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Journal of Education Policy

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Privatising education, privatising

education policy, privatising
educational research: network
governance and the ‘competition state’
Stephen J. Ball
Institute of Education , University of London , London, UK
Published online: 22 Jan 2009.

To cite this article: Stephen J. Ball (2009) Privatising education, privatising education policy,
privatising educational research: network governance and the ‘competition state’, Journal of
Education Policy, 24:1, 83-99, DOI: 10.1080/02680930802419474

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Journal of Education Policy
Vol. 24, No. 1, January 2009, 83–99

Privatising education, privatising education policy, privatising

educational research: network governance and the
‘competition state’
Stephen J. Ball*

Institute of Education, University of London, London, UK

(Received 7 February 2008; final version received 16 August 2008)
Taylor and Francis
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Policy (online)

This paper explores some particular aspects of the privatisation of public sector
education, mapping and analysing the participation of education businesses in a
whole range of public sector education services both in the UK and overseas. It
addresses some of the types of privatisation(s) which are taking place ‘of’, ‘in’ and
‘through’ education and education policy, ‘in’ and ‘through’ the work of education
businesses. This entails a traversal of some of the multi-level and multi-layered
fields of policy: institutional, national and international. Such an approach is
important in demonstrating the increasing diversity and reach of some of the
education businesses and their different kinds of involvements with different
institutions and sectors of education. It also makes it possible to set local rhetorics,
such as ‘partnership’, within the context of corporate logics of expansion,
diversification, integration and profit.
Keywords: politics; state; privatisation; policy; education business; public sector

This paper explores some particular aspects of the ongoing privatisation(s) of public
sector education. It expands and develops a set of analyses of such privatisations
begun in previous work (Ball 2007), which mapped and categorised the participation
of education businesses in a whole range of public sector education services both in
the UK and overseas.
This paper addresses some of the privatisation(s), that is, the different forms of
privatisation which are taking place ‘of’, ‘in’ and ‘through’ education and education
policy, ‘in’ and ‘through’ the work of education businesses and the actions of the state.
This will entail a traversal of some of the multi-level and multi-layered fields of policy
– institutional, national and international. Such an approach is important in demon-
strating the increasing diversity and reach of some of the education businesses and their
different kinds of involvements with different institutions and sectors of education. It
also makes it possible to set local rhetorics, such as ‘partnership’, within the context
of corporate logics of expansion, diversification, integration and profit, and to relate
these commerical developments to changes in the state.
The privatisation(s) referred to here are complex and multi-faceted and inter-related.
They can be understood in relation to the development of a set of complex relationships
between: (1) organisational changes in public sector institutions (recalibration); (2) new
state forms and modalities (governance, networks and performance management); and


ISSN 0268-0939 print/ISSN 1464-5106 online

© 2009 Taylor & Francis
DOI: 10.1080/02680930802419474
84 S.J. Ball

(3) the privatisation of the state itself and the interests of capital (public services as a
profit opportunity and ‘effective’ public service provision). I shall try to indicate how
each of these processes is embedded in the other and will return to a consideration of
their inter-relationships in the concluding discussion.
What is being argued here is that privatisation is a key strategy in education reform
and the reform of the state, but not always an end in itself, rather part of a ‘judicious
mix’ of political strategies and a changing balance of relations among different kinds
of institutions, apparatuses and agencies (Jessop 2002, 50). On the one hand, there
may well appear to be a logical inevitability to the processes of privatisations in
current political circumstances, a ‘seemingly irresistible pressure’ (Larbi 1999, 5)
towards the ‘obvious’, as I shall indicate later. On the other hand, the institutional
outsourcing market in education in the UK is virtually moribund at present and the
education businesses are pessimistic about the political will for future growth in this
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field of activity. Not all experiments in privatisation are successful or sustained. None-
theless, it is important to attend to the increasing variety of ‘business opportunities’,
including new forms of outsourcing, which are emerging as more of the business of
the education state is divested and ‘privatised’. The trends in each form of privatisa-
tion are different and need to be considered separately and together.1
I will proceed by examining briefly three inter-related layers of policy and

(1) Organisational recalibration, ‘selling’ improvement and mediating policy

(2) The colonisation of the infrastructures of policy
(3) The global reach of education business

And then offer some closing arguments.

Organisational recalibration, ‘selling’ improvement and mediating policy

One of the forms of privatisation which has received very little attention, despite the
fact that increasingly education businesses are an integral part of the education policy
process as policy is enacted within the workaday world of schools, colleges and
universities, is the retailing of policy solutions and ‘improvement’ to schools.

Policy researchers … need to pay more attention to the effects of educational privatization
on local school governance. The research is either silent or offers superficial treatment
of how educational privatization can open doors for outside vendors to exercise political
influence over the design and administration of local accountability reforms. (Burch
2006, 2605)

This sort of activity includes the selling of continuing professional development

(CPD), consultancy, training, support and programme services directly to schools (and
colleges and universities) – that is, the selling of policy as a retail commodity. There
is not the space here to convey a full sense of the variety of such services which are
on offer but I will quote from various current and previous company brochures and
websites and interviews with the private providers (see Ball 2007 for details) for
examples and illustrations.2
For private providers in the UK – the new education businesses – New Labour
education policies and reforms are specific opportunities for profit in two senses. First,
policies which announce ‘zero tolerance of underperformance’ and intervention in
Journal of Education Policy 85

under-performing schools (Excellence in Schools, 1998 Internet Summary, http:// provide opportunities for replace-
ment and/or remediation of ‘failing’ or ‘weak’ public sector institutions. The education
businesses can sell school improvement – offering schools ways of accommodating
themselves to the demands of state performativity and the production of new organi-
sational identities. These take the form of what are called in the business ‘turnaround
services’, which are marketed to those schools and colleges that are ‘struggling’ to
achieve national targets and benchmarks or under-performing relative to their
‘competitors’ or have management difficulties. Second, taking up spaces ‘vacated’ by
local education authorities (LEAs) and other state organisations, education businesses
mediate between policy and institutions by offering (at a price) to make policy
manageable and sensible to schools and to teachers. In effect, on behalf of the state,
they disseminate the discourses of reform, of improvement and of competition through
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‘improvement’ packages, CPD or consultancy work. Indeed, the challenges of specific

bits of policy are often used, directly or indirectly as a selling point for improvement
services – ‘It is a fundamental part of government policy for schools to become more
collaborative and Edunova has developed strategic processes to help schools make a
reality of such a vision’ (Website).
New policy ideas, like ‘personalised learning’, are quickly taken up by the compa-
nies. Edison offers a ‘practical approach to the challenge of personalised learning’ and
‘a learning skills approach to the curriculum at Key Stage 3’. ‘Place provides strategies
for key curriculum initiatives such as Key Stage 3, ICT, Enterprise, Personalised
Learning and 14-19. We were commissioned by the DfES to investigate Personalised
Learning from the pupils’ perspective…’ – a particular claim to expertise. Policy
documents are also incorporated into promotional materials. ‘A clear synergy exists
between Edison’s proven approach and the principles set out in the Five Year Strategy’
or ‘implementation of Workforce Reform Agreement’ (Edison). These companies act
as linkage devices between state and public sector organisations – making reform
sensible and manageable: Thus, HBS (Hyder Business Services) is ‘offering an educa-
tional vision linked to the delivery of the government’s 5 year agenda’ (Interview, see
Ball (2007) for details).

The recent White paper for schools sets out the Government’s vision for education,
including an ambitious agenda for high standards throughout the whole sector. Tribal’s
range of school improvement services is continuing to grow to meet increasing demand
for both consultancy and managed services. (Tribal Brochure)

Based on research in the USA, Burch (2006) makes a similar point, that is, state
policies can create incentives and pressures for public sector providers to use private
sector services (she looks in particular at the effects in this regard of No Child Left
Behind (NCLB) policies in the USA). She also notes, as above, that vendors of
services ‘have sought to leverage NCLB mandates as part of their marketing strategies’
(Burch 2006, 2582) and goes on to say that:

Some of the most significant developments in educational privatization are occurring out
of the spotlight of the press and academics. Across the country, urban school systems are
relying on the services and products of specialty-service providers to jump-start
compliance with NCLB. These shifts may help some school districts to support more
rapid and flexible exchange of data. However, these developments may also serve to
detract reforming districts from their commitment to improving teaching for traditionally
86 S.J. Ball

underserved students and to building collective capacity to sustain changes over time.
(Burch 2006, 2582)

She identifies four functions which are central to the new educational privatisation.
They are: test development and preparation, data analysis and management, remedial
services and content area-specific programming. US school districts historically have
contracted with outside vendors for services in each of these areas but NCLB has
accelerated this trend considerably. As a result, she goes on to point out that ‘changes
in the field of educational privatization have increased firms’ resource dependency on
the Federal government’ (Burch 2006, 2604). According to one estimate (Jackson and
Bassett 2005), the 45 million tests currently done each year in the USA as part of the
NCLB programme are worth $517 million to the private sector.
The brochures and websites of the UK education businesses present the companies
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as facing both state and schools and as having ready-made or bespoke ‘solutions’ to the
problems of policy – helping schools in ‘raising achievement’ and to ‘transform’ them-
selves and contributing to the raising of national standards. Edison’s consultants are
called ‘Achievement Advisers’ who offer ‘consultancy, coaching and innovation, to
provide a complete package of services and technologies to assist with raising achieve-
ment’. These services are represented in the company’s improvement brands: Cocentra
offers ‘Futureproofing’; Tribal will make you into ‘Pupils’ Champions’; EdisonSchool-
sUK sells the ‘Edison Design’, which includes coaching and performance management
systems; Mouchell Parkman deals in ‘enabling improvement’ and ‘collaborative devel-
opment’; Edunova has ‘Learning Led Design’ and stresses that ‘innovation can only
be effective as part of a process of school transformation if it arises naturally from a
culture that accepts change and continuous improvement as a way of life’ (http://; CEA can provide ‘Leading School Improvement Solutions’.
The companies also present themselves in terms of commitments to the public good and
to bringing the public sector into ‘the new’ – saving it from itself and making education
better. ‘PlaceGroup which is part-owned by Mace, is a specialist education company
that works in partnership with its clients to transform education and raise standards in
schools’ ( In their own terms, these companies are part
of a wholesale change in the form and style of public sector institutions and the sector
itself. Their texts are ‘breathlessly enthusiastic’ (Parker 2000, 9), energetic and bold,
they promise and sell ‘solutions’ to the ‘problems’ of the public sector.
HBS Education has a mission to support all parties engaged in raising standards and
transforming the way we learn … Introducing a bold change strategy to transform the
way we teach and learn in this century, requires new ways of looking at problems and
how we solve them … HBS is one of a new breed of solution providers in education.
(Company Brochure)

These solutions typically address what Fullan (2001) calls ‘reculturing’ and they
draw their language and methods from business models of change management .
What are being sold are the necessities of change, a new managerialist language and
a kind of self-belief and self-efficacy – new organisational ecologies and identities.
As LEA and school leaders you are faced with tremendous challenges. In a changing world
full of new ideas and innovations, we can help you develop transformational learning
organisations. (Cocentra Advert TES)

The language and especially the verbs these texts deploy convey a sense of
urgency and speed, they work ‘swiftly and efficiently’ and are ‘focused’, they deliver
Journal of Education Policy 87

‘streamlining’ and ‘manageability’ and construct a new grammar and lexicon of

organisational life. They articulate a form of ‘scaremongering …’ which asserts that
‘schools have to change and quick’ (Thrupp and Willmott 2003, 186). Innovation is a
recurring theme in the brochures and websites in relation to the need for holistic
change. We can see this as the re-engineering of schools for the new social context of
high modernity and globalisation – which is itself fast, complex, compressed and
uncertain – to produce what Tony Blair called ‘a modern education system’, one that
is ‘open, diverse, flexible, able to adjust and adapt to the changing world’ (Speech to
Parents, No. 10 Downing Street, 24 October 2005).

… we work with schools who are not content to stand still … provide schools with potent
educational tools … consultancy, professional development and coaching support.
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In practice these ‘products’ effect changing workplace relationships and create

flexibility and adaptability, making them more like those in other public and private
sector organisations, more like ‘the firm’ . The company consultants are ‘carriers of
global institutionalized management concepts’ (Hansen and Lairidsen 2004, 515).
These are generic concepts which at the organisational level have no specificity to
education or schools.3 These programmes disseminate the discourses of reform and
modernisation and work to embed them within institutional cultures. In other words,
politics and business get embedded in ‘the texture of texts’ (Fairclough 2000, 158).
Through the recontextualisation of business and management language, the work of
governance is pursued and contributes to changes in everyday social relations in
schools, colleges and universities. Keywords of reform are brought into a tight and
seamless relationship of possibilities and perfections for which schools should strive.
Thus, HBS offers to ‘help LEAs and schools to deliver local and national strategies,
whilst planning for the future and embracing change’ – schools can become at the
same time improved, creative, manageable, inclusive, learner-centred, collaborative,
high-performing and federated. The power and meaning of the texts and the discourses
of reform they carry play upon the fears and desires of the audience which are ‘called
up’ from policy. It is a saviour discourse that promises to save schools, leaders and
teachers and students from failure, from the terrors of uncertainty and from the confu-
sions of policy and from themselves – their own weaknesses.
However, these services are not, in most cases, an imposition or a requirement they
work ‘with’ rather than ‘on’, but neither are they exactly procured freely by the
‘client’. Rather they are made necessary in order to accommodate to the disciplines
and requirements of policy. Thus, the companies stress that they ‘work in partnership
rather than impose solutions’ (CEA) and claim to be bolstering autonomy; they
‘emphasize sustainability – we help clients to grow so that they can learn and develop’
(Prospects website). Autonomy in this respect is a means by which public sector
institutions deliver themselves up to policy. So generic solutions are re-worked to
local specificities – a kind of totalising and individualising. Each client is unique
within a pre-defined policy framework.

We can tailor courses to advance your specific school improvement programme.


That particular college is buying forty days, so that’s a lot, that’s three hundred and
twenty hours of our time, to address its bespoke needs. (Tribal Consultant)
88 S.J. Ball

‘Improvement work’ is done by ‘consultants’ and ‘advisers’ who ‘draw on their

own practical experience and listen to their clients’ (Prospects brochure). They
support schools into ‘the new’ by ‘supporting innovation and research, developing
new ways of working, diversifying into new areas’ (Prospects website). The advisors
and consultants bring to bear ‘expertise in change management and education’ (Place
Group website). Aptly, Rose (1996, 54) describes such expertise as ‘modest and
omniscient’ and ‘limited yet apparently limitless in their application to problems’. The
services and products on offer in the education services market purvey a set of
‘practical truths’ – they are about what works!

We model best practice … [and] it’s about showing the way, demonstrating it … we’re
an intervention strategy. (Tribal Consultant)
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As noted earlier, ‘failure’ and the requirements of accountability, like Ofsted

Inspections, are also business opportunities. The companies are firmly imbricated in
the production of a grid of visibility (Rose 1996, 55) within schools – making them
and those who inhabit them accessible and auditable. Through budget disciplines,
audits and management coaching they generate a regime of critical self-scrutiny. They
construct new diagrams of force and freedom linking measurement to management.

Edison Design
By combining elements of Edison’s school improvement programme with
McLaren’s range of performance management tools, the partnership provides an all-
encompassing and effective environment for building leadership capacity in schools.

Cocentra provides a ‘distinctive focus on evaluating the schools’ organizational

culture’ and offers ‘an audit process that models best practice in school self-review’.
Such an audit costs £1800–2500 to primary schools and £2800–3500 to secondaries
for ‘a first year of full audit’. Cocentra also offers ‘… school self review, pre and post
Ofsted advice for schools and LEAs’. HBS offers ‘effective self-evaluation’, audits of
‘subjects, departments and other aspects of provision’ and sells ‘advice and support’
to ‘prepare for Ofsted Inspection’.4 Edison has ‘Team culture measurement systems’.
CEA has a ‘performance management consultancy’. All of this draws on the
‘disciplines’ of business, management and social science and contributes to the
production of knowledge about schools and teachers – exams, tests, audits, appraisals,
inspections, evaluations, reviews and performance management – and inserts and
guarantees a ‘regulated self-regulation’.
Undoubtedly some things change for the better in all of this; some schools do
become better places to learn, more inclusive, thoughtfully innovative, relevantly and
authentically creative and healthily reflexive. Improvement is not simply a rhetorical
flourish or an ideological fiction (Rose 1996, 61), although indicators of ‘gains’ in
learning since 1997 suggest meagre returns from the deluge of policy interventions,
state and privatised, with which schools have had to deal.5 But clearly other things are
happening which entail major changes in the ecologies of the client organisations.

The colonisation of the infrastructures of policy

This is the second layer of privatisations and is what Mahony, Menter, and Hextall
(2004) call ‘the privatisation of policy’, and what I am referring to here is the
Journal of Education Policy 89

production by education and consultancy companies of policy ‘texts’ and policy

ideas for and within the state; the export of ‘statework’ to private providers and
‘agencies’; and the formation and dissemination of new policy discourses arising out
of the participation of these companies in report writing, evaluations, advice, consul-
tancy and recommendations. In other words, the representatives of the private sector
operate inside of government and are part of the ‘policy creation community’
(Mahony, Menter, and Hextall 2004). This occurs across all levels and forms of
Education and consultancy businesses are firmly embedded in the complex,
intersecting networks of policy-making and policy delivery and various kinds of
transaction work (brokerage and contract writing) – much of which is hidden from
view. ‘Statework’ is done through multiple relationships and responsibilities in and
in relation to educational governance – the businesses act as advisers, evaluators,
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service deliverers, philanthropists, researchers, reviewers, brokers, ‘partners’,

