Culture wars, then and now, ep 3: ‘The role of the state in education’

The debate surrounding Parkfield school in Birmingham and wider discussion on the role of sex and relationship classes within educational programmes, are just the latest incidences of schools becoming a battlefield for the culture wars.

Starting with developments in the 1870s when the state intervention in schooling in England & Wales became more pronounced, James Tooley explores the impact of the ethos of state control over education right up to today’s controversies over Relationship and Sex Education


James Tooley, professor of educational entrepreneurship and policy, University of Buckingham; author, The Beautiful Tree


* In the 1870s, private non-profit and private for-profit schools made up nearly all the educational establishments, educating 95 per cent of children.
* State intervention in education reflected a desire to push forward a particular set of values, creating an early instance of the education culture wars.
* Schools were used to also keep the working class in their own station as opposed to increasing their social mobility.
* An affordable grassroots private school movement that would create schools of high quality at half the cost of state education is possible.


The Beautiful Tree: a personal journey into how the world’s poorest people are educating themselves, James Tooley, Cato Institute, 2013

Education and the State: A Study in Political Economy, Edwin G West, 3rd revised edition, 1994


In the context of today’s instrumental approaches to knowledge, The Academy summer school is a modest attempt to demonstrate the value of scholarship, and of the worth of the university as a place of free enquiry dedicated to the pursuit of truth.


Ideas Matter is a podcast that takes the most important issues of our times and explores the ideas and intellectual trends that have shaped where we are today.

You can subscribe and listen to Ideas Matter on iTunes, Podbean or SoundCloud. For full details of all episodes, visit the podcast page on our website

Keep up-to-date with Ideas Matter and all the initiatives organised by the Battle of Ideas charity by following us on Twitter and on Facebook.

Email us at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *