An Investigation Into New Labour Education Policy: Personalisation, Young People, Schools and Modernity

UoM administered thesis: Phd

  • Authors:
  • Stephen Rogers


The New Labour government's (1997-2010) policy of personalised learning was announced as an idea 'exciting' the profession and promising 'radical implications' for the shape of education in England. The policy attracted much debate and criticism and its enactment is a site worthy of research. This study makes a contribution to knowledge through researching the rarely heard stories of young people in this policy enactment. It makes a further contribution to policy scholarship through the interplay of the data from school practices and moral philosophy drawn from Alasdair MacIntyre.Qualitative interviews and focus group activities were conducted with young people in three different secondary schools in order to understand their stories of personalised learning some two years into New Labour's third term of government. To understand more of the context for the stories of the young people, some strategic actors in policy dissemination were interviewed, as were the headteachers of the three schools.Personalised learning promised to engage the voice of the learner in learning practices. The research finds a young peoples' story that is consistently one of a mute and invisible identity within the schools. An argument is presented that the purposes of schools ought to be judged on standards of excellence definitive of, and extended by, a concept of virtues. A distinction is made between effectiveness in producing exam results and a richer sense of excellence in education practice. It is argued that virtues that define standards of excellence at the institutional level of practice can enrich and prefigure wider concepts of justice than are contained in policy. Young peoples' stories in this research indicate that, contrary to policy ideals, they often perceived unfairness and arbitrariness in their school experiences. Personalised learning needs to be set within the narrative of the personalisation of public services: a reforming rubric, employing the motif of the citizen-consumer as a proposition about social justice and modernisation. New Labour's ideology and models of governance are explored and related to the testimony of headteachers to understand more about the young peoples' perceptions. Literatures are drawn upon to place personalisation in a historical context, linking it to moral orders of contemporary social imaginaries. New Labour made a case for personalised learning as furthering the cause of social justice and is thus a policy in need of ethical examination. Following MacIntyre, it is argued that modernity has left few moral resources by which to evaluate the personal, but the experiences of young people suggested that a richer moral agency is glimpsed within their stories of schooling. The social practice at the level of schools is thus critical but requires policy to enable ethical spaces for schools to re-invigorate their purposes. I argue that in the light of some critical fault lines, such as neoliberalism and a reconfiguration of tiers of local governance, personalisation as a 'modernising' policy proposition could do little to extend the goods of schooling beyond some narrow conceptions of effectiveness.


Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date31 Dec 2012