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July 11, 2014 / politicsbitesize

Education: Not for Sale

imagesFor many critics of the academisation of British schools it is becoming increasingly obvious that education is seen as a commodity by our government.  In the late 1990s the Labour party piloted the academies scheme in order to try and raise the attainment levels of pupils, but also to instil market-based competition between schools.  The idea was for schools and colleges to compete against each other in the ‘business’ of attracting pupils, with the most successful institutions expanding in size.  Parents were beginning to be seen as consumers in the new ‘edubusiness’, whilst pupils were thought of in terms of the funding that came with them.

The coalition government has transformed the academies scheme by waving massive financial incentives in front of both failing and successful schools.  The sheer number of academies being created is bolstering the notion that the marketisation of education improves standards for all.  By January 2014 there were 3,600 academies, including half of all secondary schools and 10% of primary schools.

Although academies are, at present, legally categorised as charities, many of them behave like private businesses.  According to a report commissioned by the TUC, academy chains ‘pay great attention to branding and marketing, for example incorporating their name into the names of their schools, and their accounts treat test and exam results as ‘key business indicators’.’

Despite the Education Secretary’s reassurances that taxpayer money will not be gobbled up by the private sector, many academy trusts have been established by for profit companies, such as Mosaica Inc, EdisonLearning Inc, IES and Kunskapsskolan.

In a speech to the Fabian Society, Tristram Hunt, the shadow Education Secretary, warned that, ‘allowing private firms to run schools for profit would be a logical extension of the Government’s academies and introduction of free schools’.

The Anti-Academies Alliance have advised Mr Hunt that the current legal structures of academies and free schools leave them vulnerable to the privateers.  Currently the Swedish company IES runs Breckland free school in Suffolk for profit, and the contractual arrangements behind all academies and free schools mean they’re vulnerable to any future government allowing ‘for profit’ to become the standard way of operating.

Successive governments and free-market capitalism are surreptitiously dismantling our education system.  The process has already impacted on our universities with the rise in tuition fees following the 2010 election.  The decision to increase the price that students had to pay in order to attend university was based on the assumption that a degree is a commodity in the jobs market.  Under this supposition an education becomes nothing more than something that can be bought by consumers as a means to an end.  This stands in direction opposition to the long-held belief that teaching people to think and critically assess the world for themselves is an end in itself.

The Browne Report of 2010 examined the fact that British universities had begun to fall behind in the global edubusiness market. It concluded that the reason was state interference in the form of subsidies and a lack of competition between institutions based on these subsidies.  The thinking was that if every university received a similar amount of funding from the state then why would they try to be the best, after all there was no financial incentive to do so!

The solution was to force universities to rely on student fees to fund undergraduate teaching, which would inject the ideology of free-market capitalism and provide the necessary incentive to do better.  Students would be ‘free’ to choose the best course in the same way that they chose their mobile phones or other consumer goods.  This free choice would deliver better quality as each university tried to attract students.

In actuality what it does deliver is the commodification of learning.  For a whole generation education is simply a means to an end – you invest in your education and you get a financially rewarding job at the end of it.  Education is rewarding in its own right and should not become a commodity.  By trading education it becomes a private good that is no longer a right for all to enjoy equally.

Education is free, accessible and impartial – let’s keep it that way.  Please spread the word about the TUC’s Education Not for Sale campaign.  ‘The campaign calls for a commitment to no-profit, stakeholder accountability, national entitlements for children including the right to have a qualified teacher, fair transparent funding and a tougher regulatory framework in further and higher education.’

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