Multiplication – the privilege of mathematical thinking

I love John Mason. It is always a pleasure to listen to him as he takes you with him through his exploration of mathematical thinking and learning: “sit there and close your eyes and imagine a number line…” He takes you on a journey of ideas, connections and new understandings of the relationships between concepts and ideas in mathematics.

This evening we explored multiplication in the Faculty of Education.

But it is not the wonderful session that I want to talk about. It is my theme of not Mathematics Education (nME). A kind of meta- hyper- mathematics education. I mentioned to John that I was interested in nMEHe looked puzzled, but not dismissive, John is always interested in thinking. I talked about how we had been through a period of relative stability in mathematics education research (I was talking about neo-liberalism). It is the liberalism that it is important in mathematics education research, it allows the freedom of thought and builds on the constructivism following Piaget and Vygotsky: constructing worlds of meaning and mathematical imaginaries as part of the process of learning (and doing) mathematics. It is the neo– in neo-liberalism that has contributed to deepening inequality in the last forty years.

Neo-liberalism, while it indulges some in this kind of constructivist thinking, it is for those, primarily, who have the time and luxury to indulge. If you want a sense of the mathematical indulgence that is associated with social class read G H Hardy’s Mathematician’s Apology. It is an apology for the fact that his position, wealth and privilege gave him access to think about pure mathematics. Wonderful things ensue, of course – the contribution of pure mathematics is without any doubt. Hardy explains how the pursuit of mathematics for its own sake and without purpose often leads to useful applications. It is the pursuit for no particular purpose that makes pure mathematics productive. But it is, in the context of liberal economics with its implicit utilitarianism, limited to a selected elite.

“Ah!” You say, “mathematics is meritocratic, it is blind to socio-economic status, class or even background.”

Well, no it isn’t, the fact that some children from disadvantaged backgrounds get to study mathematics at top universities insufficient to support this claim. Disadvantage children who progress to study mathematics in leading universities generally have a combination of talent, some luck and often or not a great deal of support. Sadly, there is often an unspoken appeal to competition or even social Darwinism: surely it is a fitting way to select the best. Probably not: the top universities’ mathematics departments are by-and-large filled with students who are from middle class or privileged backgrounds.

Let me explain why this (and I can go back to John Mason’s talk for this). Clear your minds – imagine a number line. Now imagine that number line is an elastic band. Stretch it out to three times its length, on what number would the original ‘4’ be. This is the basis of mathematics learning – of rich deep and agile mathematical thinking in which we explore concepts and relationships.

Now imagine that you are 13 years-old, you have one parent. They may be in precarious, low paid work, they may be struggling with their mental health because of debts. They may be struggling with alcohol, they might be worrying about paying the rent or getting evicted. You might live on a road where families face all sorts of difficulties in work and in keeping a roof over their heads. A community working and living precariously. You might have been pushed out of the shiny academy because you are distracted and can’t follow the strict and daunting behaviour policy. Your school is facing problems because there are lots of kids like you facing challenges, the teachers are tired and stressed. They haven’t got the patience for the kind of stuff John is doing. They love it, they love what he does. But they are so so tired. Even if they can, there is lots going on in your head, even your loving parent can’t shield you from their own or even the community’s anxiety and deepening sense of hopelessness.

Now tell me how you are going to shut all this out  – this noise – and imagine your number line, even if you have a patient, thoughtful, energetic teacher. How do you stand a real chance? You don’t, it is a lottery for those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Just before John began his talk, he mentioned the work he had been doing with Cambridge Maths, an initiative run by Cambridge Assessment to develop curriculum. There is no doubt that they are doing wonderful things. I reminded John of Cambridge Assessment’s primary purpose as an arm of the University of Cambridge, in a political and economic climate where the University can’t rely on public funding. Cambridge Assessment is about making money and it follows that Cambridge Maths will have to contribute at some stage. John agreed but argued that any opportunity to develop mathematics education must be taken. He was about to start his wonderful talk and I couldn’t make the following and my final point.

