Logics, rhetoric and 'the blob': populist logic in the Conservative reforms to English schooling

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A lot has been written about the lasting implications of the Conservative reforms to English schooling, particularly changes made by Michael Gove as Education Secretary (2010–2014). There is a lot less work, however, on studying the role that language, strategy and the broader political framework played in the process of instituting and winning consent for these reforms. Studying these factors is important for ensuring that any changes to education and schooling are not read in isolation from their political context. Speeches particularly capture moments where intellectual and strategic political traditions meet, helping us to form a richer understanding of the motives behind specific reform goals and where they fit into a political landscape. This article analyses speeches and policy documents from prominent politicians who led the Conservative education agenda between 2010–2014 to illustrate how politicians mobilised a deliberate populist strategy and argumentation to achieve specific educational goals, but which have had broader social and political implications. Concepts from interpretive political studies are used to develop a case analysis of changes to teacher training provision and curriculum reform, illustrating how politicians constructed a frontier between ‘the people’ (commonly teachers or parents) and an illegitimate ‘elite’ (an educational establishment) that opposed change. This anti‐elite populist rhetoric, arguably first tested in the Department for Education, has now become instituted more widely in our current British politics.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)279-298
Number of pages20
JournalBritish Educational Research Journal
Issue number2
Early online date21 Sep 2020
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2021


  • education reform
  • logics
  • populism
  • rhetoric

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