Wei reads and writes

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Location: Singapore, Singapore

Not confident but not too shy; Not White but definitely not quite Oriental; Not religious but also not an athetist; Not sure whether 'athetist' is spelt correctly, but not that bothered about it; Not a naysayer, but not averse to saying no.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

beng is cool, singlish a signal

beng is cool, singlish a signal
Ever wondered why the English-proficient are its biggest backers?
Monday • March 20, 2006
Terence Chong
THE presence of Singlish in everyday life is undeniable. From HDB coffeeshops to corporate boardrooms, it is deeply entrenched in the psyche of Singaporeans from all walks of life.
It is thus no surprise that everyone has an opinion on Singlish. The Singlish debate so far has, however, been confined between those who wish to celebrate it as an icon of Singaporean-ness and those who believe it will only hinder our global connectivity.
But the Singlish dilemma is more deeply layered than that.
Singlish is, firstly, a marker of postcolonial identity. In promoting Singlish, we are in fact campaigning for English, a colonial heritage, to be accepted and understood on Singaporean terms. In this sense, Singlish is transformed into a source of national pride and identity because it alludes to the broader way Singaporeans have successfully adapted colonial apparatuses for our own needs.
Singlish becomes a potent symbol of who we are, how we think, and how we speak. This is especially so for many overseas Singaporeans who are able to instantly recognise fellow citizens with Singlish. It is thus no surprise that many want to celebrate it as an icon of local culture.
Singlish is, however, also a means of class differentiation. Although many argue that Singlish should be celebrated as part of national identity, in reality, this argument comes only from the English-proficient middle class.
We revel in its down-to-earth factor and wear it like a badge of honour to show how unashamedly Singaporean we are. Meanwhile, we overlook the many Singaporeans out there who cannot speak anything else but Singlish. In doing so, we erase the harsh realities of these Singlish-speakers such as economic marginalisation in our search for symbols of national identity.
Furthermore, being able to code-switch effortlessly between Singlish and grammatically-sound English, the English-proficient middle class demonstrates its cultural capital vis-à-vis Singlish-speaking heartlanders. This explains why the English-proficient middle class is, by large, the most vocal champion of Singlish.
Singlish is also appropriated by the English-proficient middle class for certain desirable characteristics. Take the Ah Beng culture, for example. The Ah Beng is a caricature of the local working class youth and personifies failure in Singapore's elitist and capitalist society.
Recently, however, local sociologists have observed that the local media's popularising of the Ah Beng in sitcoms and through fashion-sense has led some in the young English-speaking middle class to claim that they have a "little bit" of Beng in them.
It's gradually becoming cool to be Beng. Likewise, it becomes useful for us to slip into Singlish to sound "real" and "authentic". We throw in a lah or meh as a reaffirmation of our heartlander status, to avoid being perceived as rootless or un-Singaporean.
Hence, in professing affection for the Ah Beng and Singlish, the English-proficient middle class has co-opted the Ah Beng and Singlish for its own interests. We seek from Singlish and the Beng the imprimatur of heartlander authenticity to counter accusations of cosmopolitan pretensions, while we continue to look beyond our shores for cultural consumption.
Lastly, championing Singlish allows us to safely challenge the Government's economic rationale. The Government's stand on Singlish is clear — it is not a trait to be celebrated because we cannot be a first-world economy or go global with Singlish.
A Singlish-speaking population, the Government argues, would be an obstacle to the wooing of global capital and the transnational elite.
Meanwhile, the more "liberal" members of the English-educated middle class are generally less concerned with the potential economic consequences of Singlish, given their mastery of English and their globally applicable skills. In defending, celebrating and using Singlish, they carve out new discursive terrain on which to safely confront the state's ideology of economic pragmatism — that which would otherwise be difficult to challenge given the widening wage gap between the haves and the have nots.
Singlish, more than any other language, has created pathways across the borders of class and ethnicity. However, the ease with which we cross borders depends on our class, cultural capital and the specific nature of power distribution in society.
The ways and context in which we use Singlish is indicative of our class, education and cultural capital, as well as the cultural politics that play out in-between.
The writer is Fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.
This is a personal comment.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Transition economies essay 2000.

'The performance of the world's transition economies has been a disappointment.' Is this assessment justified?

The fall of the Berlin Wall in the 1980s led many commentators to declare the beginning of a new age, where people all over the world would finally embrace the free market and together, perhaps match towards greater economic and prosperity.

Now, more than a decade later, the same commentators may regret their over-enthusiastic declarations. To many of them, the former communist states currently in transition have made little progress. In fact, the 'progress' seems to be in negative terms.

In terms of real GDP per capital, converted for purchasing power parity, the transition economies seem to be taking steps backward. They are not narrowing the gap between the West and themselves. The gap is actually becoming bigger. Russia's GDP figures has seen large declines.

The evil of inflation has cropped up. When prices were deregulated, the cost of living rose rapidly when good that used to be heavily subsidised more than quadrupled in prices. Works on seeing the price increases, demanded higher wages. This led to the endless price-wage spirals and hyperinflation, as well as the eventual devaluation of the rouble and other currencies of transition economies. The devaluation made things worse when imported goods became more expensive as well.

Serious unemployment came about. When the governments relaxed their control over the economy, and demand and supply forces were allowed to interact relatively freely, there was an immence upheaval of resources as producers rushed to attempt to produce what they perceived consumers to demand. Since labour was immobile, and did not have the skills to do anything except what the state had originally allocated them to do, they faced daunting structural unemployment.

On top of that, with the provision for private ownership, greater inequality emerged when aggressive businessmen and cronies of political powers took over state enterprises.

Given that the standard of living in so many different parts of the ex-Soviet bloc seemed to be going down, it's perhaps no wonder that many find the performance of transition economies to be disappointing.

There are however doubts that things are quite that bad. GDP per capita for many such nations may have fallen, but this is a poor indicator for the welfare of the people. As Rowe and Cobson commented, 'the economic hero (of the system) is a terminal cancer patient undergoing a costly divorce.' The best thing that could happen to boost GDP figures is a natural disaster. It would serve to boose national income, but in no way does this increase in national income really represent an improvement in welfare. The same principle works the other way. Just because GDP per capita is falling may not mean anything much. It may in fact be good if it involves less wastage or less expenditure on regrettables like defence or transport. Besides, figures for national income in command economics are likely not to be reliable, and are also more likely to be falsely high. Hence, transition economies may in truth in a better position than the command economies that they replaced.

Also, prices may have risen, but the price itself states nothing about the quality. In Poland, the price of haircuts may have risen, but they are accompanied by the availability of more hairstyles. The consumers may have traded off price for variety, and perhaps come out the better for it. Similarly, changes in quality of food, clothing and housing can also be observed. Perhaps the Consumer Price Index used in computing inflation overstates the true rise in costs of living and results in understatements of welfare improvements.

Structural unemployment is inevitable when so drastic a change in economic systems result. Workers need time to adjust to changes, to find new jobs that are suitable for them. In a sense, they need to be weaned off the government, and this takes time. Improvements in China have appeared to be promising. A recent feature in Newsweek was on how retrenched workers in China who have adjusted well to the changes. Some are in fact inspired to work harder to serve the consumers so that they 'will never be retrenched again'.

Investment in transition economies by the West has also picked up and alleviated the problems associated with the breaking down of traditional trade flows with other communist states. This investment has occurred mainly in the stable (socially and politically) transition economies, including Poland and the Czech Republic. Today, their performance can be said to be far from disappointing. Indeed, these nations are ranked higher than a couple of nations in the European Union and the so-called first world in the Human Development Index compiled by the United Nations.

How we view the performance of the world's transition economies depends on what expectations we had of them in the first place. Extreme enthusiasts with too high hopes are therefore opening themselves to disappointment, especially if they expect the free market to be the instant solution to every economic problem. Even so, they should not be disappointed by the progress (or lack of it) of all the transition economies. If claims that even Poland is not doing as well as it should, then one can perhaps be considered to be nit-picking. After all, the free market is not a panacea for all problems itself.

