The English young people’s author Philip Pullman wrote about the purpose and nature of education in an article for The Guardian of January 22 2005. His poetic assertion was that, “True education flowers at the point when delight falls in love with responsibility.”
Pullman was describing the false methods of teaching literacy that have become common in UK schools, which elevate the grammar of English above the motivations and impact of language use, why humans want to communicate with each other and what it is they desire to share observations about. The social delight in what a person is trying to say to another, and the dialogue it starts, should be the starting point. The responsibility to analyse if and how this succeeds, so that we can remember and advance our collective skill, comes next.
After all we don’t give a baby a dictionary and await its first essay or lecture! Learning will happen if we are responsible in this way about the things that delight us.
This is a potent phrase to bear in mind when we survey the global place of education in 2006. Much learning is far from delightful. It is often mechanical, pointless and disenchanting. For some it is an unattainable luxury. For millions it is often simply absent, non-existent, unknown.
There is also great irresponsibility, exploitation even, in education’s funding, administration and purpose where it does exist. Like every other commodity education is provided at a price paid either directly by its consumer as fees or indirectly through taxation. Increasingly, in the twenty-first century, education takes the form of global edubusiness run by edupreneurs as part of the investment by capital in service economies.
Pre-packaged learning materials, imposed curricula and rigid, micro-managed schemes of work characterise a learning process which is passive, lacks dialogue, and intimidates creativity and discovery. Teaching becomes mere “delivery”. In this sense the delight is with the end product as profits or accumulated credits not learning or knowledge for their own sake. Profiteering from learning is a cold reality for some, an offensive contradiction to others.
We all now live in a global economy characterised as one of neoliberal capitalism, or simply, neoliberalism. From north to south and east to west this system thinks and acts with local and historical variants but core contemporary similarities. Neoliberalism, we are repeatedly told, is the only game in town!
Yet according to the Global Campaign for Education in 2005:
“… over million girls and 40 million boys are still out of school worldwide. The first Millennium Development Goal – equal numbers of girls as boys attending school by 2005 – has already been missed, and according to UNICEF, 9 million more girls than boys are left out of school every year. To give every girl and boy a decent primary education by 2015, recent rates of progress need to double in South Asia and quadruple in Africa.” (GCE p3)
The significance of girls’ continuing non-education is that evidence gathered over thirty years shows that educating women is the single most powerful weapon against malnutrition; even more effective than improving food supply. Without universal primary education, the other goals – stopping AIDs, halving the poverty figures, ending hunger and child death – won’t happen.
“ For less than 5.5bn dollars more per year, we could provide a quality, free education to every child, and unlock the full power of education to beat poverty. This amounts to less than two and a half days’ global military spending. For the price of just one of the cruise missiles dropped on Baghdad, 100 schools could be built in Africa.” (GCE p.4)
Whether or not ‘western’ aid is quite the simple solution implied by the GCE here, poorer countries and regions are undeniably in a double-bind. They have to weather both their historic disadvantages and the contemporary ubiquity of neoliberalism.
North American geographer David Harvey’s Brief History of Neoliberalism defines his subject as;
“… in the first instance a theory of political economic practices that proposes that human well-being can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterised by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade.” (p.2)
Harvey is particularly explicit about the relationship between the market and the state.
“The state has to guarantee, for example, the quality and integrity of money. It must also set up those military, defence, police, and legal structures and functions required to secure private property rights and to guarantee, by force if need be, the proper functioning of markets. Furthermore, if markets do not exist (in areas such as land, water, education, health care, social security, or environmental pollution) then they must be created, by state action if necessary. But beyond these tasks the state must not interfere.” (p.2)
Not only have nations with differing political formations embraced neoliberalism from China to New Zealand, South Africa to Sweden, and Chile to the USA, but its apologists also occupy positions of strategic policy influence in the university corridors, media studios, banking halls and corporate boardrooms of every metropolis. Key international finance institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation (WTO) are dominated by its advocates. Indeed, neoliberalism has become;
“the common-sense way many of us interpret, live in and understand the world.” (p.3.)
This is similar to the sense in which Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci wrote about “common-sense”, the collective but fragmentary and shifting “folklore of philosophy” which, on historical analysis, is in fact the product of ideological struggle, a war of attrition, a battle of ideas between vested interests of business, church, state, workers’ movements and parties, and prey to more systematic and coherent thought. (Gramsci p.323-43, 419-25)
Gramsci’s work was popularised amongst English-speaking progressives following the first translation of The Prison Notebooks in the early 1970s, when such other key texts as Lukacs’ History and Class Consciousness and Volosinov’s Marxism and the Philosophy of Language also made an impact in their first translations. This gives us a clue as to neoliberalism’s proliferation.
The transition, from youthful British Communist Party members or fellow-travellers of that period, to current UK Cabinet apologists for rampant US imperialism, in the shape of Jack Straw, John Reid, Patricia Hewitt – most notably in her days as head of the National Council for Civil Liberties, now re-named Liberty – Hilary Benn and Charles Clarke, not to mention Peter Hain’s even more radical pedigree leading the militant sorties of the Anti-Apartheid Movement, has thankfully not been followed by everyone!
But a political problem for the remaining left has arisen because the rhetoric of liberation has been carried with these rightward moving figures to sell a completely different kettle of fish. It’s not just that Iraq’s invasion and occupation are pitched to us in terms of freedom and democracy, but the ideology of neoliberalism in education policy is now being touted as the radical solution to historic under-achievement of “deprived” – like US Democrats they’re not allowed to say “working-class” – communities. Perhaps we should remember the warning of ex-agent Philip Agee in his 1977 exposure CIA Diary:Inside the Company, that any political organisation containing the word “freedom” can be presumed to be a CIA front!
