Flow of Ideas
Privatisation in England – A Reply to Rikowski’s ‘Dentist’s Chair’ Paper

Richard Hatcher, 12th February 2006, Birmingham

Preface: This is Richard Hatcher’s reply to my In the Dentist’s Chair paper of 31 December 2005 (Rikowski, 2005b), which was in turn my reply to his original attack on my Habituation of the Nation paper of 19th October 2005 (Rikowski, 2005a). To date, I have not responded in detail to this paper, though one day I shall do so. However, I did provide a brief, general response, Education Fireworks! on 5th November 2006 (Rikowski, 2006). Though this paper of Hatcher’s was never put on the Volumizer I believe that it is important to insert it here at The Flow of Ideas as people can view all of the documents pertaining to the Hatcher / Rikowski ‘debate’. It is available on the MASSES Yahoo! Groups list, but it is not easy to locate or access, and in email form only. Thus, with regard to quality and ease of reading it is better to read it here. Hatcher’s misspellings (e.g. of my name), lack of referencing (again), sloppy punctuation and repetitions are as the original, but I have altered the spacing to make the reading and html coding easier.
Glenn Rikowski, London, 9th November 2008

In October 2005 Glenn Rikowski circulated a paper entitled ‘Habituation of the Nation: School Sponsors as Precursors to the Big Bang?’ on the Marx SIG list and other e-lists. In November I circulated a short response, taking issue with Rikowski’s thesis that what is in train in England is the takeover of the running of state schools by business for profit, and specifically that there was no evidence in the new government White Paper to support this thesis. In December Rikowski circulated a reply entitled ‘In the Dentist’s Chair’. This is my response to that paper.

I circulated my reply yesterday on the MarxSIG e-list as an attached Word document but it appears that the listserv may be removing attachments, so I am sending it again as an email – which unfortunately means that quote indents and subheadings in bold may be lost.

Richard Hatcher

A Reply to Rikowski’s ‘In the Dentist’s Chair’

Richard Hatcher

February 2006

In October 2005 Glenn Rikowski circulated a paper entitled ‘Habituation of the Nation: School Sponsors as Precursors to the Big Bang?’ on the Marx SIG list and other e-lists. In November I circulated a short response, some 1200 words, taking issue with Rikowski’s thesis that what is in train in England is the takeover of the running of state schools by business for profit, and specifically that there was no evidence in the new government White Paper to support this thesis. In December Rikowski circulated a reply of nearly 19,000 words entitled ‘In the Dentist’s Chair’.

The politics of language

Perhaps the most striking feature of Rikowski’s reply is the style and tone in which it is written. Rikowski claims that it is ‘written in the same spirit that Hatcher wrote his original attack upon me’. This is manifestly not true. I will quote the terms I used:

‘I want to question this analysis and propose a different explanation.”

‘There are two assumptions underlying Glenn’s argument which I want to question.’

‘In a general sense this is of course true, but what needs to be added is that it is a mediated process, not one of a linear and reductionist economic determinism, and that therefore the forms it takes in particular social contexts cannot simply be read off, they require concrete analysis of concrete situations.’

Not an ‘attack’ but a measured and impersonal discussion of differing analyses within the framework of Marxism.

The tone of Rikowski’s reply is very different. Here are some examples (all quotes from Rikowski are from ‘In the Dentist’s Chair’ unless stated):

‘Hatcher’s collusion with the White Paper’s lost horizon is hardly the mark of a competent, let alone radical Left, analyst of the White Paper.’

‘…what he sees as my totally untenable, primitive and simplistic form of Marxian analysis.’,br>
‘if Hatcher had actually bothered to read my Habituation with any care, or if he was not predisposed to wilfully misinterpreting or rubbishing it’

poor scholarship and subterfuge through lack of referencing,

Perhaps his underhand tactics on not informing readers where this quotation could be found … was a result of him knowing that he was treading on thin ice.

his attempted destruction of my work

On the basis of his writings on the White Paper (i.e. Hatcher, 2005a-d), he has few ideas and no real analysis.’

