Globalisation and Education – Part Five

Russell Haggar

Site Owner

Part One

·        Introduction: The Nature of Globalisation: Summary

·        Globalisation and Education Policies: General

·        Globalisation Political Parties and Ideologies

Part Two

·        Globalisation, Education Policy and Quasi-Marketisation

·        Quasi-Marketisation, Endogenous Privatisation and Exogenous Privatisation

·        Vocational Education

Part Three

·        Globalisation and International Comparisons of Educational Effectiveness: Tests: PISA, TIMMS and PIRLS

Part Four

·        Globalisation, Immigration and Education

·        Education and the Prevent Strategy

·        Coronavirus, The State and Globalisation

Part Five

·      Globalisation and Education Policies: Some Summary Criticisms


Globalisation and Education Policies: Some Summary Criticisms

From the late 1970s onwards the process of globalisation resulted in intensified international economic competition, and it became clear that if countries were to thrive, they would need to maintain and if possible, improve their economic competitiveness if they were to maintain and improve employment prospects and living standards.

It is argued that the globalisation process has in practice operated primarily according to the principles of neoliberalism which have both supporters and critics. Thus, supporters argue that neoliberalism has resulted in increased economic efficiency, rising world living standards, reduced world poverty and the spread of liberal democracy whereas critics have argued that the results have been rising world inequality, economic instability, and ecological damage. Some have also argued that the institutions of liberal democracy are merely a façade which hides the indirect rule of capitalist elites.

Several major countries [including especially the USA and the UK] have responded to globalisation by introducing education policies based upon neoliberal principles of quasi-marketisation and privatisation. However, it can be plausibly argued that it has been the ideological preferences of governments for neoliberalism rather than the constraints generated by the globalisation process which have been the main reason for the adoption of these policies. These policies have been heavily criticised by some analysts. 

Globalisation has also resulted in increased net immigration into the UK and raised the threat of international terrorism. Consequently, UK governments have developed educational policies aimed to meet the needs of immigrants from different cultures whose first language was not necessarily English.  They have also incorporated the education system into the Prevent Strategy which is designed to restrict the growth of terrorism in the UK. These initiatives are discussed in and Section Four of this resource where it is argued that despite good intentions, they have not been entirely successful.

Education policies based on the strategy of quasi-marketisation were initially introduced by Conservative Governments of 1979-1997 and then extended, albeit with some moderate social democratic additions by Labour Governments of 1997-2010. Quasi- marketisation was accelerated by the Coalition Government of 2010-2015 which significantly extended the Academies Programme and introduced the first Free Schools and introduced the Pupil Premium. You may click here for detailed coverage of Conservative Governments’ education policies 2015-2020. The key point made in this article is that the Conservative Governments of 2015-2020 continued with the expansion of the Academies and Free Schools programmes which had begun in 2010-2015 and retained the Pupil Premium.  You may click here for recent data on the extent of academisation

Supporters of the quasi-marketisation strategy in the UK have argued that overall school effectiveness has increased. Initially this resulted in improved GCSE and GCE Advanced Level results although in recent years governmental concerns with grade inflation have restricted further improvements in examination results. Nevertheless since 1979, according to their supporters, the success of these policies has been indicated by the increased overall access to Higher Education including greater access for working class and ethnic minority students  and it is noted also that the introduction of the National Curriculum and specifically the categorisation of Science as a compulsory subject at GCSE Level increased female entries for GCSE Science subjects and subsequently for GCE Advanced Level Sciences although they remain for less likely than boys to opt for GCE Advanced Level Physics..

Critical Assessments of UK Government Education Policies.

The Education policies of ULK Government 1979-2020 have been criticised most heavily by Marxists who argue that education systems under capitalism are designed to legitimise the continued existence of capitalism which Marxists see as an exploitative, unequal, unjust social system which must be replaced possibly by revolutionary means. The best- known Marxist critique of capitalist education systems is Schooling in Capitalist America [S. Bowles and H. Gintis 1976] which I have discussed here. More recently the nature of education systems under capitalism has been passionately criticised by the radical democrat Henry Giroux whose criticisms may provoke some discussion. However, you may click here for somewhat different views from Katherine Birbalsingh

It is also important to note that despite the considerable improvement in female educational attainment in recent years Feminists have also made significant criticisms of the UK education system. Working class girls’ educational attainments continue to lag those of middle class girls and middle class boys; the subject choices made by girls may restrict their future career opportunities; and sexual harassment in schools and colleges is rife.

Specific criticisms of UK education policies 1979- 2020 include the following

It is true that   that the educational attainments of free school meal eligible students have increased at GCSE and GCE Advanced Levels and that the rate of enrolment of free school meal eligible pupils on Higher Education courses has also increased but critics have argued that recent changes in education policy have done little if anything to narrow the gaps in educational attainment as between students eligible and students ineligible for free school meals. 

It is argued that quasi-marketisation has enabled more affluent parents to use their economic, social, and cultural capital in various ways to secure entry for their children to the more effective state schools at the expense of disadvantaged children.

In their study "Markets, Choice and Equity in Education " [1995] Ball, Bowe and Gerwirtz criticised Conservative education policies designed to provide parents with a wider choice of schools for their children because in their view middle class parents and their children would be especially likely to benefit from this choosing process because they possess the economic, cultural, and social capital to choose more effectively. Regarding parental choice, Gerwirtz, Ball and Bowe distinguish between mainly middle class "privileged choosers" and mainly working class "semi-skilled and disconnected choosers" admitting however that these categories are, to some extent ideal types and that many parents may be difficult to classify exactly.

Privileged choosers are overwhelmingly middle class and are likely to opt either for private education or for the more successful state schools. To achieve this objective they may have purchased expensive houses in the catchment areas of effective state secondary schools; they may have chosen Middle Schools which are known to have especially good links with effective secondary schools ; they can afford to organise any necessary transport arrangements if the required schools are some distance away; they are both willing and able to take the time to assess information relating to examination results and related issues; they are comfortable in discussions with teachers and also ready to challenge them if they feel it to be necessary; they are familiar with sometimes complex application processes all of which puts them at an advantage in securing their children's entrance to the more effective schools.

By contrast "disconnected choosers" are primarily working class and are more likely to opt for their local neighbourhood school which consequently is likely to have a more working class intake. These parents certainly do show considerable interest in their children's education, but their choice of secondary school is often not seen as especially important because "they typically see all schools as much the same". For this reason, they are very likely to choose the secondary school in their own neighbourhood partly for reasons of convenience and partly because financial and time constraints inhibit their abilities to organise transport to more distant schools. They may also be influenced by friends, neighbours and relatives with similar views and their choice of school may to some extent reflect their sense of belonging to their own local, working class community. Thus, the authors conclude that " choice is very directly and powerfully related to social class differences" and that " choice emerges as a major new factor in maintaining and indeed reinforcing social class differences and inequalities".

The ERA has also had important implications for the organisation of schools themselves as they must give more attention to marketing methods if they are to maintain student numbers and especially if they are to attract the middle class children who are most likely to boost league table performance. Individual schools may have some freedom of manoeuvre to decide upon their response to the implications of the ERA and if Governors, Head teachers and senior staff are very committed to the ideals of comprehensive education and do not face strong competition from rival schools the impact of the ERA may be limited. However, this is unlikely and Ball et al suggest that the 1988 Education Reform Act has influenced school policy in several ways: it is more likely that resources may be diverted from actual teaching to improvements in the school buildings; new reception areas may be built; more professional prospectuses may be designed; open evenings are carefully choreographed; music and drama may be given a higher profile partly to appeal to middle class parents. It is also possible that some schools reject mixed ability teaching in favour of setting because they believe that setting is most likely to be favoured by aspirational middle class parents

Insofar as successful schools succeed in attracting increasing numbers of mainly middle class pupils via careful marketing of the good examination results, the school numbers, and hence financial resources available to less successful schools in mainly working areas will decline leading to declining educational opportunities for the mainly working class pupils who still opt to attend these schools. The processes of increased parental choice under the terms of the Education Reform Act 1988 were therefore likely to result in increased inequality of educational opportunity


In his 2003 study Class Strategies and the Education Market: The Middle Classes and Social Advantage Stephen Ball argues that upper- and middle-class children are likely to be more successful in education because upper and middle class parents can deploy economic capital, cultural capital, and social capital to ensure that their children have educational advantages not available even to relatively affluent working class families and certainly not available to the poor.

Economic Capital

Upper- and middle-class parents can afford to purchase relatively expensive houses in the catchment areas of successful state schools thus helping to ensure that their children will be able to attend such schools while working class children are more likely to attend less successful schools.

If upper- and middle-class children are having educational difficulties their parents can afford to purchase additional relatively expensive private tuition for their children.

       If upper- and middle-class parents are dissatisfied with the quality of state education in their local area they can more easily arrange for transport to state schools located further afield, or they can relocate closer to more effective schools or they can opt to have their children educated privately. Private secondary education may be unaffordable for working class parents, costing as it may around £6000-£ 8000 per year even for non boarding pupils.

As is indicated in the Sutton Trust report mentioned further  below; affluent parents may well be able to afford to move into more expensive catchment areas to secure entry for their children to their preferred school.



 Cultural Capital

Upper- and middle-class parents are often relatively well educated and will almost certainly be able to help their children with homework if this proves to be necessary.

They are likely to have the confidence to believe that any educational difficulties experienced by their children can be resolved through discussion with teachers and are unlikely to assume that such difficulties are evidence of their children’s' limited academic abilities.

    They are more likely than working class parents to be able to interpret the detailed statistics on school performance which are nowadays published and therefore better able to make an informed choice of schools for their children. If popular schools are over- subscribed upper- and middle-class parents may be able to create favorable impressions which help to secure entry for their children to over-subscribed schools. They may socialise their children so that they present themselves sympathetically in the eyes of mainly middle-class teachers. They may provide leisure activities for their children [ such as Music, Drama and additional sporting activities which enable the children to present themselves more effectively, for example in university interviews


Social Capital

Upper- and middle-class parents may be in social contact with other upper- and middle-class parents who can help them to evaluate the relative effectiveness of different schools prior to school choice.

They may know of particularly effective private tutors, and they may also be able to arrange particularly useful work experiences or contacts with personal friends who are university lectures which will enable their children to prepare far more effectively for university entrance.

Click here to access Parent Power: Sutton Trust Report 2018 by Rebecca Montacute and Carl Cullinane.  In the introduction to the report, you will find a very good summary of the various factors which enable affluent, well -educated parents to secure a range of educational advantages for their children much as was suggested in the above study by Professor Stephen Ball.

Although the adoption of quasi-commercial practices within the education system [=endogenous privatisation] and the increased involvement of private sector companies in the provision of state education [=exogenous privatisation] are said by their supporters to increase overall educational efficiency this is disputed by critics for a variety of reasons.

You may click here  and then scroll down for further details.


It is argued that  that there is no conclusive evidence that Academies and Free Schools have increased the overall effectiveness of the education system or improved the relative educational opportunities of disadvantaged pupils;  that the Coalition's inadequate funding of the Sure Start Scheme and the scrapping of the educational maintenance allowance were counterproductive and that the Pupil Premium , although well- intentioned, is insufficient to meet the real needs of disadvantaged pupils and may in any case have been used to offset the effect of spending reductions in other parts of the education system .

It has been argued that governments have often relied on comparative international tests to influence the determination of education policies in ways which are inappropriate. Click here for details

It is argued that the policies used by UK governments to improve vocational education have not been especially effective. Click here for details

Despite the existence of various bursary schemes for less affluent  students the continued existence of private education [ and in particular the most prestigious "Public Schools" such as Eton  and Harrow] is seen as providing unfair educational advantages for the children of parents who can afford to pay for it .Privately educated students are disproportionately likely to gain places at Oxford , Cambridge and the Russell Group Universities and subsequently more likely to find employment in high status, well paid occupations because of the higher status associated with degrees from these universities. Click here the Sutton Trust report Elitist Britain [2019] and here  for BBC coverage of Elitist Britain [2019] .

It is argued also that well educated private school persons are more likely to achieve occupational success than equally well- educated state school persons because privately educated pupils are more likely to be able to afford to enroll on postgraduate degrees [Masters and Doctoral programmes] and/or to take up unpaid internships and more likely to possess the kinds of cultural capital and social capital which appears to be necessary for career advancement in some professions.

Critics have also opposed the introduction of university tuition fees by the Labour Government and the subsequent significant increases the level of these fees by Coalition and Conservative Governments. It is true that despite these increased tuition fees Higher Education enrolment has increased among pupils eligible for free school meals, but it may be argued that such enrolments would have increased much more rapidly if these fees had not been introduced and subsequently increased and these tuition fees are blamed for the significant reduction in enrolments of part-time students. 

Consequently, for all these reasons critics have argued that recent education policies have done little to increase equality of educational opportunity and that this helps to explain why relative rates of upward social mobility have changed little in recent years. Click here for further information from Professor Lee Elliot Major

 This concludes my five-part resource on Education and Globalisation.

 Return to Part One