The State and Civil Society in Education in England: Past Developments
and Current Problems
The concept of the third sector is relatively new and relies on an implied dichotomy between private and public provision of goods and services. Within education this dichotomy has also been seen as one between market and state control of schools and colleges. But the concept of third sector has grown within a particular sociohistorical and geographical context—largely late 20th-century United States. It is not a concept that has been widely used in English schooling provision. Indeed, to do so directly would make little sense, for the English system (if it can be seen as a system at all) is far more complex than in most other countries and has many more than three sectors. In particular, there has never been a strict private-public distinction that would imply the existence or need for third sector involvement. Further, just as the precise meaning of the private sector varies in different countries and historical periods (Walford, 1989), there is a diversity of somewhat contradictory views about what is meant by the third sector. It would be particularly inappropriate and anachronistic to apply uncritically the concept of the third sector in any discussion of the historical development of the English system.
This does not mean, however, that the concept has no utility in an examination of English schools. Thinking about what might be considered to be the third sector can sensitize critics and advocates to the fact that schools have been, and still are, provided by a diversity of different groups. It can help illuminate this diversity and force a recognition that