If the world's transition economies are to be successful, perhaps they need more time. A decade may be too short a time for these nations to adapt to a new system of doing things. Also, more aid in the form of foreign investments may help to relieve the trauma of broken down traditional trade flows. With more time and more aid, the performance of the world's transition economies may one day be satisfactory to all.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

My books

Christie, A. Five complete Miss Marple novels.

Cunningham, M. Specimen Days. (signed copy)

Haddon, M. The curious incident of the dog in the night-time.

Hollinghurst, A. The line of beauty.

Kerouac, J. On the road.

Knowles, J. A separate peace.

Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway.

Allwright, P. Basics of Buddhism.

Bohm, D. On creativity.

Fox, K. Watching the English: the hidden rules of English behaviour.

Galbraith, JK. The economics of innocent fraud.

Gladwell, M. The tipping point: how little things can make a big difference.

Herrnstein, RJ & Murray, C. The bell curve: intelligence and class structure in American life.

Hickman, T. The call-up.

Le Rouchefoucauld. Maxims

Levitt, SD & Dubner, SJ. Freakonomics: a rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything.

Lewis, CS. Mere Christianity.

Morgan, KO. The Oxford history of Britain.

Sachs, J. The end of poverty: how we can make it happen in our lifetime.

Schwartz, B. The paradox of choice: why more is less; how the culture of abundance robs us of satisfaction.

Skidelsky, R. John Maynard Keynes: fighting for Britain.

Stiglitz, J. Globalisation and its discontents.

Wolf, M. Why globalisation works.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

What's another word for elitist?

What's another word for elitist?
Gifted students doing well, but they’re an island unto themselves
Tuesday • November 29, 2005

HE TEACHES students from the Gifted Education Programme (GEP) and observes at close hand what many have pointed out: They hang out only with each other. They become so comfortable with other GEPers (as they call themselves), that even outside the classroom they prefer each other’s company.

Even on overseas trips and co-curricular activities (CCAs), the teacher says that these students form a clique.

And so, more than 20 years after the programme kicked off in Singapore, the same problem remains. The programme, whose goals include producing the country’s future leaders, is struggling to get its gifted students to relate to the man-on-the-street.

The debate was reignited recently after this newspaper reported on a study that showed how GEPers found it difficult to cope with the programme’s diverse demands and were often ostracised by their peers.
Since then, dozens of GEPers, their parents and other students have written in, but while they differ on the labels, they agree on one point: Though they go to school with general students, the gifted ones are in a world — and a group — of their own.

Even they don’t deny it.

GEP student Gwyneth Teo, 15, wrote: “Ask yourselves if our so-called elitism is very much different from that of the girl-next-door who has a group of friends who hang out together.

“It’s genuine friendship and loyalty that bind us together, not status. Is that a crime?”

Michael Wee, another 15-year-old GEP student, said that the ostracism “does not affect GEP students in any way. What with existing close ties with other fellow GEP students, no one needs to bother about ostracism from those outside the programme”.

While such friendships help them cope, doesn’t this segregation defeat one of the main purposes of the programme?

Mr Johannis Auri Abdul Aziz, 25, a former GEP student, told Today that educators “have known all along that we have a problem relating to other people”. Said Mr Johannis: “We are given a booklet spelling out just how different we are from other people and how the programme would meet our needs.

“We have our own syllabus and our own after-school enrichment activities. We end up developing our own sub-culture that looks really weird from the outside … it is clear that more formal help is needed.”

He freely admits that many GEPers can be unskilled in social niceties and often can’t make small talk. “We have limited knowledge of what is appropriate and inappropriate in certain situations,” he said.

One problem is that “gifted” individuals are often “non-conformists” who have difficulties blending in, said Dr David Peat, a senior educational psychologist at the Institute of Mental Health.

“Gifted individuals are the ones who scan the environment and decide what is worth doing and what is not. It is unfair to call the GEP elitist. It is just another level of a highly-structured hierarchical education system,” said Dr Peat, who was also a consultant to the GEP in 2001.

But would they make good leaders?

“It depends on your point of view,” said Dr Peat. “I would hope that leaders are able to empathise with people who are different, and that they have strong social skills.”

On its part, the Ministry of Education (MOE) says it has programmes in place to develop GEP students’ specific talents, including that of leadership.

Programme participants are housed in regular schools to allow them to mix with mainstream students. Efforts are made to teach them the right values through civics and moral education lessons, while CCAs are supposed to help them blend and mix with others.

But the problem, according to the teacher who has observed GEPers for a long time, is that even during CCAs they tend to stick with each other. ” There should be room for more porous movement between the GEP and the other streams,” he said.

The MOE, which says it has been tracking 600 of the 4,000-odd students who have graduated from GEP, says it is otherwise satisfied with the results. A fifth of the tracked students joined the civil service while another fifth took up medicine. Law, engineering and teaching are their other professions of choice.

“We have evidence that the GEP’s objectives are met to a large extent,” said an MOE spokesperson.

She cited Dr Tracey Ho, 29, and Dr Wong Ting Hway, 32, as examples of GEP graduates who have helped put Singapore on the world map.

Dr Ho is a former national shooter, President’s Scholar and Lee Kuan Yew Scholar who was recently named one of the world’s top 35 innovators under the age of 35 years by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dr Wong was the first Singaporean contracted to work with the International Committee of the Red Cross in Nepal.

Even so, some still think it would help if other gifted students could share their gifts with their peers more easily.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

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[1] Also in Rand Journal of Economics, Vol. 34, No. 4.

MA Further discussion and recommendations

Further discussion and recommendations

Thus far in this report, I have in Chapter 1 given a brief account of the market based reforms in England since 1988 and in Chapter 2 attempted to fit the case for school markets into Lakatos’ methodology of scientific research programmes (MSRP) framework as well as identify the ‘anomalies’ that threaten the coherence of the ‘markets for schools’ SRP. Then in Chapter 3, the idea of countervailing power as an addition to the protective belt and a solution to the monopoly power ‘anomaly’ was described, and a typology with which to facilitate its identification was suggested.

To ascertain the effectiveness of countervailing power as a curb on monopoly power, suggesting the typology is hardly sufficient. Indeed, the discussion of countervailing power in this report has only been exploratory and is really a first step. There is therefore a need perhaps to not only exhaustively identify all possible forms of countervailing power, but also to examine the effectiveness of all these various forms.

Some studies, including Power & Clark (2000), Vincent & Martin (2000), and Ranson et al (2004) which were mentioned earlier, have been carried out on several of the phenomena that I have identified as sources of countervailing power. These are case studies and good work by sociologists with which to begin to understand this phenomenon and evaluate its efficacy. At first glance though, it appears that not one of the school adjudicator, the ‘storming parents’ or the Parent Teacher Association is wholly desirable: as discussed above, the use of the first is too restrictive, the second is too threatening in a civil society and the third, in particular circumstances, may be alienating. Hence, on the face of it, it seems not only that it is difficult to be as optimistic about monopoly power in the schools market as Galbraith was for the 1950s American economy, but also that countervailing power may not be such a useful addition to the protective belt of the SRP.

However, given that these are small-scale case studies, which are highly context specific, and possibly unrepresentative, their findings and conclusions are difficult to generalise and thus should only remain as a starting point to comprehend the mechanisms of countervailing power. What would be necessary to more fully measure the effectiveness of countervailing power could be the large scale, well-resourced, quantitative randomised experiment that has been used to evaluate the education maintenance allowance by Middleton et al (2004).

