lead to a truly liberating education for all. Of course the entire Marxist analysis of capitalist societies and their education systems can be criticised from all of the other perspectives mentioned in this essay. Perhaps this is a little exercise which you would like to undertake for yourselves.


Fordism, Post-Fordism , Neo-Fordism and  Education

It has been claimed that the type of correspondence theory developed by Marxists Bowles and Gintis in the 1970s might well apply to the Fordist phase of capitalism which was based upon routinised factory production requiring a large proportion of relatively unskilled workers  who were not required to exercise their own initiative or creativity within the production process.

However from the 1970s onwards it came to be argued that capitalism was entering a Post-Fordist phase in which production processes  would increasingly be computerised and that this would generate  greater demand for  so-called core workers [professional workers , technicians and skilled craft workers] who would increasingly be consulted by management and given greater opportunities to exercise their own creativity within the work environment. As a result, it was claimed, productivity would increase  and there would be less likelihood of conflict in industrial relations . It was also recognised that there would also be unskilled or semi-skilled peripheral workers  who would be relatively poorly paid  and might be employed on part-time and/or temporary contracts peripheral  but it was hoped that Post-Fordism would result in the relative expansion of employment for core workers.. Thus it now became highly desirable that the formal education system  should encourage the development of individuality and creativity, prioritise the value of team work and problem solving in new vocationally relevant courses and prepare increasing numbers of students for access to higher education. Now  the organisation of the education system should indeed correspond to the organisation of the economy but NOT simply by encouraging deference and respect for authority in the ways suggested by Bowles and Gintis.

During the 1980s there were several studies which sought to analyse the extent to which Post- Fordism was indeed replacing Fordism which led to disputes as to the relative growth of Core and Peripheral workers and the extent to which the Core workers were or were not becoming increasingly skilled , consulted by management and more content in their working environments .Commenting on these studies in the 1990s M. Haralambos [4th edition ] noted that the extent of change varied from industry to industry and from occupation to occupation.

Click here for an article on Core and Periphery [John Atkinson 1984]

In his critical assessment of the UK education system Patrick Ainley [Betraying a Generation : How Education is Failing Young People 2016] has argued that the extent of transition from Fordism to Post-Fordism has been much overstated  and that although some parts of the economy may have developed in a Post-Fordist direction others could be described as operating under conditions of Neo-Fordism. Thus he argues that although increasing numbers of students have graduated from university many have failed to secure graduate level employment  because of the relatively slow growth of graduate-level jobs: they are essentially GRINGOS [ graduates in non-graduate occupations]. Meanwhile the service sector of the economy has seen the growth of routine, tightly supervised, poorly paid jobs [ often on zero hours contracts offering very limited job satisfaction in call centres or fast food outlets or in social care where at least the level of job satisfaction may be much higher even if working conditions are difficult.

Thus according to Patrick Ainley the education system has become increasing examination based and competitive but given the limited growth of graduate level employment only a minority of students [ mainly from more privileged backgrounds ] can expect that their educational success will lead to well paid and satisfying employment . Furthermore Marxists would argue that the formal education system continues to fail to provide opportunities for the fundamental critique of capitalism despite the fact that it is the capitalist system itself which threatens the actual survival of the planet.  Of course many would argue the exact reverse : environmentally sustainable capitalism will actually save the planet. Scope for some discussion here!

Click here and here for important new development: Government to scrap 50% of young to university Education target .[July 9th 2020]  Now the UK Government is arguing that there must be a rebalancing of education to more vocational and technical education delivered via high level apprenticeship schemes provided by Further Education colleges.  The Universities are critical of these plans.

Click here to download a short review of Patrick Ainley's book


The Feminist Perspective

It is clear that in the last twenty or so years the educational achievements of female students have improved rapidly relative to those of males. This is due partly [but not entirely] to education policies in that there is now greater emphasis in schools on equal opportunities which is reflected , for example, in new teaching materials, careers advice and the  introduction of the national curriculum which made sciences compulsory for all students up to the age of 16. All Feminists are no doubt pleased with these developments but while Liberal feminists are broadly supportive of gradualism Marxist/Socialist Feminists and Black Feminists would note the disappointing educational achievements of working class and some ethnic minority girls while Radical Feminists would criticise the continued existence of a Hidden Curriculum which ignores some of the concerns of radical feminism. Thus Marxist/Socialist Feminists would argue that only the abolition of capitalism, possibly via revolutionary means, will result in real equality of educational opportunity for males and females in all social classes and all ethnic groups while Radical Feminists argue that only the ending of Patriarchy in society will create the conditions for equality of educational opportunity.