If we really want to make mathematics universal and allow all to indulge in the rich thinking that the study of mathematics promotes, then we have to – we must – start to think critically about it. That is ‘critically’ in the sense of what is driving the agenda: things that are not Mathematics Education – things like political economy. We cannot (must not) put mathematics education in a bubble insulated from political economy. Neo-liberalism fabricates and manufactures consent for economic scarcity (reducing public sector deficits). The consequence is that mathematics education research and development necessarily has to rely on markets and private finance. It is not any-port-in-a-storm to sustain research and development projects; by not resisting we are complicit in the political economy of neoliberalism. If we want universal access to mathematical thinking and a mathematics education for all, then we need to fight for public investment in research and education. We need to campaign against the meanness of economic policy that has marginalised so many and left them without the basic quality of life that creates barriers to the wonderful mathematical journeys that John Mason takes us on.

 

 

This changes everything

I was feeling numb at five minutes to ten last Thursday. I had been campaigning intensely for the Labour party – both professionally and in a personal capacity – for months. It came up on Twitter, the mainstream media were saying that exit polls predicted a hung parliament. And while the Conservative party were predicted to be the largest party, the result for me marked a major change in British politics. It was going to be an exciting night.

So it turned out. As the results came in through the night it was clear that Labour had increased its share of the vote from April polls of about 25 per cent to 40 per cent in the General Election. This was unprecedented.

What is so significant, is the election result demonstrates strong support for a radically different economic and social policy. Radically different from the consensus that had existed between the major parties since the 1970s.

Keynes is back baby. The manufactured consent around a liberal/ neoliberal political economy which focuses on controlling public-sector spending and facilitating wealth creation has been shaken to its core. Particularly because it was the cause of the 2008 Global Financial Crisis and it prompted the austerity approach adopted by the Coalition government and Tory governments from 2010 to 2017. Neoliberalism and austerity has undermined public services and exacerbated inequality.

When I say Keynes is back, I mean that we stop the purblind view of the importance of wealth creators, but begin to look again at the role of government spending in creating demand. Wealth creators cannot attract wealth unless ordinary people have sufficient money to purchase things in the economy.

Government can increase that wealth through redistribution (e.g. progressive taxation), increased investment in the economy (e.g. through infrastructure, health and education) and more robust regulation of the financial sector (addressing exploitation of private debt). Since the UK government has a sovereign currency it can use its capacity to spend, tax and regulate to rebalance the economy.

Keynes is back, but it’s been upgraded by contemporary economists. I have written about it in the following posts:

http://stevenwatson.co.uk/2017/01/mmt-school-spending/

http://stevenwatson.co.uk/2017/02/spendandtax/

The consequence for teachers, educators and academics is that we have to start thinking differently. We have to think about what education might look like in a post-neoliberal world. Some of my thoughts are in the following post:

http://stevenwatson.co.uk/2017/05/laboureducationge2017/

Since the Labour Party’s positive manifesto has been welcomed by the country, we must now go further and think about how we transform our education system. Transform from a marketised, privatised and commodified system into a democratic system that serves communities and the nation in an inclusive way. Paying attention to social justice, peace, environment, community cohesion and individual and collective intellectual development. A system that must effectively serve people more and serve less those that run and control it.

Exciting times, I look forward to the debate.

 

Responding to Teach First’s Social Mobility Report

In many ways I was pleased to see the publication of the Teach First report on social mobility. The publication of this analysis is important in drawing attention to the problems of inequality and social mobility in education.

But it also annoyed me greatly. Because I see that the levels of inequality and lack of social mobility are a result of successive governments’ economic choices. We have, since the 1970s, in the UK and the USA particularly, adopted a system of liberal economics, neoliberalism. The aim has been to reduce the size of the state with controls on public spending and the transfer of public-sector services and nationalised industry to the private sector.

The result of the adoption of neoliberalism has led to an increase in inequality as a result of controls on public spending, regressive taxation and the deregulation of the financial sector  . The barriers to social mobility are attributable to economic inequality . The adoption of neoliberalism creates a system whereby value flows from the less well off to the wealthiest.

As part of reducing the role of the state, public-sector provision has been transferred to private ownership, in the case of Academy schools, or new private-sector not-for-profit provision has been created, as in the case of Teach First. Teach First, like other forms of outsourced public provision, is a product of neoliberal thinking. Teach First’s proposition is that through the deployment of high-achieving individuals in schools, the effects of disadvantage can be mitigated.

I believe this to be wrong, since it is only through economic policy that inequality and poor social mobility can be addressed. That is not to say we don’t need good schools for all and in them skilled professionals, but it is important that we address society’s problems with appropriate policy making as a priority.