In this report, Lakatos’ MSRP framework has been a very useful tool with which to organise aspects of the drive towards markets in schools: the arguments for markets, the evidence, the counter-evidence, the strategies that proponents of markets use to put forth their case and to refute their opponents, etc. The MSRP framework has more commonly been used to compare divergent SRPs, as per Lakatos’ (1978a) own comparisons of the Newtonian and Einsteinian research programmes, or Blaug’s (1980) Keynesians versus the monetarists. It may also be intellectually stimulating and potentially fruitful to attempt a similar comparison in the field of education: to contrast the SRP of ‘markets for schools’ with that of the pro-comprehensive and anti-market socialists perhaps typified by members of the Socialist Workers’ Party and left wing academics so prevalent among sociologists working in education, such as Ranson, Gillborn and Vincent. As a central-right inclined student of economics, it would be useful, at least for myself, to attempt to identify the hard core of the latter SRP, in a bid to comprehend why meaningful dialogue between the two groups has thus far seemed so difficult to achieve.

Ma Chapter 3

Chapter 3: The concept of countervailing power;
countervailing power in schools

Unrestrained economic power is … an enemy of the good society. I only urge that we have a full view of the processes by which it is restrained.’

Galbraith, J., (1954). ‘Countervailing power’, American Economic Review, Vol. 44, No. 2, Page 6

This chapter aims to briefly lay out Galbraith’s (1956) concept of countervailing power, before going on to survey critiques and applications of this concept. Then, an attempt to typify and identify manifestations of countervailing power will be made.

3.1: What is countervailing power?

In American Capitalism, Galbraith (1956) announced the arrival of new forces that restrained private economic power: that of countervailing power. Such forces were birthed and enhanced by the same processes of concentration which threatened competition. Such forces appeared ‘not on the same side of the market but on the opposite side, not with competitors but with customers or suppliers.’ The appearance of such forces meant that there was a second ‘autonomous regulator of economic activity’ and that there was an alternative to competition as the ‘only available regulatory mechanism apart from the state’. Like competition, countervailing power is also a ‘self-generating force’, because of a ‘tendency of power to be organised in response to a given response to a given position of power’. Since power on one end of the market tends to create ‘both the need for, and the prospect to, the exercise of countervailing power from the other side’, countervailing power may be relied upon as a curb on economic power. Galbraith (1956) identified the following as examples of the manifestations of countervailing power: the emergence of the United Steel Workers union to challenge the dominance and power of the steel industry in dictating employment of steel workers and the ‘rise of the food chains, the variety chains, the mail-order houses (now graduated into chain stores), the departmental-store chains, and the cooperative buying organisations of the surviving independent department and food stores’ to challenge monopoly suppliers of goods such as tyres. Together with competition and government regulation, countervailing power would keep the American economy going. There is a case for the government to continue its inadvertent support of countervailing power thus far, such as by granting minimum wage legislation to unorganised workers, and Galbraith (1956) argued that this support should be the ‘major domestic peacetime function of the federal government’.

Galbraith (1956) also asserted that ‘it is a wise economist who recognises the scope of his generalisations’ and that there are limits to the ability of countervailing power. Very strong monopoly positions might still prove impregnable against the manoeuvres of several buyers. Sources of countervailing power may also be identified by those in dominance, and successfully resisted, such as the American residential building industry, where the manufacturers of building materials reign supreme over the builders.

3.2: Recent manifestations of countervailing power

Recent evidence on the existence and usefulness of countervailing power appears to be mixed. Dobson & Waterson (1999) identified a trend within retailing towards increasing concentration, which is at least partially reinforced by the strategies of the retailers themselves, such as through the promotion of in-house brands. In British retail grocery for example, the market share of the top five firms has increased from 53% in 1988 to 64% in 1996 (Nielson, 1998). Such a trend is not isolated in Britain. Over the same time period, similar trends were observed in other European nations, where the market share rose from 27% to 42% in Germany, and from 42% to 52% in France (Nielson, 1998). Dobson and Waterson (1999) went on to suggest that the traditional Chicago school analysis of the retailing industry as perfectly competitive, because retailers face a small number of powerful suppliers with inordinately large market power, is outdated. Instead, they argue that retailing should be regarded as either monopolistic competition or an oligopoly with several key strategic players. Using a model where a single supplier negotiates with several differentiated oligopolistic retailers, they then attempted to investigate whether the increasing concentration may be regarded as a source of countervailing power to counteract that of the manufacturers (Dobson & Waterson, 1997). Though they acknowledge that higher retailer concentration would lead to a ‘fall in the supplier’s relative bargaining power’ and suggest that retailers do exhibit a countervailing power vis-a-vis their supplier, they conclude that ‘there is little to suggest that countervailing power is a reliable self-regulatory mechanism to protect consumers’. A similar conclusion was drawn using a separate model by Chen (2001), who argued that though an increase in countervailing power on the part of retailers may lead to a decline in retail prices for consumers, this decline is ‘not the result of a benevolent retailer acting on behalf of consumers but a self-interested supplier trying to offset the reduction in profits caused by the rise in countervailing power’. From Chen’s (2001) model, the supplier, in order to make up for a decline of profits, sells to fringe retailers at reduced prices to boost sales. Therefore, the lower retail price result is contingent upon a crucial assumption: the existence of ‘fringe competition’. Not only is lower prices not guaranteed, consumer choice may suffer from a reduction in product variety (Chen 2003). Therefore, countervailing power may be argued to be incapable of replacing competition as the economy’s regulatory mechanism.

On the other hand, in the examination of the pricing of a monopolist in a thirty round experimental posted offer market with two buyers and another identical market but with four buyers, Engle-Warnick & Ruffle (2002) found that prices were well below the monopoly price when the buyers are diffuse, and that competitive levels of pricing, or even lower, could actually be achieved. They attribute this result to two hypotheses: the ‘buyer empowerment hypothesis’, whereby fewer buyers intuitively feel empowered when there are fewer of them and can withhold demand more effectively, forcing the monopoly to lower prices in successive periods, and the ‘cautious monopoly hypothesis’, where ‘the mere threat of increased costly withholding when there are fewer buyers causes the monopolist to price more cautiously’ (Engle-Warnick & Ruffle, 2002). Concentration in the buyer market therefore has been effective as a source of countervailing power to eliminate monopoly power. Other papers that identify bargaining strength as a source of countervailing power include: Snyder (1998) and Ellison & Snyder (2001). With the advent of the internet as a communicative tool, countervailing power may rise as a check on retailers and manufacturers, since consumers may potentially form networks and work together effectively in collective bargaining (Rha & Widdows, 2002).

In mental health care, advocacy efforts from mental health care professionals and consultants ‘with their deeply held principles and ideals regarding public sector service’ (Minkoff, 1997) were identified as a countervailing power response to the imposition of managed care ideologies onto the system. This response is not in the form of outright criticism of the new, but of an inclination to work within the new framework, while ensuring that the public service ethos ‘that they feel most strongly about are incorporated into the newly developed systems of care’ (Minkoff & Pollack, 1997). Though groups and legislative efforts have been organised to fight for safeguards, such as through the establishment of standards, against the ‘managed care bottom line of cost control’ (Scheid, 2000), they are not generally viewed to have sufficient political clout to match up with the lobbying power of the managed care industry. Also, broadly in medical services, doctors and institutions have been postulated to be opposing countervailing agents (Light, 1991). In the Hafferty and Light (1995) perspective, ‘one party (such as the state, a profession, corporate interests or consumers) may gain dominance by subordinating other parties who, in time, counter-mobilise to redress the imbalances produced by the dominance of one party’ (Hartley, 2002). Doctors could emerge as advocates for their patients and increase their services, against efficiency-driven institutions acting for society to control spending (Schlesinger, 1997). Consumers may band together as a countervailing force too, such as in an Oregon case, whereby past patients at a birth centre protested and demonstrated against the closure of this centre and the firing of the midwifery staff, and ultimately saved the clinic (Hartley, 2002).

3.3: Countervailing power in schools
Following the discussion on what countervailing power is, and where it has been argued to have manifested in other industries, I will now go on to attempt to identify and describe its various appearances in the English school market. Before that however, I will suggest a simple typology of countervailing power, as illustrated in the diagram below, with which it may be easy to sort out their various possible forms and identify others.

Diagram 1: the axes of countervailing power

Countervailing power, as I see it, may lie on two axes. On the X-axis, the spectrum ranges from the eponymous adversarial to collaborative, while on the y-axis, the range is from top down introduction to bottom up development.

The key form of countervailing power that has emerged would involve the set of ‘quasi-regulations’ that has been introduced by New Labour under the Schools Standards and Framework Act 1998, specifically This includes the appointment of adjudicators to resolve disputes over admission policies and practices and the formulation of national codes of practice which the adjudicators would strive to uphold and enforce. The Code of Practice issued in 1999 mandated the need for explicit and transparent admissions policies, clear explanation of oversubscription criteria, and the rules under which schools may legitimately select, e.g. specialist schools were allowed to select a portion of their intake through aptitude testing, though other schools were disallowed from introducing ability testing if they had not already started during so in 1997/8; church schools were also allowed to interview pupils, but only to ascertain religious denomination. This and revised editions of the Code of Practice tells parents their rights as far as school admissions are concerned, and if they feel that they have been unfairly treated, the Code of Practice may be used to back them up in appeals to the school adjudicator. As the set of ‘quasi-regulations’ has been ordered by the state, and the process involves bring forth cases from one set of parties, such as aggrieved parents and children, against another set, that of schools and admissions authorities for judgement by an independent referee, on the typology of countervailing power, I would consider the School Adjudicator to be in the top down introduction and adversarial category.

A chief and 14 subordinate adjudicators are appointed by the Secretary of State for Education and Employment, though their work is independent of the Department for Education and Skills, which was until June 2001, the Department of Education and Employment. They are not allowed to be actively interventionist, and can only act to investigate when a body that is legally entitled to do so has made a complaint. The system is therefore a reactive rather than a proactive one. Parents may complain, but there are restrictions in place, among which is that a minimum of 10 parents is needed to trigger a parental complaint themselves (West & Ingram, 2001). Otherwise, it appears that parents have to count on their LEAs to voice objections about schools which abuse their own admissions authority. Given such restrictions, the low number of complaints made per annum is perhaps unsurprising. According to the Office of the School Adjudicator (2004), there were only 171 objections (from 126 objectors) in the 2003/2004 academic year and 165 in the year before. This is in sharp contrast to a total of 91,430 parental appeals lodged against non-admission of their children in 2002/2003 in England. However, the school adjudicators seem to be doing with a good job with this small number of cases. Out of the 126 objectors in 2003/2004, approximately 90 percent of them have had their objections upheld (Office of the School Adjudicator, 2004). Also, in their user survey, 92 percent found the service excellent or good overall (Office of the School Adjudicator, 2004).

Another example of an adversarial form of countervailing power, though one that is of a bottom up development, could be what Ranson et al (2004) calls the phenomenon of ‘storming parents’. This phenomenon involves ‘unruly parents’, who ‘enter school inappropriately, angrily seek out the head or a teacher and abuse them verbally or even physically’ (Ranson et al, 2004). Such actions are forms of exercising Hirschmann’s (1970) voice, and are attempts to influence the provision of education in schools. Though perhaps extreme and even illegal in its manifestation, Ranson et al (2004) argue that ‘storming’ occasions were reactions to events in schools, that parents were reacting to address the neglect of their needs, and that the underlying desire of these parents was to seek mutual understanding. In this light, legislating and punishing aggressive parents, as the Secretary of State for Education has done or promised to do[1], may be unfairly recreating a deficit model of groups of parents and reviving the long tradition of teachers seeing parents as problems (Croll, 2001). Therefore, government policy should perhaps focus on promoting understanding and communication between parents and schools, such as through enhancing Parent Teacher Association (PTA) links.

Communication and deliberation between parents and teachers, for example during parents’ evenings or through the PTA would be a collaborative form of countervailing power, and probably one of bottom up development as well. There is a National Confederation of Parent Teacher Association (NCPTA), which is an umbrella organisation for over 12,500 PTAs and 6 million members in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (NCPTA, 2004). This organisation supports PTAs in generating partnerships and dialogue between parents and teachers, and provides parents with an avenue to voice their views with regards to the education of their children. It also produces position statements to articulate its members views on matter including ‘parental preference and school admissions’, as well as magazines and newsletters, with articles on school safety measures and school networking, etc., to member organisations. At the local level, PTAs may organise parents’ forums, i.e. group meetings of parents, tutors, the headteacher and management, though these are probably relatively rare compared to social and fundraising events. Vincent and Martin’s (2000) observations of such forums have revealed that even though regular participants tend to be supporters of the school and are willing to accept professional knowledge and understanding, given persistence and strong convictions, they have on occasion been used as an effective channel for expressing parental dissent and dissatisfaction. The more common formal consultative parents’ evening is the main opportunity through which parents get to both get feedback from and give feedback to teachers.
However, there is perhaps a need to ensure that communication is improved at parents’ evenings, for Power and Clark (2000) have in their case studies of four schools found that parents generally report that they were ‘frustrating and unproductive encounters’, especially if they turn out to be more of a one way dissemination of information in chaotic, free-for-all ‘rugby match’ environments.

Finally, an example of a collaborative and top down introduction form of countervailing power could be the development of online forums for parents. This mirrors Rha and Widdows’ (2002) prediction, earlier mentioned, that with rising availability and usage of the internet, consumers would be provided with an avenue to communicate and take action together effectively. Parents Centre, at www.parentscentre.gov.uk, formerly Parents Online, is a government initiative, working in conjunction with Directgov, the central government’s official online resource website, to not only provide parents with information on schooling and parenting, such as childcare, school life, choosing a school, dealing with bullying, etc., but also, through the set up of a message board, to allow concerned parents to post queries, anonymously if they desire, and obtain information and support from other parents and experts who use the forum. Though this particular initiative has been implemented by the government, it is foreseeable that if there is a demand, similar websites and online forums may be set up by parents themselves, thereby providing a more bottom up development version of this countervailing power.

[1] Estelle Morris, in interview on GMTV Sunday Programme, 14th July 2002, according to Ranson et al. (2004).

MA Chapter 2

Chapter 2: Why introduce markets for schools?; marketisation of schools in a Lakatosian scientific research programme framework

2.1 The Lakatosian Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes (MSRP) framework

In a radio broadcast on 30th June 1973, Imre Lakatos (1978a) succinctly introduced his methodology of scientific research programmes (MSRP) to the public. This methodology was to be a framework for the analysis of developments in science. He argued that scientific achievements should be viewed as sets of programmes rather than solitary theories and hypotheses. For example, Lakatos (1978a) argued that Newtonian science consists not only of the ‘hard core’ of the three laws of mechanics and the law of gravitation, but also a ‘protective’ belt of auxiliary hypotheses that guards the ‘hard core’ against refutation. ‘Heuristics’, in either positive and negative forms, then guide scientists in the Newtonian SRP, to solve anomalies which threaten both the ‘protective belt’ or the ‘hard core’. At any stage in any research programme, Newtonian, Einsteinian, Marxism, or Copernican, etc., there are always unsolved anomalies and problems. Therefore, as Lakatos (1978a) asserted,’(a)ll theories, in this sense, are born refuted and die refuted’.

MSRP has since been used as a tool to analyse the history of economic thought and to examine the development of economic theories and programmes. For instance, Blaug (1980) argued that the neo-classical human capital model has the characteristics of the Lakatosian SRP and defined its ‘hard core’ to be “People spend on themselves in diverse ways not only for the sake of the present enjoyment but also for the sake of future benefits.” while the various human capital theories served as its ‘protective belt’. Elsewhere, Latsis (1972) and Simon (1978) described and compared competing research programmes related to the theory of the firm: the former dealt with ‘situational determinism’ versus ‘economic behaviorism’, while the latter juxtaposed the ‘substantive rationality’ of economics with the ‘procedural rationality’ of psychology.

‘Markets for schools’ can and will similarly be explored by scrutinising it under the microscope of the MSRP. Before going on to place the school marketisation programme into the SRP framework, it is necessary to define and explain the various elements of the SRP.

The heart of each SRP is its hard core. This hard core is a set of embedded assumptions that all workers in the SRP consider to be irrefutable, according to Lakatos (1978b). The hard core’s protective belt however is refutable, and is indeed expected to bear the brunt of any refutations. The protective belt is adaptable and continually changing, and modifies itself, such as the replacement of its composite theories, to explain away the refutations and account for any anomalies. Anomalies and refutations exist in each and every SRP. These are phenomena which have not been accounted for or explained.

As mentioned earlier, there are two types of ‘heuristics’: negative and positive. These are both methodological rules. Negative heuristics prescribe paths of research to avoid, and ‘involves the stipulation that the basic assumptions underlying the programme at the hard core must not be rejected or modified’ (Chalmer, 1983). Negative heuristics .forbid any questioning of the hard core and redirect any refutations to the protective belt. On the other hand, positive heuristics stipulate what paths to pursue and how the research programme should be developed. In Lakatos’ (1978b, page 49) words,

‘The positive heuristic consists of a partially articulated set of suggestions or hints on how to change, develop the “refutable variants” of the research programme, how to modify, sophisticate, the “refutable” protective belt.’

Also, the positive heuristic

‘(D)efines problems, outlines the construction of a belt of auxiliary hypotheses, foresees anomalies and turns them victoriously into examples… (and) (i)t is primarily the positive heuristic of (the scientist’s) programme … which dictates the choice of his problems ’ (Lakatos, 1978c, page 111)

SRPs may be progressive or degenerating. In progressive SRPs,

‘theory leads to the discovery of hitherto unknown novel facts. In degenerating programmes, however, theories are fabricated only in order to accommodate known facts’ (Lakatos, 1978a, page 5)

Competing and conflicting SRPs may co-exist simultaneously, and a scientific revolution then comes about when (the degenerating) one is abandoned for (the progressive) other. Refutations, given that they permeate all SRPs, are not responsible for the revolution. Instead,

‘(w)hat really count are dramatic, unexpected, stunning predictions: a few of them are enough to tilt the balance; where theory lags behind the facts, we are dealing with miserable degenerating research programmes’ (Lakatos, 1978a, page 6)
2.2: ‘Markets for schools’ as SRP

Having defined the components of the SRP, I will now suggest what they are in the programme of ‘markets for schools’. Clearly, as Leijonhufvud (1976) pointed out, the definition of any SRP is likely to be contestable, because different workers inside, as well as analysts outside the relevant field are likely to have different perspectives of it. For example, he raised the example of Milton Friedman, who opined that monetarists and neo-Keynesians share essentially the same theory, and that all their differences derived from disagreement over the magnitude of particular empirical parameters; other monetarists and neo-Keynesians would clearly feel that their differences are far more fundamental than that. Also, the economic liberal Jevons, coming from a different ideological perspective from the libertarian Friedman, would probably support school markets for different reasons, and see different school choice programmes as useful. What they see as the hard core, positive heuristics, etc. therefore may vary, at least in degree.

The hard core
Hard core preposition 1: Parents and pupils maximise their utility by maximising educational opportunity and outcomes; choice is inherently utility enhancing.
Hard core preposition 2: Agents, with access to sufficient knowledge, can and will make rational decisions.
Hard core proposition 3: Parents and pupils maximise their utility by choosing the school which will maximise the child’s educational opportunities and outcomes.
Hard core preposition 4: Teachers, headteachers and other educationalists working in schools maximise their utility by maximising their income (by maximising pupil number).
Hard core preposition 5: Education is a commodity that may be traded just like any other.
Hard core preposition 6: The market is a useful tool, with which social justice may be achieved in schools.

The first five of these prepositions are first principles, from which the sixth preposition may be derived. Liberal and libertarian economists may fervently believe that like hammers and nails, the market is a tool that may be used to achieve a given goal, not just as a matter of irrefutable logic, but also ideology.

Social justice, if defined according to Konow’s (2003) integrated justice theory, would include not only Need and Equity but also the principle of Efficiency.

The Need principle is with reference to basic needs, and deems an allocation socially just if basic needs are provided for equally across individuals. In education, for instance, an allocation that allows for a socially and politically determined minimum level of literacy and skill sets across all individuals may be considered just according to this first principle. Included under this broad Need principle are ideas of egalitarianism and Marxism, as well as Rawls’ Liberty and Difference Principles.
The Equity principle, that an allocation is fair if individuals’ outcomes are proportionate only to inputs that they control, stems from Aristotle’s distributive justice theory and Locke’s desert theory (Konow 2003). Distributive justice is the doctrine that a decision is socially just if all parties receive what they need or deserve. It is often contrasted with procedural justice. The former concentrates on just outcomes, while the latter concentrates on just processes. Desert theories essentially identify factors that might be considered fair to use in the determination of economic distribution. For example, Buchanan (1986) distinguishes between luck, choice, effort and birth. He considered the distribution of economic outcomes according to effort as the least controversial and believed that conflicts with common notions of justice would only come about with inequalities that are caused by serendipities of birth. Therefore, for Buchanan, it would be socially just if educational outcomes were such that those consumers of education (i.e. pupils) who put in the most effort would derive more benefits, and it would be grossly unjust if certain consumers derive more benefits from the educational process merely as a consequence of social class, gender or colour. Linked to Buchanan’s desert theory are Musgrave’s (1959) concepts of horizontal and vertical equity. Horizontal equity refers to the equal treatment of equals, i.e. if individuals A and B are socially deemed to be identical in pertinent and essential characteristics, they should have the same access to the same educational opportunities, to attain the same educational outcomes. Vertical equity is the unequal treatment of unequals. Therefore, if individual A puts in less effort in his education (and gets lower GCSE grades for example), it is perhaps vertically equitable for A to receive a smaller financial option return (among other benefits captured by students directly) and have a relatively restricted access to higher education. Also, it might be considered socially just if children with special educational needs (SEN) receive more funding. Inequality, therefore, might be equitable.
Konow’s third principle, Efficiency refers to a relationship between inputs and outputs, and is achieved by either a) maximising the value of outputs given the value of inputs or b) minimising the value of inputs given the value of output. When a situation is said to be inefficient, this means that the desired means could be attained with less inputs, or that the means utilised should be able to produce more of the desired ends. People are assumed to be homo economicus, seeking to maximise surplus, or output over inputs, and this goal, that of achieving the greatest good for society, is deemed to be a form of fairness. In this sense, efficiency is in itself a component of justice, and not necessarily at odds with social justice as a whole.
The positive heuristic

These positive heuristics generate theories and ideas supportive of markets that go into the protective belt:

Positive heuristic 1: Explain how markets can be used to improve social justice.

Positive heuristic 2: Propose mechanisms with which markets may be used to improve social justice.

Positive heuristic 3: Explain why and how the state monopoly has failed to attain social justice.

Positive heuristic 4: Provide empirical evidence in support of the first three positive heuristics above.

The positive heuristic may be viewed as a ‘recipe’ or set of ‘recipes’, with which to concoct the protective belt ‘broth’.

The protective belt

Protective belt preposition 1: Markets give the working class the option of exit, which improves equity.

