The slide to authoritarianism in English schools

FORUM - ISSN 0963-8253
Volume 64 Number 3 (2022)

The slide to authoritarianism in English schools
Diane Reay pages 126-139
DOI: 10.3898/FORUM.2022.64.3.13


The Oxford Dictionary of English defines authoritarianism as the enforcement or advocacy of strict obedience to authority at the expense of personal freedom, as well as a lack of concern for the wishes or opinions of others. In this paper I argue that there are growing signs of a move towards more authoritarian practices and structures in English schools. This trend is particularly evident in schools that have predominantly working-class and ethnically diverse students. I examine the history of mass English schooling, arguing that the seeds of authoritarianism were evident at the inception of state schooling, before considering The Black Papers of the 1960s and 70s, and the part they played in the demise of progressive education and a return to authoritarian precepts. Then I explore contemporary manifestations of authoritarianism, namely the academies movement, and the no-excuses behaviour policies adopted in many academies in working-class areas. It is probably unsurprising that there is a drift to authoritarianism in English schools because the last decade has witnessed a growth in authoritarianism across the political and economic landscapes and I attempt to make links between the education field and political and economic spheres. I conclude by assessing the implications for democracy of the growing trend of authoritarianism in both education and beyond. 

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To cite this article
Diane Reay (2022) The slide to authoritarianism in English schools, FORUM, 64(3), 126-139.

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