Over the last decade England and Wales have experienced a variety of changes in education policy which have gradually given greater autonomy to individual schools and increased the involvement of parents in their management.1 These changes include the introduction of the right to have parent representatives on school governing bodies given in the 1980 Education Act; the reconstitution of the powers and composition of governing bodies (which included greater parent representation) in the 1986 Act; and, in particular, the 1988 Education Reform Act’s restructuring of the education system through grant maintained schools, local management of schools and open enrolment. It might be argued that state-maintained schools in England and Wales have gradually moved towards the model of ‘the self-managed school’. However, in this chapter I shall argue that this concept, as originally envisaged by Caldwell and Spinks,2 has played only a minor part in justifying the range of changes, and that the reorientation of the school system is better understood in terms of the government’s desire to increase competition between schools and to create a hierarchy of unequally funded schools which will help perpetuate class, gender and ethnic divisions.