The Interactionist Perspective

Interactionist sociologists have focused especially on  the possible effects of both positive and negative labelling on subsequent pupil achievements. The conclusions of Interactionist studies may be used to suggest that  under the tripartite system of secondary education success or failure in the 11+ examination would be likely to have positive and negative labelling effects respectively but that the existence of streaming/banding/setting within Comprehensive schools or even of unofficial ability groupings within nominally mixed ability classes may well mean that the some forms of labelling continue despite the expansion of comprehensivisation .Some more recent studies do suggest that in general negative labelling is nowadays less likely to occur although this conclusion has itself been denied in other recent interactionist studies. Furthermore Labour education spokespersons currently argue that  streaming/banding/setting arrangements actually provide better learning environments than does  mixed ability teaching.... a view which may interactionists [and others] would not accept.


Conservative Governments and The New Right

New Right theorists agree with Functionalists that industrial societies should ideally be organised as capitalist societies and that education systems should operate to meet the needs of capitalism but these New Right theorists also argued in the 1970s and 1980s that in practice state education systems were organised inefficiently and that both their formal and hidden curricula were not sufficiently geared to meeting the needs of industry.

From the 1970s onwards  successive Conservative[ 1979-1997], Labour [1997-2010], Coalition[2010-2015] and Conservative Government[2015--] have  argued  that the processes of globalisation have made it even more  necessary for education policies to foster increased economic efficiency. Click here  and here for a BBC items on the CBI and skills training illustrating the concerns of the CBI that the UK education system was failing in various ways to meet the needs of industry and commerce. July 2013

Thus globalisation has resulted in the expansion of international trade leading to the substantial relocation of manufacturing industry from advanced capitalist countries such as the UK to the Global South  where labour costs are much lower and this , coupled with increased labour productivity in the advanced capitalist countries,  has led to a process of de-industrialisation involving the decline of manufacturing  employment especially in unskilled and semi-skilled occupations. Successive UK governments have therefore argued that if employment prospects and living standards are to be maintained more students must be educated and trained for future  employment for the more highly skilled occupations within manufacturing and within the expanding service industries such as banking, insurance and leisure industries. Essentially it has been argued that both domestic and international economic trends have resulted in a shift from Fordism to Post-Fordism and that it is essential that the education system must be reformed so as to correspond to this new post-Fordist economic situation. This would necessitate changes in the organisation of the overall school system, increases in the industrial and commercial relevance of the schools curriculum, increased opportunities for industrial training and increasing access to Higher Education. That reforms of the UK education were necessary has been further emphasised as a result of the sometimes relatively low ranking of the UK in PISA tests although some limitations of these tests have also been recognised. [Click here for some information from the BBC on the most recent PISA tests ]

In  a detailed paper [for which I have currently unfortunately lost the address] it is argued that  in countries such as India and China increasing numbers of highly skilled graduates are being educated who nevertheless continue to earn salaries considerably lower than those earned by comparable workers in the "developed world.". We have already seen relatively unskilled jobs relocated to the "third World" leading to fewer unskilled jobs in the developed world. Could it become more economic for transnational companies to relocate professional work also to India and China in which case what will happen to employment prospects in the UK even for graduates?

I have not as yet considered the likely impact of the COVID 19 pandemic on the likely trends in globalisation but will try to do so fairly soon!

Conservative education policies 1979-1997 have reflected an overall commitment to New Right ideology and especially to neo-liberalism. The Coalition Government of 2010-2015 retained  commitment to neo-liberalism but also, perhaps due to the influence of the Liberal Democrats , introduced a Pupil Premium designed to help disadvantaged students and this policy has been continued by subsequent Conservative Governments .

Thus successive Conservative governments have continually supported the existence of Private Education but also introduced important reforms of State Education. . They have argued that  the development of the National Curriculum , the introduction of SATs at ages, 7, 11 and 14, OFSTED inspections  and  the publication of school league tables  would enable parents  to make  a more informed choice  among a wider variety of schools including at various times City Technology Colleges, Grant Maintained Schools, Specialised School, Faith schools , Academies , Free schools and University Technology Colleges as well as orthodox Local -Authority-Maintained Comprehensive Schools.  Since the funding of all state schools was also to become much more dependent upon student numbers successive governments argued that this so-called quasi-marketisation  of education would enable apparently effective, successful schools to expand at the expense of apparently ineffective  schools [some of which would be forced to close]  which was to drive up overall  standards. It was hoped also that socially and economically disadvantaged students who had for years been denied access to a good education would also benefit from this new approach to educational policy

New Right theorists argued also in favour of increased emphasis within the formal curriculum on the transmission of knowledge and skills specifically relevant to the needs of industry and commerce, and against " liberal progressive" social ideas and teaching methodsAccording to New Right theorists these reforms would enable formal education systems to fulfil their economic functions more effectively.

There were ,however been several criticisms of this so -called New Vocationalism introduced in the 1980s. It was claimed that a significant divide has been created between academic and vocational courses and that schools in any case are not suited or resourced for the teaching of business- related courses. It is also claimed in relation to training schemes that they aimed to shift the blame for youth unemployment from government policy onto the education system; that training schemes were a means of reducing the official unemployment figures; that little real training was given; that the schemes reinforced traditional gender roles; that the training was at the expense of a more valuable general education and that the purpose of the schemes was often to encourage passivity and acceptance of low wages among young people.

However, supporters of the schemes have argued correctly that some useful training was given which increased the employability of the trainees concerned. Nevertheless, more generally, after 18 years of Conservative government, there were still great concerns that the economic competitiveness of the UK economy was declining because the UK workforce was on average less skilled than the workforces of our major competitors, a problem which subsequent  Labour governments have also failed to solve.

It was also regarded as essential for access to Higher Education to be increased ain order to prepare more future workers for employment in more highly skilled occupations given that the availability of unskilled and semi-skilled work was expected to decline and this expansion of Higher Education did indeed occur under the Conservative Governments of 1979-1997 and under subsequent Labour , Coalition and recent Conservative Governments.


Labour Governments, Social Democracy and The Third Way 1997-2010

  Labour Governments  accepted  the continued existence of Private Schools and accepted also much of the Conservatives "choice and diversity agenda based around the introduction of a quasi market in education via increased support for Specialised Schools, Faith, Schools and City Academies. However Labour  also introduced a variety of compensatory education policies   such   as increased nursery provision ,the Sure Start Programme ,reduced class sizes and the  Education Action Zones and Excellence in Cities programmes which are clearly designed to target additional resources on poorer children.

It has been argued that  the Labour Party  drifted to the ideological Centre under the leadership of Tony Blair who ,it was claimed , had accepted a more moderate version of social democracy linked to the so-called Third Way which had been developed most notably by the eminent sociologist Anthony Giddens. For his supporters the Blairite approach represented a  constructive attempt to modernise the ideology of social democracy in accordance with changing economic. social and political conditions whereas for his critics within the Labour Party the Blairite approach amounted to little more  than warmed ove neo-liberalism or "Thatcherism with a smiling face".his critics

These more critical radical Social Democrats  claimed  that these Blairite policies were insufficient to reduce the massive social class, ethnic and gender inequalities of educational achievement which continued to exist and that the relative educational opportunities of disadvantaged pupils could be increased only via the abolition of private and state selective grammar schools and additional financial resources for  the Sure Start Programme and for future programmes replacing the  EAZ and EiC programmes and by the rethinking of Labour policies on diversity and choice. Even then broader social and economic and social policies to reduce poverty and inequality would also be necessary because many Social Democrats believe that it may well still be true that as Basil Bernstein stated in the 1970s"Education cannot compensate for society."

Labour  did also  introduce a variety of  vocational education initiatives designed to increase  pupil employability but there were also concerns that schools would encourage only "unacademic" students [for whom traditional GCSEs and Advanced Levels are seen as inappropriate ] to take these courses; that the courses would  be perceived similarly as low status courses by the students themselves; and that Universities might not accept these qualifications as equivalent to traditional Advanced Levels. Thus the academic-vocational divide which had bedevilled the UK education system for years might remain for the foreseeable future  . However the increasing popularity of Two-Year Foundation degrees which combined vocational and academic elements did perhaps offer hope for the future.

In summary while some Social Democrats have argued that on balance Labour's education policies should increase pupils' overall educational achievements by improving average standards, increasing, equality of opportunity and vocational relevance  others argue that more fundamental educational reform involving the abolition of Private Education and State Selective Education and increased targeting of resources on disadvantaged pupils at every level of the education system  combined with wider social and economic reforms are all necessary if equality of educational opportunity is to be achieved. It is noteworthy that after 13 successive years of Labour government that even though average educational achievements have improved there are still very significant class, gender and ethnic  inequalities in educational achievement and ongoing concerns that on average the UK labour force is less skilled than the labour forces of our major competitors.

Labour Governments 1997-2010  introduced several initiatives designed to increase the economic  relevance of educational curricula.

  1. Students now have the opportunity to study a wide range of vocational GCSEs such as Applied Business Studies, Applied ICT, Applied Science, Engineering, Manufacturing and Health and Social Care.
  2.  GNVQ Foundation and Intermediate courses for Key Stage 4 students were introduced in the 1990s but these were phased out between 2005-2007 and replaced by similar BTEC and OCR National Courses..
  3. The Increased Flexibility Programme was introduced in 2002  and designed to establish partnerships between schools, Further Education Colleges and other providers of work -based learning  which were to improve vocational learning opportunities for 14-16 year olds who would now receive their education partly from schools and partly from a local Further Education College in the hope that they would adopt more positive attitudes to their education and be encouraged to remain in education beyond the age of 16.
  4. It was hoped also that opportunities for work-based training for young people would be increased via the expansion of NVQ qualifications and apprenticeship and advanced apprenticeship schemes.
  5. By the 1990s students aged 16-18 could study  Advanced GNVQ courses with a strong vocational component   but these courses were replaced in 2000 by the Advanced Vocational Certificate in Education which was in turn withdrawn in 2004 and replaced by a number of Applied Advanced GCE courses.
  6. Students aged 16-18 could also follow BTEC courses which were deemed to be of Advanced Level GCE standard.
  7. Two-year  Foundation Degrees which combine vocational and academic elements have been introduced by Universities and Further Education Colleges. They are increasingly popular as is shown in this recent BBC item.
  8. A Diploma has been introduced  which can be studied at varying levels by 14-19 year olds and which is by 2011 to be available with 17 possible options each with a strong vocational element. [Construction and Built Environment, IT, Society, Health and Development, Hair and Beauty Studies, Sport and Active Leisure, Humanities, Language, Science etc.]
  9. You may click here for some detailed data relating to student numbers on BTEC and BTEC National Courses

In an ideal world these new vocationally based courses would enthuse students to adopt more positive attitudes to education in the recognition that what they are learning would help them to improve significantly their future employment prospects. However many of the criticisms which were applied to the Conservatives' New Vocationalism initiatives are already being applied to these more recent Labour initiatives:

While some Social democrats are relatively optimistic that standards, equality of opportunity and vocational relevance can all be increased others recognise that it will be no simple matter to achieve the meaningful educational reforms which they seek. It is noteworthy that after 13 successive years of Labour government there are still very significant class inequalities in educational achievement and ongoing concerns that on average the UK labour force is less skilled than the labour forces of our major competitors.

It should be noted also  that for several years there have been criticisms of the organisation of apprenticeship schemes by both Conservative and Labour governments and the following links give information on apprenticeship trends and issues under recent Labour , Coalition and Conservative Governments. Students may choose to read the shorter Independent article for a sense of the issues involved but much more detailed information is available [if required] in the Select Committee Report.

Click here for a critical assessment of  apprenticeship schemes as of 2015 from the Independent [August 2015]

Click here for a detailed report on Apprenticeships from the House of Commons Education Select Committee March 2015]

Click here for a House Of Commons Research Brief on Apprenticeships

Click here for OFSTED Report and here for BBC coverage of this report. October 2015


The Coalition Government and  Education Policies 2010-2015

The Coalition Government of 2010-15 emphasised that further reforms of the education system  would be necessary to improve the overall effectiveness of the education system as a means of increasing the competitiveness of the UK economy within the increasingly globalised economic system.

  • It extended the quasi-marketisation of education via the expansion of the Academies Programme and the introduction of Free Schools.
  • GCSE  and GCE Advanced Level syllabi would be redrafted to make them more rigorous
  • Several measures were  introduced to increase the vocational relevance of education
  • Higher Education Tuition fees which had been introduced by the Labour Government were to be increased significantly as a means of financing the expansion of Higher Education.

