The exploitation of teachers

      No Comments on The exploitation of teachers
7 min read

In this series of blogs, I have shown that, as a result of the Education Reform Act 1988, the school system has effectively been privatised. This is not been a simple matter of withdrawing public funding from schools and allowing them to operate as independents within a free market. It is quite difficult to see this process, privatisation is obscured, it is difficult to see the existence of markets or the production of commodities. Indeed, when I imagine a market, I recall the Saturday market in East Retford where I grew up, where produce and goods were bought and sold, it was visible and tangible. School privatisation (and it might be by design) is obfuscated. It is understandable, therefore, that when the idea that schools have been privatised is suggested, it is contested in some quarters, because it is not easy to see the exchange of goods, services and money. Still a valid case can be made as I set out previously.

Yet the consequences of privatisation can be predicted, and the conditions of our system evaluated. In my last blog, I looked at the expansion of two Multi Academy Trusts (MATs), in terms of increasing capital, and I explained that capital, in a freemarket, necessarily has to be accumulated. But I will be developing this further in future blogs when I consider the conditions and consequences vis-à-vis teacher workload, pedagogy and practice, professional development, the recruitment and retention of teachers, scholarship and research, school culture and school improvement.

In this blog I will look at the labour processes within the privatised school system and will show how privatisation – as the private capitalisation of schools – leads to the undermining of teachers’ pay and conditions. But before looking at the exploitation argument, I want to restate my position about the privatisation of schools, but in a slightly different way. Hopefully to clarify, summarise and substantiate my argument in previous blogs. From this I develop an analysis of how teachers are necessarily exploited.

The components of privatisation are: the exchange of goods and services for money, and that businesses or enterprises employ capital for production of commodities or the delivery of services. In a state-owned or public system of schooling there are no markets, the national community pools resources to fund schools. The processes by which this service is defined and regulated is through democratic oversight. In a privatised system the rationale is different, a quasi-market is established and what were treated as resources. in the public system, becomes capital. In public systems resources fund provision, in a privatised system capital is used to produce or provide commodities. The delivery of knowledge commodities is a fundamental aspect of school privatisation, as I discussed previously.

In the privatised school system, the school can be considered as the means of production, or more precisely as a means of providing service and adding value. The following process – where Marx probably had a factory in mind – explains how surplus-value is generated by adding value to the component parts. The role of the teacher in a privatised school system is to add value, through instruction, by the transmission of knowledge: knowledge as a commodity [1].

The transformation of a sum of money into means of production and labour-power is the first phase of the movement undergone by the quantum of value which is going to function as capital. It takes place in the market in the sphere of circulation. The second phase of the movement, the process of production, is complete as soon as the means of production have been converted into commodities whose value exceeds that of their component parts, and therefore contains the capital originally advanced plus a surplus-value (Marx, 1981, p. 709).

In terms of labour, surplus-value is the additional work an individual has to do beyond that which they need to survive. In a state-owned public school, the value of labour is set by the state after having engaged in collective bargaining with the teaching unions. The cost of running schools is therefore the cost of teacher labour, support staff, resources and the maintenance of buildings and equipment. In a publicly-owned system any additional work done by the teacher is for the public good. In a privatised system any extra work becomes surplus-value and is given over to the capitalist enterprise in order to generate further capital. When the education system is privatised, it becomes capitalised, the laws of capital come into play – that is, there is a need for capital accumulation by the capitalised school enterprise:

… through capital surplus value is made, and from surplus value more capital. But the accumulation of capital presupposes surplus value; surplus value presupposes capitalistic production; capitalistic production presupposes the pre-existence of considerable masses of capital and of labour power in the hands of producers of commodities (Marx, 1981, p. 873).

As a result of privatisation, teachers are under pressure to create surplus-value; there are constant pressures to accumulate capital and so teachers work harder, for longer, they have to be more productive and at reduced levels of pay, unless teachers collectively protect their pay and conditions. These underlying forces are obscured, the extra commitment required of teachers is usually justified in terms of raising standards. The altruism and public-spirited ideals of teachers are exploited to ensure that surplus-value is being increased. This is not to paint headteachers and MAT CEOs as personally avaricious, but once located outside of the public realm, the nature of capital and capitalisation does its work and turns public and community service into the perverse system of inequality and exploitation as described by Marx.

What Marx demonstrated was that if a capitalist system is left unchecked, and to run its course, capital becomes concentrated, i.e. the wealthy become wealthier. But those working in the system become progressively poorer and exploited. When this idea is translated to public services in neoliberal reforms, the workforce becomes increasingly exploited. In the last four blogs I have presented an analysis of the effects of school policy, beginning with privatisation through the Education Reform Act (1988), then looking at the commodification of knowledge, followed by the capitalisation of schools. I have now completed this analysis, drawing on Marx, and show how this leads to a negative impact on teachers’ pay and conditions. In the next blog I will consider the extent to which this is borne out in reality.


1. As I pointed out in previous blogs, this is a reductive view of the situation to point out underlying forces and does not reflect the wider commitment demonstrated by the profession.


Ball, S. J. (2004). Education for Sale! The Commodification of Everything? The Annual Education Lecture 2004. King’s College, London. Retrieved from
Marx, K. (1981). Capital: a critique of political economy. (D. Fernbach, Trans.) (Vol. 1). London ; New York, N.Y: Penguin Books in association with New Left Review.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *