Cleaning public education: privatising school maintenance work and the division of school labour

Year: 2019

Author: Gerrard, Jessica, Barron, Rosie

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper focuses on an area of privatisation that has not to date received significant attention in educational research: the privatisation of infrastructure, facilities and maintenance, and in particular the labour of cleaning. Analysing the case of Victoria, we demonstrate how successive governments have defended the privatisation of cleaning labour on the basis that it allow schools to concentrate on the ‘core’ business of teaching and learning. Tracing the evolution of the privatisation of cleaning through private contracts and public-private-partnerships, we consider what the bracketing of cleaning from the ‘public’ means for contemporary understandings of public education and the role and responsibility of the state. We argue that the effective separation and privatisation of cleaning and other maintenance and infrastructure work from teaching divides the types of labour carried out in the school, and thus the everyday practices of the school ‘public’. Rather than being auxiliary, such work is essential to the capacity for schools to function effectively. Thus, we suggest controversies regarding the underpayment of cleaning staff, for instance, signals a deep problematic for public education as a whole.