The 1980s were the era of Margaret Thatcher’s rule in the UK. As the prime minister of the country, she pushed for radical changes. She wanted to abolish the welfare state and promote free market economics while increasing the number of people who could afford to attend university. She also aimed to make education more accessible for all and reduced the state’s role in many aspects of schooling.
University education in the 1980s
By the early 1980s, women made up the majority of undergraduates. This majority still exists today. In the Middle Ages, universities were primarily men-only institutions that trained students for careers in the church. The highest-status degrees were those in theology, law, and medicine. But by the early 20th century, more women were studying in universities, and the number of women graduates rose.
In the 1980s, the number of university students in the UK rose significantly, with a growth in the population. However, the Government began to tie funding to efficiency and performance, and by the mid-1980s, funding per student had fallen by 40 percent. The number of full-time students reached 2 million, which was far higher than it had been in the 1970s. In 1989, the Government froze maintenance grants, which had previously been means-tested, at PS2,265 per year. As a result, a new funding source was introduced: student loans. These loans were meant to help domestic students afford their tuition fees, although they were no longer available to students from poorer backgrounds.
Despite the growing importance of higher education in the 1970s, there were many challenges to the future of the sector. The UK’s economy was weakened and the public’s confidence in universities dropped. Moreover, the high cost of college education eroded the ability of institutions to attract qualified applicants.
As the 1990s come closer, it is difficult to know if the 1980s were a turning point. While sounding the alarm is one thing, solving the problem is another. Many parents remain complacent when it comes to their children’s education, while many young adults spend more time working after school. Moreover, the corner is still not quite turned.
‘Health promotion’ campaigns
In the UK, ‘Health promotion’ campaigns were a crucial part of the government’s efforts to combat the spread of AIDS. During that time, AIDS was a major health threat, and pressures on London’s hospitals were increasing rapidly. One National Archives file shows that Margaret Thatcher’s administration was struggling to deal with the disease. Health secretary David Willetts agreed that a health campaign was necessary, but warned Thatcher against AIDS ads that were not suitable for her audience.
Health policy in the UK was largely influenced by consumerist principles. During the 1970s, the government began to apply the principles of organized consumption to state-run services, and citizens were given more involvement in the design of their own health services. Health promotion campaigns also began to incorporate these consumerist tropes.
The tone of the campaigns varied. The Scottish Health Education Group’s ‘Choose Life, Not Drugs’ campaign was an example. Although the Scottish Office was reluctant to fund this campaign, the group convinced the Scottish Office to integrate it into their existing work. The campaign, which cost PS350,000, included TV ads and newspaper inserts. Unlike other health promotion campaigns, this campaign was aimed at a specific demographic and had a much different style and content.
The COI commissioned an advertising agency called Yellowhammer to develop the campaign. The advertising campaign was designed by Sammy Harai, who would go on to create the famous AIDS education campaign starring John Hurt’s voice. In the UK, this campaign was a huge success, and its techniques have been copied in other countries. But some countries have been slower to react. In 2009, Spain and France had double the number of people with HIV than the UK, making the UK’s campaign even more influential in the world.
The government had a mandate to promote public health, and ‘Health promotion’ campaigns were one of the ways they did this. The Health Education Council was established in 1968, and campaigns for various health conditions were launched. The council was responsible for a variety of campaigns, including those focusing on smoking, alcohol consumption, and obesity. However, some health educators believed that the health education campaign had little success and should be placed in a wider context.
Changing the role of testing
Changing the role of testing in education in the 1980s in the UK brought about a host of changes. Schools became more competitive, and the 1988 Education Act removed the ability of local authorities to coordinate schools and encourage cooperation between schools. Instead, schools became independent units. As a result, competition led to higher standards. This competition was accompanied by the introduction of national tests of pupil attainment, such as the GCSE 16-plus examination. In addition, league tables were introduced to help parents decide which schools to send their children to.
As a result, girls had to obtain higher scores than boys on early IQ tests. Although this approach was progressive in theory, the quality of education was far from ideal. Moreover, children were forced to attend schools that met the standards required by the Local Education Authorities. Banding and streaming along social class lines were also prevalent. Poorer children were placed in lower bands while higher-class children were put in upper bands. Because of these conditions, parents had little control over the quality of their children’s education.
Despite the many benefits of high-stakes testing, excessive use of these tests is counterproductive. They often result in massive score inflation, resulting in gains that are often much larger than the actual learning improvements of students. Furthermore, excessive pressure to raise test scores erodes instruction. This is a reality many parents have experienced. Test prep takes up a large proportion of teaching time, which is time not spent teaching.
By the 1980s, Britain had largely eliminated the former education-to-work regime. New employer-led vocational qualifications, such as the NVQ, were introduced. Despite the increased skills of young people, wages had been kept artificially low. A few percent of young people remained in higher education, although this was not the case today.
Changing nature of schooling
The Changing Nature of Schooling in the 1980s UK was marked by a major shift in educational objectives. The traditional education to work system was being destroyed, and the introduction of BTECs and NVQs, employer-led vocational qualifications, was changing the educational landscape. Wage subsidies were also being capped, and the introduction of a Young Workers Scheme intended to depress youth pay.
The government argued that a more liberal approach to education would foster creativity and innovation, yet half of the country’s youth left school without any qualifications. To change this, the national curriculum was introduced. The late 1980s saw the introduction of national tests, which became the dominant educational method. Although national testing had been a controversial idea, successive governments pursued it.
The changes in educational policy were accompanied by the publication of various reports. One influential report, by Ronald Edmonds, showed that schools do make a difference in student performance. Another influential study by Michael Rutter focused on school climate. The public was largely unaware of education reforms in the 1970s. There was little attention given to it in the media, and the debates between educators were not widely known to the public.
The changes in education were not all bad. Some young people were left without qualifications, which meant that many of them were unable to find work. As a result, many of them were unemployed by the age of thirty. By the early 1990s, the proportion of young people entering higher education grew from 20% to 30%.
While the new English system may not be perfect, it has certainly met its progressive objectives. The trends are generally in the right direction, with increases in educational resources per student and a decrease in income disparity. Further, the changes in educational policy have reduced the inequality in enrollment and graduated more students than richer ones.
Before the 1980s, young people entering the transition regime were divided into two major classes: those with grammar school qualifications and the rest. These groups were separated by the educational system, which had three basic occupational destinations. The middle class comprised managerial and professional occupations, while the intermediate class included office workers and technicians.