A school is a vital community resource, let's keep it that way.

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05 November 2014 by Martin Johnson
The real damage to England’s schools following the reforms of the last twenty-five years is that they have become individual economic entities. When schooling starts to become a commodity, curriculum and pedagogy become commodities too.

The appearance of trade marks on the curriculum sections of school websites is anathema to professionals whose work depends on sharing good practice. Marketisation of education doesn't lead to improved pupil performance. It is time to challenge the politicians who claim it does.

A recent UN report accuses some governments of bypassing their “moral imperative” to provide free state education by outsourcing public schooling to profit-making companies. Clear evidence from the US and Sweden shows marketisation increases socially polarised school intakes.

It’s too early to observe the same effect in England, but it’s inevitable if present policies continue. Since social selection is tantamount to academic selection, increased segregation will result in lower system performance.

Supporters of marketisation and privatisation believe an education market only makes sense if education is considered an individual commodity. Market theory places the parent as the purchaser of the commodity on behalf of their child. This assumes the commodity can be measured by end of school exam results. Incidentally, it’s only on this basis that the notion of virtual schooling could arise.

This is an impoverished view of education on two levels. Firstly, since the Education Reform Act English children have had a right to a universal, broad, and balanced curriculum, which must be far wider than the narrow range of subjects making up league tables. The current pressure on schools to focus on this narrow curriculum (which is directly related to the requirement for ‘market information’) amounts to a denial of this statutory right.

Secondly, education is about far more than the formal curriculum. Schools are where children learn to be social and learn social skills and experience cultures other than their own. Schools are where children can learn the satisfactions of achievements through group endeavour, can practice their creativity, individually and collectively, where they can reflect on ethical and spiritual issues together.

None of this computes with supporters of marketisation or the money people who wish to commodify schooling. Unless these trends towards marketisation and privatisation are reversed, England’s schools, and the communities they serve, will be impoverished. A school is a vital community resource, let's keep it that way.

Martin was on the panel at the first of ATL's Shape Education pre-election debates, which took place in London on 12 November. Martin Johnson is former deputy general secretary of ATL and author of the TUC publication, Education Not for Sale.

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