The then Secretary of State for Education  Michael Gove outlined his general approach in September 2010 when he announced the setting up of a review of vocational education for 14-19 year olds to be led by Professor Alison Wolf. Click here for a summary of Mr Gove's views. Thus according to Mr. Gove:

  • It was important that if young people were to become productive workers they should attain a good general level of education especially in English Mathematics and the Sciences .
  • Without these fundamentals actual vocational qualifications would be regarded as inadequate by employers which would undermine the employability of students studying for these qualifications.
  • However because of the evaluation of schools in terms of the percentages of their students attaining 5 or more GCSE A*-C grades including English and Mathematics some schools had encouraged their students to take composite vocational courses deemed equivalent to as many as 4 GCSEs rather than to opt for subjects such as Modern Languages, History and Geography . Mr Gove believed that in so doing some schools in the pursuit of higher league table positions were actually undermining their own students' employability .


The Coalition and Vocational Education Policies

These policies may be analysed under the following headings

  • The Importance of the Wolf Report
  • The Introduction of University Technology Colleges
  • The Introduction of a Technological Baccalaureate and Technology -based Advanced Level courses
  • Improvement to Apprenticeship Schemes

Some details on these initiatives are provided below

Professor Wolf's Review, published in 2011. reached very similar conclusions. Thus the Review stated that although there were many good apprenticeship schemes there were also many courses which "did not do people any good " and that students on vocational courses should be made to keep up with academic subjects such as Mathematics and English. According to the review between 1/4 and 1/3 of 16-19 year old students were on courses which do not lead to jobs or training schemes and this view was supported by another expert , Professor Lorna Unwin  who was especially critical of Level 1 and 2 NVQ courses which were deemed equivalent to GCSEs. and who stated that "There are too many people at the lower levels . These courses do not give progression because the qualifications are just not good enough." [Quoted in The Guardian]. Soon  the Coalition Government responded to the Wolf Review in no uncertain terms by removing several thousand vocational qualifications from the school league tables  although it remained abundantly clear that vocational education has a very important role to play within the overall education system. Click here for and here  and here and here for some further information 

Click here for Guardian coverage of new government policy on continuing study of Mathematics and English for pupils who have failed to gain GCSE  Grade  C passes in these subjects   

Another important initiative in relation to vocational education has been the setting up of University Technical Colleges under the aegis of the Baker Dearing Trust. It was stated in the Conservative Party General Election Manifesto that  if elected the Conservatives would facilitate the building  of 15 such schools by 2015 but as of April 2013 45 University Technical Schools are either in operation or under construction. 

University Technical Colleges are Academies which are geared to the technicality oriented education of 14-18 year olds. As stated for example on the Norfolk University Technical College Website they aim to offer students "a high status, full-time technically oriented education that blends academic education and hands -on opportunities".  In many cases students will study the 5 current English Baccalaureate subjects along with additional technical/ vocational subjects in their first two years before proceeding to specialise more fully on technical/vocational subjects in their final two years. They are sponsored by universities and their curricula are influenced by local and national businesses  which also guarantee to provide students with relevant work experience. It would appear , therefore, that such college will provide high quality academically based vocationally relevant education which should improve students' employment opportunities and contribute in some measure to long term increases in economic efficiency.

Teachers unions have argued that students will have to make the decision whether to attend a University Technical College at the early age of 13 and that the effects of this may be to increase the academic -vocational divide although this criticism is rejected by supporters of University Technical Colleges who point out that students will continue to study EBacc subjects and claim that the vocational focus of the colleges actually stimulates interest in academic subjects. Click here for a BBC Q and A on University Technical Colleges and Click here  and Click here  for additional information, and here for a detailed interview with Lord Baker. 

In October 2013 major new plans have been unveiled for the expansion of University Technical Colleges and the setting up of Career Colleges. Click here and here and here for Independent coverage of this initiative. Click here for further information from the Independent On Career Colleges . [Link added August 2015: i.e. after Conservative General Election victory]

The Coalition Government has announced its intention to introduce a Technical Baccalaureate in Vocational Education. Click here for information on the Technical Baccalaureate from the BBC.

In December 2013 the Coalition  unveiled a new range of A Level standard " Tech Level" qualifications which will be taught from September 2014. Click here for further information from the BBC.

It should be noted also  that for several years there have been criticisms of the organisation of apprenticeship schemes by both Conservative and Labour governments and the following links give information on apprenticeship trends and issues under recent Labour , Coalition and Conservative Governments. Students may choose to read the shorter Independent and BBC items  for a sense of the issues involved but much more detailed information is available [if required] in the longer reports listed below.