Neoliberalism can’t solve the problems created by neoliberalism. It is a paradox. It is with this in mind I was reminded of a great literary paradox and, as you will see, the striking similarities this has with outsourcing the solutions to neoliberal inequality.

Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 (1962) is a dark satirical comedy set in an American airbase in Italy at the end of the Second World War. The story follows the main character Captain John Yossarian and his associates, as they participate in a seemingly endless number of bombing missions over Germany. The ‘Catch-22’, the novel’s leitmotiv, and a term subsequently absorbed into the English language, is a paradox. It is first expressed in the novel thus:

There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane, he had to fly them. If he flew them, he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to, he was sane and had to.

World War II, although often seen as a geopolitical war, was the consequence of the economic conditions in the preceding period. Liberal economics had prevailed, with substantial deregulation of the financial sector. Speculation and credit ran rife. The bubble burst in 1929, this plunged the US into a deep recession and took much of Europe with it. The instability created by a crisis of capitalism led to the Second World War.

These conditions are not unlike those that led up to the Global Financial Crisis in 2008 and also the inequality we have in the UK now.

Milo Minderbinder, a comrade of Yossarian, is an entrepreneur, a war profiteer. Heller presents him as a symbol of the American capitalist Dream. Initially, Minderbinder’s syndicate, M & M Enterprises appears small and benign. It involves selling and buying eggs in a complex series of profitable transactions. While flying a mission, Yossarian asks Milo why he buys eggs from Malta for seven cents and sells them to the mess hall for five cents. Milo explains that he does it to make a profit. Perplexed, Yossarian asks if he then loses two cents on each egg. Milo explains:

But I make a profit of three and a quarter cents an egg by selling them for four and a quarter cents an egg to the people in Malta I buy them from them for seven cents an egg. Of course, I don’t make the profit. The syndicate makes the profit. And everybody has a share (Milo Minderbinder, p. 265).

Yossarian thinks he is beginning to understand, he asks if the people Milo sells to are making a profit of two and three quarter cents when they sell them back to him for seven cents. He asks: “Why don’t you sell the eggs directly to you and eliminate the people you sell them to?” Milo responds: “Because I am the people I buy them from.” Milo further explains that he initially buys the eggs in Sicily for a cent each. He makes profit of six cents on each egg overall, except when he sells to the mess hall where he makes four cents. The convoluted process is simply to expand the reach of his business activity.

Arguably this is not dissimilar to the complex contractual arrangements we have with outsourced service providers and academy chains. None of which, like Milo, make a personal profit. There is a contract in which Milo’s syndicate benefits from the activity of the enterprise. Similarly, with outsourced business, through its not-for-profit activity, society supposedly benefits.

“Really?” You ask.

“Yes, really.” I say. “Well, make your own mind up.”

However, Milo like all capitalists expands his business. M & M Enterprises are contracted by the Germans to carry out bombing raids for them. The enemy outsources their combat to the enemy. The Americans then end up fighting on both sides in the battle at Orvieto, and bombing their own squadron at Pianosa. At one point Minderbinder orders his fleet of aircraft to attack his own base, killing many American officers and enlisted men.

I did not realise, when I first read Catch-22 as a teenager, how Heller captured the deep irony of capitalism and liberal economics. That the suffering and damage it creates also provides opportunity for profit and capital accumulation.

The mechanisms by which we employ outsourced providers, like Teach First, to address inequality is a business scheme that capitalises on economic failure. If we address the economic issues, we would not need an enterprise to provide the service, the resources could be absorbed into the public sector to contribute to quality education for all.

I  do not wish to denigrate the many good people who work for and have trained with Teach First. No doubt, their motives are good. They want to do the best for the students they teach. My criticisms here, are at the level of political economy and policy, where I challenge the assumption that within neoliberalism it is possible to create educational programmes that promote social mobility and mitigate for inequality that is, itself, a consequence of neoliberalism.

Neoliberalism can’t solve neoliberalism. It’s a catch-22, we have to change the economic system.

References

Stiglitz, J. (2012). The price of inequality. Penguin Books.
Wilkinson, R. G., & Pickett, K. (2010). The spirit level: why equality is better for everyone. Penguin Books.

The real opposition

It is the first time in my life that the UK Labour Party has been a genuine opposition party and prepared to govern to bring about reforms to the economy and to society.

Against the backdrop of troubles across the world, it is cause for hope.

