Apparently there are too many PhD students

There have been some conversations in the University, I understand, that there are too many graduate students competing for too few academic jobs. There was some discussion also that we should reduce the number of graduate students. While the first statement might be true, I take issue with the second.

Globally, there might be finite resources and funding for academic work. Certainly in England, I suspect (I am not going to look at the data just now) investment in academic work has probably diminished over the last 40 years. If it has not diminished, then the source of that funding has increasingly come from private sources – whether that be applied research for industry and business or debt-funded undergraduate study. Higher education, in England, is a competitive market. This, I believe, is the source of the pressure. Whether that be the result of tightened funding or consequence of the business/corporate market language is immaterial. The issue is, then, the question of whether there is too much demand from people to do scholarly work. Should we be placing a limit on access to research degrees?

I think not.

As each moment passes, each day, as each year, decade or century passes, we create for ourselves a more complex world – a more complicated world. Our capacity for sophistication holds no bounds. Yet, we also create for ourselves considerable problems. The Enlightenment held for us so much promise. With our minds, we had an unlimited capacity to develop technology and prove ourselves masters of nature. The Enlightenment also gave us the belief that we would be able to solve rationally, moral conundrums. However, we have been repeatedly humbled by nature. If we think about the twentieth century, humanity experienced the most violent century in history. The horror and the destruction were way beyond the experience of being violently consumed by a predator. This was violence on a man-made industrial scale and was not designed with quick dispatch in mind. It was constructed withe cruel and horrific vision.

We do need scholarship – active/activist scholarship – that can help us address the complex problems that humanity faces. These problems while they exist in the chaos of nature are the product of human reason. There is something intuitive about nature’s chaos, as living beings, we can cope with the unknowable and the uncertain. I was saying to the trainee mathematics teachers on Friday, each of us as individuals, has a surface with an almost infinite area. The contact between each of us and our environments is infinite – or approaching infinity, to be more mathematically precise. There is an infinite exchange of data. If we were to remove our cerebrum – the part of the brain responsible for rational thought – then using our limbic brain we could continue to live our lives. We can cope – and we have to cope – without the power of reason, because there is simply too much to reason about.

Antonio Damasio’s book Descartes’ Error begins with the story of Phineas P. Gage, who suffered a life changing accident while at work in the summer of 1848. Gage was a 25-year-old construction foreman. He was working in the construction of the railroad in Vermont. As they blasted through rock to allow the railroad to proceed on a straight course, Gage was setting charge. At four-thirty on a hot afternoon, he put powder and a fuse in a hole. He was distracted momentarily and began tamping down the charge before the man helping him had had chance to cover it with sand. Gage was tamping down the powder directly with an iron bar. The iron bar as it struck the rock caused a spark. The explosion is considerable. The iron bar enters Gage’s left cheek pierces the base of his skull goes through the front of his brain and exits from the top of his head at high velocity. The iron rod apparently was found more than a hundred feet away, covered in blood and brain matter.

What was surprising was that Gage was not killed instantly. And despite serious damage to his brain, he recovered and lived for another 11 years. Of course, the accident resulted in dramatic changes to his personality, Phineas Gage was no longer able to respond to people in a measured way, and within the norms of politeness. However, he did live and Gage’s horrific accident demonstrates how much we rely on our limbic brain – or indeed how little we need our cerebrum.

Rationality in the contemporary university is so heavily influenced by Enlightenment, philosophy. I was only this afternoon listening to Terry Eagleton’s Luxembourg lecture from 2013 in which he talks about culture wars: in the post-Enlightenment, a position of privilege was given to science and there was a devaluation of the humanities. We turned our attention to rationality and treated the arts and humanities as frivolous and valueless. Now our science and our economics (and indeed the condition of contemporary societies) have led us back to a point at which we must critique the Enlightenment. We have created one big stubborn humanity-sized knot, a global scale conundrum of rationality. Our belief and thought, or the belief in the power of thought and rationality, has left us with one big mess. We face global problems with the environment, inequality, poverty and an unprecedented scale of human movement. Rationality is not going to be enough to solve it. Universities in their present form are not going to solve it, and scholars thinking in the way they do not going to solve it. We need the affective, intuitive narrative dimensions of the arts and humanities. We do need critical and embodied scholarship. Scholarship that has the boldness to go beyond the Enlightenment and go beyond Descartes’ Error. Embodied scholarship does not simply take place in the ivory tower it has to be out in the real world amongst people and amongst practice – day-to-day practice as Lefebvre stressed to us.

I know, that some of the most important work I do as a teacher educator, is with professional practitioners in public services. They experience, and they feel every day practice, they feel and experience the impact of our institutions and our policy on many individuals who are powerless. They are engaged in theory and practice. One is not privileged above the other. They must have the experience of doing pure research, but with the framing and experience of the everyday and of practice.

Or, might I be a farmer-scholar? I could spend part of the week working at growing food for me, my family and the community and for the rest the week. I could engage with work at a more theoretical level in relation to what I do now or concerned with the growing food.

The answer then to the excess of research students, is not that we have too many people wanting to be academics, it is that we have to reframe academia and what academic work actually is. To do this we have to think beyond the Enlightenment.

Anti-semitism: it is time to listen, reflect and learn

The issue of anti-semitism on the left has to be taken seriously. I do not believe that the Labour Party or even the left of the Labour Party is any worse than the rest of society or any other political party. But I do believe that members of the Labour Party have a special responsibility because we value and regard egalitarianism, equality and justice above all else. We have to be held to higher standards. We have to hold ourselves to higher standards.

There are lazy anti-semitic tropes, conspiracy theories, Israeli lobbies etc. We must do better. We can criticise the Isreali government, but we have to be more rigorous and more critical in the choice of language. We must become better educated in the history and culture of anti-semitism – an insidious destructive and evil form of racism.

We must be aware of the different Jewish perspectives on Zionism, nationalism and complexities of religious and political beliefs. There are orthodox Jews who consider anti-Zionism to be anti-semitism there are progressive Jews who make a distinction (see http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b083n15d). My point is we must not be lured into bigotry through intellectual laziness and idle appeals to conspiracy theory. It is worth reading the first part of The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt on the history of anti-semitism. Also, see this brilliant video from Eleanor Penny of Novarmedia.

