By Elizabeth Laird
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As arguments regarding meritocracy and egalitarianism, secularism and faith, diversity and uniformity, and between parental preference and state-planning, have taken place over the period since 1944, the private and religious sectors have largely been accepted features of the schooling scene. It is tempting to describe the arrangements in place as representing more-or-less successful examples of compromise, but if compromise is about consciously seeking to reconcile and reach agreement on two conflicting positions, with each party giving ground in order to reach a mutually acceptable and rationally justified solution, it is possible instead to characterise the approach adopted by legislators as being one of avoiding these issues altogether.
At the broadest level, a shift in emphasis is evident from the 1944 Education Act (EA44) to the 1988 Education Reform Act (ERA) and later, when schooling as a civic and personal good in itself was increasingly superseded by a priority placed on education in the service of the national economic interest. While EA44 may often 21 School admissions and accountability be presented as denoting consensus over the future of the schooling system, it can also be suggested that it did little to address or challenge underlying class tensions, while simultaneously allowing a privileged position within the system for certain religious groups.
Put slightly differently, ‘A key question is whether more socially advantaged parents place greater emphasis on academic standards. If so, school choice would tend to increase social segregation across schools, with advantaged pupils concentrated in schools with the highest academic standards’ (Wilson, 2010, p 11, summarising Burgess et al, 2009). Such a situation would appear likely to be in direct opposition to any agenda of equality of educational opportunity that is found perennially in the rhetoric of debate about schooling.