23 SES 09 B, What is the ‘Public’ in Public Education? Mapping Past, Present and Future European Educational Imaginaries
Much ink has been spilled about the academisation agenda for schools in England – an agenda that began under the new labour (1997-2010) government and which has gained increasing, almost unstoppable, momentum under the subsequent coalition (2010-2015) and conservative (2015- ) governments. This commentary expresses a diverse array of pedagogical perspectives and political opinion. For some, academisation has opened up new horizons of choice and innovation (Ayles & Machin, 2015; Department for Education (DfE), 2016). More critical voices have noted that academies and multi-academy trusts have merely replicated the bureaucratic and corporate sins of the local education authorities, whose shortcomings they were designed to overcome (Wilkins, 2017). Others have critiqued the ‘democratic deficit’ in the academisation agenda (Glatter, 2015; Greany & Higham, 2018), its governance by fetishised logics of competition (Naidoo, 2016), and the reduction human actors to tradeable and expendable assets. Our approach in this paper is not to take sides in this debate, so much as to note how in both cases academisation is positioned as a break with the previous schooling system. In the case of academisation’s supporters, the contrast is with the bad old days of bureaucratic and inflexible local education authorities that duped and undersold the public. In the case of academisation’s critics the (implicit) contrast is with a golden era of democratic comprehensive schooling run by democratically accountable local education authorities in the name of the public. Resisting both these perspectives, instead we draw attention to how the notion of ‘the public’ in England has a long history of ideological mobilisation in the interests of financialised conceptions of the state and its subjects (Westall & Gardiner, 2015). This history includes the postwar welfare state, with its realist, but illusory, assumption of common ownership, and the neoliberal reorganisation of education and society, with its ‘corporate welfare’ and endless reflexivity in the form of audit, conducted in the name of public value and serving as a substitute for meaningful political action. Within this reading, ideas of British universalism – ‘the public’ – and inequality in education and society are not opposed but go hand in hand, raising the question of whether it is possible to envisage and enact another form of collective– one that is based on action rather than fantasy and comprised of, and existing for, the people. This paper grapples with this challenge in the context of past, present and future potential developments in education.
Eyles, A., & Machin, S. J., (2015). The Introduction of academy schools to England's education. CEPR Discussion Paper No. DP10772. https://ssrn.com/abstract=2645725 Department for Education (DfE). (2016). Educational excellence everywhere. UK: HMSO. Glatter, R. (2015). 'Because we can': Pluralism and structural reform in education. London Review of Education, 15(1), 115-125. Greany, T., & Higham, R. (2018). Hierarchy, Markets and networks: Analysing the'self-improving school-led system'agenda in England and the implications for schools. London: IOE Publications. Naidoo, R. (2016). The competition fetish in higher education: Varieties, animators and consequences. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 37(1), 1-10. Westall, C., & Gardiner, M. (2015). The public on the public: The British public as trust, reflexivity and political foreclosure. Basingstoke: Palgrave. Wilkins, A. (2017). Rescaling the local: Multi-academy trusts, private monopoly and statecraft in England. Journal of Educational Administration and History, 49(2), 171-185.
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