Flow of Ideas
Habituation of the Nation: School Sponsors as Precursors to the Big Bang?

Glenn Rikowski, London, 19th October 2005

Within the schools system as a whole schools will increasingly be forming long-term social and economic relationships with companies: they will progressively be in the company of companies. Through this process, teachers, parents, pupils, school governors, what is left of LEAs (if anything) and local politicians will become habituated to working with capital and capitals (i.e. individual companies) (Glenn Rikowski, Silence on the Wolves, 2005, pp.30-31 - original emphasis).

In the ‘Opinion’ column of Education Guardian last week, Fiona Millar (2005) raised the question of the role of sponsors in the schools system in England. She did this specifically in relation to Academies. For these schools, with an initial outlay of £2 million (backed up by £25-30 million of state revenue), a sponsor (rich private individuals, companies, religious foundations and trusts or charities) can shape the ethos, management and curriculum of the Academy. Inserting Intelligent Design (or Unintelligent Design - depending on your viewpoint) or pro-business values into the curriculum can be bought by these sponsors. Yet Millar persists in asking a rhetorical question: what, exactly are these sponsors for?

She is not convinced by official or conventional answers springing out of the New Labour Educational Establishment or from the Department of Education and Skills’ font of wisdom. Millar notes, first of all, the record of the Lilian Baylis Specialist Technology School. This was the school about which Oliver Letwin (the Conservative Shadow Chancellor) had said that he 'would rather beg in the gutter than send his children there' (Millar, 2005). Millar notes how the school, with a building erected out of the Private Finance Initiative (PFI), has done as well as the sparkling new Academies in terms of GCSE results; but with significantly less money and massively less hype. Following on from this observation, Millar then examines the arguments for sponsors given in official educational circles.

Why Sponsors?

Millar explores the following arguments in relation to sponsors: that they enable links with outside organisations; and that business sponsors would not tolerate failure. After quickly knocking down these weak arguments, Millar notes that:

“The role of the sponsors, mostly male businessmen, who don't even have to be UK residents, is one of the most inexplicable and unpalatable aspects of the whole academy experiment for many people. In return for a smallish personal contribution, which they can deduct from personal income tax (should they pay it in the UK), they are effectively given a free chunk of the public estate which they can run ad infinitum without any local accountability, completely contradicting the Prime Minister's assertion that he wants to give public services back to local communities to manage.”

Millar argues that the ‘pendulum will swing back’ once the dust has settled and the record of the Academies is uncovered and set against the vast sums expended. People will demand more accountability for their local schools. Not necessarily so (see my next posting on the Volumizer), for the public is being softened up to embrace the Goddess of Choice and to reject the Evil Spirits of the Local Education Authorities (LEAs) with their ‘interference’ and ideologically-inspired blundering.

Yet Millar herself appears to be enmeshed in the net of official ideology. For example, she praises Lilian Baylis’ record whilst suggesting that it was something to do with the fact that it had a new PFI building. Now, if my memory serves me right then Millar has argued against the PFI elsewhere. Secondly, she notes that Lilian Baylis is a specialist school; but specialist schools have sponsors too, though only to the tune of £50,000. They are a cheap option that does not give the sponsors the same degree of control over the curriculum, ethos and management that sponsors of Academies have. But they do enable the mass penetration of the secondary schools system by business sponsors. Furthermore, it was the failure of the educational Left to do anything much about sponsorship of specialist schools that made it easier for the New Labourite educational elite and its business acolytes to push through sponsorship for the Academies programme.

Millar’s inability to see the answer to her own question ‘what exactly are sponsors for?’ is partly a result of a failure to view the schools system as a whole. But this is also a failure of the educational research establishment in the UK and mainstream educational academics too, so she is in elevated company. Like education researchers, she skips around the elements of the developing system camouflaged by ‘common sense’ as forms of capital, and seems to be genuinely confused. Looked at from the development of the schools system in England as a whole, in the light of processes of capitalisation (processes that are transforming schools into value-producing units), and also in view of the ways in which capital deepens its rule, then an answer to Millar's original question becomes possible.

In the Company of Companies

Consider the following propositions:

1. The substance of the social universe of capital is value

2. In order for this social universe to be maintained and to expand then surplus-value has to be created

3. Capital's social universe is, therefore, a developing totality, and manifests itself as a process of becoming; what Marx called the ‘becoming’ of capital.

4. It is a developing totality: a form of totalisation that develops historically within its human activity field, until its destruction

5. Processes of capitalisation turn phenomena into capital by generating the conditions for value production and surplus-value production

6. These processes of capitalisation can be studied empirically, which is one of the key tasks of Marxist science

7. Empirically, capital's social universe is a developing and expanding one, and education institutions are not immune from this

8. The business takeover of schools in England is an aspect of the becoming of capital in schools in this nation: schools metamorphosing into units of capital with the capacity to generate value and surplus-value

9. We are constituted as capital (human capital as the social form attained by labour-power in capitalist society)

10. We therefore incorporate the contradictions of capital within our personhoods

11. We are also constituted by and through labour, which is antithetical to capital

12. We are thoroughly at war with ourselves on the basis of our social constitution

13. Because of our dual and contradiction-ridden nature we are ambivalent about processes of capitalisation, such as the business takeover of schools

14. Politically, these capitalisation (recognised only vaguely as such) processes have to be brought in and 'justified' by human representatives of capital (or rather those humans that are acting through the aspect of their 'selves' that is capital) so that they are sufficiently acceptable

15. One strategy is the habituation of people to key elements of particular processes of capitalisation

16. In the case of the business takeover of schools, the sponsorship element is part of the habituation process: getting teachers, pupils, parents and others used to working with companies and businesses

17. This is a forerunner to a deepening and expansive virusing of schools by capital

On this analysis, the sponsorship of schools (in the context where more and more schools are forming relationships with companies and business folk) is part of a crucial habituation strategy by human representatives of capital dressed up as 'modernisation' by New Labour and their Department for Education and Skills underlings.

Of course, each of these propositions is in need of substantial expansion and elaboration. But here is not the place to do it. Those interested in these propositions (probably not mainstream education researchers and academics whose heads remain firmly in the sand) can read more in Rikowski (2002), Neary and Rikowski (2002) and Rikowski (2003).

Too Soon, Too Fast?

However, with the White Paper on education policy due for publication next week the key question is whether New Labour is rushing the habituation phase. If the White Paper promises a Big Bang approach where companies can take over schools and run them for profit on a hugely expanded scale there could be significant opposition emerging.

It was clear from the Queen’s Speech and from recent speeches made by Tony Blair that the process of 'modernising' public services, including schools, will be speeded up in this third term. For 'modernisation', read capitalisation. Modernisation a la New Labour is actually, historically, a retro-modern strategy.

But perhaps on schools New Labour is moving too fast. Maybe the habituation process has not gone on for long enough, or is not deep enough to ensure that the masses view companies' involvement in school life as wholly benign. We shall see.


Millar, F. (2005) What exactly are school sponsors for? The Guardian (Education), 11th October, p.4.

Neary, M. & Rikowski, G. (2002) Time and Speed in the Social Universe of Capital, in: G. Crow & S. Heath, (Eds.) Social Conceptions of Time: Structure and Process in Work and Everyday Life, London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Rikowski, G. (2002) Education, Capital and the Human, in: D. Hill, P. McLaren, M. Cole & G. Rikowski (Eds.) Marxism against Postmodernism in Educational Theory, Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

Rikowski, G. (2003) Alien Life: Marx and the Future of the Human, Historical Materialism: Research in Critical Marxist Theory, Vol.11 No.2, pp.121-164.

Rikowski, G. (2005) Silence on the Wolves: What is Absent in New Labour's Five Year Strategy for Education, Occasional Paper, May, Education Research Centre, University of Brighton.

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