Proponents of markets have also claimed that contrary to intuition, there may not be the conventional economics efficiency-equity trade-off and equity may actually be increased instead of decreased in a school market system. Using Hirschmann’s (1970) concepts of ‘voice’ and ‘exit’, Tooley (1995) argued that markets reduce the power of the middle-class vis-à-vis the working class. In any organisation, customers may express their dissatisfaction with its performance either ‘exit’, i.e. by leaving and stopping their custom of the organisation’s products, or by ‘voice’, i.e. by ‘express(ing) their satisfaction directly to management or some other authority to which management is subordinate or through general protest to anyone who cares to listen’ (Hirschmann, 1970). In an educational setting, this means that parents or pupils may express their displeasure with a school either by leaving it for another school, or by complaining to the head teacher, government or to the press. Under a non-market, bureaucratic system, ‘voice’ tends to be the only available recourse, while in a market system, both ‘voice’ and ‘exit’ are viable options. In the former system, the middle class can be expected to dominate, since it is ‘politically influential, skilled and adroit, …organised, … more articulate… (and) endowed with cultural power’ (Seldon, 1990) and are more capable at manipulating ‘voice’. The denial of markets to the working classes means that ‘exit’ is not permitted to them, and they are stuck with only ‘voice’, in which they are seriously disadvantaged. Markets, by reducing bureaucratic procedures, such as LEA admissions rules, will enable them to make choices previously not available. Though Gewirtz et al. (1995) and Willms & Echols (1992) may argue that the middle class are relatively more adept at working the market, at least markets give the option of ‘exit’, where there was none before, to the working class, and allow them to ‘vote with their feet’ (Tiebout, 1956) and to leave poor schools for better ones.

Protective belt preposition 2: Government failure is pernicious.

Government failure, it has been argued, can be as pernicious, if not more so than market failure. According to Barr (2004), the public-choice literature points to two distortionary factors that may explain governments’ failure to maximise social welfare. Firstly, there is the distortionary response of government to coalition groups of voters and pressure groups, which may come about because, for example, the middle class has an inordinately strong electoral power as the median voter (Tullock, 1970), or governments may be elected with only a minority and therefore only need to pander to a small but allied coalition of voters. Secondly, bureaucrats themselves exert distortions, since they may run public agencies at least partly for their own benefit and with their own goals, and with considerable ‘organisational slack’. Also, bureaucracy has been closely linked, arguably not unfairly, to inflexibility in decision-making, un-necessary duplication, red tape, high internal transaction costs and inefficiency.

Protective belt preposition 3: Markets, competition, and choice improve the efficiency, effectiveness and standards in schools

Markets are believed by supporters such as Friedman & Friedman (1980) to be the key means to improve standards in education. They are thought to provide the right incentives: successful and therefore popular schools are rewarded with increased enrolment and funding, while unsuccessful schools are forced to change and improve or face closure. Increasing the range of types of schools and enhancing diversity may encourage education to break free, innovate and push for greater effectiveness. As Gorard (2003) pointed out, the desire for greater diversity stems from ‘the perceived failure of state-funded monopolies of schools, and the differential effectiveness of sectors and school types’. Markets are thought to be efficient, while state monopolies are bureaucratic, slothful and wasteful.

The anomalies

Anomaly 1: There has been little evidence that efficiency has indeed been improved since the introduction of markets in the English school system.

There appears to be very little clear-cut evidence that efficiency has indeed been improved as a result of the market based reforms. Instead, the autonomy and flexibility given to the grant-maintained schools has neither led to a significantly different pattern of resource allocation (Fitz et. al, 1993), which could indicate the presence of innovative behaviour, nor to significantly better educational outcomes (Levacic and Hardman, 1999). The relationship between schools’ quality of resource management and their educational outcomes has also been shown to be only weakly positive (Levacic and Glover, 1998).

DfEE (1998) statistics may show that the percentage of pupils getting 5 good passes at GCSE and its equivalent level has not only increased year-on-year since 1975 to 1998, but also that the increases have been larger since the late 1980s, i.e. the implementation of the ERA. But as Gorard (2001) argued, it is impossible to simply attribute this raw-score improvement to market forces per se, given that there were other policy changes happening at the same time. Any of these could have been equally plausible as the, or one of the, causes of GCSE improvements: replacement of the CSE and the GCE in the 1986/87 academic year with the arguably easier GCSE, and the abolition of strict norm-referencing which has previously served to keep results relatively constant (Foxman, 1997). Moreover, as efficiency refers to a relationship between inputs and outputs, it is insufficient to examine just the outputs of educations, but also the inputs. If educational output has increased as a result of a proportionate, or even more than proportionate increase in the usage of inputs, then efficiency may hardly be considered to have improved.

Anomaly 2: Economists and sociologists have identified many mechanisms through which social inequality has been argued to have been negatively impacted by the market.

A major concern among economists and sociologists is that of cream skimming (Glennerster, 1991). Since a school’s performance in the league tables is determined largely by socio-economic background and schools in greater demand can attract more pupils and hence more funds, a school may attract more funding by maximising the examination results of its pupils and it can do that at minimum cost by cream skimming students from higher socio-economic backgrounds. Evidence suggests that worries in England about cream skimming are real. Schools have been shown to seek out and select particular types of students, e.g. those from the middle class, or from South Asian backgrounds, based on their abilities to boost test scores, at the expense of the ‘less able’, such as children with Special Educational Needs (SEN) (Gewirtz et al, 1995), etc. A significant minority of schools, especially those with autonomy over admissions, i.e. voluntary-aided and foundation schools, had criteria which appear to cream skim, despite Labour government reform attempts since 1997, such as the Schools Standard and Framework Act 1998, and the introduction of the Code of Practice on School Admissions, to counter this phenomenon (West et al., 2004). More specifically, schools have been using interviews meant to establish the pupils’ religion to determine the presence or absence of other desirable characteristics, which might partially explain the different percentages of pupils eligible for free school meals in different types of schools: by religion, 11.4% for Church of England schools, 15.6% for Roman Catholic schools, 6.2% for Jewish schools and 6.5% for Sikh schools, compared with 16.1% for all other maintained secondary schools in England (House of Commons, 2001).

Social inequity may also be negatively influenced because privileged middle class parents, with their cultural capital and educational knowledge, are better than their working class counterparts at discriminating between schools, evaluating teachers, and interpreting league tables and Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) reports and therefore come up trumps in the schooling markets (Ball et al., 1996). In England, the government, under New Labour’s ‘Fair Funding’ for example, does provide higher per capita funding for schools with a higher proportion of socially disadvantaged pupils, but it is difficult to tell, especially given the complexity and opaqueness of the formula used, how much this additional funding constitutes, and whether it is sufficient to compensate for the working class’ relative disadvantage.

Yet another concern is that with the development of markets in education, schools may become increasingly pressured to restructure teaching, such as by introducing setting, in order to attract white middle class school children, who are viewed as ‘valuable commodities’ (Reay, 1998). Research has shown that there are negative consequences for pupils allocated to bottom sets since, for example, teachers for bottom sets tend to be less experienced and junior staff (Ball, 1981). Because pupils in bottom sets are predominantly black or white working class, and those in top sets may be ‘uniformly white’ (Gillborn and Gipps, 1996), this suggests that social inequalities based on race and social class are being exacerbated here. Indeed, when schools are ranked according to their percent of pupils achieving A-C grades, Gillborn and Youdell (2001) have observed an ‘educational triage’ syndrome, whereby schools ration their time and effort, and focus on pupils on the borderline between the D and C grades, at ‘the cost of judging some pupils (disproportionately Black and working class young people) as without hope’. Schools do not deliberately set out to further disadvantage the disadvantaged. Instead, to keep their place in the pecking order, schools have to maximise their measured output from limited resources, and therefore have no choice but to decide where best to concentrate their efforts upon. This decision is based on judgements on ‘ability’, which unfortunately, like IQism, is a ‘loaded, fallacious and highly dangerous concept … (that) … offers a supposedly fair means of condemning some children to second class educations’ (Gillborn and Youdell, 2001). Since pupils who are black, or who receive free school meals, for example, are considerably more likely, and possibly more unfairly to be judged as lacking in ‘ability’, they are also arguably more likely to be consigned to lower sets and lower tiers. If this postulation bears true, then it may well be expected that under a market setting, the educational divide can only widen with what some sociologists consider to be a misplaced belief in ‘ability’. These sociologists (and many others) are almost definitely against educational markets on an ideological basis, and are therefore not working within the ‘markets for schools’ SRP. However, their (and similar) findings with respect to equity would still certainly come to the attention of economists who are working within the SRP as ‘anomalies’, and who would then try to defend the SRP, perhaps by discrediting the sociologists’ methodology or questioning their partiality.

