Question: What is Education? Answer: An emerging market!

In the following link Stefan Collini reviews two books that both look into the marketisation of higher education. It is shocking stuff:

Meanwhile here are some extracts from my own talk about the marketisation of education that I delivered at the State of Education Conference on Saturday 1st March (

[I’ve removed all the material that is already referred  to on this blog]

A picture of an increasingly marketised system including suggestions of how to confront and transform this by building and sharing understanding  and thereby empowering teachers


Quotes in italics from Chapter 8 of

Gillard D (2011) Education in England: a brief history

Thatcher’s neo-liberal policies affected not only industry and commerce but also public services. Conservative legislation sought to drive neo-liberal principles into the heart of public policy. An emphasis on cost reduction, privatisation and deregulation was accompanied by vigorous measures against the institutional bases of Conservatism’s opponents, and the promotion of new forms of public management. The outcome of these processes was a form of governance in which market principles were advanced at the same time as central authority was strengthened.

Thus the twin aims of Margaret Thatcher’s education policies in the 1980s were to convert the nation’s schools system from a public service into a market, and to transfer power from local authorities to central government.

The origins of this policy can be traced back to the establishment in 1955 of the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), a right-wing think-tank which, during the 1970s, had worked tirelessly to persuade the Conservative Party to abandon the post-war welfare consensus and embrace social and educational policies based on nineteenth-century free-market anti-statism.

1. Centre for Policy Studies (1974) Keith Joseph a co-founder (went on to be Ed Sec in 1981)

2. Policy Exchange (2002) Michael Gove a co-founder (went on to became Ed Sec in 2010)

3. Centre for Market Reform of Education (2011) An education research and policy unit based at the offices of the IEA. “We believe that the main problem in education is the lack of incentives to improve pupil performance” they say, which is enough to immediately express their lack of interest in any educational philosophy.  “Its purpose is to explore the benefits of more diverse, competitive and entrepreneurial provision in the education sector and the feasibility of market-led solutions to public policy issues.” (quotes from the IEA’s website)

Central to the role of these Think Tanks is to attack teachers and weaken Local Education Authorities (LEAs)

Attack teachers

Central government also sought greater control over teachers.

In 1984 the Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (CATE) was established to set standards for initial teacher training courses.

In a move designed to reduce the influence of teachers in curriculum development, the Schools Council, in which teachers had played a significant role, was abolished in 1984. Its work was shared between the School Examinations Council (SEC), whose members were nominated by the secretary of state, and the School Curriculum Development Council (SCDC), which was specifically instructed not to ‘concern itself with policy’.

i.e. disempowering: we don’t want teachers running education!

And in 1985 Keith Joseph proposed linking teacher appraisal and performance-related pay. The result was a year of industrial action by teachers.

Weaken LEAs

For Thatcher, the local authorities – many of them run by Labour – were an irritant, blocking central government’s ability to affect what was going on in the schools. Her government therefore set about weakening the role of the LEAs by dismantling the triangular framework of responsibility – central government, local authorities and the schools – which had been established by the 1944 Education Act, and by offering parents a greater role in the running of schools.

Of course this all sounds familiar today, thirty years later because it was continued by New Labour and the current coalition; decisions are made by Think Tanks and agendas are pushed through in a mockery of a healthy democratic process. For thirty years this agenda has been pushed; it’s still not in place because people don’t want it; look at the number of forced academisations.


Two books that discuss the ongoing marketisation of all aspects of our lives:

‘What Money Can’t Buy: the Moral Limits of the Market’ by Michael Sandel 2012

‘I spend therefore I am: The True Cost of Economics’ by Philip Roscoe 2014

Even Gary Linekar recognises the main reason that all is not well:

There are a number of things that I find bewildering about our education system. We have to do sciences. We have to do mathematics. We have to do things that will probably not help us in life unless you end up being a chemist or something. How many people find chemistry useful? Chemistry is good because we get more business. It builds big business and all of that. That’s always the argument. But physical exercise is invaluable etc

(Gary Linekar in The Times 01.03.14)

Marketisation/neoliberal philosophy helps us to make sense of all the current reforms in education, for example:

1.     ‘Flexible’ working hours i.e. make the running of schools more attractive to private organisations by removing teachers professionality and autonomy

2.     Longer pupil-working hours i.e. create a national landscape  even more favourable for employers by making schools even more intrusive on family time so that mum and dad can get out and work, work, work

3.     Academies/Free Schools i.e. removing local accountability: private interests can promote unwholesome ideologies and, of course, will pursue profits above all else; when allowed to oversee public services we are drifting away from any democratic ideals: a democracy rests on its public institutions, lots of little local organisations overseen regionally and these regions overseen nationally, in theory pursuing what is best for all.

Examples of dodgy practice (taken from the Local Schools Network):

–         Bruce Liddington (previous CEO of E-ACT) was able to pay himself £300,000; the head of the Harris chain paid himself even more

–         Barnfield College in Bedforshire claimed £1 million for non-existent students

–         The Guardian found academy chains paying millions to private firms associated with their directors

–         Some academy administrators don’t exist (!) e.g. Carillion Academies Trust

4.     Ongoing maligning of the profession/deprofessionalisation One example from the recent press: ‘Teachers who talk are back in favour’ a recent Times headline smugly suggesting teachers had not been speaking in lessons (note that ‘child-centred learning’ is referred to as ‘left-wing’ in the article; of course it is no such thing). Or look at the impact of Ofsted, an organisation that saw nothing wrong with spending two decades judging teachers purely on lesson observations; only very recently they decided that actually it would be fairer to ‘triangulate’ this lesson observation evidence with class results and an inspection of the children’s work over time. Why would it take Ofsted twenty years to realise this is a better way of assessing a teacher? Ofsted had spent this time crushing debate, dialogue and critical thought amongst teachers; a continuation of the process of reducing teachers to mere technicians delivering a curriculum, not autonomous professionals

Bogus parameters of the educational debate

To know about these neo-liberal market-led approaches is to understand our education system. Colleagues do not have this level of knowledge; the NUT rarely encourages this sort of level of understanding.

We can think of three pillars supporting the professionalism of each teacher:

1.     The generic skills of being ‘a teacher’

2.     The set of skills associated with a teacher’s particular specialism

3.     An understanding of historic, local, national and international perspectives

This third is usually withered or non-existent amongst teachers, in my experience. The NUT is weak;  look at the ‘Social Partnership’ set up in 2001 (and don’t forget that the fight for an all-graduate profession had only been won in the last twenty years so this was a big step in the wrong direction). John Kelly, Professor of Management at the London School of Economics has written extensively about the development of ‘social partnerships’ in a diverse range of industries pointing out that the main aim of these arrangements is to replace collective agreements with direct control by the employer.

Look at the public debate in newspapers/radio:

False Dichotomies

Teacher Talk vs Child-Centred discussion/group work

Teaching reading through Phonics vs Other Methods

Rote Learning in maths vs Other Methods

This curriculum vs that curriculum

Any decent teacher knows that good teaching may use any and all of the above; these are not one-versus-the-other debates. Those promoting them (politicians and journalists) and those joining in (lots of teachers) are all helping to create a facade behind which the long-term plans overseen by the Think Tanks I’ve mentioned carry on their work


·        “Inject more rigour into the state system” Michael Gove (The New Statesman 12.02.14); after decades of pursuing this aim it is an empty statement

·        “Poorer children are denied the opportunity…to contribute to our national renaissance” Michael Gove (The New Statesman 12.02.14); thanks in no small part to the concerted assault on comprehensive education over the last forty years!

·        Teaching is essentially nothing more than ‘telling’; hence the government’s enthusiasm for ‘Troops to Teachers’; the behaviourist line taken by the army in its own training or conditioning looks to the ignorant like a very effective way of ‘getting the message across’; but teaching isn’t telling and the subtle difference is often lost on politicians and the general public alike; behaviourism is defined in the Chambers dictionary as the “theory that behaviour is governed by conditioning rather than internal processes”; needless to say it’s the internal processes that non-teachers often miss!

