Flow of Ideas

Education Markets and Missing Products [1]

Glenn Rikowski, School of Education, University of Birmingham, UK

A revised and extended version of Education Markets and Missing Products, a paper first presented at the 1995 Conference of Socialist Economists, University of Northumbria, Newcastle, 7-9th July. This version dated 18th December 1996.


Since Bowles and Gintis (1976) and Willis (1977), there has been little development in Marxist analysis of compulsory schooling [2]. Until recently, there have been few attempts to move beyond the old social reproductionist/resistance paradigm. Since the early 1990s, articles with an avowedly Marxist outlook have started to appear once more in mainstream journals [3]. Despite this mini-Renaissance in Marxist writing on education, the failure by Marxists to theorise education in ways which inform contemporary educational developments has been all too apparent. In particular, Marxists would seem to be in a potentially strong position to go beyond the current fixation with education markets through raising awkward questions regarding the ‘products’ of schooling. In presenting an unfashionable Marxist perspective on education as production, this paper exposes the narrowness of liberal Left [4], policy sociology and technicist approaches to education markets. These stunted discourses attempt to theorise education markets without any sustained exploration which links these marketised forms with education as production. Thus, what we have is: ‘Education Markets and Missing Products’.

The first section summarises some of the main aspects of liberal Left discourse on education markets. Although most of the arguments in this section move around educational marketisation largely within a British context (but with some reference to the United States), writers such as Codd (1990, 1993, 1995) and Lauder (1991) have indicated the pertinence of these core arguments for schooling in New Zealand. The second and third sections of the paper shift decisively towards a Marxist analysis of education as a form of production. These sections locate a ‘product’ of schooling which has particular resonance for Marxists: labour-power. The reflexive conclusion backtracks over the mode of analysis in the paper. The main point here is that, in moving from a liberal Left critique of education markets towards a Marxist perspective on education as production, the analysis simultaneously moves between different forms of ‘market’. Overall, the analysis suggests that compulsory schooling is implicated in a number of different ‘markets’, it ‘produces’ a range of ‘products’ and is involved in a number of different forms of ‘production’. The paper points towards a need to map out the various ‘markets’, ‘products’ and forms of ‘production’ incorporated within and centred around compulsory schooling.


There is a vast literature on education markets. However, it incorporates a huge ‘analytical gap’ (Power, 1992); there is no sustained analysis of education as production. Whilst several analysts examine the ‘commodification’ of education (Power, 1992; Ball, 1993; Ranson, 1993), there is a reluctance to explore commodification processes in education in any depth. Consequently, there is no real grasp of what, precisely, the ‘products’ are in relation to education markets. This lack of clarity regarding what education actually ‘produces’ has resulted in further unclarity about who the education ‘consumers’ and ‘producers’ are too.

Marxist analysis has had little impact on debates on education markets. A real opportunity has been missed through failure to shift the analysis onto a more fundamental level regarding what schools produce. Marxist and radical educators have referred to the ‘products’ of schooling over the last twenty years in typically throw-away and distracted ways. This indicates a general failure to provide sustained analyses of education as production.

Liberal Left critiques, with a focus on equity, education rights and social justice, provide the cutting edge to current dissenting perspectives on education markets. This largely academic literature displays a number of prominent critical themes. Five such themes have been isolated for brief description:

• scepticism regarding the extent of educational marketisation;
• a critique of market mechanisms in education in terms of their perceived lack of effectiveness in relation to educational improvement and standards enhancement;
• a focus on how the deepening of market forces in education, especially through increasing parental choice, leads to traditionalism and conformity amongst teachers;
• how marketising education undercuts the notions of community and community schooling;
• and, finally, the dire consequences marketising education holds for conceptions of social justice and equity.

Together, these strands of liberal Left critique provide a substantial rejoinder to the protagonists of educational marketisation. However, all of these critical perspectives foreground a commitment to analysing education markets without situating them within the social totality.

[1] Extent of Marketisation

There is disagreement about the degree of marketisation within compulsory education. Ball (1993, p.2) has argued that the place of the market in the formation of education policy is ‘becoming unassailable’. However, Green’s (1994, pp.78-79) brief survey of free-market New Right education policies shows that this is an over-generalisation. Green notes that, even in the British context, there is not an unregulated market system. In England, even private schools are partly dependent on public funds through the Assisted Places Scheme and rely on the state to maintain their charitable status. Kerchner and Boyd (1988) and Thomas and Bullock (1994) have argued that there is always some mix of market- and state-based education.

Secondly, from an international survey of educational marketisation, Green (1994) argues that we should be sceptical of attributing any global trend towards markets in education. He notes that most market reforms in education have been introduced by right-wing regimes, but there appears to be no global shift towards such governmental regimes in the 1990s. Furthermore, notes Green, the ‘spread of market education policies in Europe is very uneven’ (p.78).

Thirdly, Green indicates that those education systems that the British system is typically invidiously compared with (Japan, Germany and France) have retained substantial ‘public regulation and consistency of practice’ (p.79). Countries which have favoured market solutions in education, the USA for example, have suffered low educational standards. Ball’s (1993) view on the extent of educational marketisation seems exaggerated.

[2] Market Effectiveness

There is considerable disagreement about the effectiveness of education markets. This is partly because of a lack of data due to their recent strengthening through educational ‘reforms’, but also due to the fact that some of the purported positive/negative effects of marketising education will take some time to show themselves.

For liberal Left critics of educational marketisation, a range of negative effects can be expected to emerge with increasing force following upon recent educational reforms which have deepened market relations within compulsory schooling. Firstly, Lauder (1991) has argued that the scenario of perfectly competitive markets is a myth in relation to the market for any product, but particularly so for education where the forces making for effective ‘provider capture’ (where producers choose consumers) are especially strong (p.424). He also believes that it is likely that the marketisation of education will lead to lower educational standards. Secondly, Hogan (1992) has argued that market pressures on education in the USA have been partly to blame for the decline in education standards. Finally, Green (1994) believes that the demoralisation of teachers in the majority of schools which will not be clear winners in a marketised system will lead to such teachers underperforming, thus causing an overall fall in standards.

Critics of educational marketisation expect these negative effects to be cumulative over time. These arguments are significant antidotes to market-oriented perspectives which link the deepening of market relations to rising educational standards (as in Chubb and Moe, 1990).

[3] Education Markets, Parental Choice and Rights

A liberal rights-based approach (from both the neo-Right and liberal Left) has permeated the debate on parental choice in education. From a liberal Left perspective, Bowles (1993, p.46) has argued that opportunities for ‘both voice and exit are equally essential in the process of empowerment’ - yet most school systems rarely offer full rights to either. Edwards and Whitty (1992) have noted that choice and diversity may lead to hierarchy and traditionalism as teachers fear to experiment in a harsh market system where the risks of failure are high. Tarrant (1989) has argued that models of the ‘rationally self-interested individual’ are an ideological construction. Parents may choose for their children in ways which are not in the latter’s interests (even if such ‘interests’ could be ascertained in any straightforward way).

There is some research on how parents choose schools for their children (Ball, 1993; Ball, Bowe and Gewirtz, 1994; Gewirtz, Ball and Bowe, 1994). These studies indicate that such choices are complex and not always made on ‘academic criteria’. Factors such as: nearness to home, whether siblings are already at a school and the child’s preferences are important. Furthermore, this research shows that cultural and class factors play a significant part in the extent to which parents make conscious, considered choices. The ‘cultural capital’ and the experience of formal education of middle class parents gives them an edge in the choice process. Those with higher incomes and with a greater capacity to move house towards the school of their choice are privileged in their choice-range. Education markets undercut the ‘rights’ of children and parents regarding equal access to an education of comparable quality.

[4] The Decline of Community

An argument drawn from social philosophy maintains that market relations undermine community. Weeres (1988) has argued against parental choice in education on the basis that it undermines the notion of community and community schooling. It enhances competition between pupils, parents, teachers and schools and leads to further fragmentation, mistrust and social isolation than previously existed. Elmore (1988) bolsters this view with an analysis which argues that the degree of active choice advocated by extreme educational marketeers (who support vouchers) would undermine the capacity for community-based educational planning. The collective consequences of individual choice in a voucher-based scenario would make the system unmanageable and chaotic.