Click here for a critical assessment of  apprenticeship schemes as of 2015 from the Independent  August 2015

Click here for Mr Cameron's pre-General Election comments on new apprenticeships schemes and   Click here  for more critical comment on current apprenticeship schemes reported by the BBC. October 2015

Click here for File on 4 report on financial problems within the Further Education sector which has important implications for the delivery of vocational education. October 2015

Click here for a detailed report on Apprenticeships from the House of Commons Education Select Committee March 2015

Click here for a House Of Commons Research Brief on Apprenticeships

Click here for OFSTED Report and here for BBC coverage of this report. October 2015

Some Further Developments 2015-2020

Increasing numbers of Academies and Free Schools have opened and students should ensue that they are familiar with the possible advantages and disadvantages of Free Schools and Academies

Click here and follow the links to Summary for current numbers of Academies, Free Schools and UTC s in May 2020. As indicated in the table academisation has proceeded further in the Secondary Phase  than in the Primary Phase

Click here for Guardian article [December 2019] on Academies' and Free Schools' SATs results

Click here and here  for items on University Technical Colleges

Click here for items on apprenticeships and click here for a detailed Sutton Trust Report on Degree Apprenticeships

Click here for Guardian article on proposed introduction of T Levels suggesting they might not be available in September 2020. However the DFE has recently announced that these courses will be available in approximately 50 schools /colleges in September 2020. Click here for further information from the DfE and here for a BBC item on T Levels.

Click here for article on latest Pisa results

Increasing numbers of students have continued to Higher Education but significant class inequalities in access to Higher Education remain as is indicated in the following tables although, of course eligibility and ineligibility for free school meals are an inadequate measure of social class membership.

Students should also recall Patrick Ainley's critical analysis of Higher Education trends which is summarised above in which he argues that many University graduates end up in GRINGO jobs. 

Click here and here for important new development: Government to scrap 50% of young to university Education target . Now the UK Government is arguing that there must be a rebalancing of education to more vocational and technical education delivered via high level apprenticeship schemes provided by Further Education colleges.  The Universities are critical of these plans.

Click here for BBC item on COVID 10 and the UK Higher Education sector



In summary it is clear that there are important linkages between education systems and the economy but these linkages can be analysed from different perspectives. Functionalists claim that educational systems operate to increase economic efficiency so as to benefit all members of society .

More critically, Marxists have argued that formal education systems certainly meet the needs of capitalist economies but that they do so by  preparing mainly working class pupils  for their particular place as low paid workers in an exploitative unjust capitalist industrial system .

Feminists argue that even despite recent advances in  overall female educational achievements , many working class girls   and some ethnic minority girls are still relatively unsuccessful in educational terms  which impedes economic efficiency as a whole. There are also significantly different attitudes to relationships between education and the economy as between different kinds of  feminists

Interactionists have not focussed greatly on relationships between education and the economy but their arguments can be used as part of the explanation why formal education systems are not meritocratic and why therefore they may inhibit social justice and economic efficiency.

UK Governments have recognised from the late 19th Century onwards that the expansion of formal education systems was essential if the UK was to maintain and hopefully increase its economic capabilities and education policies were increasingly designed with this objective in mind. These competitive pressures have intensified in the era of globalisation and successive UK governments from  the 1970s onwards have responded with policies to  increase the quasi-marketisation of education, to increase the vocational relevance of school education, to improve apprenticeships and to expand the Higher Education sector.

In each case , however, significant criticisms have been made of these initiatives. Thus it has been claimed that the quasi-marketisation of education has inhibited equality of educational opportunity and thereby led to the wastage of talent; that the effectiveness of vocational education within schools remains limited; that University Technical Colleges and new Apprenticeship schemes have been relatively unsuccessful [although Advanced Apprenticeship schemes have been effective]; and that the growth of graduate employment has not kept pace  with the increasing supply of graduates so that the promised transition to Post-Fordist  prosperity has not materialised in practice.. Although employment opportunities for many graduates have increased others are effectively GRINGOS [graduates in non-graduate employment]  while many poorly educated young people must continued to accept poorly paid precarious work in what Patrick Ainley describes as the Neo-Fordist sector of the economy.

Also although female and ethnic minority educational achievements are increasing they are still discriminated against in the labour market in various ways  while for Marxists , the inadequacies of a capitalist education system in an unequal , unjust capitalist economy are all too predictable. Equally predictable , however, may be the limited influence of Marxist thought on new developments in educational policy, rightly or wrongly.