Ever since the Lisbon Summit of 2000, the dominant conception of European education has been scaled down to the point where it is seen mainly as an instrument of economic policy. From time to time, other voices qualify this main idea: education systems should ensure ‘the personal, social and professional fulfilment of all citizens’ while ‘promoting democratic values, social cohesion, active citizenship and intercultural dialogue.’ (European Council 2012b: 393/5). But for the most part the ‘primary role’ of education and training as the ‘main engine of growth and competitiveness’ is not in question; nor is the ‘essential role that investments in human capital play in terms of an economy recovery based on job creation’ (European Council 2013:1).
This paper was presented to the European Conference on Educational Research, Vienna 2009. The course of educational reform in England has been broader, deeper...
Under the new British government, marketisation and privatisation in the school system takes two forms. First, all schools will be able to become Academies: they gain more freedom over the curriculum and admissions and more control over staff because, being under private school legislation, they are not bound by national or local union agreements on pay and conditions. Secondly alternative providers - private organisations and groups of parents and teachers – will be allowed to open up so-called ‘free schools’, again outside local authorities and funded by government.
In the global neo-liberal education policy market England has been both a major importer, especially from the United States, and an influential exporter of policy to the rest of the world. Now, in the context of the run-up to a general election in Britain, probably in May 2010, the Conservatives have unleashed a set of bold proposals for radically increased autonomy for schools. It is impossible to predict whether the Conservatives, led by David Cameron, will replace Labour under Gordon Brown as the next government. Their lead is small and there may be a hung Parliament, so it is also impossible to predict what agenda for education will emerge, but Conservative ideas are shaping the current debate in England, may continue to do so whatever the outcome of the election, and may also influence policy in other countries.
Education was a thread amongst the many issues up for debate during the European Social Forum in London. One specific seminar claimed that “Another School Is Possible”. Ealing National Union of Teachers branch has sponsored the participation of US education-activist Bob Peterson at this session, and its secretary Nick Grant interviewed him about his work.
Since the end of the 80’s, the European education systems have been submitted to an unceasing flow of criticism and reforms: decentralisation, growing autonomy of the schools, deregulation of the programs, more attention to skills and less attention to knowledge, diverse partnerships between education and industry, massive introduction of Information and Communication Technology, fast development of private, for profit education. The resemblance between the education policies of various European — and more generally, industrialised — countries is far too strong to be a matter of chance or the caprice of some education ministers or pedagogic searchers. There have to be mighty common determinants and political forces, which sustain this common education policy.
This is a longer version of the paper presented in Beijing and Dublin in 2005
The two main ideas of this paper are, firstly, that the material, economic circumstances push the education systems in advanced capitalist countries towards marketisation; and secondly that we should understand this concept of marketisation in a broad sense: marketisation means not only privatisation, transforming education into a new market; it means also adapting narrowly education to the present, very specific, demands of labour markets; and it means using education systems as an instrument to stimulate some markets, especially the ICT-markets. The paper is essentially based on the study of national reform programs in European countries and on reports published by international organizations like OECD, World Bank and the European Commission.
“Schools are important to everyone, and it has recently become a high-stakes game for that very reason. How much is that business worth ? I doubt we’ll ever be able to answer that question fully. But we’re going to continue to be very aggressive and proactive in getting our share of the school business” (Molnar, p 71). Ten years have passed since David Van Houten, vice-president of Coca-Cola Enterprises, made this frank declaration. And when you read Alex Molnar’s last book, School Commercialism, it seems that he delivered the goods.
If you allow me, before speaking actually about GATS and privatization of education, I would like to begin with giving some historical and economic background of the problem. In my opinion this is essential to measure the specificity and the dangerousness of the present offensive of markets on education.
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