Anderson (1990) has argued that to individualise the goods that the market provides necessarily undermines those goods that involve sharing and co-operation. The market ideal ‘interprets freedom as freedom from ties of obligation to each other’ (p.203). Applying this to education, market reforms (where freedom from obligation would be paramount) would seem to undermine the ability of schools to foster social norms of co-operation, respect for others and a sense of belonging to a community.

[5] Education Markets and Social Justice

• markets stimulate an unequal game of winning and losing (p.339);
• in education they empower the middle class to exit (rather than stay and use their ‘voice’ to improve things);
• the market places policy and collective provision beyond public deliberation and democratic control; • education markets reinforce class divisions (pp.337-338);
• markets are anarchic and make planning impossible (p.335);
• material interest (not the social good) drives markets;
• the market is ‘intrinsically flawed’ as a vehicle for improving educational opportunities as one person’s development is at the expense of someone else’s.

It seems unlikely that educational improvement will flow from such a divisive system, argues Ranson.

Markets, Commodities and Consumers in Education

Liberal Left rights-based and social justice arguments regarding the effects of educational marketisation are clearly useful for highlighting inequalities and inequities generated by the ‘turn to the market’ in education. However, they move within terms set by education policy and fail to provide a deeper critique through viewing education as production. In noting the British Conservative Government’s advocacy of education markets, Hatcher and Troyna (1994) also point out that little room has been made for discussion about education and ‘production’ in the Government’s quasi-market reforms (p.166). Bowe, Ball and Gewirtz (1994) show that ‘The Parents’ Charter’ for British schools proposes the ‘... reduction of education to a commodity.’ (p.41), yet they eschew analysis of education as a commodity-form. Wexler and Grabiner (1986) talk about the ‘commodification’ of education without driving for a deeper analysis which reveals what the ‘products’ or ‘commodities’ of education are in this process. Commodification seems to be a process without a product.

Power (1992, p.497) notes that ‘... it is difficult to define the ‘commodity’ and the ‘consumer’ in education ...’, though she does not say why this is the case. One suggestion is that Marxism offers a platform for discussing ‘production’ and the ‘commodity form’ - but Marxism is unfashionable, ‘dead’ and disreputable. Power’s acknowledgement of an ‘analytic gap’ in education market discourse is rare. This missing analysis has led discussion concerning the specification of ‘consumers’ and ‘producers’ in the newly marketised educational forms into vague territory. Some examples illustrate this point. First, Hartley (1991) notes that pupils are the real consumers: though they are not regarded as such. Hodkinson (1991), on the other hand, holds that employers are the clients. Thirdly, Graham (1994, p.37) vaguely notes that there are many consumers in education whilst Westobey (1989) takes parents and the families of pupils as the consumers of education. Finally, Green (1993, p.225) talks about ‘educational producers’ but leaves it open as to who these people might be. The issue of precisely who are the educational ‘producers’ is typically left well alone. Bowe, Ball and Gewirtz (1994, p.38) have concluded that there is much confusion on ‘consumption’ and ‘production’ in the British post-Educational Reform Act (1988) scene. On the few examples above, this would seem to be a reasonable conclusion.


Although Conservative Party education policy in the UK has concentrated on creating quasi-education markets, as Hatcher (1994) has noted, the British Government is also interested in ‘what schools produce’ - the future workers and citizens (pp.45-46). He also notes that the Government has increased its powers to control the production process in education through the National Curriculum and testing. Analysis of education as production could be the focus for a critique of these policies. Instead, much research, writing and commentary merely moves on the ground set by the Conservative Government through producing ‘radical’ critiques of Conservative educational policies which are set at the distributional, market level of analysis.

Marxist educational theorists have not typically started their analyses of capitalist schooling at the micro-level, with a detailed exploration of the particular ‘products’ or commodities produced through educational processes. Marx himself began his analysis of capital, not with some macro view of capitalism - the world market, international trade - but with an analysis of the commodity-form. Time and time again, Marxist and radical Left analysts seem to be drawn to the question of what capitalist schools ‘produce’ without offering any sustained analysis of the form of production inherent in capitalist schooling or their conceptions of the ‘product(s)’ which inform their analyses. Consequently, there is a dizzying range of ‘products’ of schooling on view in Marxist and radical writing (see Appendix 1). Detailed analysis of the classic Schooling in Capitalist America (Bowles and Gintis, 1976) reveals a substantial range of under-analysed ‘products’ of schooling (see Appendix 2). Furthermore, there is little enquiry regarding whether capitalist schools produce anything that could be classified as commodities in the Marxist sense. Failure to tackle questions such as these has led Marxist theorists of capitalist schooling to exude ad hoc pronouncements and arbitrary formulae regarding the products of schooling, as their analyses seem to require some kind of response to these issues.

The following categories of schooling ‘products’ can be found in other Marxist texts on education. Firstly, schools produce ‘people’ who are the ‘... bearers of those norms, values and habits which are essential for the reproduction of social relations.’ (Harris, 1982, p.84). This is based on a prior production of ‘socialised beings’ (Harris, 1982, p.9). Schools produce people who acquiesce at work. Sarup (1978) argues that schooling can be viewed as a ‘mode of production’. If we think of schools as factories then it is clear that they produce pupils, he argues. One major category of products is the person, or at least the person up to a particular stage in the life-cycle (the person as school student). Furthermore, these socially produced school students are shaped as agents who bear the norms and values appropriate to the reproduction of capitalist social relations.

Apple (1985) claims that schools produce ‘deviants’, and he also asserts that they produce cultural capital, and, insofar as they do the latter then they produce some individuals who fail to appropriate it (as its production and appropriation takes place on a competitive basis which favours the middle class). The production and appropriation of cultural capital engenders failure and those who continually fail are likely to reject the whole process. Apple also talks about schooling producing ‘credentialised individuals’ (1985, p.15), but then goes on to explain that in certain phases ‘overproduction’ of such individuals can occur. The economy cannot absorb the numbers of credentialised individuals thrown onto the labour market.

There is another set of ‘products’ of schooling which centres on the labourer, labour and labour-power. Harris (1982) claims that schools produce what he calls the ‘bearers of labour-power’, that is, labourers. A further claim is that schools produce labour (as opposed to the labourer) (Frith, 1978). Finally, Sarup argues that schools are involved with ‘... the production of the commodity labour power and teachers are involved in its categorization.’ (1982, p.28). The Revolutionary Communist Group note that the production of ‘the special commodity labour power’ is the key product of schooling for Marxists (Bullock and Yaffe, 1979).

Thus far, the products of schooling drawn from the literature have been about either particular categories of persons (pupils, labourers, credentialised individuals, deviants, failures, agents to fill roles in the social division of labour, socialised beings); or what these categories of persons do in certain circumstances (labour); or, finally, as aspects, powers and attributes of the person (labour-power). Other writers view the products of schooling more in terms of knowledge, or certain types of knowledge. Sarup (1978), Frith (1978) and Apple (1985) are only a few of the analysts who argue that schooling produces knowledge.

A further category of products of schooling pertains to culture and ideology. According to Apple (1985), schools are involved in the production of culture; they teach norms, values and dispositions. They are also implicated in the production of ideologies, and, according to Apple, schools are play a part in the production of the dominant culture and its corresponding dominant ideology (expressed through technical/administrative knowledge - another product of capitalist schooling for Apple) in capitalist society.

Reflection on Method The above description of some of the ‘products’ of schooling that can be extracted from the Marxist and radical Left literature on capitalist schooling is only a tiny segment. A question for Marxists though, is whether these ‘products’ of schooling have similar significance. Are all of them of equal status in terms of being a starting point for an understanding of capitalist schooling? Marxists and radicals speak of ‘capitalist’ schooling (Sharp, 1980; Finn, 1987) but fail to show what is specifically capitalist about the form and content of this schooling.

For Marxists, one of these ‘products’ is privileged. It is qualitatively different from all the rest on view, as it is a commodity (Harris, 1984, p.27) which directly enters the labour process, and it is the only ‘living, human commodity’ delineated by Marx himself in Capital; labour-power. General definitions of production are insufficient to capture labour-power as a living force, a capacity for labour which stands in direct contrast to ‘dead’ labour - the means of production - in the labour process, as described by Marx (1858, pp.452-453). Analysis of labour-power as a ‘product of schooling’ which is also a commodity leads to an understanding of what makes capitalist schools capitalist schools. An analysis of the ‘two great classes of commodities’ (Marx, 1863) points the way forward.


As is well known, Marx begins Capital I with the statement that where the capitalist mode of production is dominant, the wealth of society ‘presents itself as an immense accumulation of commodities’ (Marx, 1867, p.43). Marx commences his analysis of capitalism with an examination of the commodity-form before going on to the value- and money-forms. A commodity is ‘... in the first place, an object outside us, a thing that by its properties satisfies human wants of some sort or another’ (Ibid.). However, there was one commodity that Marx left out of his analysis at the beginning of Capital I - labour-power. In Theories of Surplus Value, Marx (1863) noted that a commodity ‘as distinguished from labour-power itself’ (p.164) is a:

“... material thing confronting man, a thing of a certain utility for him, in which a definite quantity of labour is fixed or materialised” (Ibid.).

It now becomes clear that Marx left labour-power out of his analysis at the beginning of Capital I as labour-power differed significantly from commodities-in-general. As labour-power was not a ‘thing confronting man’ but part of the living being of the worker in capitalism, it required separate analytical treatment (which, from Marx, it never received on an extended basis, as he failed to write his projected volume on Wage Labour). The labour-power of the productive labourer is in fact an indivisible commodity (unlike the general class of commodities) which resides within the person of the labourer as a set of powers, attributes and capacities which are activated, through an act of will on the part of the labourer, in the labour process. Thus, a worker’s labour-power is a commodity owned by the worker (Marx, 1863, p.160). It is this commodity, this capacity to work through the activation of her/his personal powers, attributes and forces, that the labourer sells to the capitalist, and it is the only commodity that s/he has to sell within capitalist production. In light of these points, Marx held that:

“... the world of commodities is divided up into two great categories: On the one side, labour-power. On the other side, commodities themselves” (1863, p.171).

Marx also noted that there was an antagonistic relationship between these two great categories of commodities in capitalism in so far as some of the ‘commodities as distinct from labour-power itself’ (1863, p.67) confront the labourer as means of production (1863, p.45). The capitalist’s surplus, her/his surplus value (appropriated in the form of profit), arises from the fact that, although the worker sells her/his labour-power to the capitalist, the capitalist does not buy a commodity as ‘a material thing confronting her/him’. The capitalist does not buy the labourer as a person, but ‘labour-power itself’ as an aspect of the labourer’s personhood. What the capitalist buys is ‘the temporary right to dispose of labour-power’ (Marx, 1863, p.315) within the labour process. Labour-power as a fluid, shifting congelation of powers, forces and attributes which exists as an aspect of the person as labourer in capitalism is a commodity which has a value less than the product of its own activity when it is transformed into labour and thence into a form of capital. The transformation of labour into capital occurs at the point at which the value created by labour representing the worker’s wage has been exceeded. It is this process which underpins the self-expansion of capitalist production.

The Commodity Criterion and Labour-Power

From this brief analysis of the ‘two great categories’ of commodities, it is now possible to enquire as to whether any of the so-called ‘products of schooling’ are commodities. Taking those commodities ‘as distinct from labour-power itself’ first, it seems that capitalist schools do not produce commodities in this sense. The significant thing about these commodities is that they incorporate exchange- as well as use-value. A product that does not enter the sphere of exchange can be a use-value, a product, but it is not a commodity.

On this analysis, the ‘products of schooling’ which are ‘vendible commodities’ and take a material form ‘confronting man’ (essays, projects, comprehensions, maths examples and so on) do not typically take on a commodity form. They do not generally enter the sphere of exchange. In exceptional cases, students may sell A-grade GCSE projects to other students, but even here the form that the ‘production system’ takes is not a capitalist one. Firstly, there is a distinct absence of a capitalist confronting the worker. Secondly, it is not production where labour is directly exchanged with capital. It has some features in common with simple commodity production, but even on this comparison the students may not own all of the means of production through which essays and so on are produced. Thus, where pupils sell their work to others it is at the most an extreme form of exceptionalism (and a practice which schools would undoubtedly stamp out if they could) but it does not amount to significant capitalist production.

A candidate for acceptance as ‘educational commodity’ much favoured by Apple (1985) is knowledge. Apple argues that the production of knowledge in capitalist schools takes a commodity form. Two points can be made on this. Firstly, the view that capitalist schools produce knowledge in a commodity form (in books, research reports and academic articles) hinges on a failure to distinguish, as Price (1986) does, between the teaching process and the research process proper - the latter being the initial production of knowledge that goes on in research programmes and projects funded by state departments, groups of charities, foundations, individual capitals, joint ventures of several capitals and various forms of academic research in higher education. Students below postgraduate level, and certainly school students, are largely excluded from the research process (Ainley, 1994). Price (1986) notes that what goes on in capitalist schooling at levels below postgraduate research is the distribution and consumption (not production) of knowledge. Secondly, on the ‘knowledge as commodity’ account, there is a failure to specify and situate capitalist schooling as other institutions (private corporations, Department of Defence research installations, opinion pollsters) produce significant knowledge.

Whilst not wanting to rule out knowledge production, distribution and consumption in toto as a process which partially pins down and specifies the nature of capitalist schools, it does seem that there are more problems with this approach as opposed to the obvious alternative - viewing labour-power as the ‘product’ par excellence of capitalist schooling. Capitalist schools can be defined as such precisely because they partially socially ‘produce’ labour-power, the commodity which stands alone in Marx’s division of capitalist commodities. The capitalist school is specified through being involved in the social production of the commodity upon which the production of all other commodities rests. This is the case even though labour-power is not, and never becomes, a completed social product, a commodity with a final, fixed form. This is because subjectivity is inherent within labour-power as it is under sway of the will of the labourer. Furthermore, the forms that the social production of labour-power take in capitalism incorporate various combinations of training, work-based learning and learning within the labour process itself - which may all make various contributions regarding the social production of labour-power. Compulsory schooling is merely a phase in the social production of labour-power, but the partial production of labour-power within schooling as a commodity fixes the capitalist form of the contemporary school. As a commodity partially produced within compulsory schooling, labour-power is the material substratum which links schooling, training, the recruitment process (where labour-power is assessed and evaluated) and the labour process. It is only labour-power which provides the direct, material link between schooling and the labour-process. It is the bridge between school and work and on this count it is the ‘product’ of schooling which has special resonance for Marxists. The selling of labour-power, of course, occurs outside compulsory schooling altogether when students eventually get jobs, though they sell their labour-powers whilst still at school when they take on part-time jobs during term-time.


It is important to see where the arguments and analysis within this paper have taken us in order to clarify options for further theoretical development and research. In the first section, on the liberal Left critique of education markets, it was apparent that this critique hinged upon pinpointing a range of negative effects flowing from educational marketisation. There are basically two aspects to this critique. Firstly, the technicist aspect: which maintains that marketising education will not ‘work’ - that is, standards will not rise as neo-Right apologists for education markets assume. On the contrary, standards will fall as education is marketised. The second aspect holds that the marketisation of education nurtures greater educational and class inequalities (with further negative effects in terms of undermining ‘community’) and also undermines conditions for equity and social justice within education and the wider society. These latter rights-based, communitarian and social justice-oriented arguments are partly reactive towards recent education reforms in Britain and the USA which have deepened market relations within compulsory schooling. Thus, these arguments move within a conceptual framework which is set within, and in opposition to, the marketisation of education policies; as such, they amount to a mere ‘policy-tracking’ perspective.