This perversion of terminology has two effects. Firstly, it reduces the friction within the immediate confines of the UK Labour Party whose increasingly few foot-soldiers really don’t want to ask too many questions of a leader who has delivered them three consecutive governments.
Secondly, and more importantly, it confuses attempts amongst wider forces to identify precisely what level of neoliberalism we’re dealing with when tackling Labour policies. We have seen Specialist Schools, City Academies, and now, in debate around the 2006 Education and Inspections Bill, the enhanced Foundation status – more commonly but not legally referred to as ‘Trusts’ – planned for our secondary institutions. Then there are the incorporated higher and further education institutions, typified by a greater encroachment of vocationally-directed training rather than learning, with even top professorships sponsored by some laughably inappropriate brands such as Shell or Microsoft.
Such inversions of common-sense truths and language are almost naturally apparent from the southern hemisphere. Looking north to neoliberalism’s strongholds Uruguyan Eduardo Galeano sees clearly that:
“ “Developing countries” is the name that experts use to designate countries trampled by someone else’s development. According to the United Nations, developing countries send developed countries ten times as much money through unequal trade and financial relations as they receive through foreign aid.
In international relations, “foreign aid” is what they call the little tax that vice pays virtue. Foreign aid is generally distributed in ways that confirm injustice, rarely in ways that counter it. In 1995, black Africa suffered 75 percent of the world’s AIDs cases but received 3 percent of the funds spent by international organisations on AIDs prevention.” (Galeano p.37)
This wonderful catalogue of neoliberal absurdities, Upside Down: A Primer For A Looking Glass World, also asks:
“In the jungle, do they call the habit of devouring the weakest, the “law of
From the point of view of sick people, what’s the meaning of a “healthy
Weapons sales are good news for the economy. Are they also good news for those who end up dead?” (p.115)
Neoliberalism’s apparent triumph, then, as the common-sense of the C21st, hopes to shape not only the means by which wealth is created and disbursed but also the relations between those creating this wealth. As Harvey notes;
“In so far as neoliberalism values market exchange as ‘an ethic in itself, capable of acting as a guide to all human action, and substituting for all previously held ethical beliefs’, it emphasises the significance of contractual relations in the marketplace. It holds that the social good will be maximised by maximising the reach and frequency of market transactions, and it seeks to bring all human action into the domain of the market.” (p.3)
In a gruesome anecdote this was well illustrated in the week beginning March 13 2006 at Northwick Park hospital in Harrow, north-west London. Six young men who had volunteered to trial a brand new drug for a payment of around £2000 each became swiftly and critically ill with unpredicted major side-effects including massive swellings of bodily organs and features. Two remained unconscious a week later, though the other four took five days to regain consciousness.
Fundamental questions were being asked about the safety and methodology of such testing. Why, for example, were the six inoculated simultaneously?
Thus the particular private firm conducting the trials and the medical establishment generally were bracing themselves for a public revolt against such tests and a shortage of future triallists. After all, the scandalous mass trials of a fictional tuberculosis drug Dypraxa on unknowing Africans had formed the dramatic core of John le Carre’s popular 2001 novel The Constant Gardener and its prize-winning film version in 2005.
But far from it. Applications to take part in such tests tripled during the week, because it seems that the UK population hadn’t realised the level of payment for so doing! More specifically the UK student population, drowning in debt from fees and bank loans, woke up to the possibility of fast bucks.
So, returning to our focus on education, something as innocent as delight in learning, or the joy of play, can only confront the neoliberalist as a challenge or threat, something to commodify, to turn from an intrinsic good into a saleable good, giving it a price and exchanging it for private gain. This privatisation of value confronts the common wealth of peoples, expressed in terms of their spaces and places, resources and rituals, history and culture in all their signs and meanings, as an alien modernity.
But these inversions of common-sense, and dog-eat-dog ethics, have stemmed from the largely economic facts of neoliberal life, not pre-dated them. Harvey traces for us when, where and how its predominance was achieved.
Financially key was the ‘Volcker shock’ of 1979, marking a watershed between a period of post-Second World war Keynesianism orthodoxy (full employment but high inflation) and a period since of monetarist then neoliberal orthodoxy. Paul Volcker was chairman of the US Federal Reserve Bank under President Jimmy Carter. Volcker’s move to raise the nominal rate of interest overnight in October triggered a long deep recession that would put millions out of work, neuter trade unions, initiate the dismantling of welfare states and put debtor nations on the brink of insolvency.
Politically key were the twin ogres Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher who revelled in tax and budget cuts, deregulation and confrontation. The PATCO air traffic controllers defeat by Reagan in 1981 and Thatcher’s more protracted defeat of the miners by 1986 became testaments to this hegemony. Energy, transport and telecommunications industries were asset-stripped and sold-off, media operations were legally unshackled and re-born as competing new kids on the block up against a handful of world-wide corporate daddies. The US Federal minimum wage, equal to the poverty level in 1980, was 30% below that level by 1990. US corporate taxes were reduced dramatically and in 1985 top personal taxes were slashed from 70 to 28%!
Also significant to the neoliberal strategy was a new kind of imperialism epitomised by the structural adjustment programmes forced on most poor countries by US banks via the World Bank or the IMF. These were a kind of arms-length, or, in a different sense, arms-free imperialism. Control and subjugation was effected not by occupation and repression by aggressor bodies of armed men but by financial loans from banks, themselves awash with petro-dollars invested by the oil-producing mega-rich states, on condition that any indigenous state services or nationalised industries were opened up to privatisation and control by western – usually North American – businesses.
