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Hidden privatisation in public education

Posted: 2010-02-01

Education International commissioned Dr. Stephen Ball and Dr. Deborah Youdell from London University Institute of Education to research and prepare a report on privatisation in education. They studied educational privatisation in Australia, New Zealand, England, the United
States, Canada, France, Germany, India and other countries. Dr Youdell presented a keynote address on their research to the 2008 National TAFE Council AGM and the AEU Federal Conference. This is an edited version of her speech.

from The Australian TAFE Teacher, Autumn 2008

There are a range of policy tendencies which

can be understood as forms of privatisation

that are evident in the education agendas of

diverse national governments and international

agencies. Some of these forms are explicitly named

as privatisation but in many cases privatisation

remains hidden, whether as a consequence of

educational reform, or as a means of pursuing

such reform.

Forms of Privatisation

In some instances, forms of privatisation are

pursued explicitly as effective solutions to the

perceived inadequacies of public service education.

In many cases, however, the stated goals of policy

are articulated in terms of âchoiceâ, âaccountabilityâ,

âdevolutionâ or âeffectivenessâ. Such policies often

are not articulated in terms of privatisation but

nonetheless draw on techniques and values from

the private sector, introduce private sector participation

and/or have the effect of making public

education more like a business. Hence, we refer to

hidden privatisation.

It is important to recognise that privatisation is

a policy tool, not a simple 'giving-up' by the state

of the capacity to manage social problems and

respond to social needs. It is part of an ensemble

for innovations, organisational changes, new

relationships and social partnerships, all of which

play their part in the re-working of the state itself.

In this context, the re-working of education lends

legitimacy to the concept of education as an object

of profit, provided in a form which is contractable

and saleable.

These tendencies towards privatisation are

having major influences, in different ways, on public

education systems in countries across the globe.

'Endogenous' and 'Exogenous' Privatisation

From our research it is clear that there are two

key forms of privatisation: privatisation in public

education, and privatisation of education:

⢠Privatisation in Public Education or Endogenous

privatisation: the importing of ideas,

techniques and practices from the private

sector in order to make the public sector more

like businesses and more business-like.

⢠Privatisation of Public Education or Exogenous

privatisation: the opening up of public education

services to private sector participation on

a for-profit basis and using the private sector

to design, manage or deliver aspects of public


Even where privatisation involves the direct use of

private companies to deliver education services,

this is often not publicly well known or understood.

It is not simply education and education

services that are subject to forms of privatisation:

education policy itself â through advice, consultation,

research, evaluations and forms of influence

â is being privatised. Private sector organisations

and NGOs are increasing involved in both policy

development and policy implementation.

The sorts of practices introduced by Endogenous

Privatisation include:


⢠Performance Management


⢠Performance Related Pay

⢠The Manager and New Public Management

Exogenous Privatisation introduces practices

such as:

⢠Public Education for Private Profit

⢠Private Sector Supply of Education: contracting

out services

⢠Private Sector Supply of Education: contracting

out schools

⢠Public Private Partnerships

⢠International Capital Commercialisation or


⢠Philanthropy, Subsidy, Aid*

These tendencies might be seen as simply an unintentional

international policy drift towards greater

levels and more diverse forms of privatisation in

and of public services. Certainly highly influential

western governments and international organisations

such as UNESCO and the World Bank actively

promote privatisation as desirable and necessary

for their own economic prosperity as well as for

the development of the worldâs poorer nations.

Indeed, various forms of privatisation are identified

as keys to achieving the education targets of the

Millennium Development Goals and Education for

All. That is, privatisation is written into the processes

of establishing universal education in the

worl'âs poorest nations.

It appears that as interested parties intentionally

escalate and export privatisation tendencies,

these become increasingly 'common sense' or

orthodoxy. They are taken up as 'default' policies.

The overall trend which privileges privatisation as a

public policy is clearly the result of deliberate promotion

and advocacy by key actors and agencies.

