Conditional public entities in market-driven education

Year: 2018

Author: Boyask, Ruth

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Education has become more market-like, and while some entities in education have long taken the form of businesses, the number and extent has undoubtedly increased. There is a growing and expansive literature on the influence of edu-businesses as providers of education, consultancy and accreditation (Thompson et al, 2016; Gunter & Mills, 2017), documenting the erosion of public education. This paper steps aside from critique of edu-business to consider whether some kinds of governance structure, like cooperative and mutual ownership structures, can mitigate the worst aspects of educational markets.
This paper focuses upon entities that attempt to moderate the effects of market competition through adopting governance structures that engage with concepts of the public either wholly or partially outside of the state sector. It focuses on the structures these entities adopt, including legal forms, ownership models, the regulatory fields in which they operate, and the extent to which they can be classified as public entities. It draws from public sphere theory to define what counts as a public entity, reconceptualising the public in public education as pluralist, contextually specific and partial (Fraser, 1990; Warner, 2002). The public entities discussed in the paper exist in the world, are non-ideal and therefore constructed as conditional public entities. They share a commitment to social goals, mutual human relations or environmental ethics that extends beyond even as they engage with economic development.
The paper uses the illuminative techniques of policy sociology and focuses upon the fragmented context of schooling in England, where there is an extreme variety in school types. Examples of public entities from England are compared with similar structures and frameworks from other jurisdictions that share with England aspects of its common law system (including Australia, United States, New Zealand and Canada) and wider social discourses of the public, using an extended case methodology that relates specific and social concerns (Burawoy, 1998). It maps out different approaches to the governance of conditional public entities in four interrelated areas: Cooperative and Mutual Ownership; Charitable, Not-for-Profit and Public Benefit Organisations; Public-private Partnerships; For-profit Public Benefit and the Rise of Social Enterprise. Cases from each of these areas are considered in the light of legislation that holds them to public account (including education, company, and charity law). In each case, tensions between public and private interests play out, and entities are co-opted by, restricted by or forced to resist the homogenising effects of market relations.