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This book could be described both as an exercise in contemporary history and as a contribution to what Ozga (1987) calls 'policy sociology' which is 'rooted in the social science tradition, historically informed and drawing on qualitative and illuminative techniques' (p. 144). I shall be describing and analysing changes in the processes of education policy making in England (not Scotland, Northern Ireland or even Wales) from the 1970s, the period of post-war consensus, to the late 1980s, the era of Thatcherism. I shall also, in particular, be tracing the origins, construction and implementation of aspects of the 1988 Education Reform Act - specifically those aspects which relate to secondary schools and to the school curriculum. The latter - the concentration upon the Act - provides a 'case', a focus, for the former - the investigation of policy making. Together, the process analysis and the case analysis offer the possibility for some theorising of policy and policy making. In this respect I am very aware of Barraclough's view of what can count as serious and worthwhile study. He argues that:

In the long run contemporary history can only justify its claim to be a serious intellectual discipline and more than a desultory and superficial review of the contemporary scene, if it sets out to clarify the basic structural changes which have shaped the modern world. These changes are fundamental because they fix the skeleton or framework within which political action takes place.