There’s no place in education for phoney ‘competitive’ values, writes CHRISTINE BLOWER
NICKY MORGAN’S education white paper is a clear reminder of everything that is wrong with current government thinking on education. It lays bare the ideology behind the Global Education Reform Movement (Germ).
Germ is based upon neoliberal principles — namely, competition between schools, teachers and student outcomes; standardised high stakes testing; liberalisation of teacher pay, terms and conditions; performance-related rewards; and, ultimately, privatisation.
Germ has some powerful backers. Clearly, the Tory government is committed to it. Intergovernmental bodies such as the World Bank also promote the Germ. Right-wing think tanks such as Policy Exchange play their part in pushing the Germ agenda.
So too do a number of large multinational corporations that see the potential to make large profits from the public purse.
The NUT, alongside teacher unions and NGOs from across the globe, has huge concerns about the role played by these “edu-businesses” in shaping education policy. That is why the NUT will be protesting today outside the AGM of Pearson PLC — the largest edu-business — as well as supporting a shareholder resolution calling the company to book.
Pearson operates in more than 70 countries, and made a profit of $1 billion in 2015.
Despite CEO John Fallon’s claims that Pearson is helping to improve student learning outcomes and increasing access to quality education by being a “profitable and cash-generative company,” the NUT, along with sister unions and parents, argue that its current business strategy is undermining the very fabric of public education.
In the Global South Pearson operates so-called “low-fee private schools.” These schools are set up in competition with often chronically underfunded state provision. These offer parents the promise of helping their children escape poverty. There is, however, no evidence whatever that these schools perform better than state schools.
Indeed, in a recent statement to the United Nations general assembly, UN special rapporteur Kishore Singh noted that low-fee private schools “not only constrain social justice in education, but also limit social justice through education,” meaning that this approach actually makes social justice worse.
Access to education in low-fee private schools is based on the capacity to pay fees, which for many families are exorbitant.
For example, Omega Schools in Ghana operates on a pay-as-you-learn system in which parents must pay a daily school fee of approximately 65 cents per child.
This equates to 25-40 per cent of the daily income for low-income families in Ghana to send one of their children to an Omega school. This often reinforces gender divisions as parents opt to send their eldest boy to such schools.
Just as there is no evidence to support the claims made for low-fee private schools, there is no evidence that “high-stakes” standardised testing improves education or learning outcomes.
There is, however, plenty of evidence that such testing results in a narrowing of the curriculum as teachers are pressured to “teach to the test.” There is also evidence that such a testing regime and “exam factory” culture is bad for children’s mental health.
Pearson administered 50 million standardised tests in the US alone last year. This increases significantly if we also take into account its assessment work in other countries of the Global North.
It is for these reasons that the NUT is supporting the shareholder resolution, calling on the company to reconsider its business model, which has been tabled at the Pearson AGM today.
Whatever the outcome of the AGM, the NUT will continue to fight Germ and spotlight the detrimental impact on teaching and learning of companies like Pearson. We ask you to join this fight. It is a fight for the future of our children’s education.