As well as being another instance of sloppy scholarship, this is just another decoy argument by Hatcher; a petty ploy to cause heartache and stress.

his own rickety and flimsy conceptual framework

sometimes those with more academically secure and higher status positions do not feel the same need for accuracy as those who are more likely to have to defend their positions or outlooks, or to justify their existence


blinkered analysis

predisposed to wilfully misinterpreting or rubbishing

poor scholarship and subterfuge through lack of referencing

Hatcher has clearly not understood (or has chosen to avoid for the ‘benefit’ of his attempted destruction of my work)

a cheap trick

Rikowski’s choice of language goes far beyond what is acceptable in academic debate (Rikowski writes as from the School of Education, University of Northampton). But I want to focus on something more important: its political significance. We can dissect the key features of this style of rhetoric.

The charge that I am deliberately misleading the reader – largely based on my not fully referencing quotes from or references to his publications. The explanation is simple – I was writing a two-page email, not an academic paper, and the sources were readily available in the paper I was replying to.

The charge that I am aiming at the ‘destruction’ of his work. A characteristic rhetorical tactic here is gross exaggeration of the differences, as in ‘‘…what he sees as my totally untenable, primitive and simplistic form of Marxian analysis.’ Not true – just a political disagreement.

The charge that I am intending to attack him personally (‘a petty ploy to cause heartache and stress’). Again no, but Rikowski’s paranoid interpretation transforms normal political disagreement into a personal battle, and leads him to make a number of calculatedly offensive personal allegations. For example ‘sometimes those with more academically secure and higher status positions do not feel the same need for accuracy as those who are more likely to have to defend their positions or outlooks, or to justify their existence’. And again: ‘Perhaps Hatcher is facing some sort of personal re-branding dilemma’.

Of course these smear tactics are designed to encourage the reader to draw the conclusion that I am selling out, abandoning Marxism, as Rikowski goes on to suggest: ‘Hatcher seems to want to undermine not just my own views on New Labour’s education White Paper…but also the version of Marxist analysis to which I am committed, and perhaps to using Marxian analysis in order to grasp developments in capitalist education in toto’. The labelling of opponents within the marxist movement as abandoning marxism is again a familiar tactic, which comes from a peculiarly exclusivist conception of Marxism.

These discursive tactics are unfortunately all too familiar in the socialist movement. They were the stock-in-trade of Stalinism, of course, but few currents of the far left have been immune. I was reminded of my encounters over the years with the Gerry Healy school of debating. Healy was the leader of the Workers Revolutionary Party in Britain and its international affiliates. Rightly described as a political gangster, he was responsible for importing the methods of Stalinism into the Trotskyist movement, to its immense damage. I was not therefore completely surprised to find that Rikowski is a member or a close associate of one of the tiny sects which remain in the Healyite tradition, the ‘Movement for a Socialist Future’, now operating as ‘A World to Win’. His article ‘The Great GATS Buy’ is on the MSF website, he is a founder of its Education Working Group, and he was responsible for inviting the MSF leader Paul Feldman to speak on ‘The theory and practice of state and revolution’ at the Marxism and Education seminar which Rikowski co-organised in October 2005. Feldman has no educational expertise but he is the co-author of a hagiography of Gerry Healy advertised on the MSF website. The MSF continues the Healyite tradition of refusing to work with any other organisations on the far left and denouncing them as non-Marxist - most notably in the case of the Socialist Workers Party, the largest revolutionary Marxist organisation in Britain. Whatever criticisms one might make of the SWP, it has the merit of organising the largest antiwar movement ever seen in Britain. But for the MSF it is literally consciously counter-revolutionary: ‘the SWP acts to ensure that the mass movement doesn’t develop beyond these reformist limitations. This means that the SWP is seeking to ensure that the dynamic potential of what is still mainly spontaneous struggle does not become transformed into a conscious revolutionary aspiration for socialism’ (Phil Sharpe on MSF website).

I make these points in order to demonstrate that the style of political argument in Rikowski’s paper is not simply a personal idiosyncrasy but characteristic of a political tradition. In terms of the political situation we face in education, it is a style which is profoundly politically counter-productive. It deters and poisons debate among socialists at a time when an open and comradely exchange of ideas is vital, and it is an obstacle to achieving collaboration and unity in action at a time when only large-scale political activity, not just academic critiques or tiny grouplets, can hope to develop effective resistance to the neo-liberal offensive.

‘the very gist, the living soul, of Marxism - a concrete analysis of a concrete situation’

I want to deal now with the main substantive points in Rikowski’s paper. At the core is the following statement I made in my initial email:

“Rikowski’s ‘explanation…lies in a ‘logic of capital’ argument – that, in his words, ‘capital’s social universe is a developing totality’. In a general sense this is of course true, but what needs to be added is that it is a mediated process, not one of a linear and reductionist economic determinism, and that therefore the forms it takes in particular social contexts cannot simply be read off, they require concrete analysis of concrete situations.’’

Rikowski develops the following interpretation of my position which is worth quoting at length:

‘Analysing Concrete: Hatcher the Empiricist

Hatcher argued that what is required in order to understand how processes of capitalist development are mediated is ‘concrete analysis of concrete situations’ (Hatcher, 2005b, p.2). Hatcher, in typical fashion, does not explain what he means by this. I would imagine that he has fieldwork research in view, using the types of methods that would generate rich data. Furthermore, the ‘concrete analysis of concrete situations’ sounds as though he is arguing we should be committed to an entirely empiricist programme of research. It is hard to see where the role of theory, or indeed explanation of any kind could come into this project.’

He continues: ‘Hatcher is stuck in the world of the concrete; an educational researcher in a concrete world. In C. Wright Mills’ terms, Hatcher is an abstract empiricist.’

In his enthusiasm to expel me from the terrain of Marxism (and indeed from anything to do with theory) Rikowski has spectacularly missed the point here. My reference was in fact to a well-known quote from Lenin: ‘…that which constitutes the very gist, the living soul, of Marxism - a concrete analysis of a concrete situation’. Ernest Mandel comments as follows:

‘…for Marx, the concrete was both the ‘real starting point’ and the final goal of knowledge, which he saw as an active and practical process; the ‘reproduction of the concrete in the course of thought’. […] a progression from the abstract to the concrete is necessarily preceded, as Lenin put it, by a progression from the concrete to the abstract’ (Late Capitalism p14).

This concrete analysis of concrete situations is the necessary basis for revolutionary (and indeed any political) strategy and tactics. Central to it is a conjunctural analysis of the relationship of forces and the role of the state. Rikowski, I argue, tends to adopt a different method, deriving his political analysis (which typically slides into predictions) by extrapolating from the immanent tendency of capital to expand into all areas of social life. He says ‘For the last ten years or so I have been working within an outlook on the social totality that not only makes reductionism undesirable but unnecessary. In this [i.e. his] view of the social totality (which only makes sense for capitalist society), ‘economic’ and ‘educational’ phenomena (for example) are not separate but are social forms of each other.’ But this is reductionism, because it excludes the political and social dimensions without which one cannot theorise, for example, the different trajectories of the education systems of different capitalist states, or of postwar education reform in Britain. (Cf Marx in Capital vol 3: ‘the same economic base’, because of ‘innumerable different empirical circumstances’, will show ‘infinite variations and gradations in appearance, which can be ascertained only by analysis of the empirically given circumstances’.)

This is how Rikowski defines the issue over which we disagree: ‘…what Hatcher seeks to avoid is that the state in the context of England has a role in developing educational services as instances of the ‘general class of commodities’ or ‘commodities themselves’, as expressed by Marx. This seems to be the key issue dividing Hatcher and myself…’. He has missed the point. Of course the British state is promoting the transformation of some educational services into commodities, but we need to be precise about which. As Rikowski is well aware, I have written on many occasions about ‘the colonisation of government education policy implementation and delivery of national and local educational services by private companies for profit’ (I quote from the last sentence of my article ‘Privatisation and sponsorship: the re-agenting of the school system in England’, in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Education Policy, which Rikowski has read). The actual point at issue is whether, as Rikowski argues, what is in progress is the transformation of schools themselves into direct ‘profit-producing units’. As he says, this is ‘…what I have described as the ‘business takeover of schools’ (Rikowski, 2003b). This is where the state raises the finance for schools but they are run on a contract, either singly or throughout a local education authority, by a company or companies for profit.’ Rikowski again:

‘…the deepening of neoliberalism in the schools system in England is related to opening up processes for the capitalisation of schools, schools as value- and eventually profit-producing units, which can take a number of forms. First, state revenue can be turned into private profit providing the requisite conditions (including the weakening of education trade unions and creating debilitating divisions in the schools’ workforce), models of practice and sufficient regulation and legal frameworks are in place. What is crucial here is that private operators can run schools for less than the price stipulated in the contract they have signed to run them. […] Secondly, a voucher system would provide state revenue that parents could use in attempting to get a school of choice for their children, and businesses could cash these in and turn them into profits. Thirdly, forms of “co-payment” might be instituted in schools where fees play part of the costs of providing educational services.’

I think this analysis is wrong. My own position is expressed in my JEP article: ‘The possible future scenario of the business takeover of schools for profit is real, and a legitimate concern, but it should not be the principal lens through which we analyse the actual developments taking place today, which concern the role of business and other interests as key agents in the transformation of the school system to conform to the government’s agenda…’. The government’s agenda to which I am referring is the function of the school in creating the future workforce as profitable labour-power, which is the explicit rationale of Labour’s education reform programme. Rikowski acknowledges this goal, of course, but his argument is that government aims to achieve this by the handing-over of schools to be run for profit by private companies. This proposition needs to be judged in relation to the empirical data, and in my view the evidence does not support it. Rikowski says that ‘…according to Hatcher (2005b), for-profit schools are not on the agenda anyway [4], so this Marxian educational research and theoretical project is a waste of time.’ No, he’s put the cart before the horse – it is precisely the collective ‘Marxian educational research and theoretical project’ that is needed in order to decide whether for-profit schools are on the agenda or not in specific historical and national contexts.

My position is that the view of British capital is that the most favourable conditions for the production of ‘human capital’ for the economic competitiveness of British capital are best secured by the state directly providing school education. This doesn’t make them any the less capitalist schools, contrary to Rikowski’s remark that ‘Hatcher’s position seems to be [that] only schools turning a profit (appropriated by specific individuals or institutions) can be deemed to be strictly capitalist schools’.

I now want to test the contrasting positions of Rikowski and myself against five issues: Marx’s ‘teaching factory’; the education policy of British capital today; the question of profitability, and two policies of the current Labour government – Academies, and the current White Paper on education.

Marx’s ‘teaching factory’

Rikowki refers to Marx’s statement that in the sphere of education the ‘highest development of capital’ exists when schools are run directly by private capital for profit. Rikowski quotes Marx’s example of a schoolmaster working for the proprietor of a ‘teaching factory’. Rikowski seems to think that this points the way to the schools of the future. But the question which has to be answered is: why did capitalism not take this road? What has actually happened is quite different, and to explain it requires a historical analysis of the social and political determinants of mass non-profit public sector education. This is what I mean by understanding capitalism as ‘a mediated process, not one of a linear and reductionist economic determinism, and that therefore the forms it takes in particular social contexts cannot simply be read off, they require concrete analysis of concrete situations.’ (Rikowski refers to GEMS and Cognita, which run two small niche chains of private schools in Britain, as examples. Does he see this as the future of education?)

The education policy of British capital today

What is big business saying about the school system? Rikowski says the following:

‘Hatcher also says that: 'I see no evidence that big capital has lost faith in the state’s ability to provide its future workforce such that it demands that schools be handed over to the private sector (2005b. p.2).

Yet the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has indeed such worries (CBI, 2005), and you don’t get any ‘bigger’ representatives of ‘big’ capital in the UK than the CBI. As Digby Jones says in the Foreword to the CBI Report (Jones, 2005, p.3):

There have been improvements in education standards in recent years, but we still have a long way to go. Our education system is failing too many young people. Some are effectively unemployable when they leave school … [yet] … where the government has intervened directly using the private sector, standards have improved markedly.

The CBI is concerned that standards in state schools are not good enough; so outsourcing educational services in the schools sector is seen as the way forward.’

Rikowski makes several errors here. First, his interpretation of what I wrote. I didn’t say that employers aren’t critical of education. Of course they are, in particular of standards of basic skills. But are they saying that the solution is ‘that schools be handed over to the private sector’? No, and here Rikowski misreads the CBI report, the purpose of which is not to argue for business running schools but for the outsourcing of more local education authorities to the private sector. This does not entail the outsourcing or ‘business takeover’ of the schools themselves, which are not run by LEAs. Why is the CBI having to say this? Because the government-driven outsourcing of LEAs has stopped, as a result of two factors which mediate and are preventing the expansion of capital into this area. One is the local state: the ability of local government to satisfy the performance criteria which had previously led to nine authorities being contracted-out. The other is the national state: the government’s dissatisfaction with the ability of the existing nine outsourced LEAs to meet the government’s performance critieria – criteria which are determined not by the needs of a few edubusinesses to make a profit but by the need of the state to secure the general conditions for the social production of labour-power in the interests of employers as a whole.

The CBI report significantly makes no mention of private companies running state schools. The two areas of profitable activity envisaged by the CBI are the Children’s Act and Building Schools for the Future. In short, it provides evidence for my position, not Rikowski’s. In my view this is the general consensus among the ruling class in the advanced capitalist countries, and certainly in the EU. In my JEP article I referred to a number of employers’ policy documents. One authoritative voice representing global business interests is the Business and Industry Advisory Committee to the OECD. Its Discussion Paper Raising the Quality of Learning for All (BIAC 2004) was produced for the OECD Meeting of Education Ministers on March 18-19 2004 in Dublin. It says:

‘In our view, Government has the primary responsibility for initial education. Employers and companies contribute by working with Government and educational institutions to provide clear goals for education according to the needs of the market. […]

Business should also share experiences and tools with respect to quality systems and organisations of professionals with education. Of course, schools are not companies, but we are convinced that sharing experiences between business and education can support the development of education systems at large and individual institutions in particular.’

From this point of view the role of the private sector is two-fold: to ensure that government and institutional aims for education correspond to market needs and to provide models for the management of schools and school systems. There is no suggestion that employers’ interests can best be met by the private sector itself taking over the management of state schools.

The question of profitability

Private companies are permitted to run state schools for profit (in the form of a management fee) in England. The first contracting out of a school was in 1998. It was followed shortly after by two other schools (all in the same LEA). The problem for the ‘business takeover’ thesis is how to explain why not a single one has followed suit since then. The answer is this: it isn’t profitable enough, partly because of the insufficient funding of schools, partly because of the risk arising from possible popular opposition. After all, where would the profit come from? Either from a cut in teachers’ salaries (which risks union resistance), or an increase in their productivity through longer hours (but they are already so long that teachers are leaving the profession) or larger classes (which would provoke electoral opposition), or by increasing school funding by raising taxes (which would provoke more opposition). It’s further confirmation of how the undoubted immanent tendency of capital to expand into the public services is mediated, and in this case deterred, by a range of intervening processes, in this case including fiscal, trade union and electoral. (It is significant that even in the United States the percentage of public schools run for profit by Education Management Organisations is tiny. In the school year 2003-4 47 companies were running 417 schools in 24 states and the District of Columbia, and school-for-profit companies have found it very difficult to make a profit.)


In England the most advanced form of business control of state schools is Academies. These are publicly-funded but controlled by private sponsors on a non-profit basis – business entrepreneurs, private companies, charitable and religious organisations. In my JEP article I argue at length that they do not represent a transition to a business takeover for profit: sponsors have to put £2 million into the school, not take money out; in any case the multi-millionaire entrepreneurs and giant companies which are involved have no interest in direct profit-making from running Academies – they have much bigger fish to fry – and it is indicative that none of the edubusiness companies making lots of profits from providing services to the school system have shown any interest in sponsoring Academies.

In an article on the government’s 2005 ‘14-19 White Paper’ (not the current one) in Socialist Teacher about a year ago I wrote

My guess is that the White Paper shows the direction many specialist schools and most academies will take. If business sponsorship is the motor, vocational education is the road it is designed for. The White Paper says that some Specialist Schools will not only be sites for the new vocationalism but will ‘boost vocational provision in an area’ (11.10). The White Paper does not mention academies at all (an interesting omission which I suspect is for tactical reasons, given the delicateness of the academies project), but I would predict that the majority of the new ones in the pipeline (leaving aside those which become neo-grammar schools, and those run by the Church) will be run by business sponsors explicitly to create sectors of the future workforce. In my view the main danger is not a business takeover of schools to make profit from the management fee but a business takeover to train a future profitable workforce.’

Recently some evidence of this development has emerged. In Swindon Honda, the major local employer, is to sponsor an all-through Academy. Honda will provide work-experience and a vocational link. (TES January 13 2006). And In Birmingham in February 2006 7 Academies have been proposed, with the following rationale:

‘This transformation is about the learning experience that young people receive during their secondary schooling. We want there to be many more real life problem solving experiences linked with Birmingham businesses and public sectors. We want the qualifications and skills that pupils develop to be relevant and we want far more of them to leave school with functional literacy, numeracy, and the interpersonal skills and abilities necessary to succeed at work.’

Behind the hype the ‘Birmingham Academies model’ turns out to be a vocational school offering a narrow and low-level work-related curriculum for so-called ‘non-academic’ students. It is putting into practice the policy of the 2005 14-19 White Paper. The function of the Academies is to provide a sector of the future work-force, and employers will be able to pick and choose their own future employees while they are being work-trained at the state’s expense.

The concept of an ideological process of ‘habituation’ does not do justice to what is the direct influence of employers over the ideological, social, cultural and educational formation of the future workforce throughout their secondary schooling.

The new White Paper

Speaking of my paper on the White Paper Rikowski says ‘Hatcher’s blinkered analysis focuses only on how the White Paper advantages middle strata parents and children.’ No it doesn’t. He ignores the second of the two issues I raise :

‘One is more marketisation in the form of breaking up the LEA system into individual competing schools driven by consumer choice by parents and league tables of performance.

The other, extending the experience of specialist schools and Academies, is external sponsors. This is not privatisation on a for-profit basis, it is the further de-socialisation of the school system on a non-profit market basis. (The for-profit elements remain elsewhere, in the provision of goods and services to schools and LEAs and the implementation of national policy initiatives.)’

The White Paper and the Education Act it presages is probably Blair’s last attempt to shape the school system so it serves as something of a litmus test for the ‘business takeover for profit’ thesis. Before it was published Rikowski wrote ‘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.’ (Preface to his ‘Habituation’ paper). Well, as I write there is certainly huge opposition, including nearly 100 Labour MPs opposing the White Paper. But there is no Big Bang. On the contrary, the White Paper specifically excludes the possibility of private interests running state schools for profit, a point which Rikowski misses. He says

‘Hatcher argues that the White Paper does not bear out my ‘prediction’ about schools ‘metamorphosing into units of capital with the capacity to generate value and surplus-value’ as ‘It explicitly rules out companies running state schools for profit’ (2005b, p.1). But does it? As I see it, Hatcher’s assertion has no backup in the White Paper. It is just plain wrong. Nowhere in the White Paper does it say that companies cannot run state schools for profit. Hatcher misleads on this issue, or else my several readings of the White Paper have missed the vital evidence.’

