Commercialisation of public schooling

Year: 2017

Author: Sellar, Sam, Thompson, Greg, Hogan, David

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

There has been considerable academic research on the privatisation of schooling. This has identified that the increased role of private corporations in respect to schooling has resulted, to some extent, from the downsizing and restructuring of state bureaucracies, first under new public management and more recently through network governance. The reduced capacity of the state has opened up spaces and opportunities for corporations to expand their role in schooling systems (from agenda setting, policy text production, policy implementation and evaluation, and the increasing significance of public-private partnerships) in what has been referred to as the 'privatisation of the education policy community'. Research is now moving to focus on commercialisation in schooling as an element of transition to a new phase of governance reflective of new state structures and relationships between the public and private spheres.
The creation of national systems (the Australian curriculum, NAPLAN, a national funding approach) has created the opportunity or environment for private providers to become major suppliers to school systems in a broader national education market. Commercial providers offer ready-made 'solutions' to the various education 'problems' schools and systems are facing in improving student outcomes. These products and services complement and supplement basic education facilities, often in a context where bureaucratic or central support is being withdrawn. These services include the provision of curriculum content, assessment services, data infrastructures, digital learning, remedial instruction, professional development, and school administration support. Beyond these activities, some schools are also 'outsourcing' subject delivery to private providers, particularly in non-core learning areas.
The interesting distinction between the commercialisation of schooling and the privatisation of schooling is that private providers are working in public schools to support schooling processes, rather than taking over the delivery and running of schools on their own (e.g. privatised school models such as for-profit charter schools). Thus, in the commercialised school, public monies intended for public schooling are being used to fund the operations of commercial businesses. Yet, the scope of commercial activities in schools remains largely invisible, perhaps because the restructuring of the public service, the acceleration of technological development and increased expectations (and workload) in schools means that commercialisation presents to many as a necessary way to deliver education in the 21st century.
Thus, the aim of this symposium is to generate understanding about the scope of commercialisation in Australian public schools. We report on data from our project, Commercialisation in Public Schooling, to detail the extent and character of commercialisation, as well as document the structural conditions and political values that have enabled the commercialisation of public schools.