Whether it is Zambia’s copper industry, Tanzania’s water supply, Ghana’s schools or the continental fight for affordable drugs to fight malaria, most of Africa seems to have been subject to this process since the 1980s, reversing or smashing the political hopes born of the flight by force or consent of traditional Euro-imperialists since the 1960s.
The US had finessed this strategy in its dealings with central American nations such as Nicaragua and Cuba in earlier phases of the C20th, using local strongmen like Somoza and Batista to run US-friendly political operations whilst keeping the locals quiet. Its fiscal stranglehold on Europe was enshrined with the post-war Marshall Plan, insisting on an easy ride for US products in markets whose infrastructures were systematically restored with dollars and a geopolitical Iron Curtain policed by military bases. Any number of client regimes are now in place around the world prepared to do the US President’s bidding.
Yet, of course, the return of traditional methods of imperialist power – such as the occupation and repression in Iraq – caused by the relentless international competition for the accumulation of capital first described by Bukharin ninety years ago has spelt such insecurity and crisis that we do not yet know the outcome of.
Proponents of neoliberalism claim that ‘private is better than public’, that ‘competition improves standards’, that privatisation and other liberalising policies and processes nationally and globally improve productivity and efficiency. To take one example of such claims, the World Bank, one of the main global ‘levers’ for privatisation, has proclaimed in respect of education that:
“The virtues of the private sector, especially compared to the
public system, include: (a) internal efficiency and management
almost no waste, lean organizational chart, better decision-
making flow, less discontinuity of administration, agility in crisis solution, better students/teacher ratio; (b) flexibility to hire/fire teachers, determine their salaries according to market values and cost levels; and (c) flexibility to adapt quicker to labour market needs and thus change curricula … Private institutions are often accused of getting excess profits and paying inadequate attention to quality … although there has never been a systematic demonstration of their existence.” (World Bank, 1991, p. 69)
Wrong! In challenging the efficiency of neoliberalism in actually doing what it claims to do by way of reviving the rate of profit, and thereby improving the wealth of all through a “trickle-down” process, Callinicos (p.22-4) draws on work from the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Its comparison of the pre-and-post Volcker decades, using several indicators such as growth of income per person, life expectancy and infant mortality rates, suggests that neoliberalism isn’t actually delivering the goods!
Callinicos borrows this table for illustration of annual economic growth rates across key world regions.
|East and South-East Asia||6.8||7.5|
Specifically on education and literacy the CEPR analysis claims that since the advent of neoliberalism, “The rate of growth of primary, secondary, and tertiary (post-secondary) school enrolment was slower for most groups of countries… By almost every measure of education, including literacy rates, the middle and poorer performing groups saw less rapid progress in the period of globalisation than in the prior two decades. The rate of growth of public spending in education, as a share of GDP, also slowed across all groups of countries.”
Yet, as Callinicos continues to explain, the IMF and others within the so-called ‘Washington consensus’ claim that it will take neoliberalism to go much further to achieve its lasting benefits, not return to a more regulated and paternalistic form of capitalism characteristic of the pre-Volcker era, or even, as Callinicos would prefer, for the very overthrow of capitalism itself. The danger for Washington is the political and military over-reach that is currently being practiced in the Middle East. Meanwhile, as an anti-war placard described it on a protest march through Santa Barbara, California early in 2003 – “Ain’t shit trickled down yet!”
A Political Economy of Education
Canadian academic Alan Sears has produced an analysis for that nation under a title that gives us a graphic idea of what neoliberalism means for education. Re-Tooling The Mind Factory: Education In A Lean State maps the ways in which publicly-funded Canadian institutions have seen their staffing downgraded and over-worked, their resource costs subject to lowest-price tender and their intake of students prioritised on ability-to-pay criteria, not necessarily academic aptitude, and industrial relations polarised.
“Lean production is based on three key principles: the elimination of “waste” associated with older mass production methods; the introduction of new forms of workplace organisation and labour discipline; and the polarisation of the workforce….Individual employers have selected from these strategies and used them with varying degrees of success in the face of different levels of resistance.” (Sears p.7)
UK education workers will certainly recognise the point about polarised workforces. Whilst strike days are a lamentably low reflection of conscious resistance presently, the incidence of stress-related sickness levels in education, indeed sickness levels generally, is symptomatic of workplace attrition. 1 in 5 UK workers reported stress-related ill health for a Health & Safety Executive study in 2004-5, with education and health workers registering higher than average incident rates. Bullying is increasingly the orthodox management method, not a deviant aberration. Incessant performance micro-management and target-setting are the stuff of persistent headaches if not waking nightmares. It’s the same for kids in respect of governmental Standard Assessment Tests. Bed wetting, loss of appetite and docility amongst kids are reported by more and more parents of primary age children.
In Sears’ chapter on ‘Children of the Market’, he highlights this simultaneous inter-relation of a “commercialised enterprise orientation and hardline disciplinary approach” in its impact on students.
“The reorientation of education towards the market is often couched in the language of choice, innovation and relevance. Yet it is integrally connected to a new disciplinary regime that emphasises compulsion, uniformity and retrenchment.” (p.191)
Whilst the idea of education as a factory process may seem alien to someone for whom a single classroom or building is a sign of real progress this is nevertheless an unpalatable truth of what has been outlined above, whereby the state withdraws from many aspects of the economy and slims down its sphere of operations, in favour of market relations.
And the idea of a mind factory, when factories are more associated with the manufacturing process of goods transformed from raw materials, than a means of life-dependent learning, gives us a clue to the ruthlessness with which all aspects of life under capitalism can be exploited.
“…modern childhood could be seen as inherently subversive in an era of lean production, a current of radical resistance to rationalisation. It is a barrier to intensification in the workplace (particularly of women’s labour) and an ideological obstacle to the generalisation of the lean ethos. Education reform aims to constrain childhood and to develop a more instrumental and rationalised approach to young age.” (Sears p.194)
Drawing on the pedagogic writings of German dramatist Berthold Brecht Sears maintains an illuminating riff on the theatrical nature of education in his chapter entitled ‘Learning Freedom’.
“Most importantly, this requires that learners take an active role. Students in a classroom resemble a traditional theatre audience in that both are cast in the role of passive recipients of knowledge emanating from the front of the room. Brecht sought to create a new form of epic theatre that would challenge the audience to analyse. (p248)
“The student arrives at the classroom door as a human being who needs to know, play, explore and feel. Yet once she or he crosses that threshold, her or his own need to know is subordinated to someone else’s idea of what she or he needs to know. The potential for joyful, self-active education is radically reduced by the asceticism of the classroom.”(p252)
“The most obvious spaces for Brechtian pedagogy are those associated with movements for social change. This is important as these spaces often use the classroom model in the educational activities.”
So whilst, infuriatingly, “active learning” – which Sears goes on to promote – has become incorporated in the UK as yet another stick with which the serried ranks of school improvement commissars beat beleaguered teachers, there is great value here in his re-assertion that the very ground of teaching is such a vibrant ideological battlefield.
Sears does not go as far as Scottish writer Pat Kane in elaborating a complete and somewhat anarchistic “Play Ethic”, in contradistinction to a “Work Ethic”, but he probably shares some of Kane’s conviction that:
“Play can only really flourish, whether at the level of the body or the body politic, if an appropriate level of security and sustainability can be guaranteed. A society where small ads now appear in newspapers for chemical-proof bunkers or anthrax-detection kits; where citizens walk the streets in surgical masks to protect themselves from the season’s lethal infection; where national leaders carefully orchestrate war fever against disobedient client states in order to tide them over to the next plebiscite…. No, this is not a society that could readily support the vision of the play ethic: a vision that presumes mutual reciprocation, acceptance of difference and otherness, an open commons of resources and information.” (Kane p.353)
Both authors echo the prescriptions Gramsci sought to grapple with from his Fascist prison cell seventy years ago.
“ The common school…should aim to insert young men and women into social activity after bringing them to a certain level of maturity, of capacity for intellectual and practical creativity, and an autonomy of orientation and initiative.” (p30)
Though many of his other ruminations are too locally specific to Catholic inter-war Italy the generalisations are worth re-stating.
“The advent of the common school means the beginning of new relations between intellectual and industrial work, not only in the school but in the whole of social life. The comprehensive principle will therefore be reflected in all the organisms of culture, transforming them and giving them a new content.”(p33)
So how does our most ideal child-centred and social justice model of education fare in the cold light of day?
UK educationalist Dave Hill does exemplary work plotting the particular contours of neoliberalism in the sphere of education. One particular essay is of absolute relevance to this paper, and will form a major shaping influence here.Though his commissions and approach are often concerned with the plight of education workers – their pay, conditions, forms of exploitation – as opposed to the accessibility by students of educational opportunities, his analyses are generic to both points of view.
Hill notes that education is a key aspect of recent changes in the way that a capitalist world economy produces profit for its beneficiaries.
“ As the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) observes, ‘services are coming to dominate the economic activities of countries at virtually every stage of development’ (ICC, 1999, p. 1). The ICC then draws the conclusion – a contested conclusion – that this makes ‘services trade liberalization a necessity for the integration of the world economy’ (1999, p.1).
Another development, Hill charts, is the declining profitability of capital – the crisis of capital accumulation. This crisis has resulted in intensification of competition between capitals, between national and between transnational capitals and corporations. He notes general agreement among Marxists that ‘the pressure on nations to liberalize services at the national level can be seen, therefore, as a response to the declining profitability of manufacture’
(Beckmann & Cooper, 2004).
Globalisation is not a qualitatively new phenomenon but a tendency
which has always been integral to capitalism’s growth. Within the classical Marxist literature there is clear recognition of the relevance of Marx’s account expressed in the Communist Manifesto, and later developed as theories of imperialism, that globalisation is the predictable outcome of capitalism’s expansionary tendencies, evident since its emergence as a viable form of society.
This crisis of capital accumulation has led to the intensification of the progressing global immiseration of workers, and the intensification
of control of populations by ideological and repressive forces, not least of which has been focussed on Iraq and Palestine.
The major aspects of neoliberalism impacting on education policies identified by Hill include:
- the importation of ‘new public managerialism’
- a fiscal regime of cuts in publicly funded education services at all levels
- commercialisation of and within schools
- the charging of fees
- outsourcing of services to privately owned companies
- privatisation and ownership of schools and colleges by private corporations.
All this is often done by legislation which, contradictorily, both deregulates at the level of structure and governance but centralises at the level of content and outcomes. Thus, for example, the infamous ‘No Child Left Behind’ laws rushed through in the wake of 9/11 by the Bush administration in the USA in 2001 heralded the first time that there had been federal directives of achievement targets and associated financial penalties in respect of state or county level schooling. As Mike Flugennock’s brilliant cartoon summarises below, the USA education system for the Bush regime is all about preparation for a life as an obedient consumer not as an active citizen.
