Education is important to sociologists, Durkheim argued, as it is concerned with the transmission of culture and values between generations and the production of skilled labour forces. Functionalists such as Parsons saw education systems as promoting meritocracy: social worth being determined by ability and effort, not birth. Modern mass education systems developed during the nineteenth century, coming quite late to Britain with the 1870 Education Act. Following the Second World War, political demands for equality ensured that an expanded state education system should be concerned to promote equality of opportunity. Moves towards comprehensivization in the 1960s and ’70s were also concerned to promote equality. The Conservative governments of 1979–97 made significant reforms. A National Curriculum would ensure some standardization and the possibility of developing clear league tables of schools, whilst at the same time funding would be moved directly to schools and the principle of parental choice would be established. ‘Parental choice’
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