For those with left views, we must remain focussed on our central project, the class struggle against capital, and for human rights and egalitarianism. We must not get drawn into a culture war by throwing around lazy tropes.

The allegations made against the left in the Labour Party are hard, the feel personal since we value morality and our morality is being questioned. It is easy – and I have seen comrades do this in the last twenty-four hours – to lash out and get drawn into mudslinging and in the worst examples, resort to anti-semitic tropes and conspiracy construct. Please don’t – pull back, reflect, read and consider the long history of anti-semitism. When our morality and moral purpose is publicly interrogated we only humiliate ourselves when we do not take the time to think or to educate ourselves. We do not humiliate ourselves when we concede that our past behaviours may have been misguided or wrong. That is the essence of education.

The last twenty-four hours have been a hard experience, but it also presents us with an opportunity to learn and adapt. If we refuse to do that, if we refuse to learn, then we adopt the bigotry of the far right.

Do I think we should ignore those that have used this situation for political gain? No, I don’t. When I see the likes of Norman Tebbit and Ian Paisley Junior standing shoulder to shoulder with Labour MPs, it makes me sick to the core. But like Mehdir Hasan, I can walk and chew at the same time, I can oppose anti-semitism, I can do what I can to make the Labour Party a safe place for Jews, but I can also call out the smears and political opportunism. The opportunism that in itself undermines and devalues the struggle against bigotry, anti-semitism and anti-racism.

It is important to see Jeremy Corbyn’s response not as a concession, as giving into bullies, but as a self-aware, reflective and intelligent response to the situation. It is an outstanding example for party members.

Out of this, we on the left will be stronger, more educated, more inclusive and even better equipped for a democratic socialist government.

The Labour Party’s radical vision for education: the opportunity of a lifetime

Judging by the polls, as UK Prime Minister Theresa May announced a snap General Election on the 18 April, you would be forgiven for thinking that the result is a foregone conclusion. And, for that matter, with a resounding Tory victory. But this election is anything but a foregone conclusion. It is set to be closer than commentators predict. People must now make a serious choice, a serious decision — rather than simply express a preference.

And already, after a week of campaigning, the polls have narrowed. Even though the Tories continue to retain a commanding lead over Labour Party, it is evident that the Labour Party have gathered some momentum. Compared with the Tories, the Labour Party have campaigned very effectively in this first week.

The following is the standing ovation Jeremy Corbyn received from the headteachers at the National Association of Headteachers (NAHT) conference in Telford 30 April 2017. While I expected him to be given a polite reception, I was surprised by this. There is clearly something in the air.

 

And so, there is everything to play for.

An end to austerity, neoliberalism and privatisation in education

There probably never has been a more important election for education. The choice between the two main political parties has never be starker. The Tories will continue with academisation, free schools, privatisation, marketisation, a return to selective schools and a school choice agenda. While the Labour Party plans to restore Local Education Authorities and create a National Education Service. The Labour Party plans to bring education back into the public sector.

This general election could mark the end of an education policy consensus that has existed since the 1970s. Since then, education policy has been moving toward marketisation and privatisation. Schools have increasingly come to compete with one another; with an emphasis on centralised accountability (which is frequently punitive); high-stakes assessment and progress measurement; surveillance and performativity; managerialism and hierarchical management structures; intensification of teachers work; and the undermining of teachers’ pay and conditions.

Some argue that these reforms have improved the educational outcomes of many children. They also argue that closer the scrutiny of schools ensures that students make progress and achieve in final examinations. And that this, they claim, has improved the quality of teaching and learning.

These are exaggerated claims, educational reforms have led to more heat than light. There has been lots of noise and increasing demands placed on schools and teachers, yet with very little real insight into the implications of policy. Furthermore, claims made by successive governments are too often based on a selective reading of data. They ignore the complexity of education and identify simple—and frequently overly reductive—measurements to try and determine the impact of policy.

While I don’t personally have a particular passion for international comparisons, the following data visualisation for reading performance in the OECD PISA tests shows negligible change in students’ reading performance in England. There is a similar picture for mathematics and science.

That is not to say that the general level of teachers’ knowledge and skill has not improved over the last 40 years. Education research, theory and practice has developed in that time, comprehensive schools have matured and developed. But this is in spite of policy rather than because of it. I would go as far as to say that marketisation has hindered the progress that teachers, themselves, have tried to make through this time.

A new economics for a post-Keynesian age

It is important to recognise that the Labour Party’s education policy, like its other public sector policies, is based on a different kind of economic approach. All governments in the UK since the latter half of the 1970s have adopted a similar economic approach. An approach that prioritises and privileges the freemarket. The privatisation and marketisation of education is a consequence of this economic thinking. The electorate are encouraged to accept freemarket policy in education because it will supposedly give them more choice. Furthermore, choice and competition will motivate schools and teachers to deliver higher standards. However, there is little evidence to support this conclusion.

Privatisation and marketisation in state education is justified with claims of increased efficiency, higher standards and the advantages of parental choice. These disguise the economic thinking and political choices that drives policy in this direction. The real reason is a response to the problems faced by capitalism more generally. Capitalism is a system of political economy which involves using resources, money and labour to return profits. For 200 years it has been the dominant political economy in the UK.

In the 1960s, capitalism was undergoing one of its periodic crises. Capitalists were finding it increasingly difficult to sustain profit levels. Over the next decade governments used economic policy to make it possible for capitalists to preserve their profits. A key part of which involves reducing the role of the state and the control of state spending. Subsequently, all governments have been preoccupied with reducing public sector deficits. In other words, reducing the amount of public spending and reducing the size of the state. Additionally, and increasingly, governments have privatised and outsourced public services. The argument has been, of course, for efficiency and choice. When in fact the aim has been to preserve profits in the private sector.

A smaller state provides opportunities for private-sector providers to move into providing public-sector services. We have observed this trajectory in the UK, in health, education and even with prisons. While some private providers claim to be not-for-profit organisations, for all intents and purposes, they are capitalist organisations. And necessarily they must accumulate capital. This may not be through generating surpluses or profits, as we might imagine. But it is also achieved through the expansion of their organisation.