Since the 1960s, we have been living under increasing financial deregulation. Banks, financial institutions and large corporations have been given greater freedoms in how they behave and in the influence they have over governments. At the same time, ordinary people’s democratic rights have been eroded. The elite have been freed to accumulate extreme levels of wealth. And in so doing, they have expanded their power base and influence through government, through political parties, through institutions and through society. They can continually remind us that there is no other way: that a market economy is good. Their economists tell us that resources are distributed fairly through society only through the freemarket. They try and make us believe that the economy works like a business or a household; where, if the country spends too much, we go into debt. This debt, if not dealt with through austerity, will expand and be passed on to subsequent generations. So they say.

These are lies simply to justify the excesses of those with immense wealth and power.

Very few of the so-called 1 per cent are inherently bad or greedy people. It is but a natural response to defend your interests, your capital and wealth. We do it all the time. Except, when an individual or a group of individuals, say Rupert Murdoch or private financial institutions, set in motion actions to defend and protect their interests, with billions of pounds of resources, well-developed organisational infrastructure and media reach, it has a profound and powerful effect. Their message continually gets into our homes, our workplaces, it pervades and lingers in our thinking. Many of us know what is going on, but the pervasiveness of their message sows doubt and uncertainty, it undermines our power to resist.

And we concede, we submit to what Margaret Thatcher said, “there is no alternative. We submit to neoliberalism as an inevitability. Maybe we can gain a few concessions, but we accept the overall scheme of things.

Much as New Labour did under Blair and Brown.

But then we go to war in Iraq to perpetuate the industrial-military complex, to create an enemy and to further promote doubt and fear. Then the banks are exposed to have been too greedy, they have given out too much credit and it has limited value. Our subservient politicians submit to their city masters and create public money to save these institutions. At the same time they allow industry to fail and jobs to go, because that is, as they say, the nature of the freemarket.

Politicians then deepen austerity, not because it will improve the economy, but because it allows more state services to be transferred to big business. Public services that are not profitable are scrapped.

The Labour Party, having been in the grip of the interests of finance and big business since the 1970s, abandoned the ordinary people of the UK in order to play the politics that was dictated by banks, corporations and the obscenely wealthy. New Labour threw a few crumbs to the people in return for votes, but did not have the courage to do what was necessary. Blair betrayed the people of Britain for his own personal wealth and aggrandizement. Between 1997 and 2010, the Labour Party lost just shy of five million votes.

It is no surprise then, when a large proportion of the Labour Party membership vote a left-wing MP into the leadership position. Jeremy Corbyn has spent his entire political career opposing neoliberalism. He is elected to lead a real opposition. It leads to a shite storm of such fury that it makes you lose sleep at night and it rattles your nerves. You feel the full force of Murdoch, J P Morgan, Branson etc., the rest of the establishment’s contempt and their intent to destroy.

Oddly, commentators talk about there being no opposition. What they mean is they want a Labour leader who will play the old game. One who knows the rules. One who will play politics within the parameters set by the elite. They want a spectacle, a good gladiator who will fight in the empire’s Colosseum. Put on a good show. But, they  must not say what needs to be said. They must not challenge the democratic deficit, obscene inequality and the unfairness that has grown out of all proportion since our politicians handed society to the bankers.

But the commentators are stupid. Their uncritical subservience to economic liberalism has been the incubator for the far right. And if they persist they will have been complicit in re-creating totalitarianism. We are already seeing it happen.

This is why I give my full support to Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell and their small group of loyal MPs. It is this group that are prepared to take it on. It’s hackneyed, but they are prepared to speak truth to power. They have limitations. They have no infrastructure save a party machinery that is hostile to them. They are in a weak position. But they have demonstrated courage, conviction and determination in weathering the storm that has come from both within the party and from the establishment. Overall, they have remained steadfast in their opposition to the status quo.

If society is to have any hope in these difficult times, then we must support our real opposition. We must oppose the fake and false politics of the politicians and commentators who have become the lackeys of finance and big business.

 

 

The learning styles debate: a triumph of rationality over criticality

A number of well-meaning and well-intentioned neuroscientists and psychologists signed a letter in today’s Guardian saying that the concept of Learning Styles has no evidential base. Learning styles are well and truly debunked.

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2017/mar/12/no-evidence-to-back-idea-of-learning-styles

I don’t disagree.

What alarms me is the prioritisation and politicisation of this issue. Learning styles have been attributed, as a bête noire, by neoconservative educators, as dangerous and foolish – a symbol of the maleficence of progressive education.

