Flow of Ideas
The Education White Paper and the Marketisation and Capitalisation of the Schools System in England

Part I


Glenn Rikowski, London, 24th October 2005


Introduction

When I was writing The Battle in Seattle: Its Significance for Education (Rikowski, 2001) and also when it was published in March 2001, some people I engaged in conversation believed that I was scaremongering regarding the ‘business takeover of education’, and specifically the takeover of schools that I was talking about in the book. After the book came out I gave a series of papers, presentations and talks on the ‘business takeover of schools’. Whilst some could see that I was presenting arguments and education policy analysis that indicated a fairly long and drawn-out set of processes constituting ‘the business takeover of schools’ (with welcome setbacks and unwelcome surges) in England, others were sceptical for varying reasons.

Some teachers I spoke to during these talks and presentations held faith in New Labour regarding the likely depth and breadth of the ‘business takeover of schools’. They believed that New Labour, at a certain point, would call a halt to the involvement of companies in school life. They thought I was over-exaggerating the threat that companies posed. Some pointed to benefits that business folk could provide: money from sponsorship, payments ‘in kind’, and the status gained by being linked with a successful company, and so on.

When I gave lectures on the business takeover of schools to undergraduate students there was not the amount or depth of opposition that I expected. Indeed, a few students relished the chance to set up their own businesses in schools at some point in their lives!

Finally, in the various talks I did at universities some believed that ‘real’ privatisation of schools, by which they meant that New Labour would sell off many schools to companies who would run them for profit, would never occur as it was ‘difficult to make money out of schools’. My reply was that companies had no interest in actually owning schools; what they wanted was to run them on contracts and make profits out of the difference between contract price and the cost of running the schools. But what they needed most on this scenario was significant numbers of schools so that economies of scale could be made and therefore sufficient state revenue could be transformed into profits out of these operations.

Of course, this does not mean that no opposition to the business takeover of schools has emerged. Some parents groups have successfully campaigned against Academies, for example. There have been a number of protests and conferences around Academies too. Yet since the General Election and over the summer Tony Blair made it clear that he wanted to speed up the ‘modernisation’ process regarding public services. For schools, this means encouraging business interests in the schools’ system in England.

Next week the Education White Paper will be published. Leaks on some of the content of the White Paper have occurred and been written up into articles in The Times. What these articles (Halpin and Webster, 2005; Webster and Halpin, 2005; Pollard, 2005; and Porter, 2005) point towards is a stepping up of the pace of the business takeover of schools. Things are going much faster than I had anticipated. If these articles based on leaks portray an accurate picture of developments then perhaps some might to see that the ‘business takeover of schools’ is attaining more of a social reality. It is hardening into something that is increasingly difficult to deny. Let’s examine what these articles foretell.


Branding Schools with the Sign of Capital

The main articles I want to examine are by Philip Webster and Tony Halpin (2005; and Halpin and Webster, 2005). They herald the following developments flowing from the White Paper:

(1)
“Companies and top head teachers will form rival education “brands” to run groups of secondary schools under government plans for a classroom revolution” (Webster and Halpin, 2005).

“Successful heads will be free to extend their influence to other schools. Companies, charities and fee-paying schools will be encouraged to create “brand” identities that give purpose and pride to groups of comprehensives, particularly in the inner-city areas” (Halpin and Webster, 2005).

This sounds like the introduction, or re-launch of the idea of school federations that was part of Education Act 2002. I explained the tortuous genealogy and aetiology of school federations in England in Silence of the Wolves (Rikowski, 2005, pp.2-10). Charles Clarke, the previous Education Secretary, was not keen on them. But over the summer Tony Blair made a speech singing their praises. This renewed commitment to the school federation concept promises to launch chains of schools run by companies on a significant and expanding scale – something that education services businesses they have wanted for nearly a decade. Rather than a ‘classroom revolution’ we shall see ‘classroom reaction’ as schools are thrown with increasing velocity into the arms of human representatives of capital. This is retro-modernism: the phenomenon of going back to a more primitive, competitive, marketised situation whilst dressing this up as ‘progress’. To ‘modernise’ in the light of the spirit of capital always means going backwards socially, of undoing elements of social progress and closing off paths into realms of freedom, and hence promoting unhappiness. As Marx noted in the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, in the mode of production based on capital: “The goal of the economic system is the unhappiness of society” (Marx, 1844, p.26).

(2)
“Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, aims to create local education markets to increase competitive pressures on state schools to improve standards” (Webster and Halpin, 2005).