In 1988, with the introduction of the Education Reform Act, the process of the privatisation of education was enacted in legislation. City Technology Colleges under Conservative governments in the late 1980s and 1990s were the initiates of privatisation. The New Labour government refined this idea and introduced their Academies programme. The process was further accelerated under the Coalition government where Multi-Academy Trusts were established as private limited companies and billions of pounds of a publicly owned assets were transferred to the private sector. The history of this has been one of cross-party consensus in the privatisation of education by stealth.

This is what is referred to as neoliberalism. It goes under many names: liberal economics, deficit reduction, living within our means and austerity. All these mean the same thing, the preservation of the profitability of capitalism. While I do not intend to go into it in detail here, the reduction in public sector spending leads to increasing levels of private sector debt. In addition, the power of individuals to organise at work and protect pay and conditions is undermined by limiting the powers of Trades Unions. Neoliberalism leads to growing inequalities in society, the rich get richer the poor get poorer and in turn this leads to social unrest . It gives an opportunity for the far right to promote simple divisive answers, attractive to those that have not benefited from neoliberalism.

The following illustrates the trend in wealth inequality in the UK. Notice the upward trend after long period of decreasing inequality in the first part of the twentieth century.

Wealth inequality in the UK

 

The following shows the growth in wealth inequality (The Gini coefficient ranges from 0 for perfect equality to 1 where one person has the majority of income). Note how this rises in the mid 1970s to the 1990s where it has remained constant subsequently.

The following shows UK inequality compared with other nations based on the Gini coefficient.

This video illustrates the extent of inequality in the UK.

Teachers and schools must cope with the challenges of high-stakes inspection and accountability. Furthermore, they must respond to the social problems created by neoliberalism. The managerial and hierarchical system combined with accountability results in a bureaucratic system. The bureaucracy places further demand on teachers since it undermines their capacity and power to use their judgement in their job. While efficiently run schools are often characterised by systems, rules and procedures, these often become a dominating rather than supporting structure. This limits teacher agency within this environment.

We are in a period of economic change. The Global Financial Crisis of 2008, was the clearest of indicators of the failure of neoliberal economics. Mounting private debt and an unregulated financial sector in the USA led to a truly global financial collapse. Governments, in leading nations worldwide, have subsequently failed to heed the warnings and reform their economies. Instead they have continued with neoliberalism and austerity.

It really doesn’t have to be this way. Governments, like the UK government, can increase public spending with economic justification and keep education within the public sector. The preoccupation with deficit reduction is disingenuous. It is a matter of simple accounting, that as part of the normal operating condition of an economy, where the government has its own sovereign currency, the country will run a public-sector deficit. This ensures that the private sector, that is, people, households and businesses, can hold a surplus. In other words, they can save for a rainy day. The government with its power to create currency does not have to save in the same way, because it has the power to spend when needed.

John Maynard Keynes recognised that when the economy has excess capacity, it is a necessary for the government to inflate the economy through public spending. Currently we have excess demand for health, social care, education and training. By increasing spending, we can fulfil more of this demand, and improve the quality of our education system. This is a necessary and valuable investment in our education system.

Increasing public spending, making taxation progressive (fairer), regulating the financial sector and controlling the movement of capital will reduce the level of wealth and income inequality in the UK.

While the Labour Party has not published its General Election manifesto yet, this has been the essence of the economic policy put forward by Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell since they assumed the leadership of the Labour Party in September 2015. It is for this reason, they have been vilified by mainstream media and establishment. This proposal for wealth redistribution is an attack on the 1 per cent, the same people who have controlling interest in the media and in establishment institutions. It is little wonder that Corbyn has been subject to ferocious attacks in the media.

Labour’s education manifesto: the National Education Service

There have been several policy announcements. The most important, and the most overarching policy proposal is the National Education Service. This is analogous to the National Health Service, a cradle-to-grave national service which provides education for all and free at the point of use. This provision is from early years right through to higher education. This provides a complete and complementary collaborative service for the provision of education.
It will not be a fragmented system of providers competing for resources or competing to educate pupils and students who require least investment. The National Education Service restores collaboration. It would put knowledge, skills and experience at the heart of its mission. This is because, under a different economic model, organisations would not be preoccupied with narrowly defined outcomes as they are in the current neoliberal system.

There would be less emphasis on bureaucracy, hierarchy and managerialism. The focus of organisational leadership would be on collectives, comprising stakeholders, practitioners and experts. All with diverse views and experience, but with a commitment to developing education through participation and democratic approaches. Leadership becomes important in a different way. No longer will it be presidential or in the style of a chief executive officer. It will be a role in which the leader must convene and ensure effective participation, deliberation and decision making.

The current neoliberal system tends toward bureaucratic processes, which undermine the power of practitioners to use their judgement. The reality teachers’ day-to-day practice involves moral judgement much more than it does logical or scientific reasoning. Practitioners, teachers and education workers need to be empowered to use their judgement. They also need opportunities to develop and test their judgement, they need sophisticated understanding of their professional learning and development. They also need to contribute to the overall philosophy, rationale and principle of the National Education Service.

To support a National Education Service requires first-class research and development. Currently there are calls to make educational research a science. It isn’t a science. But it can draw on scientific principles. But central to the development of educational policy and practice is the relationship between theory and practice. This means that human judgement must intervene in logically derived conclusions. That is not to say that scientific research is not an important part of educational research. Although, it is a mistake to believe that by simply undertaking a randomised-control trial education research becomes scientific. Merely following scientific procedures does not mean that we have been scientific. The process of educational research has much in common with science in that we scrutinise our knowledge of the world, elaborate on existing theory and attempt to make predictions. The key difference with educational research is that it is in the field of complex human relationships, cultures and practice. It is necessary to recognise that a refutation or a new theory does not by itself change behaviour. Advanced educational research acknowledges the humanity of thinking and behaviour.

One of Jeremy Corbyn’s aspirations is to transfer more power to the people. The participatory nature of the National Education Service allows for greater democratic participation of practitioners and stakeholders. It would also see the restoration of the Local Education Authority. This would also restore education to the ownership of local communities, with local democratic accountability.

