This essay will attempt to determine whether access to free education for everyone in the United Kingdom has led to the creation of a meritocratic society. A meritocracy is a social system whereby success depends solely on the skills and efforts of a person rather than their social status or gender. It is an ‘extension of a general system of rewarding merit’. (Sen: 2000: 8). Any person, no matter who they are or where they are from can achieve their goals by working hard. In the education system, the rewards are qualifications, these allow a person to advance to further stages of life and so are essentially a vital form of social mobility. Sen (2000: 1) states that ‘[t]he concept of ‘merit’ is deeply contingent on our views of a good society’.
Before the Industrial Revolution, the education system was extremely limited. Most children were educated at home or in small church-based schools. The education system in England at this time consisted of ‘haphazard system of parish and private adventure schools’. (Williams, cited in www.educationengland.org.uk/history). They were only educated to a certain level and the primary focus was on the importance of working on a farm and skills needed to do this. Throughout history, a girl’s education ‘if she was lucky enough to have one…consisted of religious instruction, reading, writing and grammar and the occasional home craft such as spinning…[it was] scanty, superficial and incoherent’. (www.educationengland.org.uk/history).
Families were extremely self-sufficient and generations of families lived together and all took part in the duties and responsibilities that came with farming, there were no specific gender roles, they were all encompassing. Any type of higher education was reserved for the elites within society and in particular, men. Stephens (1998) stated that this source of discriminative education played a vital role in the fusion and creation of an elite group and in turn segregated society.
The Industrial Revolution brought about a transformation of the existing society. It created the notion of the nuclear family where the father went to work and was the sole breadwinner, and the mother stayed at home to look after the children and the household. Self-sufficiency was lost and families depended on the wage of the father in order to survive, necessities had to be bought. It essentially created an organic solidarity where society relied on each other whereas before a mechanical solidarity existed where people relied solely on their family unit for survival.
The revolutionary technology involved with the industry ‘required much more than limited reading skills acquired through moral catechism’. (Benn & Chitty: 1996: 1). Knowledge became a commodity where some was seen as more important than others. Educated people created the Industrial Revolution through their use of selling and marketing knowledge. Society began to recognise the value of intelligence as the future workforce depended on it. This...