In the UK a government ‘Green Paper’ entitled ‘Every Child Matters’ in 2003 preceded a Children Act in 2004 which amalgamated previously discrete local school, social and welfare services, and subjected them to a centralised funding stream, whilst claiming that each ‘extended school’ in every community will represent a delegated packaging of those services – as well as health, careers and consumer rights – to the benefit of all.
But Hill reminds us that national and international legal frameworks are developing to ensure international accessibility to the privatised market in educational services. One salient area is employment policy: attacks on and downwards pressures on workers’ rights and conditions, their pensions and on trade union rights
Hill outlines three schematic plans of capitalist interest in education.
The first plan of capital is to produce and reproduce a work force and citizenry and set of consumers fit for capital.
“This has two functions, an ideological function and a labour-training function. These comprise socially producing labour-power for capitalist enterprises. This is people’s capacity to labour – their skills and attitudes, together with their ideological compliance and suitability for capital – as workers, citizens and consumers.”
The second plan is to smooth the way for direct profiteering from education. It is about how capital wants to make direct profits from education.
“So, in some countries, ‘core’ teaching services are privatised – the school/college itself becomes privately owned. Or its ‘peripheral services’ are privatised both within institutions (services such as catering, security, reprographics) and nationally. Examples are student fees or loans for staying on at school in England, or for attending community colleges in the United States, being run by private corporations rather than by the local or national state.”
Privatisation of schools, the growth of the private sector in schooling
and further education, and the setting up of nationally-owned or foreign-owned or franchised chains of schools is happening in a number of countries. The growth of this private sector is occurring in developed states, but it is occurring on a larger scale in developing and less-developed states, forced on often unwilling governments by the ‘restructuring’ demands made by multinational banking and finance agencies, such as the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation, as described earlier.
Hill’s third plan of capital is a series of national capitalist plans for domestically based national or multinational edubusinesses operating globally. These are clearly of most significance and threat to those highly-indebted poorer nations of the world lacking the tax-raising powers and stable civil service required to fund and administer education (and other) services publicly.
“ With a worldwide education industry valued at $2 trillion
annually (UNESCO, 2000, p.16), ‘it is not surprising that many investors and “edupreneurs” are anxious to seize the opportunities to access this untapped gold mine’ (Shugarensky & Davidson-Harden, 2003, p. 323).”
It is not just national edubusinesses that are involved – it is large multi-activity national and global capitalist companies (Mahoney et al, 2003; Rikowski, 2005).”
The interaction between and relative importance of Hill’s three plans will vary around the world. Whether it is most important to make direct profits or to secure an appropriate workforce and body of consumers for capitalist goods, will depend on local historical factors, not least the relationship of certain nations to the trading, industrial and military power blocks, and the degree of organised resistance.
for the UK …
With respect to the United Kingdom, for example, Richard Hatcher from the University of Central England comments that as the export value of manufacturing, farming and some service industries declines, the government’s policy is that Britain should become a market leader in exporting a new international business: privatised services. Hatcher suggests that the British government’s intention may be to foster and promote the private education industry until it is strong enough to compete internationally. He further suggests that the attempt to develop ‘a world class education system’ is not for the benefit of our children but to maintain businesses in the future (Hatcher, 2001).
The Centre for Public Services’ booklet of 2003, Mortgaging Our Children’s Future (Hall, 2003), analyses the various policies and initiatives under way in secondary schools in England and Wales.
For example, the UK government matches every £50,000 that any secondary school can get committed by a private sponsor to establish itself as a Specialist School. This is meant to encourage a diversified provision of schools offering greater choice to parents, but in reality most schools continue a broad and balanced curriculum whilst grateful for the finance to employ a few more staff. About two-thirds of English schools have done so. The ‘Excellence in Cities’ programme encourages federations of schools to come together around particularly successful ones.
Local education authority services (such as maintenance and building, architects and surveyors, health and safety, finance, personnel services), are more and more ‘out-sourced’. The Private Finance Initiative (PFI) has replaced direct public investment with private investment in new building projects, whereby the Local Authority sets itself up as an arms-length body sharing the investment risk with developers, who retain ownership of the resultant buildings and lease them back for school use. It is now common for these private partners to sell on their assets for substantial rewards.
The UK Building Schools for the Future programme is a nationally administered and funded programme for programmes of regeneration and replacement of schools. But the projects are expected to be done on a PFI basis and to include at least one City Academy proposal.
The City Academies are the most contentious and radical move yet made by the UK government towards the liberalisation of educational provision at secondary level. For a promise of £2M – rarely actually paid – any business entrepreneur can attain ownership of a school, its staff, land and equipment, run it outside national pay and conditions regulations, and shape its own curriculum. The government’s target is for 200 such CAs by 2010, 17 of which were up and running at the end of 2004. Because City Academies are only answerable to the DfES in Whitehall and not their respective Local Authorities central government willsoon become the single biggest education direct provider in the UK. Remember this every time a Labour MP talks about giving powers back to local communities!
Some of them are scandalously ineffective with an ethos of fundamental Christianity. Others have cheated their way to apparent academic success by inventing courses which are claimed to have parity with normative General Certificates of Secondary Education, but which are a dumbed-down version thereof. One or two are actually providing stable, effective learning where it was previously absent. But the fundamental political message of the government, that private sponsors know best how to provide for especially and historically deprived communities’ educational needs, has just not been proven and has to be opposed. These schools should be brought back into local authority control.