Of course, these pressures are very much there already, through the publication of league tables for SATs and GCSEs. However, looked at in terms of the capitalisation of schools (using state revenue to generate value and profits) rather than merely bringing in the increased marketisation of the state schooling system, this development takes on added significance. There has been no shortage of academic comment on ‘education markets’, but there has been little (apart from my own writings and those of a very few others) on education as production and the products of schooling, focusing on the commodities that are produced. Neither has there been much on the relationships between education markets and the generation of education commodities and value. However, perhaps this move by Kelly will force reluctant mainstream academics to face these apparently unpleasant issues. But then again, perhaps not; they may wish to bemoan the marketisation of education one more time without linking this to capitalisation, value production and education commodities as this might lead them into contact with the greatest of all thinkers on these topics: Karl Marx. And that would never do! The research grants and career routes would be threatened, the Economic and Social Research Council would scream. Managers in Schools of Education would despair and try to tempt people away from communist science, pile work on them to stop them from thinking along these lines, or threaten them, marginalise them, or some combination of these stratagems. To avoid following up these issues is to deny possibilities for real knowledge of what is going on. As Marx noted in the Grundrisse (1858, p.672): “The product becomes a commodity, leaves the production phase, only when it is on the market” (original emphasis). Kelly is seeking to further develop the schools market, thereby opening up possibilities for the emergence and consolidation of education commodities. Kelly’s proposals aid the capitalisation of schools; the turning of state revenue into value through the labour of teachers and therefore opening up further possibilities for profit-making (as profit comes from surplus-value). Marx also notes that:

“The more developed the capital … the more extensive the market over which it circulates, which forms the spatial orbit of its circulation, the more does it strive simultaneously for an even greater extension of the market and for greater annihilation of space by time” (1858, p.539).

By creating the conditions for the extension, deepening and intensification of education markets Kelly is aiding the development of capital in the realm of educational services. To demonstrate this would involve a major exploration of the development of the capitalisation of the schools system in England. Here, via Marx, I can only hint at what is necessary for scientific progress in the educational field.

Kelly views parents as the ‘consumers’ that will embody the competitive drive for school improvement in the education markets. However, here she makes fundamental a error: parents are not the consumers of ‘education’, but employers and pupils are (in various ways that I don’t have time to elaborate on here, but which Neil Southwell has explored in a letter to the Times Educational Supplement). The role of parents, vis-à-vis educational services as commodities has yet to be examined, to my knowledge.

(3)
“Local authority controls will be swept away to give rival brands the freedom to respond to “parent power” (Webster and Halpin, 2005).

As Marx (1858) noted, capital attempts to crash through all barriers to its development. Kelly is breaking one of the barriers for the development of educational services as forms of capital: the local education authority (LEA). Indeed, LEAs are viewed as regulators of the new education markets and arbiters of the quality of educational services as commoditised forms (see Halpin and Webster, 2005; and Porter, 2005). Allied with the efforts of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) through its General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) (see Rikowski, 2001), these moves by Kelly to generate vibrant markets in educational services which facilitate the production and sale of educational commodities, reminds me of Marx’s views on the world market:

“The tendency to create the world market is directly given in the concept of capital itself. Every limit appears as a barrier to be overcome” (1858, p.408 – original emphasis).

The LEAs, with their vestigial links to democratic control of local schools, just have to go. They are a ‘barrier to be overcome’ in the development of world-wide markets in educational services. Because of this, education commodities, the growth of the capitalisation of schools and the generation of value, surplus-value and profits from state schools are all being nurtured by Kelly. As noted in Rikowski (2001), New Labour wants to develop successful education companies and companies with the capacity to generate value from educational services before a stronger GATS Agreement comes into force. The GATS has stalled at the WTO in recent years, giving New Labour and other nation states a bit of breathing space in their race to throw up educational services companies capable of competing on the world stage.

Yet even within the Labour Party, the New Labour sect has problems in convincing people. As Halpin and Webster (2005) note:

“But the proposal to establish local education markets threatens a showdown with many Labour MPs, who will see it as further evidence of Mr Blair’s desire to open up public services to private providers. Labour councils will also be hostile to the move to break up their education empires and relegate them to an advisory role.”

In The Sunday Times today, it has become clear that John Prescott, Deputy Prime Minister, and one of Blair’s few convincing links (though God only knows why he convinces) with its working class supporters, is against the plan to rip schools out of LEA control (see Porter, 2005). The ITV News today showed the Cabinet holding a meeting on the topic – days before the publication of the White Paper.

Hope in these Labour MPs and John Prescott is not a sound emotional investment. They have let so much through regarding the development of schools’ markets and the commodification of educational services in this country, that only a little watering-down, delay and tinkering with the wording of the White Paper can be expected. These people abandoned serious politics years ago. Trust them to do anything much? Keep your illusions!


