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Hidden privatisation in public education

Publication Date: 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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