Transforming Labour Relations

Forms of privatisation in education have provoked

a re-working of labour relations and conditions

of employment. This brings with it concomitant

constraints on the role of education unions and

undermines collective bargaining and employment

agreements. It creates the conditions where performance-

related contracts of employment and pay

can be introduced, contracts can be made more

flexible personnel without teaching qualification,

on lower pay and soft contracts can be brought

in. Individualised contracts, performance-related

pay, flexible contracts and the mix of qualified

and other teaching personnel. These factors come

together to differentiate teachers both inside

education systems and even inside individual


Student to output asset or liability

Markets and competition also create economies of

student worth in which students are deemed to be

desirable, or not, on the basis of whether they are

perceived to be an asset or liability in relation to

the performance benchmarks to which institutions

must aspire.

In such local economies of student worth

those students who are seen as having high levels

of academic âabilityâ and as being easy to manage

and teach are highly valued and sought after by

institutions. Conversely, those students who are

perceived as being of lower academic âabilityâ, or

have special needs, or are perceived as presenting

behavioural challenges, or who are recent

immigrants with additional language needs are

avoided. Where these judgements influence access,

they are one aspect of social segregation between

institutions and the homogenisation of student

populations inside them.

Where institutions continue to be relatively

mixed, the judgement of the value of students

in terms of performance indicators continues to

influence practices. Institutions sort, select and

unevenly allocate resources to students in attempts

to maximise overall performance. This has been

described as âeducational triageâ where the safe,

the treatable and the hopeless are differentiated

and unevenly treated (see Gillborn and Youdell


These processes, driven by the demands of the

education market, mark a shift from all students

being perceived as learners to a narrow conception

of the student and learner defined in terms of

external performance indicators.

Educational inequalities

One of the most frequent findings from studies of

marketised education systems is that institutions

that are most successful in terms of published

market information (test scores etc) have skewed

or unrepresentative student populations. As these

assessments of which students will serve the

institution best in the marketplace are inflected by

assumptions about the intersections of class, race,

ethnicity and gender with âabilityâ, these selection

processes can also lead to segregation and

homogenisation of populations.

As some institutions secure a desired student

population and strong position in the market,

others become residualised, with an under-supply

of students, and an over-representation of those

who have been rejected by or selected out of the

higher status, higher performing schools, colleges

or universities. These circumstances lock such

institutions into cycles of poor performance and

student and educator attrition.

Markets and the demand for institutions to

compete against each other have, in many contexts,

seen increased outputs at the performance

indicator benchmark. But these patterns of overall

improvement have masked growing gaps between

the most advantaged socio-economic groups and

the least advantaged groups as well as between

ethnic majorities and particular minority ethnic


Transformation of education from a public

good to a private commodity

Policy accounts of education matched to the needs

of employment and the economy â a human

capital approach â argue that this benefits

society as a whole by creating a strong economy

as well as individual wealth, but it is difficult to see

this in practice

These approaches make education a âcommodityâ

owned by and benefiting the individual rather

than a public good that benefits the society as a

whole. This conceptual shift changes fundamentally

what it means for a society to educate its citizens.


These are not just technical changes in the way

in which education is delivered. Privatisation

tendencies provide a new language, a new set of

values, incentives and disciplines and a new set of

roles, positions and identities within which what it

means to be a teacher, student/learner, or parent,

are all changed.

Privatisation in its multiple forms is being

taken up globally. Certain forms of privatisation,

such as choice and per-capita funding, have paved

the way for further privatisation tendencies such as

the use of published performance indicators; the

use of for-profit organisations is playing a greater

and greater part in education design and delivery;

âentryâ into privatisation is now taking endogenous

and exogenous forms; and much privatisation in

and of education remains hidden.

And in many contexts privatisation in and of

education are already entrenched and the 'good

sense' of the market is so widely accepted that

moves to privatise sections of public education are

openly argued by policy makers and often achieve

widespread support.

In this context, education unions have a profoundly

important role to play in identifying these

tendencies and informing the profession and the

public about their effects. I hope our work is able

to contribute to these efforts. â

* For an in-depth discussion of these practices see

the preliminary report Hidden Privatisation in

Public Education.

For the full text of Dr Deborah Youdellâs address

go to www.aeufederal.org.au and follow the

link to 2008 AEU Annual Federal Conference.

To download the preliminary report Hidden

Privatisation in Public Education go to

http://www.ei-ie.org/researchcentre/en/studies.htm .

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