But the White Paper is absolutely explicit about the proposed Trusts which would sponsor schools. ‘Trusts will be not-for-profit organisations.’ ‘All Trusts which hold land and appoint Governors to schools must be charities and will be regulated by the Charity Commission. They will be required to use any income that they receive or generate for their charitable purposes. Trusts cannot receive any income from the schools’ budget.’ It couldn’t be clearer.

If the ‘business takeover for profit’ thesis were right one would expect a huge outcry by business demanding that the White Paper should include for-profit schools. I can find no evidence of this, including in the house magazines of the British bourgeoisie, the Economist and the Financial Times.

Rikowski suggests two ways in which the White Paper’s ‘not for profit’ stance could be by-passed. Both are unconvincing. The first is that the White Paper permits co-payment, i.e. fees. In fact it doesn’t mention them, but the fact is that schools cannot legally charge fees for mainstream provision. Of course for years schools have been asking for donations from parents, and charging for some ‘extended school’ provision, but this is not evidence pointing to any future business takeover. The second is that schools can amass surpluses (i.e. retain unspent state revenue). He calls it ‘the forced accumulation of capital’. Not forced: it is schools being over-cautious about over-spending. And not capital: no investment of these surpluses, no transfer to managers, or signs of business having their eyes on it. It is true that under the 2002 Act schools can set up companies which can make profits, but again the question is: why, with a tiny number of exceptions, haven’t they?

Non-profit sponsorship

The most imaginative section of Rikowski’s paper comprises his interpretation of my position on non-profit sponsorship. It is headed ‘‘Hatcher’s Faith in the Trusts’, and I need to quote from it in some detail in order to demonstrate how completely misguided it is.

‘Those Most Wonderful Sponsors of Schools

Hatcher is most generous to the sponsors of schools. […] He seems to be saying that at one level there is nothing wrong with either them or the money they give; there is no real threat from them regarding a ‘business takeover of schools’. The profits to be made, in their terms, are peanuts. Neither does Hatcher seem to question the motives of these Great Philanthropists. But he does note that these folk are interested in ‘promoting business values’, and towards the end of his paper he argues that for New Labour they will suffuse schools with ‘business management methods and business values’.

‘Hatcher believes they are quite cuddly and to be trusted. Confusedly though, towards the end of his paper he argues that these sponsors (as well as those seeking to make profits out of schools):

…all tend to subordinate schools to business and other private interests and need to be vigorously opposed (and on this of course Glenn and I have no disagreement) (Hatcher, 2005b, pp.3-4).

But Hatcher gives only the vaguest and flimsiest of arguments regarding why we should oppose Those Most Wonderful Sponsors of Schools. If they are as harmless as he had said previously, noble and self-sacrificial even, then what have we to fear?’

‘For Hatcher, there is nothing much to worry about regarding the business takeover of schools; the Trusts are to be run by upstanding charities and religious organisations, and not allowed to make profits; the new independent schools will be non-fee paying; and anyhow, businesses can’t really make much profit out of state schools – so no need to worry. In addition, these sponsors, well: philanthropists, noble do-gooders exercising corporate responsibility. No worries there, then, either.’

Rikowski detects some confusion here. I apparently think the sponsors are harmless, noble, cuddly etc etc … but I also think they should be ‘vigorously opposed’. But the confusion is entirely of Rikowski’s own making. Let me emphasise my position again: ‘…all tend to subordinate schools to business and other private interests and need to be vigorously opposed’ – because their function is to promote in schools ‘business management methods and business values’. What part of this does Rikowski not understand? (And does he realise that ‘corporate social responsibility’ is their term, not mine?)

Of course, his inventive interpretation does enable him to make a particularly personal smear about my supposed ‘re-branding’. Perhaps if Rikowski were more in touch with the actual campaigns taking place against private non-profit sponsorship he would know that I have been heavily involved in campaigning against Academies, including through the National Union of Teachers and the Socialist Teachers Alliance (the principal left tendency within the NUT). I have addressed a number of campaign meetings of parents and teachers around the country, I was one of the organisers of the first national conference of anti-Academy campaigns, organised by Birmingham NUT in October 2005, attended by representatives of a dozen local campaigns, I am one of the founders of the national Anti-Academies Alliance which was set up at the conference, and I am currently occupied with weekly street stalls and leafleting against the seven Academies recently proposed for Birmingham. (Incidentally, he is factually incorrect in saying that most campaigns are led by parents rather than teachers. Two are, but teachers, through their school and district NUT branches, are playing a leading role in the rest.)

The state and revolutionary strategy in education

Why a ‘concrete analysis of concrete situations’ is central to the task of Marxists is because the fundamental issues they face in changing the world are of revolutionary strategy. The characteristic movement of Rikowski’s thought is from Marxist economic analysis of capitalism to radical pedagogy. What tends to be leap-frogged over is the question of revolutionary strategy and the state. A case in point is his article ‘Marx and the Education of the Future’ in Policy Futures in Education, volume 2, Numbers 3 & 4, 2004.

‘What is being advanced here is that an anti-capitalist education needs to drive out the state in contemporary education and banish it to fulfil useful functions such as generating finance for education, setting qualifications and inspections. All this should be done in line with those that should really run the schools: teachers, students, other school workers, parents and workers and others in local communities. If this was attained, the problems with the state clamping down on radical educational experiments – such as the radical work experience programmes advocated by Roger Simon (1983) – would start to ease.’ (p565)

Of course the movement to multiply instances of radical pedagogy is a vital element in revolutionary strategy in education, but the idea that ‘an anti-capitalist education’ can ‘drive out the state in contemporary education’ is both utopian and reformist. It is a culturalist version of Marxism which neglects the central question of revolutionary strategy in relation to the state in favour of critical consciousness-raising through prefigurative pedagogic projects. I don’t want to impute positions to Rikowski which he does not hold, but I think some of the educational texts from which Rikowski seeks support tend to bear out my interpretation. A key one is Paula Allman’s book Revolutionary Social Transformation, the title of which is belied by the book’s exclusive focus on pedagogic transformation and its omission of the entire Marxist experience of revolutionary political struggle beyond that from Luxembourg, Lenin and Trotsky to today, and the central role in it of revolutionary parties. Another point of reference from which Rikowski quotes in his ‘Dentist’s Chair’ paper is John Holloway on the capitalist state. Holloway is the author of a recent book which has given rise to considerable debate among Marxists (see for example http://www.marxsite.com/TheDebate%20on%20Power.htm.) Holloway rejects the traditional Marxist position on the state, as indicated by the title of his book: Change the World Without Taking Power, The Meaning of Revolution Today. I share the view of Phil Hearse (on the marxsite website): ‘In accepting that social relations can be directly transformed simply by the social practices of the oppressed, Holloway abandons the terrain of strategy, and indeed of politics altogether.’ We need the Marx of ‘The Civil War in France’ and the first International – and the strategic orientation in the workers’ movement which has flowed from them – as well as the Marx of ‘Capital’.



Hatcher, R. (2005) Business Sponsorship of Schools: For-profit takeover or agents of neoliberal change? A Reply to Glenn Rikowski’s ‘Habituation of the Nation: School Sponsors as Precursors to the Big Bang?’ 5th November, originally available on Glenn Rikowski’s the Volumizer, posted 7th November, now available at ‘The Flow of Ideas’: Hatcher, R. (2006) A Reply to Rikowski’s ‘In the Dentist’s Chair’, 12th February, first posted to them MASSES e-list, at: http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/MarxSIG/message/623

Rikowski, G. (2005a) Habituation of the Nation: School Sponsors as Precursors to the Big Bang?, 19th October, London, now available at: http://www.flowideas.co.uk/?page=articles&sub=Habituation%20of%20the%20Nation

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 at: http://www.flowideas.co.uk/?page=articles&sub=In%20the%20Dentist's%20Chair

Rikowski, G. (2006) Education Fireworks! 5th November, London, online at: http://www.flowideas.co.uk/?page=articles&sub=Education%20Fireworks

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