The negative heuristics

Negative heuristic 1: Blame failures of the market on perversions of the market.

For example, Tooley (1995) has asserted that the full potential of markets in education cannot be accurately assessed from studies of quasi-markets, or what he called ‘so-called market(s)’. The state educational marketplace, as it exists in England, is not a free market, since there is no price mechanism in operation, there is heavy regulation from the state in form of the National Curriculum and league tables, etc., and while the demand side has been liberated through per capita funding, the supply side, i.e. the provision of education, has hardly been freed from state control. As such, he dismissed criticisms of markets in education by writers such as Ranson (1993), whom he feels mistakenly uses arguments against the Conservatives’ ‘so-called market’ against markets in general. Just because the schools quasi-market as it is today is inequitable does not mean that education markets in general are inequitable.

Negative heuristic 2: Strike at the method of the work of opponents.

According to Blaug (1980), Becker poured ‘scorn on the “considerable ad hocery” that is required in the conventional approach …’, including the forms of utility functions. This attack on the methods of his opponents may be viewed as an attempt to simultaneously promote and defend his own research programme.

Similarly, in the school choice debate, where empirical work has been involved to ascertain the impact of the ERA, especially with respect to equity, there has been much disagreement over method. There are many different methods that can and have been used to measure educational equity in different contexts: the Gini coefficient, the inter-quartile range, the desegregation index, etc. Gorard and Fitz (2000) used the desegregation index and data on the percentage of pupils with free school meals in every school in England in Wales, to show that socio-economic desegregation between English and Welsh schools in term of student intake has actually decreased significantly since 1989. This may arguably be taken as key evidence that equity has improved.

However, opponents of school markets have produced work with contrary conclusions. For example, multilevel modelling (Goldstein and Noden, 2002) and the isolation index (Noden, 2000) have been used to show that schools have become more socially segregated.

Gorard’s (2003) response to these findings has been to question the approach and method. Gorard (2003) maintained that Noden committed a ‘terrible mistake’ in using invalid arithmetic, asserted that ‘whatever it is that (Goldstein) & (Noden) believed they were doing they were not, in fact, measuring segregation at all.’ and concluded that ‘the approach proposed by Goldstein and Noden (2003) is retrograde, erroneous, and of no clear practical value.’

2.3 Monopoly power as refutation and ‘anomaly’

Economists and sociologists both have recognised that the English schooling market is not a free market, and that schools are not the perfectly competitive agents of neo-classical theory. The acknowledgement may be implicit, including when their work revolves around different levels of competition, such as Bradley et al.’s (2001) and Levacic’s (2004) examination of the impact of competition on efficiency. Stating that different school markets have different levels of competition or that schools have different degrees of market power is akin to stating the fullness or emptiness of one’s glass. School market A has a moderate level of competition: the glass is half full. School Alpha in market A has a moderate level of monopoly power: the glass is half empty.

There is not just the continued intervention by the state, but also the non-fulfilment of the necessary assumptions and conditions for a free market, such as perfect information, freedom of entry and exit, etc., as would be outlined in any basic university economics textbook. More appropriate as an economic model for the schools market, especially at a local level, could therefore be one of imperfect competition, oligopoly or even monopoly, depending on the local context: the number of schools, the types and quality of schools, the selection procedure of the schools, etc. Consider village X in rural Shropshire, with only one school in miles; consider town Y in Kent with one selective Roman Catholic girls’ college, and one mixed comprehensive; consider London Borough Z, which has seven foundation schools, some of which have different specialisms. The local school market in X, Y and Z may rightfully be considered to be a monopoly, an oligopoly and a monopolistic competition respectively. To a degree, the selective Roman Catholic girls’ college may also be viewed as a monopoly to parents who strongly desire their children to go to their nearest single-sex school, since this is the only school in the vicinity with such characteristics.

It follows that these hypothetical schools have market power, and that with the ERA, instead of empowering parents with real choice, economic power and control might simply have passed from the LEA to schools. Furthermore, as suggested by Adnett and Davies (2002), schools may actively strategise to seek to increase their market or monopoly power by further differentiating themselves from their rivals, for example by acquiring beacon school or specialist school status. An irony is that the introduction of all the myriad new types of schools under both the Tories and New Labour is meant to increase competition and choice, but because they differentiate the schools, the market power of particular schools may actually have gone up and competition may paradoxically be stymied.

Market power in the hands of schools may be undesirable, crucially because schools may abuse their monopoly power to do well under the pressures of the market system, and also because the management of schools that are de facto local monopolies could well be as inefficient and inflexible as the bureaucratic LEAs that they were meant to replace. This abuse is manifested, I argue, in schools’ admissions polices, and in schools participating in cream-skimming as a key strategy to maximise school performance. When schools have monopoly power, school choice, I argue, will ironically indeed be school choice, in that schools instead of parents will be in a position to choose which pupils they want. Such schools will be oversubscribed and indeed, a clear indicator that a school might have a degree of monopoly power would be when there is chronic over-subscription year-on-year. Then, admissions policies, whether set up by the LEA or the school’s own governing body, can and have been used to select in and select out pupils.

Efficiency arguments for the market in schools tend to rely on the presence of competition as an impetus for continual improvement, innovation and dynamic efficiency. The incidence of schools with monopoly power would mean that there could be insufficient competition in particular school markets. Then, if headteachers and educational professionals are motivated solely by self-interest, the lack of competition would result in X-inefficiency (Levacic, 2004).

Therefore, the case for school marketisation could be weakened on the grounds of both equity and efficiency. In the framework of the Lakatosian MSRP, monopoly power would be an ‘anomaly’, a problem that school market enthusiasts would have to solve.

2.4: Introducing countervailing power into the protective belt to negate monopoly power

The existence and pervasiveness of monopoly power held by schools may arguably pose a serious challenge to proponents of school marketisation. Monopoly power would emerge for reasons discussed in the earlier section, as a phenomenon that occurs naturally in markets, and therefore, writers like Tooley would hardly be able to blame state intervention for its emergence[1].

Pointing fingers in blame is hardly productive, and if monopoly power in schools as an anomaly and refutation is to be dealt with in a satisfactory manner, it may best to look again at economic theory, to rediscover rationalisations that may perhaps argue either the good of monopolies or that monopolies may be restrained by a system of checks and balances. Certainly, Baumol et al’s (1982) contestable market theory is one that springs to mind, whereby monopolies are driven to behave like perfectly competitive firms, not because there is competition, but because there is a real threat of competition. Unfortunately, schools may have high setup costs[2], and the necessary freedom of exit and entry is perhaps not easily attained for schooling institutions in England. Therefore, contestable market theory may have little to offer as a solution here.

On the other hand, countervailing power, as a concept developed by Galbraith (1956), led him to remain optimistic despite the growth of huge corporations, American Capitalism and corporate monopolies. There is good reason to believe that instances of countervailing power may also be in the English school market, both when parents are choosing schools for their children and when their children are already students in their schools, and therefore provide concerned policy-makers with a tool with which to ensure social justice in its myriad conceptions. In the framework of the Lakatosian MSRP, countervailing power will lie in the protective belt, as a proposition to negate the anomaly of monopoly.

[1] Please see Tooley’s (1995) claims in the negative heuristics section, page 20.
[2] Of course, set up costs for schools vary. It may be prohibitively expensive for schools to be constructed or even expanded in densely built up urban areas, while it may be very cheap to do so in rural areas of particular developing countries, where space, cheap labour and raw materials are very much in abundance.

MA Chapter 1

Chapter 1: Marketisation in the English school system in 1988 and after

On 16th October, 1976, the then Labour Prime Minister James Callaghan in a speech at Ruskin College, Oxford, firmly called out for discussion by all parties, ‘parents, teachers, learned and professional bodies, representatives of higher education and both sides of industry, together with the Government’ (Callaghan, 1976) to address problems in the English educational system. He expressed unease with standards in schools and dubious new informal methods of teaching, among other things. In essence, his speech was an appeal for reform.