Jeremy Corbyn speech to the NAHT can be found at the following:

http://press.labour.org.uk/post/160149172594/jeremy-corbyn-speech-to-the-national-association

Further details about education policy have been announced. The Labour Party will reverse the £3 billion worth of cuts that the Tory government have planned for schools. They will also abolish tuition fees for undergraduates. They have announced £160 million worth of funding for arts education. There will be universal free school meals for primary children and the introduction of VAT on independent school fees. They will reintroduce Educational Maintenance Allowance for young people still in education. I also expect to hear further support for Further Education, adult learning and part time courses such as those with the Open University. Similarly, I expect proposals for the funding of higher degrees and research degrees at masters and PhD level. I would also expect to see the recent Higher Education and Research Bill, which legislates further marketisation and privatisation of higher education, to be repealed by a Labour government.

Jeremy Corbyn speech to the NAHT can be found at the following:

http://press.labour.org.uk/post/160149172594/jeremy-corbyn-speech-to-the-national-association

While the Labour Party’s proposals are still taking shape, an understanding of the underlying economic vision that is driving policy proposals, means it is possible to give a sense of what a future education system could be like. It would be an inclusive system for the many and not the few. It would promote social mobility, and help young people in becoming educated and informed participants in democracy.

Though there will be cynics who will say this is not possible, who will say that it cannot be done and who do not trust the inherent good nature of humanity. It is this cynicism and apathy that is the barrier to an ambitious future of something fairer and better.

For the first time in my life, we are closer than ever to something truly transformative. And it is through working together, and a belief in something better, that this vision can be realised. It is not dependent on a single leader to deliver it, like in the past, but it is dependent on a political leader to facilitate and empower the many to turn a collective vision into reality. As Corbyn recently described his own leadership style:

For many years, I couldn’t see much beyond how so many political leaders manipulated us while giving in again and again to vested interests. I didn’t want to be like that. And it wasn’t clear to me there could be another way. But I’ve learned there is. Whereas insecure leaders want to feel stronger by asking you to give them more power. I recognise strong leadership as equipping you with more power…Because there’s no doubt that these are anxious times. Individually, more of us face uncertainty at work. Nationally, we wonder how we will make the transition out of the EU in a way that protects jobs and living standards. And globally, we wonder how safe we are as extreme right wing movements and violent conflicts spread. I hope you can see now that there is more than one way to respond. We could seek a fragile calm. And hope someone in power knows what they’re doing and will guide us through. That means looking to whoever’s in charge and welcoming their reassurance. We don’t look further, we don’t ask questions. It’s the response the few have bet on the many settling for. I’m in this job because I believe there is a better way to respond. It’s about rejecting fake reassurances or simple slogans from government. It’s about sharing ideas and deciding upon real and lasting answers. We are not going to have free thinking shut down by a hostile media or an elite that scoffs at anyone who dares to step out line. No, each of us has a contribution to make. We have ideas for a better tomorrow and we are going to respond together. Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the UK Labour Party, April 2017

Let us not miss this opportunity.

Education, policy and pedagogy: It’s the political economy stupid!

At the heart of all the main issues in education at the moment is economics. In fact economics in education has become of increasing importance and is a growing field in itself. Analysis of data to evaluate education policy has been valuable in understanding how schools perform and the achievement and a progress of different types of students, for example.

This approach is in the tradition of classical economics. Underpinning classical economics is the idea that people make rational decisions within markets. This leads to econometric models that can be used to predict the behaviour of markets and the behaviour of the economy as a whole. In education, for example, it leads to predictions about earnings following participation in school-based programmes or interventions, the study of various subjects or attendance at Higher Education.

Classical economics sets its boundaries at the edges of the economic system. It does not concern itself with the political dimensions of economics, apart from say, informing policy makers on resource allocation. This rests on its fundamental principle of rational behaviour.

If we step outside classical economics, we can still see the distributions of wealth and power that classical economists observe, but we can also begin to see the forces that create these systems. It is not simply rationality with, as Adam Smith observed, an invisible hand ensuring that all would be fair in a freemarket society. Karl Marx’s critical analysis of capitalism in the three volumes of Das Kapital showed that the freemarket does not lead to a fair or equipatable distribution of wealth. It necessarily leads to the accumulation of capital. As a consequence there is an exploited working class. And hence economy is necessarily political.

One can be forgiven for thinking that in state education political economy can be ignored. The reason we think like that is that since the end of the Second World War and until recently, we have had no reason to think differently. But now we must. I shall explain by dividing the period between 1945 and the present into three economic phases.

The first phase is from 1945 until 1970. The post-war period saw considerable government spending on health and education and sat alongside a  freemarket economy. Education was grant-funded through local authorities. This investment was seen as a benefit to society as a whole. However, from the late sixties until the 1970s, things changed. The economic context changed and public education economics had to change in response. This leads to our second economic period between 1970 and 2008.

In the 1970s, there was a change from a mixed economy with public sector spending alongside a freemarket economy to neoliberalism, where there was much greater emphasis on the freemarket. During the early seventies there was a crisis in capitalism, in the UK this was characterised by inflation, decreasing company profits and increasing wage demands by the work force. In the end the unions lost, their pay was controlled and businesses were able to maintain their profits to some degree. The worst outcome was that the economic crisis was erroneously blamed on the unions, inefficient nationalised companies and a supposedly bloated public sector. When Margaret Thatcher was elected in 1979, she famously took on the unions, began privatising nationalised companies and reducing the size of the public sector. Underpinning this was the belief privatisation and marketisation was the best way to run our public services. The invisible hand would do its job. Neoliberalism was the political economy that continued until 2008. It was adopted by New Labour in 1997 and was supplemented by an increase in public spending. Although much capital spending in schools was from private capital. For large businesses, neoliberalism created opportunities to profit from public-sector services and subsidised by the state.

The preoccupation through this period of neoliberalism has been on the deficit in public sector finances. That is the difference between tax revenues and government spending. The preoccupation with eliminating deficit spending and an attempt to return a surplus in public finances has the effect of reducing private sector surpluses (I explain this in more depth here). In other words private sector borrowing has to increase, households become more indebted, house prices inflate. This creates demand in the economy (consumers are debt spending) and the banks profit. In 2008 this whole sorry pile of private debt was found to be overvalued and the big banks had to be bailed out by the state. Once again capitalism is in crisis. But the financial crisis of 2008 was a symptom of underlying problems brought about by neoliberalism itself.

