Education in England – An Update

[This piece is an update to the article The Marketisation of Mass Education in England published in datacide fifteen.]

“When it comes to K through 12 education (4 – 18 years old), we see a $500 billion sector in the US alone that is waiting desperately to be trans-formed by big break-throughs that extend the reach of great teaching.”

Rupert Murdoch, Press Release
November 2010

The opening up of the education market to private providers has reached something of a stand-still or a stand-off in England over the last year. A government White Paper in April 2016 proposed that all schools become academies by 2022. A few weeks later the government abandoned this because of enormous resistance to the idea amongst teachers, parents and local councils. However, there is still plenty of momentum to the ongoing outsourcing and diversifying of state social services e.g. Richard Branson’s ‘Virgin Care’ has been given a seven year £700 million contract for adult social care in Bath and Somerset by the National Health Service; this is the first time a council’s core adult social work services will be directly delivered by a for-profit private firm.
The great majority of secondary schools are now overseen by private organisations of one sort or another and not the local council. The next phase of this re-structuring of provision should be aimed at primary schools (only 13% academies in March 2016) but a number of factors have slowed down the rapid pace of reform.

Firstly, there has been a constant stream of lurid stories in the press about the mismanagement of academies and academy chains. In 2015 seven ‘financial notices to improve’ were handed out to academy trusts; in 2016 this number has risen to twenty five. The Times Educational Supplement had a feature recently (TES 14.10.16) about five academy head teachers who have all fallen from grace: [Read more →]

The Marketisation of Mass Education in England: A Brief History

Microsoft Word - Gove Greed Picture.doc

[This article is an exploration of the forces shaping current educational policy and practise in England in 2015. It is focused on primary schooling (3-11 years old). There is little reference to the UK as a whole because Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all remain more committed to the concept of community-based comprehensive schooling, i.e. a less ‘marketised’ model.]

“The economy transforms the world but transforms it only into a world of economy.”
Guy Debord ‘Society of the Spectacle’ 1967

“The most significant outcome in the drive for so-called higher standards in schools is that children are too busy to think.”
John Holt ‘How Children Fail’ 1964

“The educational establishment simply refuses to believe that the pursuit of egalitarianism is over.”
Kenneth Baker, Secretary of State for Education and Science 1986 – 1989 (at the Conservative Party Conference) 1987

In 1944 the ‘Butler Act’ introduced free secondary education for all. This was later than in most other industrialised countries. It was to be a national system, locally administered. With the Nazis and the USSR as models of central control it is unsurprising that British administrators did not favour a centralised system. Today, seventy years on, we have a highly centralised system. This is because England is at the vanguard of the ‘marketisation’ of education in Europe; it is a process that involves an intensified standardisation for teachers and students and a replacement of local, democratically accountable administration with chains of private educational providers overseen by a much more strongly centralised state education department. For example, throughout the 1940s, 50s and into the 60s the Ministry of Education would never have dreamed of interfering in the specific curriculum of individual schools. In fact, in 1960 the National Union of Teachers (NUT) said: “In this country the teacher has the inalienable right to decide what to teach and how to teach it”. This has changed completely.

We can make sense of this drift away from education for social change and inclusion (Kenneth Baker’s “pursuit of egalitarianism”) by recognising it as one aspect of neo-liberalism. This “…aims to defeat the movements associated with state-focused, welfare oriented reform and to install a new systemic logic by which society (from government to the individual) responds to free market imperatives.” 1 In 1974 the IMF loan to the UK required an end to public sector expansion, an end to decentralised operational management and the introduction of detailed central regulation. So just as the idea of a common educational experience for all was beginning to take root the welfare rationale of ‘nation states’ began to disappear, ushering in ‘market states’ or ‘post-welfare states’. [Read more →]

More Than Just a Night Out:

Rave as Confrontation –
Marching Against the CJB in 1994

I read a review of a club night recently in my local free paper, The Islington Tribune. To capture just what a great place this club is they wrote that it is “filled with the kind of happy campers you could imagine filled a field in the ‘90s – but less crusty – it specialises in delivering the kind of electro disco beats that send buttoned-up city types into an air-punching frenzy.”

The funny thing about the above sentence is that it perfectly captures the shift from rave as a force to be reckoned with (the crusties who actually LIVE in the field – Yuk!) to a pleasant night’s entertainment for ‘buttoned-up city types’. It is not misty-eyed nostalgia to recall that rave music – as a bottom up musical and social revolution – really did disturb the status quo for a bit back there. They even brought in laws to deal with this menace!
[Read more →]