References

Halpin, T. & Webster, P. (2005) Labour councils will resent loss of empires, The Times, 17th October, p.4.

Marx, K. (1844) [1977] Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844. Moscow: Progress Publishers.

Marx, K. (1858) [1973] Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy (Rough Draft). Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Pollard, S. (2005) By the right, quick march … to square one, The Times, 18th October, p.23.

Porter, A. (2005) Prescott revolt over school plan, The Sunday Times, 23rd October, p.1.

Rikowski, G. (2001) The Battle in Seattle: Its Significance for Education, London: Tufnell Press.

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.

Webster, P. & Halpin, T. (2005) Schools boot out bureaucrats to win pupils to new brands, The Times, 17th October, p.4.



The Education White Paper and the Marketisation and Capitalisation of the Schools System in England

Part II

Preface: This is the second part of the previous entry. Together they exceeded the 25,000 character limit that pertains for individual entries to this journal [i.e. the Volumizer].

Glenn Rikowski, London, 24th October 2005


(4)
“Brands will be held accountable for the performance of all schools within their group. Parents will be able to lobby for new providers to take over the management of schools if they are dissatisfied with standards” (Webster and Halpin, 2005).

Of course, this ‘power to lobby’ may be only an intermediate stage. As Stephen Pollard (2005) points out, parents need to be given real financial power through education vouchers. If they are dissatisfied they can take their children and the money hanging over their heads elsewhere. Pollard is disgusted with New Labour for not taking this step, but there is no doubt what New Labour plans in the White paper will make things much easier for the Tories to do so when they get into power.


(5)
“Individual schools [will be] free to design [their] own curriculum” (Webster and Halpin, 2005).

This proposal is perhaps the most surprising. It certainly fits in with the new school brands with their federations ‘designing their own products’ and not being forced to ‘sell’ versions of the National Curriculum curricula services. Yet such product differentiation will make it harder for parents to judge the relative merits of schools.

This is risky also in the sense that teachers and those (even parents) wanting education for liberation, social progress and a socialist future may be able to design curricula with these ends in view. Those interested in equality, the critique and surpassing of the current form of society and truly empowering young people might welcome this proposal. No doubt the Office for Standards in Education will be charged (informally) for reporting on and rooting out this kind of thing.

Yet New Labour is banking on parents being reactionary, conservative, fearful for their offspring, selfish, self-centred, competitive, conformist and ultimately hopeless and pathetic. They want parents to be obsessively interested only in the standards of the school their kids are going to, the performance of their children and the capabilities of their teachers. They seem to want parents to be a kind of teachers’ watchdog, with both alienated from each other (teacher and parents) in the process. They may be surprised on this score too. It is parents, not trade unions that are leading the most successful struggles against the business takeover of schools. Parents may also become watchdogs in relation to the companies running school federations and individual schools, something they might not like.


No Conclusion, No Let-up, No Rest

The White Paper seems to throw up many risks for New Labour’s strategy for aiding the business takeover of schools. What is clear is that those who still hold that there is no New Labour agenda for the ‘business takeover of schools’ now have a lot of explaining (away) to do. In the past, I have always been on the defensive, positing developments that can be wilfully misinterpreted as something other than they are. Illusions have been easier to hold; objections to my case easier to sustain. The White Paper, on the basis of the leaks to The Times, will add to the warnings I have given regarding the business takeover of schools for the last six years.

The nature of these warnings can also be wilfully misinterpreted. I am not defending state education as it is a capitalist state that is doing the educating. Old fashioned Marxists will defend state education as a matter of principle without bothering too much about the nature of the state as form of capital. This might not even mean that much to them.

What I am concerned with more is what the business takeover of schools says about the development of capital and our whole way of life; it deepens and strengthens a particular form of social life. This form of social life is literally killing us and the planet. The business takeover of schools indicates the ‘way the world is going’ – with sheer horror on the horizon of this particular path in terms of the social constitution of the human, prospects for human life and (remembering Marx’s quote of 1844 above) for human happiness.


References

Halpin, T. & Webster, P. (2005) Labour councils will resent loss of empires, The Times, 17th October, p.4.

Marx, K. (1844) [1977] Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, Moscow: Progress Publishers.

Marx, K. (1858) [1973] Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy (Rough Draft). Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Pollard, S. (2005) By the right, quick march … to square one, The Times, 18th October, p.23.

Porter, A. (2005) Prescott revolt over school plan, The Sunday Times, 23rd October, p.1.

Rikowski, G. (2001) The Battle in Seattle: ItsSignificance for Education, London: Tufnell Press.

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.

Webster, P. & Halpin, T. (2005) Schools boot out bureaucrats to win pupils to new brands, The Times, 17th October, p.4.

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