The neoliberal period of unregulated freemarket capitalism has resulted in increased wealth inequality, while the richest 10 per cent or so, have got richer the rest have got poorer or are carrying considerable debt. Inequality in society is indicative of a divided and unhealthy society. Wealth and income inequality leads to democratic inequality, where the wealthy are in a position to influence government much more than the less well off. It also leads to health and education inequalities. Furthermore, it leads to a less productive society since there is less investment in workers and their development.

We find ourselves in period of post-capitalism or post-neoliberalism, the collapse of centrist politics is indicative of this also. No longer is the status quo working for a large proportion of society, this is evident in the election of an unequivocally anti-austerity leader of the opposition, and more dramatically the referendum result that will ultimately lead us out of the EU. This was the precipitation of an anti-establishment and anti-status quo vote.

In terms of the character of education, the three economic periods (public sector, neoliberalism and post-capitalism) have shaped schools and pedagogy in particular ways. During the public-sector period (1945 – 1970) practices and organisations were emergent, but drew heavily on the approaches used in traditional establishments, like for example, the grammar school. In an attempt to address diverse social needs and with new ideas developing in the fledgling field of education research, there were attempts to address individual needs using student-centred practices. However, the mainstay of educational practice drew on traditional teacher-centred practices, because it is much easier to prepare for and to manage classrooms.

The neoliberal period (1970 – 2008) can be characterised by increasing accountability, increasing managerialism and perfomativity. The emphasis on accountability means that teachers are expected to ensure students achieve targets and expectations in terms of progress and examination results. There is increased surveillance and attempts to identify effective practice in terms of progress and attainment. In the 2000s this extended to a prescription of classroom practice and pedagogy. While practice remains largely traditional, there are elements of progressive student-centred teaching, but on the whole the latter, apart from among enthusiasts, was superficial. The importance of the social aspects of learning, such as discussion and dialogue, the importance of affect and motivation and the recognition of constructivist learning were recognised and mandated in official views of pedagogy. However, given the demands placed on teachers and the intensity, as a result of being held increasingly accountable for students’ results, these elements were only really implemented in a performative way, to please observers and inspectors rather than placing them at the heart of education.

The post-capitalism period (2008 – present) continues a neoliberal theme, but it does not hide the crisis beneath. Since 2010 the Coalition government and the  Conservative government from 2015, have extended the privatision projects brought in by previous governments. Academies are effectively outsourced education service providers to the state. There is increased emphasis on quantifiable outcomes to monitor the quality of the service provided by schools. In an attempt to make the educational commodity more clearly defined the student-centred aspects of pedagogy have been abandoned and even vilified. The emphasis has been increasingly on narrowly defined definitions of knowledge and the reduction of learning to a process of memorisation of increasingly complex facts. The crisis beneath this, within the post-capitalist school, is the overall reduction in teachers’ pay and conditions, longer working hours, excessive workloads and deprofessionalisation. The recruitment and retention of teachers is increasingly challenging. There are also deep concerns about the impact of intense school experiences on children’s mental health and wellbeing.

Economically, we move into a post-capitalist post-neoliberal world in which economic, technological, social and political forces are undermining existing approaches. Yet the government continues to press ahead with a privatised and marketised approach to education. What we need to do is develop schools and educational practices to respond to community needs in a more holistic way and to draw on contemporary understanding of learning in terms of culture, socialisation and cognitive development. We cannot return to public sector nationalisation of state education, but we must reduce the managerialism and hierarchical structures of schools and academy chains and improve the working conditions and professionalism of teachers. They can be mutualised as community co-operatives, to devolve decision making and to collaborate with communities. This is an antidote to the corporate managerialism of the neoliberal period. While schools cannot mitigate for wealth inequality, they can connect with local communities and help develop confidence and build social and cultural capital. Austerity (deficit reduction) is a political choice and not consistent with the post-capitalist period we find ourselves in (I elaborate on this in a previous post here).

The driving force in state education is political economy and by considering economic and political forces, not only can we better understand policy, practice and pedagogy, we can better design schools and learning to respond to the political economy in which we live.

There is plenty of money to spend on schools: a Modern Money Theory perspective

It is common and widely accepted that the UK’s finances are in a dire situation. The national debt has grown from £700 billion in 2010 and is set to reach almost £2 trillion in 2020. While the deficit (the difference between government spending and taxation) has been reduced from roughly £100 bn (2010) to £40 bn (2016), there is a commitment to turning the deficit into a surplus. As a consequence many people are willing to accept that we must tighten our belts, make savings and do what we can to avoid the out-of-control debt spiralling further. We do, after all, want to avoid passing on this debt to our children and grandchildren. So it goes.

According to the Institute of Fiscal studies, school spending is being cut by 8 per cent in real terms. Perhaps more. Over the last few weeks I have heard colleagues in the university as well as teachers, headteachers and parents acknowledge that this is necessary given the economic situation and prospects I have outlined above. We have to cut back on spending, we have to reduce the debt, we have to make sacrifices. We have to find low cost and efficient ways of educating children more cheaply. No frills, no expansive (or expensive) learning; the learning of facts in classrooms with austere compliance. For teachers, no professional development, longer hours and real-terms pay cuts.

After all, it all makes complete sense. It may be a bitter pill to swallow, but if we, as individuals, households or as businesses overspend we would end up with an unmanageable debt and we would go bust. It makes sense that the same applies to government spending. If the UK government overspends, day-to-day, we will, as a nation, go bankrupt.

Now here’s the thing, government spending is not an aggregated version of household spending. In our personal lives our spending is independent of our income. We are, for all intents and purposes, free to spend what we like; whether we spend less or more than our income. Clearly, if we spend more we will go into debt and if we spend less (which is almost an impossibility in the Watson household) we save, but fundamentally income and expenditure are independent of one another. Which is where there is big difference with government finances or what we might call macroeconomics. This is probably the most important thing to understand in getting a better grip of how a nation’s economy works.