The Conservatives’ answer was the Education Reform Act of 1988, which promised that market forces would inject a new vitality into the system. Its aims were to:

raise standards, extend choice and produce a better educated Britain … by giving consumers of education a central part in decision making … (, by) freeing schools and colleges to deliver the standards that parents and employers want … (, by) encouraging the consumer to expect and demand that all educational bodies do the best job possible.

(Secretary of State for Education, Kenneth Baker
2nd reading of 1987 bill in formulation for 1988 ERA
Hansard, 1 December 1987)

It would be useful to draw out various pertinent strands of the Act. First of all, the Local Management of Schools (LMS) scheme was a measure designed to enhance the independence of schools by diminishing Local Education Authority (LEA) control of schools. LEAs were seen to be overly bureaucratic, overly centralised and therefore inefficient. Under LMS, school governors were allowed to decide how to spend the delegated budget, which was newly introduced, and were responsible for the appointment, management and dismissal of staff. The whole point of LMS was ‘to decentralise decision making (from the LEAs) to school level’ (Levacic, 1995). Chubb and Moe (1990) would argue that such self autonomy is essential for school improvement and for schools to be most effective.

The main idea behind marketisation and the increase of competition is that schools will, given a mix of incentives, endeavour to raise educational standards in order to attract pupils and hence funding. To increase competition between schools, the ERA also prescribed open enrolment: it was made compulsory for schools to admit pupils up to their full capacity and LEAs could no longer restrict intakes of popular schools in order to protect falling rolls in less popular schools. Funding also became based on a formula strongly linked to student enrolment, and at least 75 percent of the Aggregated Schools Budget, i.e. the money delegated by the LEA to its schools, had to be allocated according to the number and the ages of pupils. Open enrolment and formula funding together meant that a quasi-voucher system was in place. Competition was also to be enhanced by the creation of grant-maintained schools and City Technology Colleges[1] (CTCs). Grant maintained (GM) schools were educational institutions with considerable autonomous powers separate from the LEAs, for example in the formulation and application of ‘their own selection procedures for a significant proportion of their intake’ (Gorard et al., 2003), as well as independence in asset and income management. These schools obtained their status as GM schools after a process of ‘opting out’ from their local LEA, which included an application to the secretary of state as well as a clear positive result from parental ballots. Successful schools would then receive their funding directly from central government instead of via the LEA. City Technology Colleges, built with the prime purpose of providing a good secondary school education for poor inner-city pupils, were to be financed partly with private resources, and were also to have similar autonomous powers as the GM schools. Such independence, it was hoped, would allow English schools the freedom from the bureaucratic, inefficient ‘visible hand’ of the LEAs to innovate and maximise educational quality.

It is important to note that the reforms of the ERA led not to an education free market, but to an education quasi-market, for which the distinguishing characteristics are ‘the separation of purchaser from provider and an element of user choice between providers’ as well as usually a high degree of government intervention (Levacic, 1995). In England and Wales, the government introduced a National Curriculum, which dictates the content of the curriculum in compulsory education, and testing on a grand scale, in order to inform parents and teachers what a child knows and understands, to indicate the achievements of schools generally, and to ensure the quality of the educational system. To ensure competition, leagues tables were to be compiled and published based on test grades obtained by pupils. Though such a mix of centralisation and decentralisation might at first glance appear to be purely the product of muddled thinking, it is in fact the result of struggle, negotiation, compromise and reconciliation over short and long term strategies and goals between the neo-liberals and neo-conservative elements within the New Right dominant during Margaret Thatcher’s years in power (Whitty, 1990). Also, it can be viewed, as Levacic (1993) suggested, as a clearly thought out introduction and application of the multidivisional ‘M’-form organisational model from business into education and the schools landscape, on the basis that the more flexible ‘M’ form would lead to a higher propensity for innovation, an important dynamic advantage over the ‘U’ form (Qian et al., 2003) that was pre-existing in the system.

After Thatcher, John Major in his six-and-a-half-year stint at 10 Downing Street showed a similar enthusiasm towards markets and competition in the school system. Major (1992) condemned orthodoxy around the pre-1988 comprehensive system for its ‘hostility to competition between schools and between pupils, and even in sport; hostility to all forms of testing; hostility to genuine parental choice … by some questionable dogmas that fly in the face of common sense’. In the White Paper Choice and diversity: a new framework for schools (DfE, 1992), and the 1993 Education Act therefore, it should perhaps be of no surprise that all secondary schools were eventually to be freed, upon successful application, to specialise in one or more curriculum areas such as technology and modern languages, or that LEAs would have an even more severely diminished and limited role in the new education system.

After the sound defeat of the Conservatives in 1997, the move towards more marketisation was not reversed and in fact seems to have hardly relented under New Labour. There has been, for example, an expansion of the specialist schools framework (Power & Whitty, 1999), such that successful applicants may now specialise in not just the original science, music, arts and technology, but also agricultural sciences, engineering and sports (Specialist Schools Trust, 2005). There are no more grant-maintained schools, because these have essentially been reinvented and renamed ‘foundation’ schools under the School Standards and Framework Act 1998. Also, the mechanisms with which schools may select pupils are now being ‘quasi-regulated’ with the introduction of new admissions and appeals rules as well as the appointment of school adjudicators (West & Ingram, 2001). State schools still continue to be funded largely on a pupil number basis, e.g. under New Labour’s ‘Fair Funding’ initiative in 1999. Recently, the educational marketplace has been expanding even at home, with the increasing emphasis on home learning by New Labour in what McNamara et al (2000) called ‘the Blairite project of Total Schooling’. The value of homework has been repeatedly emphasised, and funding has been poured into activities such as homework clubs, which extend the reach of schooling into the leisure time of children (Scanlon & Buckingham, 2004). Parents are also increasingly pressured to ‘invest’ more in educational resources, such as home computers, study guides, early learning materials and private home tutoring, for their children.

[1] The DFES on its website (http://www.standards.dfes.gov.uk/academies/ctcs/?version=1, accessed 21st August 2005) maintains that the Education Reform Act of 1988 provided the legislative framework for the City Technology programme, which involved the establishment of 14 CTCs and one college for the technology of arts from 1988 to 1993. However, plans for the development of CTCs may be traced back to 1986, when Kenneth Baker called for their pilot launch in urban areas (Baker, 2005), and when Solihull Local Education Authority agreed to support the establishment of the first CTC at Kingshurst (www.kingshurst.ac.uk/pages/backgrnd.htm, accessed 1st August 2005).

MA Introduction

In the discourse of school choice supporters, schools have often been idealistically portrayed as agents in the perfectly competitive markets of theory. However, this theory does not seem to be reflected in reality. It may be argued that like conventional firms in goods and services markets, many schools have degrees and forms of monopoly power. To ignore this and to pretend that reality is the same as theory would be a form of ‘innocent fraud’ (Galbraith, 2004).

Taking the marketisation of school systems as a form of Lakatosian Scientific Research Programme (SRP), the reality of monopoly power may be thought of as an ‘anomaly’ which threatens the viability of school choice arguments. However, the concept of countervailing power, a force that has the potential to counter monopoly power, could be a useful addition to the ‘protective belt’ and defend the ‘hard core’ of the marketisation SRP.

This report will firstly briefly introduce the market based reforms enacted in England through the Education Reform Act of 1988 (Chapter 1). It will also be shown how the economics of school markets may be seen and analysed as a Lakatosian SRP (Chapter 2). Then it will be argued that in reality, monopoly power has emerged and has proved to be pernicious, perhaps especially so towards equity. However, it will also be argued that as a response to the rise of monopoly power among schools, countervailing power has or will come forth to restrain the excesses of monopolies (Chapter 3).