·        Private schools are superior: is this because “market principles were advanced at the same time as central authority was strengthened”? (Gillan D. see quotations above) i.e. state schools were led away from good practice by a government fixated on central control and ultimately creating a market in education

·        Educational success can be judged by the economic success of a country: for example a recent Radio 4 programme, about maths-teaching, stated simply that Australia’s twenty straight years of economic growth proved that they had got maths-teaching right in that country

·        Life is a competition, a global race (Bertrand Russell, “All belief in the utility of competition has become an anachronism… (competition) is not in itself admirable since the emotions with which it is connected are the emotions of hostility and ruthlessness.” Education and Society 1932 [ ‘A Bigger Prize’ by Margaret Heffernan, 2014 also addresses this issue]

The debate nationally then,  is at a poorly informed and journalistic level, sometimes to the point of absurdity:

–         should we call the subject maths or numeracy?

–         an ‘embedded clause’ has been known as a ‘relative clause’ since November 2013

–         more recently I was given a document explaining that children will no longer study invertebrates in Year 1

These are real examples that illustrate the existence of a useless strata of administrators working hard to maintain the relevance of their own jobs, neither grappling with the big questions nor working hard as teachers and gaining experience in actual schools.

Let’s remember that this false front of unreal debate and meaningless tinkering is overseen by a sophisticated class of politicians who are well qualified for the job of presenting a front in this way: David Cameron worked in PR as did Ed Vaizey and Michael Gove has a background in journalism.


“For (Paulo) Freire, human beings, as beings endowed with consciousness, have at least some awareness of their conditioning and their freedom. They meet with obstacles in their personal and social lives, and they see them as obstructions to be overcome. Freire calls these obstructions or barriers ‘limit situations’. Men and women take a number of different attitudes toward these ‘limit situations’. They may perceive the barriers in question as obstacles that cannot be removed. Or they perceive them as obstacles that they do not wish to remove. Or they may perceive them as obstacles they know exist and need to be broken through. In this last case, they devote themselves to overcoming them. Here there has been a critical perception of the ‘limit situation’. And so the persons who have understood it seek to act: they are challenged, and feel themselves challenged, to solve these problems of the society in which they live, in the best possible manner, and in an atmosphere of hope and confidence.”

From the notes, written by Ana Maria Araujo Freire, in ‘Pedagogy of Hope’ by Paulo Freire,

My definition of ‘Direct action’ in this context is any action, however small, that either raises your own, your colleagues’ or the public’s awareness or directly confronts destructive command and control systems of professional organisation i.e. those practises that dis-empower the individual professional (e.g. excessively prescriptive curriculum, punitive observation regimes and so on)

What you can do:

–         Read up on educational philosophy, critical theory, educational history, international comparisons, current debate (see Local Schools Network)

–         Talk to your colleagues, especially when they are demoralised by the burdens of the preposterous and mean-spirited system that is in place at the moment; put their own struggles into perspective

–         Confront the bogus judgements of any inspector head-on (in-school, local authority or Ofsted); don’t just moan with colleagues later

–         Write a BLOG if only to keep yourself sane, this is how mine started; blogs, forums, twitter are all ways of connecting up the fragments of dissent

–         Connect directly with academics; if you like a book you’ve read and it resonates because of your own professional experiences then email the author; I highly recommend this; there is a disconnect between the often highly critical world of academic thought and the ordinary teacher on the ground. This has to be addressed

–         Insist that your local library orders an informative book about education e.g. Pasi Sahlberg’s remarkable ‘Finnish Lessons’ (this is what Francis Gilbert did)

–         Write a letter of support to your child’s school, or any random school, when you learn that it has been given a kicking by Ofsted; I did this and you can see the letter on my Blog

–         Write confrontational emails to journalists and Think-Tankers with whom you disagree; point out what they have chosen to ignore; for me people like this are the lowest type of intellectual hypocrite because of what they consciously choose to ignore.