The difference between you and the UK treasury is that you do not issue your own currency, the UK does. For every transaction with that currency, whether you are paying for schools or buying an ice cream (see Richard Hammond), there is a buyer and a seller. Because at any one point in time there is fixed amount of currency, for everything spent there must be something sold. Across the whole economy income must equal expenditure. There is at the heart of macroeconomics a conservation of the total amount of currency, because it is only the government that has the legal power to create or destroy currency.

Think of it like this, the government creates currency, the pound. If you work in the public sector you are paid in pounds, with which you buy things from the private sector. People working in the private sector get paid in the currency and also buy things. Currency is circulating around the economy (of course, households and businesses can save money buy spending less than they earn but I will come to this later). The mechanism by which the circulation of currency is controlled is through taxation, we have to return a proportion of our earnings through paying tax in that currency. But importantly the government has to create currency and spend it before there is anything to tax. Tax should not, therefore, be seen as a revenue source, but as a means of regulating the amount of currency in circulation. The source of a government’s capacity to spend is through the creation of its own currency. It is therefore recognised that governments, like the UK and US for example, cannot go bust because of their power to create currency and that they buy things in that currency.

These are the fundamental ideas in Modern Monetary (or Money) Theory (MMT) which draws on the ideas of both Keynes and Marx to consider macroeconomics in an alternative way. The starting point is the idea that within a nation with a sovereign currency all incomes must equal expenditure. A macroeconomic view of this income and expenditure balance is usually considered by breaking it up into different sectors. The private sector, the public sector and in trade with the rest of the world. With this we get the following simple equation:

Private sector surplus or deficit + Public sector surplus or deficit + Exports/Imports = 0

The private sector includes both businesses and households, it is desirable that this is in surplus, since the private sector should have reserves to cope with changes. The public sector surplus or deficit is the difference between tax revenues and government spending. It is the figure that governments and media like to bandy around and create such alarm with. But you can see that if imports are high i.e. currency is leaving the UK, and the private sector is running in surplus then we must have a deficit. And in fact, deficit is a normal way of operating the economy and should not be used as an indication of over spending.

What about the national debt? This not really a debt as such, it is equivalent to the accumulation of surpluses in the private sector. The government issues bonds to buy back the reserves created by the banks as a result of the deposit of private sector surpluses. In the UK this is mostly from large businesses and wealthy individuals since quite a lot of ordinary working folk are in debt.

So if deficit and debt do not constrain government spending can we just create money and be done? It is true to some degree, but according to MMT the constraint on spending is inflation. In other words if the government increases spending too quickly demand outstrips supply and prices go up. A government has to increase spending cautiously. At present, however, inflation is not a problem, it is very low and we can afford to increase public spending without worrying too much about inflation.

But an increase in spending would stimulate the economy, increasing economic activity and therefore growing the economy. One issue is to make sure that spending does not result in the accumulation of wealth by large companies and wealthy individuals. This is what has happened as a result of quantitative easing after the financial crisis and it is why the national ‘debt’ has grown.  As this is equivalent to the accumulations in the private sector. QE swelled the coffers of the rich. In order to make sure spending is more fairly distributed we need to consider things like universal basic income, progressive taxation and debt jubilees (paying off household debt).

I have taken you on a whistle-stop tour of MMT, there is much more to read and understand – which is what I continue to do. A good visual account can be found here. I have been reading Modern Monetary Theory and Practice: An Introductory Text by William Mitchell, L. Randall Wray and Martin Watts, which I recommend. The are blogs by Bill Mitchell, New Economics Perspectives. This lecture by L Randall-Wray is an excellent introduction too.

I conclude by outlining or restating — emphasising even — the implications for spending on schools. Debt and deficit are not the barrier to adequate spending on our schools. As the sixth wealthiest nation in the world we can afford to properly fund our schools. There really is no excuse. What is not clear is whether the government are economically illiterate/incompetent or have some other agenda i.e. the privatisation of schools. If you read The Price of Inequality by Joseph Stiglitz or Post-Capitalism:  A Guide to Our Futures by Paul Mason, they suggest the latter is almost certainly true. Capitalism is in a state of crisis, ensuring sustained profits is difficult and therefore companies are wanting to move into areas where governments can support revenue and profits, like transport, health and education. So-called neoliberalism. Expounding the belief that a nation’s economics is analogous to a household or business serves this: reduce the deficit and debt through outsourcing, markets and efficiencies. It seems most likely that government is being influenced by the self-serving who are defending the capacity of the wealthy and large business to accumulate capital.

It is important that we in education ask questions about the economic models that we are presented with. That we do no acquiesce in a state of ‘oh dearism’ and resignation. That we don’t find ourselves trying to mitigate for government cuts by overworking and burning out. It is important that we educate ourselves, challenge the government and act in solidarity to oppose.

I am happy to engage in discussion about the ideas I have presented here.

The variation in teachers’ pay in large Multi Academy Trusts

Following my analysis in previous blogs of the variation in teachers’ pay in England, I now look at the difference between pay in the larger academy chains and Multi Academy Trusts (MATs). I used data from the National Statistics School workforce in England (November 2015) data again and identified which Trust schools were part of. I look particularly at the larger groups in both primary and secondary. I make comparisons with maintained schools and academies in general. I would add that this analysis is preliminary, but is consistent with the analysis in my previous blog posts.

Primary

The following chart shows mean salaries in primary schools in selected large academy chains. Data labels indicate the number of primary schools in the chain. The maintained and academies and free schools bars are the average by type for the whole state sector.

meansalaryprimarybytrust2016

The following table includes conditional formatting comparing mean salary with maintained primary schools.meansalaryprimarybytrusttable2015

Secondary

The following chart shows mean salaries in secondary schools in selected large academy chains. Data labels indicate the number of secondary schools in the chain. The maintained and academies and free schools bars are the average by type for the whole state sector.

meansalarysecondarybytrust2016

The following table includes conditional formatting comparing mean salary with maintained secondary schools.meansalarysecondarytrusttable2015

 

It is notable that as with my previous analysis the mean salaries in academies and free schools is less than it is in maintained schools. This analysis shows that this is true for both primary and secondary schools. It is also important to note that MATs who appear to have higher than average pay are likely to have more schools in London. This is certainly true of the Harris Federation where the average pay is influenced by London weighting. However, it has to be acknowledged that the average inner London pay is higher than maintained schools. In my next post I will look at the differences in London and regional pay more closely.

Note:

Thanks to JL @dutaut who observed that AET have 67 schools but only 32 primaries and 30 secondaries: the missing ‘five’ are special schools. Where there are discrepancies like this the schools not included are special schools or all-through schools.

My data can be viewed here.

 

 

Why do teachers get paid more in maintained schools? – part 2

I have completed some further analysis using the underlying data from the National Statistics School workforce in England (November 2015) data. I have looked at the differences in teachers’ pay in secondary schools between Local Authority (LA) maintained schools and academies. The question raised in my previous blog was: why do teachers get paid more in maintained Schools than they do in academies?

Today’s analysis drew on the underlying data, where the mean full-time equivalent (FTE) pay for each school is presented. Questions where raised in respones to my previous blog about whether the differences was a result of different academy types i.e. converter academy [1] or sponsor led [2], or whether there was some effect owing to higher salaries in London, for example. My analysis here suggests not and it also supports the analysis I presented in my previous blog. It seems that if you are a teacher you are better off working in a maintained school.

The following chart summarises the difference between average pay in converter academies [1], sponsor-led academies[2], free schools and LA maintained schools.

meanftebyschooltype

The mean pay in maintained schools is over £700 greater than in academy converter schools and just over £1000 greater than sponsor-led academies.

Now to look at the differences in pay between the different types of schools types, in relation to London weighting, outer London weighting, London fringe pay and regional pay.

meanfteschooltypepayscaletable
School type, mean FTE pay. London and regional weightings

With the exception of outer London and London fringe, teachers are paid more in maintained schools. In these area pay is higher in the small number of free schools, maintained school pay is comparable to pay in converter academies. Consistently the pay in sponsored academies is less than maintained schools.

meanfteschootypepayscale

I have not yet determined why this is from the data. However, my previous blogs on privatisation would suggest that when a service moves out of the public sector there is a natural downard pressure on teachers’ pay and conditions. Perhaps we are seeing this here.

Notes

[1] Converter academies are successful schools that have chosen to convert to academies in order to benefit from the increased autonomy academy status brings. They were introduced in 2010 as part of the Coalition government’s plan to broaden the academy programme and eventually enable all schools to become academies. www.politics.co.uk/reference/academies

[2] Sponsored academies are usually set up to replace under-performing schools with the aim of improving educational standards and raising the aspirations of, and career prospects for, pupils from all backgrounds including the most disadvantaged.

Sponsors are responsible for establishing the Academy trust, the governing body and the appointment of the head teacher. They come from a wide variety of backgrounds including businesses, faith communities, universities and individual philanthropists. Outstanding schools and academies may now also become sponsors themselves in order to help less able schools to improve.
.
Sponsors no longer have to make a financial contribution, or establish or support an endowment fund, as in the past. However, the Government has said any financial contribution made “at their own discretion” would be welcomed as it would provide opportunities for pupils that are not supported through government funding. www.politics.co.uk/reference/academies

Teachers’ pay in academies and LA maintained secondary schools

Based on the school workforce data for 2015, teachers get paid less working in secondary academies than they do working in LA maintained schools.

teachsalaries2015

The difference looks relatively small on the above chart. But the differences are not trivial as shown below:teachersaldiff2015

Looking at the difference between teachers’ pay in LA maintained secondary schools and secondary academies as percentage of maintained school pay:

teachersaldiffpercent

In 2015, in an LA maintained secondary a teaching will be earning between about 1.5 per cent and 3.0 per cent more than a teacher in a secondary academy.

It is somewhat different for leadership. They get paid more in an academy than they do in a LA maintained school.leadershipsaldiff

Looking at the differences in more detail:

leadershipsaldifference

On the basis of the 2015 workforce census data, teachers get paid less in academies than they do in LA maintained schools. While leadership gets paid more in academies.

Why is this? My analysis of privatisation would suggest that privatising capital leads to the exploitation of the workforce. Is this what we are seeing here?

How much should we spend on schools? Part 2: How to fix schools in ten years

In part 1, I described how reducing government spending on schools, in England, offers little economic advantage. In fact, it is highly likely that it would contribute to increasing national debt. I will look at the contribution to the economy in part 3. In this post I answer the question, how much should we spend on schools? And, how much should we spend to overcome the two key issues in education:

  1. The quality of students’ learning, progress and outcomes.
  2. Teacher recruitment and retention.

My solution includes reducing teacher contact time by increasing the number of teachers in schools. This would improve recruitment and retention, as the job would be more attractive. I would increase spending on research and development in HEI, the third sector and in collaboration with schools. I would increase teachers’ pay. Finally I would considerably increase the number of teachers training to teach and also improve the quality of training.

For this post, I have developed a simple spending model to be implemented over a ten-year period. Although this model is simple, I intend that it explains and illustrates the nature of education spending and that it may be the basis of more sophisticated modelling later. Most of all I want to show that funding is not a barrier to developing a world- class school system, with the highest standards of practice, professionalism and innovation.

Increasing pay and teacher supply

I propose the following:

  1. Teachers’ pay increases 3% per year for ten years.
  2. Increase the number of training places for teachers to 50,000 each year – this would be a fully-funded two-year masters course combining school-based practicum/ internship with Higher Education-based programmes. This is intended to add an additional 15,000 teachers into schools each year in order to reduce workload and increase the quality of teaching and learning (see Table 1).
teacher numbers
Table 1: Estimates of increased teacher numbers of a ten-year programme of expansion of teacher-training

Projected spending over ten years

Now I bring these elements together. In Table 2 I have included the cost of additional teacher training, the salaries of additional teachers [1], the total numbers of teachers in schools [2], teachers’ average salaries [2], the cost of increased pay, additional research and development spending (£100 million per annum). I have then calculated total spending as a percentage of GDP.

projection
Table 2: Total projected education spending (based on year 1 prices)
What this shows is that generous investment in schools does not have a major effect on overall spending on education. Notice, in particular, total additional spending in row 8 of Table 2. There is a small increase in spending but as a percentage of GDP it remains reasonable; judging by international comparisons (see Figure 2).

