Schools as Social Enterprises: The Las Casas Report, Evidence-Based, and Neoliberal Policy Discourse

By Meng, Jude Chua Soo | Journal of Markets & Morality, Fall 2012 | Go to article overview

Schools as Social Enterprises: The Las Casas Report, Evidence-Based, and Neoliberal Policy Discourse


Meng, Jude Chua Soo, Journal of Markets & Morality


Introduction: The Blackfriars Las Casas Report

In 2009, Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, Ed Balls, required the following from the English Catholic Dioceses, through various policies: 100 million GBP for compulsory buildings works, 20 million GBP per annum for insurance premiums, as well as possibly outflows of millions of pounds of assets from the faith sector should a faith school seek to relocate its assets to another faith school in a different local authority area.

This potentially lethal but nevertheless hidden series of taxation attacks by the Labour Government was picked up by Blackfriars Hall Fellow and the then-director of Blackfriars' Las Casas Institute, Francis Davis (now UK ministerial advisor on the "Big Society") and his coresearcher Nathan Koblintz. Their response came in a very forward-looking pamphlet, Mutual Futures: Ed Balls, Michael Gove and the Challenge to Faith Schools. Davis and Koblintz propose that Catholic faith schools in England (and Wales) be reorganized and remodeled after social enterprises. This involves, amongst other things, "reimagining educational institutions for new times" (1) and the following:

   the creation of a national Catholic educational mutual comprising
   of 22 mutual societies based in the Dioceses: an institutional
   development that will open up a huge vista for innovation and
   freedom within Catholic education. The assets of all Catholic and
   other voluntary aided schools could be transferred into these
   mutuals in an asset transfer that is underpinned by secure
   long-term funding.

      Within this faith-based mutual, assets would be transferable
   anywhere within the national mutual's area of benefit so long as
   the proceeds were being applied for educational purposes with a
   priority for those in the poorest neighbourhoods. If at any stage
   the asset was not to be used for education funds would be returned
   to the central state (with the Church proportion remaining in the
   mutual for Catholic educational purposes).

      This mutual would lead the Catholic education sector and its
   priorities would be driven by inclusion, social innovation and the
   development of secondary school and primary school pyramids
   offering lifelong learning campuses. Complementary initiatives such
   as credit unions of "banks for the unbankable," language training
   for migrants, businesses and social enterprise advice could also be
   housed within the resources of the mutual....

      What is more is that the school campuses would be designated, as
   part of the proposals in the Conservative social justice
   commission[,] as "social enterprise" zones or social silicon
   valleys forming local hubs from which new institutions could be
   launched or renewed. (2)

By doing this, the financial woes facing these Catholic schools could be mitigated, and a great measure of financial stability could be achieved.

Against Idol-Gazing

I have elsewhere expressed my strong support for Mutual Futures but was concerned to ensure that its ideas would not be limited in its relevance to the United Kingdom context. So in "Reorganizing Schools as Social Enterprises: On Play Schools and Gifted Education," I argue for the educational benefits besides the economic ones it highlights. (3)

Further to supplying centrally educational reasons for its policy recommendations so that Mutual Futures' progressive proposals can be abstracted from these taxation debates in the United Kingdom and borrowed by policy makers internationally, there is also the question of its approach to policy thinking, which also interests me and that I now hope to address in this article. After all, the pamphlet is also forward looking at the level of discourse. It has steered clear of theological arguments and offers very pragmatic and secular considerations for its proposals. It is explicit in its intention to offer a model of engagement and discourse that secular parties in (often evidence-based) policy circles would be receptive toward. …

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