For the neoconservative educator, the destruction of learning styles represents a victorious battle in a war against progressive education. The fiction is that a progressive cabal has imposed such monstrous practices on teachers, for example: learning styles, group work and discovery learning. And science, when done properly and rigorously leads to the destruction of these myths, one-by-one. Science will destroy progressivism in death by randomised control trial.

Educational neoconservativism is a broad coalition. It includes the teacher who simply wants authority in their own classroom, who is apolitical. The egoistic demagogic rationalist, who sees opportunity in elevating themselves amongst traditionally-oriented teachers. The knowledge evangelicals, who claim to be apolitical, and it is simply about truth and giving (disadvantaged) children access to powerful knowledge through a conservative canon. There is an unholy alliance – whether it be inadvertent or by volition –  with the libertarian freemarket right wing, intent on the commidification of knowledge and the privatisation of state education.

Because, for the freemarketeer, there is nothing that suits economic rationalism more than procedural rationalism, i.e. the rationality of neoconservative education.

Learning styles were introduced into schools in the UK in the 1990s and 2000s. Their introduction was part of an attempt to develop personalisation, the identification of sensory preferences for the formulation of learning experience. Learning style identification was streamlined into an easily implemented questionnaire and data was kept and used by teachers to inform the planning of their lessons. To make them aurally, kinaesthetically or visually oriented for learners’ various preference.

The context of the introduction of learning styles in England was against a backdrop of  a cross-party consensus on neoliberal reforms. Marketisation through competition, commodification of knowledge and pedagogy and per-pupil funding, creating a quasi-voucher scheme. Learning styles under New Labour in the 2000s were typical of Michael Barber’s deliverology, where policy could be turned into prescribed action and monitored in the extent to which it was implemented. A way of showing, to the electorate, that a policy such as personalisation, could be implemented through a system of rationality and accountability. There was little concern about the efficacy of the process.

Neoliberal reforms, as result of financial liberalisation, have resulted in increased wealth inequality within nations like the UK and US. Unfettered state-subsidised capitalism permit the rich to get richer, while the rest become poorer. Neoliberal reforms in education have preserved the inequality that has developed in the wider political economy. We are now in a situation where large private-sector multi-academy trusts are in receipt of public money to expand their education businesses and develop regional monopolistic control on the education of middle class pupils. Schools in more challenging areas suffer as a result of an unequal and unfair education system.

When academic colleagues launch a public attack on learning styles, I wonder why they do not take a more critical stance on what is happening in our education systems. Are learning styles – while they have many limitations – really the major issue that we have to address in education at present? Should we not be attacking the privatisation of education and the growing inequalities of society? Should we not be attacking the reduction in funding given to schools?

I fear that these scientists have been hoodwinked into a debate by neoconservatives as party to a false battle against progressivism. They may be acting in good faith and in absolute belief that science provides us with truth. I don’t know. But I do see that science can be used as an anti-intellectual force, the search for evidence and validity becomes a parochial exercise and denies the context of political and economic forces that drive things.

It is necessary that we approach evidence, causality and context with a critical eye. Otherwise we can end up focussing our energies on the relatively inconsequential, as we have done in the endless debates about learning styles. I implore all to focus on what is really damaging our education system.

Cultural practices, political economy and social psychology in the similarity of practices in schools

I have been interested in cultural practices in teaching for a few years. So I was interested how this resonated with Steven Puttick’s recent article in School Leadership and Management , describing an ethnographic study of geography departments.

I say I am interested in cultural practices, by this I mean that I make the assumption that within schools there are shared behaviours. Not exact imitations, but there are characteristic routines and patterns of behaviour and there is a shared language and discourse.Continue reading “Cultural practices, political economy and social psychology in the similarity of practices in schools”

The barriers to radical politics amongst the progressive middle classes

I began this post prompted by what appeared to be the indifference of the progressive middle class. Oh and I had a scrap on Twitter about economics.

The argument went round in circles.

“Oh yes it is!”

“Oh no it isn’t!”

We went on.

I  consider myself a humble person. I aspire to be humble. But in this argument, I was right. I was frustrated by my progressive co-discussant’s unwillingness to engage with radical economic ideas. It puzzled me.Continue reading “The barriers to radical politics amongst the progressive middle classes”

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

The exploitation of teachers

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.

Notes

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.

References

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.