Effectively, then, the problems we have with learning and progress, and teacher recruitment and retention could be solved. It begs the question why does the government choose not to?

In this model, after ten years, education spending as a percentage of GDP would be 5.7% (see Table 2). This is comparable with other developed nations, notably Finland which is often cited as an example of an effective education system  (see Figure 1).

OECD primary to tertiray spending on ed as percent of gdp
Figure 1: OECD comparisons of education spending (as percentage of GDP) for 2012
In part 3, I will look at the multiplier effect to see how additional investment might have a positive long-term effect on GDP.

[1] I have not included an increase in student numbers. However, the model could be scaled accordingly, to consider the effects of increased student numbers.

[2] The current average teachers salary and teacher numbers have been sourced from the  School workforce data. In November 2014, average teachers’ annual pay £37,400. The total number of teachers in England (primary, secondary schools) is 454,900. The total annual salary bill is £17 billion.

 

Update 9 April 2016. This post is really useful. Argues for education to be treated as infrastructure for the purpose of closing achievement gap http://www.compassonline.org.uk/close-the-achievement-gap-treat-education-as-an-investment/

Update 10 April – some analysis of school spending by Becky Allen (2012) http://www.ucl.ac.uk/~uctpimr/research/DFE-RR183[1].pdf

How much should we spend on schools? Part 1

In the last few months I have become interested in the economics of public services. Especially in relation to school funding. Like many people, I accepted that because of the 2008 financial crisis there was a need to reduce the national debt and ensure the deficit was kept to a minimum. This, I thought, would dictate how much we spent on schools.

This was all fine, until I began to realise that there was more to national debt and deficit than reducing government spending. Two things triggered this. First was the surprising election of Jeremy Corbyn to the leadership of the Labour Party in September 2015. Prominent in his campaign was forthright opposition to cuts in public spending. Corbyn argued that there were economic alternatives and this was supported by leading economists. The second trigger was a short exchange between the economist and former Greek Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis, on BBC Question Time at Impington Village College, Cambridge, shortly after Corbyn was elected. Here is the clip:

The audience member explains that if he goes out in Cambridge with £10 and buys three pints of beer, he is probably going be in debt. And he says if he carries on in such a way he will go bust.

He says, “Its not difficult guys. Just sit down work out what the country needs to do and work collectively together.”

Varoufakis immediately responds by saying that the country’s budget does not behave like his finances.

“Why not, why not?” Exclaims the audience member.

Varourfakis explains: “In a country total income equals total expenditure” and goes on to explain that for an individual or a household income and expenditure are independent of one another. He then explains the problem of austerity, that if a country cuts spending then it will also cut income.

Now, this I found difficult to grasp. I found it harder still to explain. However, the expenditure model for Gross Domestic Product (GDP, total income) usefully illustrates what Varoufakis is saying. Look at the relationship between income and expenditure using the following expenditure model:

GDP = (Total Consumption – what we spend on goods and services) + (Total Investment – what is invested in machinery, equipment and houses) + (Government Spending) +Net Exports

This simple model illustrates Varoufakis’s point, that the total income (GDP) has to equal total spending. That is everything that we spend or that we invest in equipment or property added to government spending and the cost of net exports adds up to our total income.

Taking this further: according to OECD data, tax revenue in the UK between 2006 and 2012 has been fairly constant at 35 per cent of GDP. So if government spending is reduced and people spend less on goods and services, then income (GDP) will be reduced. In fact Tax revenues are reduced assuming they remain approximately the same proportion of GDP. It does not necessarily achieve a reduction in the national debt, while it may reduce deficit. Indeed it looks like this is what has happened. In the first of following charts, debt has increased in spite of reduced spending. On the other hand deficit has reduced, as can be seen in the second chart.

Public sector net debt
UK national debt (source BBC website)
Deficit/surplus
UK deficit/surplus ( BBC website)

The reason for this is that deficit, as the difference between government revenue and spending, does not reflect the full extent of economic activity. Effectively then, government  reduced spending to reduce deficit but because this has reduced income it has not reduced the national debt.

I argue then, that we should be spending more on education and on schools in particular. This is because increased government spending contributes to economic activity and increased GDP. In my next post I will look more closely at this. But here I want to outline the benefits. Firstly with more school spending we could reduce teacher workload, which would likely have a positive effect on student learning. It would also have an impact on recruitment: the job would be more attractive. Finally, and in reference to my last post, it would permit innovation. The government could invest in research and development that could be undertaken by both practitioners and academics.

Finally, in spite of cuts in public spending, the government has argued it is protecting school spending. In the Autumn statement on 25 November 2015, the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne said:

“I can tell the House that as a result of this spending review, not only is the schools budget protected in real terms but the total financial support for education, including childcare and our extended further and higher education loans, will increase by £10 billion. That is a real-terms increase for education, too” (Hansard).

However, a simple analysis shows that education has faced cuts.  If we look at education as a proportion of GDP  it gives a sense of what proportion of our national income is being spent on public education. The following chart shows that education spending has been cut considerably since 2010.

ukgs_line

In conclusion, it seems that cutting spending on education is not going to help in reducing national debt. It might help in reducing deficit in the short-term, but deficit does not seem to be an issue. It is debt that is important. But more important still is improving the quality of education. I fear with cuts in funding and additional pressures on schools and teachers the current economic and education policy will do considerable harm to our education system. In my next post I will attempt further justification and begin to show how much increased spending on education would contribute to the nation’s finances.

Note: it is worth reading 20 February 2016 Andy Hargreave’s article in TES.

Other resources

Another article from 27 March 2016 The Independent Voices ‘Handbag economics’ and the other myths that drive austerity

http://www.ifs.org.uk/tools_and_resources/fiscal_facts/public_spending_survey/education

Update 5 April 2016

Note: since writing this I have noticed that spending in secondary schools has been maintained in terms of proportion of GDP.

school spending percent gdp
School spending as a percentage of GDP (Secondary, pre-primary and primary, and tertiary)

 

 

However the Institute of Fiscal Studies analysis shows real terms per pupil spending cut over the life of the next parliament of 8%

ifs school spending
Source IFS