This is being exacerbated as I write in the British Parliament as an Education and Inspections Bill, which is expected to become law by November 2006, is debated. Its most contentious element is the right of state-funded schools to establish a ‘foundation’ to govern them, comprising private individuals drawn from the business, charity, faith or other sectors, and who would assume full control of that school or group of schools. As one MP described it these schools will be “Academy-lite”, given private management without the suitor having to even lay down the deposit asked of Academy sponsors.
But it becomes a debilitating tactical mistake by its opponents to accuse the government of simple privatisation. That is just not true.
As a whole these measures could be seen as means of ‘softening up’ the education service to business control. Rikowski even suggests that any degree of private involvement acts as a ‘profit virus’ – that once it is infected by private company involvement, then it will inevitably become liable to the regulations of the General Agreement for Trade in Services (GATS), and open up to free trade in services by national and by multinational and foreign capital (Rikowski, 2003, 2005; see also Hill, 2005b).
This is a misleading analysis simply because the element of privatisation is ideological or symbolic rather than actual. It is important to state that entities such as Specialist Schools and City Academies remain publicly funded, despite becoming privately managed or controlled. They are not fee-charging, voucher-receiving or able to generate profits by the core provision of education, even if peripheral profits may, nevertheless, be generated by the sale or development of land or the extensive use of premises for non-educational functions. The fact that City Academies disburse their public funds on private services providing stationery, equipment, personnel or food services does not distinguish them from any other school.
So what do their sponsors gain if not profits?
Individual and corporate figures benefit in other ways from their apparent altruism in putting money into these schools, in much the same way as certain crazy people sink millions in to football clubs. The scandal currently revealing that a number of City Academy sponsors have been offered honours in return for large loans to the ruling Labour Party prior to the last UK general election is part of the answer. So it is best to see the investment by private sources in the government’s various education reforms, as akin to the funds that any sizeable company would write off as marketing and publicity costs, or even research and development. It’s more about self-branding than profit-accumulation.
In addition, the Confederation of British Industry in the UK has expressed frustration with the progress of privatisation of services on a local authority level there. By 2005 only 9 out of 104 had been handed over to private groups such as Capita, Amey, Nord Anglia, Serco and CEA. In its analysis entitled The Business of Education Improvement of February 2005 it bemoans the fact that:
“The failure to develop the market beyond the initial intervention process stemmed, in part, from the apparent stigma associated with public-private partnerships. There was also an underestimation of the cultural and political resistance from local authorities to a change in their role from providers to commissioners of services.” (CBI p.21)
We shouldn’t get smug or vain about this evidence of a current cul-de-sac for CBI companies, largely because many of the spectacular failures such as Atkins in Southwark, south London, were more of their own making than as a result of popular revolt. Other failures have also been despite, not because of, local political support from ruling councils. However, it is true that the political complexion of many more local authorities beyond these nine has been sufficiently sceptical to go down the CBI’s preferred road. Some authorities such as Harrow in north-west London are defiantly pro-comprehensive school and pro-public service.
The fightback against City Academies specifically has been more vibrant even though too many are still getting started without locals really knowing. The industrial response from trade unions has been better. For example, the National Union of Teacher’s anti-City Academies Campaigning website is publicly accessible and very useful to anyone wishing to start a campaign. UNISON has produced some devastating critiques of PFI. Such opposition has become a major lever in the growing fissures between the TUC and the Labour Party. Put at it most stark trade unionists ask themselves why they pay affiliate fees to an outfit that lengthens their hours, diminishes their rights, reduces their pay or puts them on the dole.
Yet even blatant moves to make school and college courses more vocationally relevant are a con because you simply do not need many skills to stack shelves in a superstore or warehouse, or even work in a call centre or retail outlet – especially if immigrant workers will do the job at cut-price wages anyway. None of the new 14-19 Diplomas reach anything like the equivalent apprenticeships once provided for still sorely needed skills in, for example, plumbing, electrics, and building more generally. The UK’s major employers scrapped these at Margaret Thatcher and Norman Tebbit’s behest during 1986 when the Conservatives introduced the long-gone New Technical and Vocational Educational Initiative (NTVEI). In that one fell swoop UK capital passed on to the public purse the costs and responsibilities of core trade skills provision.
Teacher, trade unionist and writer Martin Allen contends that:
“ Firstly, there’s no evidence that the vocational education courses that have become established in English schools at 16 plus (now 14 plus) which I’ve taught for the last 10 years contribute anything at all to ‘employability’ in a technical sense or even that employers take them seriously. I think they’ve been used for ‘control’ purposes. Also in an era of mass participation at post-16, they’ve been used to divide learners and reinstitute class divisions within and between schools and colleges. I think that this is essential because of the collapse of traditional manual/non manual divisions in the occupational structure.
Also, I’d argue that a major problem for advanced capitalist countries, is ‘over education’ rather than lack of skills. In other words these societies are ‘credential’ or ‘certified’ societies. Because of the collapse of real employment opportunities for young people and because the YTS schemes of the 1970s/80s produced ‘training without jobs’ many kids have stayed in education, even gone into HE, for purely instrumental reasons. Yet, as employment opportunities become increasingly polarised, more and more qualifications secure less and less. So graduates downsize into routine work. Those aiming for routine work get pushed into fast food etc. Some post-colonial, ‘third world’ countries have also suffered from this process as their education systems have expanded faster than their economies (Zimbabwe in the1980s for example) but it’s mostly a ‘first world’ contradiction.”
Thus Hatcher’s conclusion is much more accurate and empirical. The education business sector is still a tiny part of the British economy and the traditional capitalist interest remains as the production of human capital, not the profitability of the edubusiness sector. The increasing emphasis on competition and choice has also brought with it a ‘hidden curriculum’ of marketisation. (Whitty 2000) It’s about students being made to know their place and their eventual market price.
Education retains as its prime function for UK PLC the ideological and political preparation of (mainly) young people for the wider neoliberal world. Why else do issues about school uniform and dress codes (most vividly coalescing around the hoodie and hijab debates), student behaviour generally, quality of food, extending the working day, the role of faith groups in management and the drive to dumb-down curricula at all levels all remain such hot potatoes in discussion about schooling’s purpose and provision from nursery to university?
The social democratic tears over the plight of inner-city deprivation are shed out of fear of lumpen revolt not genuine provision of educational rights for their own sake. You only have to ask why the government refuses to take the one single simple step which could improve education for all in schools, and which would have teachers, parents and kids united in applause; guarantee a class size limit by law at 24 – or less. Cuban schools, for all that nation’s dire problems with housing, transport, food, incomes and security, manage to educate kids in classes of 20, often with two qualified teachers on hand. Even Scottish schools are instigating a 20 maximum figure for Key stage 3 maths and English next year. But Labour has not tolerated the economic implication, even in the context of a falling gross number of kids in the coming decade, of reducing the base unit number by 20% from 30 to 24 per class. More staff and buildings would be required for all kids. Instead Labour spins their showroom City Academies, delivering to a minority, as excellence for all…and very questionable at that.
…and for the World
The predominant focus above on the northern hemisphere serves to highlight the sophisticated machinations that neoliberalism has to resort to in justifying its project of marketising public services. For all the well-documented reasons to do with histories of colonialism, culminating most notably in Africa’s case with Walter Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, southern hemispheric aspects of this question are both more stark and more urgent.
It would appear that the relative importance of direct profit-taking by capital is already more significant in many highly-indebted and poor nations.
“ Current worldwide spending in education is ‘estimated at around 2,000 billion dollars … more than global automotive sales’ (Santos, 2004, p. 17). According to Santos, ‘capital growth in education has been exponential, showing one of the highest earning rates of the market: £1000 invested in 1996 generated £3405 four years later’
(Santos, 2004, pp. 17-18, cited in Delgado-Ramos and Saxe-
Fernandez, 2005). Santos continues, ‘that is an increased
value of 240%, while the London Stock Exchange valorization rate accounted on the same period for 65%. Other 2004 data indicate that, current commercialised education, incomplete as it is, already generates around $365 billion in profits worldwide’ (Hill 2004, pp. 17-18).”
These are indeed remarkable prognostications which will no doubt be common knowledge amongst traders on the world’s stock exchanges. For those of us at the most elemental level of defending or establishing universal access to a minimal level of social provision as of right, this could be quite frightening news.
Indeed, Hill asserts that;
“Pardíñaz-Solís (1997) points out the impact of the different histories of the three states of North America – in particular the corporatist history of the state and education policy in Mexico, which, unlike the USA, has state-mandated textbooks and a national curriculum (with some variation between the regions of Mexico). However, he also draws attention to the similarities between policies in the three states, and suggests that, despite very different histories and state ideologies in the past, neoliberal trends in policy are continuing apace in Mexico..”
Yet in a number of states governments simply request private companies to fill the gaps where publicly built and staffed/equipped schooling does not exist. Hill notes that;
“ Private schools have mushroomed at all levels, from pre-school to postgraduate studies. There are an estimated 56,000 private institutions currently operating in Pakistan, providing education to about 6 million students (Government of Pakistan, 2004). The government has resolved to increase private-school enrolment from 15% to 40% by 2010 under the Education Sector Reforms project, which is being funded by all major donors, including the World Bank (Government of Pakistan, 2002,p. 34). In other countries, such as Haiti, public provision is of such poor quality that the effect is the same – effective schooling is left to private companies – some not-for-profit (such as some religious schools), others very much ‘for profit’. Increasingly, for example in Latin America, the profits from ‘for-profit’ schools flow not only to ‘national’ corporations, but also to United States chains and brands of schools.”
One aspect of this profit-taking is commercialisation in education, both in ideological awareness – encouraging private (individual/family) decision-making in place of political and professional judgements, fostering the belief that the private-sector approach is superior to that traditionally adopted in the public sector – and in concrete terms.
Alex Molnar’s Commercialisation in Education Research Unit in the Education Department of the University of Arizona seems literally as if it is an oasis of North American critical thinking. For example, his latest and sixth No Student Left Unsold examines eight types of school commercialism, with most showing a year-on-year increase (Molnar et al, 2004).
- corporate sponsorship of school programmes of study and whole schools; e.g. in universities the corporate professorship
- exclusive agreements – agreements giving marketers exclusive
rights to sell a product or a service on school or district grounds; e.g. Channel One TV in a quarter of USA classrooms
- incentives – the use of commercial products or services as rewards for achieving an academic goal;
- appropriation of space – the selling of naming rights or advertising space on school premises or property;
- corporately sponsored educational materials;
- actual privatisation – the private ownership of publicly-funded schools and/or their services
- semi-privatisation with private management of publicly-funded schools, often as public ‘charter’ schools,
- private for-profit school involvement in voucher programmes.
