Neo liberal freedoms and the future of physical education

Year: 2012

Author: Evans, John

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


Purpose: Economic arguments cannot justify or explain the significance of 'privatisation' in the neoliberal, new conservative project, either in the UK or elsewhere. Indeed, policy analysts have argued that, to suggest that privatisation is led by economics alone is to grossly underestimate the political nature of the privatisation agenda and the role of ideology in promoting it. Rizvi and Lingard (2011), for example, argue that the political context in which privatisation is promoted is 'inherently ideological and based on an almost ontological assumption that the private sector is intrinsically more productive and efficient than the public sector'. Such an assumption, they say, carries a particular 'social imaginary' and a 'philosophical conception of society as constituted by self-maximising individuals with the free capacity to choose, as well as a conception of government as necessarily inimical to individual interests. In short, a very particular conception of 'freedom' - 'freedom from' rather than 'freedom to' - resides within neoliberal discourse acting as a key rhetorical device for mobilising support for and rationalising policy change.  

Method: Focussing on the ideological aspects of Privatisation, and with reference to a variety of policy texts in the UK, this paper will explore the ways in which 'freedom' has been activated discursively to justify actions involving changes both to the structure and content of formal education. Empirically, the paper will analyse examples of UK Government and Education 'new provider' rhetoric relating to 'Free Schools' and 'Academies' and address both the claims and counter claims made for the virtues of diversification and the Privatisation of Education and PE.

The analyses will suggest that such changes will have significant implications for the educational entitlements of pupils and specifically, their opportunities to enjoy a liberal, comprehensive, high quality Physical Education (PE).

Conclusion: The paper suggests that the neoliberal project and the restructuring of Education, putatively offering greater diversity and choice of opportunity, may consolidate rather than help erode or eradicate extant social hierarchies and associated distributions of social and physical capital.