Education is a common good that can’t be traded, says French Minister
‘Education is a public service’ and ‘a common good that cannot be traded’, said Jean-Marie le Guen, the French Minister for Development, at the launch of the United Nations Development Program’s annual Human Development Report on 23 March 2017.
‘France will act against any attempt at commercialisation of education’ in international cooperation, he said.
The Minister’s declaration confirms the position of France’s external action strategy 2017-2021 for education, vocational training, integration and health in which France commited to ‘strengthening the regulatory role of the State […] in particular in order to monitor the private sector and to prevent the risks of commercialisation of education.’
France’s stance on education differs from the policies of the UK Government which supports the commercialisation of schools in the global south via contributions from the Department for International Development (DfID). These donations included DfID aid to multinational organisations such as Bridge International Academies (BIA) backed by global edu-business Pearson. Uganda recently closed all its BIA schools after concerns were raised. In 2015, Pearson’s AGM in London was lobbied by campaigners arguing that education is a human right and not a product which could be sold.
The UK Government has also paved the way to allowing schools in England to be run for profit via the academization programme. This allows academy trusts to outsource their operation to for-profit education providers. Academy trusts are charities and are not allowed to make a profit. But some trusts are backed by for-profit education companies such as Edison Learning, which sponsors the Collaborative Academies Trust, and International English Schools from Sweden which operates IES Breckland on behalf of Sabres Educational Trust. As Sam Freedman, former adviser to Michael Gove, nine years ago, when for-profit firms get involved in education it’s not altruism, ‘it’s an investment’.
Academy trusts can operate in ways which circumvent Department for Education rules. Complicated structures can increase the perception of wrong doing, the National Audit Office said in November 2014. Last year’s Perry Beeches scandal showed the ‘no cost’ requirement for related-party transactions is insufficient to prevent fraud. And in August 2016, a High Court judgement revealed a possible way to bypass DfE no-profit rules via a complicated route suggested to Wey Education by Zenna Atkins, former Ofsted chair, when she was a Wey employee. This involved Wey Education subsidiary Zail, the Wey Education Schools Trust (formerly known as Third Millenium Education Trust or TMET) and consultants hired by Wey Education.
Despite this revelation, Zail Enterprises Ltd (Wey Ecademy since 2 March 2017) remains on the DfE’s approved sponsor list*. It does not yet run any academies.
France is taking a stand against the increased commercialisation of education. It’s disgraceful that England is not doing the same.