As for the impact of some of these developments in the USA, in schools or the other environments frequented by kids, I wrote in ‘Hands Off Our Schools’ (Grant 2004) that;
“ The St. Louis Zoo houses the Monsanto Insectarium and the Anheuser-Busch Hippo Harbor. In Boston’s Science Museum, the exhibitions are giant structures built from Lego and K’Nex toys. The children’s hospital at University of California Los Angeles was renamed Mattel’s Children’s Hospital, and Hasbro’s got an equivalent on the East Coast. Indeed, almost anywhere one finds children, there are attempts to market to them, whether it’s at doctor’s offices or nature centers. The jewel in the marketers’ crown of commercial infiltration has been the nation’s public schools.
Channel One has an audience in schools second only to that of the ratings topping annual Super Bowl. The ten-minute daily news bulletin of typically tabloid values is accompanied by two minutes of ads. Contracted to around a quarter of US middle and secondary schools in return for their use of video monitors and equipment, marketers have as near as they will ever get to a captive audience. Any other form of ads can be declined, but not if you are sat at your desk watching a monitor with no sound control to silence its messages, selling the usual junk food, soft drinks, toys, video games.” (p.30)
As for vouchers, they are an ultimate free market mechanism for organising publicly-funded education. Schools receive no direct state funding but are wholly dependent on parents who do. With pseudo-cash in hand parents can kick-off a bidding war between schools, whose strengths become as much to do with their marketing expertise as pedagogic qualities. Schools are unable to plan ahead never knowing whether the fee-replacement cheque will actually arrive.
Though once a kite flown by Margaret Thatcher’s in-house guru Sir Keith Joseph in UK during the early 1980s, the practical chaos which a full-blown voucher system would create has meant that it has remained only for isolated examples in North and South America to persist. One simple problem is that for feckless or desperately poor recipients of a voucher, its potential as counterfeit collateral with creditors is immense. Many very poor kids simply wouldn’t get to school because the vouchers had disappeared into the hands of loan sharks or regular thugs, even with the most rigorous of safeguards!
Nevertheless, pressures mount to take education in this direction. Hill notes that the General Agreement for Trade in Services (GATS) coming out of the WTO is a major global lever towards this goal.
“Grieshaber-Otto & Sanger (2002) argue that the discourse of the GATS serves as a major potential force in essentially enshrining or entrenching neoliberal educational policies. It sets out supranational and binding legal mechanisms and serves to act as an enforcer for the ‘corporate rights’ of private education providers. As Shugurensky & Davidson-Harden (2003,p. 322) point out, ‘these agreements represent an intensified stage of the neoliberal agenda for education, as it plays out in the global arena in forms of regional and local policy and practice’.
Also promoting the cause of ‘free trade’ are organisations such as the International Chamber of Commerce and the Institute of Directors in Britain, the European Round Table (ERT) and multinational organisations such as the Partnership for Educational Revitalisation in the Americas (PREAL), which, in its own words, ‘is a partnership of public and private organizations’ (PREAL, 2004).
The World Bank, international monetary credit rating agencies and the Organisation for Economic and Cultural Development (OECD) are also significant bodies. In addition, there are regional free-trade agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), the Common Market of the South (MERCOSUR) and the European Union (EU).
But they are not all going unopposed. One plan was the so-called Bolkestein Directive, the EU’s draft services directive seeking to open up trade in services. The draft directive sought to expose almost all services to market-based competition. Though public-education services were specifically excluded, the draft directive would have applied to ‘peripheral’ services supplied to schools and, like the GATS, it was unclear where the line between public and private services would be drawn.
Under the ‘country of origin’ principle, a company providing services
would follow the rules and laws of the country in which it was based or
‘established’, rather than the country in which the service was provided. An education multinational from the United States could, for example,
‘establish’ itself in Latvia, simply by registering its presence there. It would then be able to trade in the rest of the EU, such as Britain, whilst conforming only to Latvian law on matters such as health and safety, employees’ rights or environmental protection. Latvia, not the country where the service was provided, would be expected to send inspectors to ensure compliance with its laws.
Critics say the draft directive would encourage ‘social dumping’ since
companies would have an incentive to opt for establishment in the least
regulated EU member requiring the lowest standards. The directive ‘would have been quite a blow to national level regulation, as it would tend to make services available in the least regulated way, rather than bringing all services operators up to best standards’ (Malins, 2005).
Current EU Internal Market Commissioner, Charlie McCreevy, says he is committed to re-introducing the directive in some form during his five-year term, which ends in 2009. With 70% of economic activity in Europe being in services, ‘you don’t have to have a degree in economics to know that if you can open up the services market you’re going to have an impact on economic activity and we need increased economic activity in the EU’ (McCreevy, cited in McLauchlin 2005). However, concerted pressures from organisations affiliated to Education International, culminating in a European-wide trade union protest in Strasbourg on 14 February 2006, did much to take the sting out of this plan.
Some Conclusions: What Is To Be Learned?
We see established publicly-funded education services on local, national, regional and international levels being asset-stripped with the assistance of their state governments in favour of privately-owned interests providing either complete educational systems or at least many of the supporting services and management.
Nevertheless, the overwhelming provision is publicly-funded and its prime function remains ideological and political, shaping the hopes and fears of renewable generations of workers, skilling them to no more than an adequate level for their exploitation on the turbulent labour markets.
In respect of those nations and regions of the world which have not developed sufficient sovereign state funding for such public services already, whilst wanting to nurture their economies and well-being so as to survive at all in the modern world, we must also attend to the strategies necessary there.
What needs to be learned?
How should it be taught?
How should it be provided?
To be continued as Part Two
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