Skip Content

The tragedy of state education in England: Reluctance, compromise and muddle— a system in disarray

Publications • • Stephen J. Ball

Abstract: This paper is a reflection on the current state of education and education policy in England drawn from over forty years of my involvement in education policy research. It articulates a strong sense of my discomfort, disappointment, and frustration with the current state of the English education system and with the educational state. I shall take stock and look across the school system, confining myself to compulsory education, and argue that there is no ‘system’ at all. Rather, I suggest, the current iteration of school reform perpetuates and exacerbates the messiness and incoherence, and the mix of meddlesomeness and reluctance, that have always bedevilled education policy in England and at the same time reproduces and legitimates complex social divisions and inequalities embedded in this messiness. I also look back at the several attempts to impose some sort of order on the delivery of schooling (1870, 1902, 1944, 1988, and 2016) and the discordant interests that have confounded these attempts, particularly in relation to church schools.

Keywords: Incoherence, social divisions, church schools, the educational state, deconcentration.

Sir John Cass’s Foundation Lecture, read 7 March 2018


Number of pages: 32

Publication date: 7 Sep 2018

Author: Stephen J. Ball

Publisher: Journal of the British Academy, volume 6 (2018)

Digital Object Identifier: