Flow of Ideas
Education and Inspections Bill: A Case of Educational Traducianism


Glenn Rikowski, London, 28th February 2006


Preface: Educational Traducianism

"Traducianism: The theory that the soul of a child is transmitted to it (along with original sin) by its parents" (Blackburn, 2005, p.368).

Readers who have explored the Volumizer at some length will know that my main interest in the Schools White Paper that came out last October (Her Majesty's Government, 2005) was its consequences for the business takeover of schools. What I meant by the 'business takeover of schools' was set out in my three-part paper In the Dentist's Chair of 31st December (Rikowski, 2005b), and I shall not go into that here in detail once more.

This phenomenon is at a very early and primitive stage of development. Only a few schools and nine LEAs, along with scattered LEA educational services, are run on for-profit lines.


Introduction

My focus in the analysis of the Bill will be on the business takeover of schools. On this score the key points are what it says about the development of education markets (as these go hand-in-hand with the development of educational services as commodities and the profit form) and the consolidation, widening and deepening of federations of schools.

This paper is divided into three sections. The first is on New Labour's lack of restraint regarding plans to let businesses run schools, but the New Labour cult faces practical and political constraints in terms of actually delivering such a reality. The second section is devoted to the marketisation of the schools sector in England, and the ways in which the Bill (House of Commons, 2006) moves back a few steps as compared with the White Paper (Her Majesty's Government, 2005). The third section focuses on federations of schools - indicating a surprising twist in the development of these as projected in the Education and Inspections Bill.


Bad Intentions Thwarted, Frustrations Building Up

It appears from the available evidence that Prime Minister Tony Blair, some of his advisors (past and present) in Downing Street and some officials at the Department for Education and Skills (previously the Department of Education and Employment) have no qualms regarding the principle of letting businesses run schools for profit. Regarding his public services 'reforms' in general, Tony Blair said at the last Labour Party Conference that:

"Every time I've ever introduced a reform in government, I wish in retrospect I had gone further" (in Pollard, 2006).

According to Stephen Pollard in the Daily Mail, in relation to the White Paper and the education Bill: 'This time around, he promised, things would be different'. Time-and-time over the last the last four months Blair has tried to adopt convincing poses of 'standing firm' regarding what he considers to be the core components of his education reforms as expressed in the White Paper and the Bill.

Four years ago, Chris Woodhead, former head of the schools' inspection organisation, Ofsted, noted that Tony Blair had 'no hang-ups' about involving the private sector in running state schools (Mansell, 2002). Woodhead questioned:

"Does Mr Blair really want to involve the private sector in education? In all probability he does. He does not suffer from the ideological hang-ups that afflict so many of his backbenchers and indeed ministers. Fine, but nothing will happen without his personal involvement" (Ibid.). Woodhead went on to argue that:

"A private, for-profit industry must be developed to provide effective competition to schools" (Ibid.).

Woodhead was angling to get state schools (run on contract for profit) into his chain of private schools that he was attempting to set up at the time.

Mike Baker (2005) has argued that the White Paper (Her Majesty's Government, 2005) appeared to lack coherence was that it was a compromise. For:

"Some in Downing Street wanted the trust schools idea to go much further; they hoped the for-profit sector would be allowed to run state-funded trust schools. ... [However] ... In the end, though, it was decided that the idea was too radical to wash with Labour MPs" (Baker, 2005, p.3).

Thus: some of Blair's policy advisors presumably believed that profits could be made by companies out of running Trusts on a contract, and maybe Blair even thought this himself - though Baker gives no evidence for this. Without the for-profit sector running Trusts, argues Baker, the White Paper painted a picture of Trusts that were little different from existing foundation schools.

Matthew Taylor (2006), however, does not believe that the Trusts have been emasculated to the extent that they no longer pose a route along which the for-profit sector will not eventually emerge as running state schools. Taylor sees trusts as a possible staging post in the business takeover of schools:

"The government points out that trusts have to be not-for-profit organisations and insists there are safeguards in place, but many rebels believe the mass handover of publicly owned democratically accountable schools to unelected private bodies is at least as big an issue as admissions and selection. And some mutter darkly that the move represents the first irreversible step towards the privatisation of the state schools system" (Taylor, 2006, p.1).

Taylor argues that although Blair has compromised a tad on admissions and selection and the role of the local education authority, he nevertheless has failed to move on the rebels' concerns that are 'deeper or different'. Trusts remain firmly on the agenda, even if they are not mentioned by name in the Education and Inspections Bill (House of Commons, 2006). For Taylor, Blair has drawn a 'line in the sand' on Trusts.

For me, what all this indicates is that Prime Minister Tony Blair and some of his policy advisors wanted a greater role for the for-profit sector in the White Paper and the Bill but did not think they could get away with it. Given the subsequent furore over selection and admissions, this was a smart call.


A Small Setback for the Marketisation of Schools

As I argued previously (Rikowski, 2005b), the White Paper (Her Majesty's Government, 2005) held consequences for the deepening of market relations in the schools system in England. The Education and Inspections Bill (House of Commons, 2006) constitutes a small setback for the marketisation process on the back of a substantial rebellion threatened by Labour MPs.

This is so on two scores. The Code of Admissions will be strengthened, and local admissions forums 'can object to the schools adjudicator if needs are not met' (White and Smithers, 2006). Secondly, local authorities will be able to set up community schools - though they can only do this with the approval of the Secretary of State. Thus, the role of local authorities in the Bill is still mainly commissioning schools, not being providers of them.

It is the first measure that stems the marketisation of schools most significantly. But the Bill overall makes only small concessions to the Labour rebels on this issue. As I explained in my In the Dentist's Chair (Rikowski, 2005b), the development of schools as commodity-producing and value-producing sites, and ultimately profit-producing units can only proceed with the deepening of the development of markets in educational services in the schools sector. The Bill erodes the development of these markets only slightly.


Federations and Trusts

The significance of federations of schools for the business takeover of schools is that they allow for the potential for greater profits and economies of scale for businesses running schools (see Rikowski, 2005a and 2005b). The Education and Inspections Bill has an unusual twist to it regarding federations.

Those writing the Alternative White Paper (Whitehead and Others, 2005) argued that all Trusts should be established as federations of schools. This is not too surprising as Estelle Morris, who brought in federations via Education Act 2002, was one of the leading signatories to the Alternative White Paper. The Education and Skills Committee (2006), reporting to the House of Commons on 27th January, reached the same conclusion (p.22, para 57). This was justified on the basis of good practice being spread through collaboration, but there was also reference to 'economies of scale and efficiencies in administration, finance and purchasing' (Ibid.). The Committee made a formal recommendation that the federations should be the model for Trust schools (p.23).

However, in the Government's response (Her Majesty's Government, 2006) to the Education and Skills Committee report, there was encouragement for good schools to head federations and shared Trusts (to extend their influence) (p.32), but the Committee's recommendation that all Trusts become federations was firmly rejected (Her Majesty's Government, 2006, p.14). Federations got a brief mention in the official press release for the Education and Inspections Bill (DfES, 2006c) in the context of strong schools helping weaker ones (p.3). Yet in the Department for Education and Skills Guide to the Bill (DfES, 2006a) federations did not figure at all.

In the actual Bill (House of Commons, 2006), federations figured only twice. It re-emphasised the power of local education authorities to force a governing body of a failing school to join a federation under Education Act 2002 (p.37 para50(1)(d) ). Furthermore, schools 'causing concern' could also be instructed to join a federation (p.182). Thus, the Education and Inspections Bill consolidated and extended the role of federations within the schools system in England.

The Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA) (DfES, 2006b) regarding the Bill clarifies the situation further on federations. First, the RIA indicates that federations will be set up 'to support a school causing concern' (p.143). Indeed, this is the second stage, 'Enforced Federation', of a five-stage process for dealing with failing schools (ending in closure). The Department for Education and Skills envisages 15 federations per year being established at an annual cost of £4.5million (p.149).


