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BOOKS School Scandals

Pat Thomson's book blows the whistle on how corrupt neoliberal practice is wrecking education in Britain

THE CORE argument of Professor Pat Thomson’s outstanding book is that when the economistic logic of calculation and competition is the basis for organising the public sector, gross inefficiencies, ineffectiveness and inequities result.

And, she asserts, England’s school system represents “an almost fully materialised case of economistic logics at work.”

Targeting the corruption, corrupted practices and the “fraud, lack of transparency, cronyism and spin” that lie at the heart of the British state, she investigates the undermining of local authority-run schools by neoliberal ideology and how, in the public sector, the neoliberal funder–purchaser-provider infrastructure system has enabled the development of a marketised academy-based system.

Focusing on efficiency, Thomson delves into the cost of academy start-ups, along with conversion/rebrokerage and private finance initiatives and the business-mimicking practices of academies — high leadership salaries, financial reporting and mismanagement, fraud and procurement malpractice and market failure.

The overriding impression is that the current marketised regime is nothing more than class and ideology-driven policy making, which has little if anything to do with either genuine efficiency or evidence.

Also under scrutiny are the nature of effectiveness measures and the distortions of “teaching to the test,” the toxic audit-culture accountability regime and its impacts — lack of transparency, gaming the system, skewing student intake, using vocational courses to improve league-table position, exclusions and “off-rolling,” whereby schools fiddle performance indicators and toxic management practices.

Thomson outlines the challenge of humanising this toxic school system, focusing on ethics, the public good and strategies for reform and concludes that unless morality and integrity are directly addressed, mere technocratic tinkering will not be enough.

The neoliberal experiment imposed upon England’s schooling system has clearly been calamitous and this long-overdue book presents the left with an open goal for arguing that the marketisation and commodification of schooling have done huge damage and must be replaced, root and branch, at the next political opportunity.

Published by Bristol University Press/Policy Press, £12.99

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