How education became nobody's business
The fragility of British democracy, in the face of dictatorial intent, was the last thing on my mind when, some twenty years ago, I concluded a critical review of the accountability movement with these words: ‘I believe that power over the English school is so effectively distributed that it can only be effectively changed by consent, between legislature and executive, between teacher and pupil, and between school and community’ (MacDonald 1979).
That same year Margaret Thatcher led the Conservative Party to the first of four successive victories in the general election, the last one under John Major after she had been persuaded to step down reluctantly from the leadership. Now we live in a different country, made by Thatcher, maintained with increasing difficulty by Major, inherited by Tony Blair's revamped Labour Party. The spell of Messiah Maggie may be a fading memory, but the wreckage remains. Every state school in England is a testament to her inglorious achievement.
The New Right Project, hatched and honed during her years in opposition, was of course not just about or even mainly about schooling. It was about wealth creation, with redistribution relegated to a drip-down assumption. The strategy was twofold: first, to increase the size of the private sector by the privatization of state assets and responsibilities, and to unfetter it from regulatory constraints (‘rolling back the state’). Second, to curb welfare state expenditure by a combination of internal marketization, more managerial control, contracting out and performance indicators, all of that to be accompanied by an all-out attack on the ‘dependency culture’.
How, one might ask, could she possibly expect to succeed with such a