Conclusion: A Two-track System with Overlap

What the Education and Inspections Bill heralds is a 'two-track' system of Trusts and federations that can overlap. First, there will be straightforward Trusts. The Trusts will be non-profit making, and the schools comprising the Trusts will plow surpluses back into their operations. Any money made by the Trusts will be passed down to the schools. However, under Education Act 2002, the schools within a Trust can still set up companies which can make profits.

Secondly, there will be federations. These can be headed by companies, along with charitable and religious foundations. However, federations have no constraints regarding profit-making, as established by Education Act 2002. They can be headed by for-profit companies. They can also set up companies under Education Act 2002.

Finally, some Trusts may become federations. It would seem reasonable to suggest that once they did this then their profit-making capabilities would cease, though under Education Act 2002 they could still establish companies that could make profits. Whether New Labour wants this hybrid organisation to emerge on any substantial scale is very much open to question.

On the issues of marketisation and federations, the Education and Inspections Bill largely mirrors the sins of the White Paper when viewed in the context of the business takeover of schools. This is a clear case of educational traducianism.


© Glenn Rikowski, London.


References

Baker, M. (2005) Why school reforms were re-sold, BBC News, 18th November, at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/4450638.stm

Blackburn, S. (2005) Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, Second Edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

DfES (2006a) A Short Guide to the Education and Inspections Bill 2006, Department for Education and Skills, 28th February, London: Department for Education & Skills: http://www.dfes.gov.uk/publications/educationandinspectionsbill/docs/Guide%20to%20the%20Education%20and%20Inspections%20Bill.pdf

DfES (2006b) Regulatory Impact Assessment: Education and Inspections Bill 2006, Department for Education and Skills, 28th February, London: Department for Education and Skills. Online at: http://www.dfes.gov.uk/publications/educationandinspectionsbill/docs/Regulatory%20Impact%20Assessment.pdf

DfES (2006c) Education and Inspections Bill: Higher Standards, Better Schools for All, Press Notice, 2006/0018, 28th February, Department for Education and Skills. Online at: http://www.dfes.gov.uk/pns/DisplayPN.cgi?pn_id=2006_0018

Education and Skills Committee (2006) The Schools White Paper: Higher Standards, Better Schools for All, First Report of Session 2005-06, Volume 1, 28th January, HC633-1, London: The Stationery Office.

Her Majesty’s Government (2005) Higher Standards, Better Schools for All – More choice for parents and pupils, Cm 6677, Norwich: The Stationery Office. Online at: http://www.dfes.gov.uk

Her Majesty’s Government (2006) The Government’s Response to the House of Commons Education and Skills Committee Report – The Schools White Paper: Higher Standards, Better Schools for All, Cm 6747, February, Norwich: The Stationery Office. Available online at: http://www.dfes.gov.uk/publications/educationandinspectionsbill/docs/Response%20to%20Education%20Select%20Committee%20Cm%206747.pdf

House of Commons (2006) Education and Inspections Bill, Bill 134, 54/1, 28th February, London: The Stationery Office Limited. Available online: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200506/cmbills/134/2006134.pdf

Mansell, W. (2002) Blair 'not hung up about privatisation', Times Educational Supplement, 1st March, p.3.

Pollard, S. (2006) 28 Feb: The day Blair lost power, Daily Mail, 1st March, p.12.
Silence on the Wolves: What is Absent in New Labour's Five Year Strategy for Education, Occasional Paper, Education Research Centre, University of Brighton, May.

Rikowski, G. (2005b) In the Dentist's Chair: A Response to Richard Hatcher's Critique of Habituation of the Nation, 31st December, in three parts. Available from The Flow of Ideas web site: http://www.flowideas.co.uk/?page=articles&sub=In%20the%20Dentist's%20Chair

Taylor, M. (2006) Schools up for sale, The Guardian, 20th February. Online at: http://education.guardian.co.uk/policy/story/0,,1713539,00.html

White, M. & Smithers, R. (2006) Tories may hold key to vote as Blair stands firm against rebels, The Guardian, 1st March, p.7.

Whitehead, A. & Others (2005) Reshaping the Education White Paper, 14th December, at: http://www.alan-whitehead.org.uk/articles/articles_2005/EducationPaper.htm


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