Children's educational achievement seems to have risen during the 18 years of Conservative government. But what of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged? Reva Klein looks beyond the exam league tables. When Margaret Thatcher swept to power in 1979, Britain was a different place. It was a country where there was still a notion of society. Children were children, not potential thugs and murderers, and most played outside in the streets and parks and walked to school. Ecstasy meant the opposite of agony, nothing more or less.
Today, we are all older and more hardened to the harsh realities of have and have-not Britain than we would have thought possible 18 years ago. And we are on the brink of a general election that could well mean the end of a political era.
It has been an era characterised by radical change in, among other areas, education and social policy affecting children and families. The tide-turning Education Reform Act of 1988 and the Children Act have both made indelible marks.
Some reforms have yielded impressive results. Figures show that educationally, children have advanced by leaps and bounds since the Conservatives came to power. Since GCSEs were introduced in 1988, the number of fifth-years achieving five or more grade A to Cs has risen from 30 to 44.5 per cent. Since 1980, the proportion of 16-year-olds, and particularly students from ethnic minorities, who go on to full-time further education has nearly doubled. The numbers entering higher education have risen, too, from 13 per cent in 1983 to about a third in 1996.
But however you look at it, the impact of the past 18 years on the most vulnerable in our society - children who are socially and educationally disadvantaged - tells a different story.