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Education Theory and Policy

4. Education Policy Since 1979

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In this module, we think about education policy since 1979, and particularly marketisation as the key orientation of policy in this period. We focus on: (i) the growing prominence of New Right thought regarding education under Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative governments of 1979-90, and its critique of the comprehensive system; (ii) three key elements of marketisation – the diversification of provision, the creation of an educational consumer market, and the empowerment of parents; (iii) criticisms of marketisation, most notably the argument that it sustains inequality by giving wealthier parents an unfair advantage.


In this course, Dr Matthew Cole (University of Birmingham) introduces some key aspects of education theory and policy. In the first module, we explore consensus theories, most notably Talcott Parson’s views on schooling as the means by which children are prepared for a meritocratic society, and the ideas of the New Right. The second module considers three sets of conflict theories of education – Marxism, Feminism, and Critical Race Theory. In the third module, we look at the historical development of education policy in Britain from 1800 to 1979 across four key phases. The final module continues this story from 1979 to the present, focusing particularly on marketisation as the key orientation of education policy in this period.


Matthew Cole is Teaching Fellow in the Department of History at the University of Birmingham. He is a historian of modern Britain with a particular interest in twentieth century constitutional and party politics, and local history.

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Cole, M. (2022, January 11). Education Theory and Policy - Education Policy Since 1979 [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Cole, Matthew. "Education Theory and Policy – Education Policy Since 1979." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 11 Jan 2022,

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