The movement towards Marxism, towards the end of section (1) and in section (2), yielded a relatively strong orientation regarding the ‘products’ of schooling, where labour-power took on especial significance. However, the issue of ‘the market in labour-power’ corresponding to the form of the social production of labour-power was not even addressed. This is because this market resides beyond processes of socially producing labour-power within compulsory schooling, in what is conventionally known as ‘the labour market’, where labour-power (the capacity to labour) is exchanged for wages. Thus, in specifying labour-power as the ‘product’ of schooling par excellence for Marxism there is a corresponding need to specify the form of the social relation between the social production of labour-power in capitalism and the labour-power market.

As liberal Left critiques of educational marketisation seem bereft of ideas regarding the ‘products’ produced and circulated in contemporary educational quasi-markets in Britain and the USA, and, as the Marxist perspective on the ‘products’ of compulsory schooling seems to relate to a market beyond schools, and, finally, given the vast range of ‘products’ on view in Marxist, radical and liberal Left educational texts in Appendix 1, then it would seem reasonable to draw two conclusions. Firstly, it would appear that different politico-theoretical traditions and orientations will lead to correspondingly different conclusions on the issues of the nature of education markets, of education as a form of production and the ‘products’ of schooling. Hence, liberal Left analysts and Marxists are likely to be concerned with different education market and production processes and relations. Secondly, the phenomenal range of ‘products’ of schooling referred to in Appendix 1 suggests that it would be reasonable to assume that there are a whole host of production processes and ‘products’ being partially or fully produced within compulsory schooling. Further analysis is required which is aimed at disentangling and mapping these production processes and specifying the nature of the corresponding ‘products’ and markets.

Two types of theoretical enterprise and a related research agenda can be extracted from the above reflexive glance at the path along which this paper has travelled. Firstly, although liberal Left critiques are powerful in terms of providing a value-driven and moral critique of recent educational policy which enhances the role of the ‘market’, they are weak on moving beyond this policy-determined framework. There is a need to seriously consider the ‘products’ circulating within education markets. Secondly, for Marxists, a programme which develops an understanding of the social production of labour-power in capitalism and then goes on to incorporate a perspective on how such production processes (some of which take place outside compulsory schooling - in training, work-based learning and so on) relate to the buying and selling of labour-power is essential. Finally, empirical research is required which attempts to map out and describe the full range of both production and market processes within compulsory schooling. Such a research programme may well hold benefits for all concerned.


[1] This is an edited and revised version of a paper previously presented at the Conference of Socialist Economists Annual Conference, Socialism Beyond the Market, 7-9th July 1995, University of Northumbria at Newcastle.
[2] The discussion in this paper is aimed at compulsory state schooling. The arguments regarding education markets and products would change if aimed at the further or higher education sectors. The reasons for this cannot be stated here.
[3] See Hodgkinson (1991), who approaches British post-compulsory education and training through form analysis which draws on debates within the Conference of Socialist Economists. Freeman-Moir (1992) situates a discussion of educational theory within a framework of reflection on Marxist method. Cole and Hill (1995) have attempted to place class analysis at the heart of educational theory.
[4] Liberal Left analyses of education focus on distributive justice (in relation to educational ‘goods’, outcomes and opportunities) set within a theoretical framework which underwrites the dominance of capital. Educational theorists moving within this foundation typically raise issues of ‘fairness’ and social justice whilst stopping short of advocating overthrow of the rule of capital, or concentrating on the weak points in this despotic regime in order to aid the hastening of its demise. I have dealt with this issue in more depth in an earlier paper (Rikowski, 1996).

Identified ‘products’ of schooling within Marxist, radical and liberal Left writing, grouped according to similarity or thematic proximity (excluding Bowles & Gintis, 1976):
UNSPECIFIED - Where writers refer to a ‘product’ of schooling without saying what it is: e.g. ‘standard product’ (Carter, 1993);
EDUCATION - ‘Education’ as whole is the product, so ‘education produces education’!
Education is a process of CULTURAL PRODUCTION;
CREDENTIALS (Housepoints and Grades as metaphors for wages);
... and ... LABOUR-POWER.

As identified in Schooling in Capitalist America (1976).
Page Nos. in brackets:
PEOPLE (56) - schools are the ‘people production process’;
PERSONAL ATTRIBUTES - their use in production (16);


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