committee members and as consultants and auditors.
Figures from the Office of Government Commerce show that spending on consultants
rose by 42 per cent last year from £1.76 billion in 2003–04. Some private consultancies
are now focusing entirely on public sector contracts, which can attract fees of up to
£2,000 per day. Firms are being hired to advise on outsourcing, to ‘manage change’, to
set up IT systems, to advise on advertising and communications and to conduct polls and
surveys … Douglas Johnson-Poensgen, director of SERCO Consulting, said that his firm
had seen a 250 per cent increase in public sector contracts in the past two years, partic-
ularly from the NHS …. Andy Ford, head of local government consultancy at Pricewa-
terhouseCoopers, said his firm’s public sector contracts had doubled over the past three
years, particularly in local government. This was partly due to council league tables,
Sir Peter Gershon’s drive to save £20 billion in the public sector and local efforts to
improve frontline services. (Sherman, Halpin, and Baldwin 2005)

The Department for Education and Skills has increased its spending on private consultants
from £5 million to £22 million in three years, without considering using its own staff.

In a damning report, the National Audit Office, the public sector watchdog, also revealed
that a quarter of the department’s consultancy contracts have been awarded without
being put out to tender.

The department was told by the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee in 2002 that
this practice should be reduced. But the DfES has continued to allow its managers to
award contracts worth up to £250,000 without specialist advice or competitive tendering.
(Stewart 2006)

I am going to use as an example here one company, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP

(PWC), in order to convey something of the extent, intensity and strategic engagement
of businesses in the ‘business’ of education policy and education research. Two things
need to be made clear. First, this account scratches the surfaces of the range and
number of involvements with and in the state even of PWC. Second, similar accounts
could be developed for Deloitte and Touche, Ernst and Young, KPMG, McKinsey, the
Hay Group, PKF and other firms.6 PWC is the largest firm of accountants and
management consultants in the UK, with over 16,000 partners and staff operating
from 37 offices worldwide.
PWC has multiple relationships in and with various departments and agencies of
the education state at international, national, regional and local levels. They are
thoroughly embedded and intertwined inside the state through their multiple roles,
90 S.J. Ball

relationships and responsibilities (see Box 1 and Figure 1) as part of loosely coupled,
flexible policy-making networks. Within these diverse roles and relationships they are
at different ‘moments’ suppliers of services, commissioners and brokers.

Box 1. The work of PWC in relation to education policy

● DfES teachers workload study (December 2001).7

● Academies evaluation (February 2003): An independent, five-year evaluation
of the Academies initiative for the DfES.8
● DfES children’s services: Overarching report on children’s services markets
(September 2006).9
● School workforce remodelling toolkit (2004).
Evaluation of the role of teachers in Education Action Zones for DfES (2001).
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● Evaluators of Lincolnshire’s BIPs (Behaviour Improvement Programmes).

● Westminster Local Authority advisers on BSF strategy.
● Reports for DfES on impact of capital investment on schools.
● Building performance (2001).
● Building better performance (2003).
● Wrote the outsourcing contracts and acted as appointment broker for: Islington
(CEA), Swindon (Tribal), North East Lincolnshire (Mouchell Parkman and
Outcomes UK), Bradford (SERCO), LEAs etc.
● Contracted to procure strategic partner for Plymouth City Council children’s
services (CEA and OLM).
● Using ITC in schools: Addressing teacher workload issues – Research report
no. 595 for DfES (2004).
● Independent study into school leadership for DfES (January 2007).
● Part of Education Funding Strategy Group.
● QCA report: Financial modelling of the English examination system (2004).
● QCA’s internal auditors.
● Conducted for QCA: The curriculum 2000 evaluation survey (DfES/PWC 2004).
● Evaluation report and Report on the future of the London partnership (2003)
which includes a ‘worked up model’ of collaboration and ‘explores the involve-
ment of PWC, and other private sector organisations with the partnership in the
longer term’ (DfES standards website, 31 July 2007).
● Auditors for Darlington Borough Council and 21 other LAs – and consultant to
Darlington’s PFI contractor Kajima, as in Kajima’s adoption of RIB financial
● By 2003 had a PFI practice of 132 projects across the UK.
● Martin Callaghan, partner in PWC infrastructure, government and utilities
practice, who previously managed the operational activities of Partnerships for
Schools (which delivers BSF), joined the National College for School Leader-
ship governing council in 2006.
● Internal auditors of BECTA.
● Asked by BECTA to explore issues related to educational software licensing
● Worked with DfES Centre for Procurement Practice and LA Regional Centre
of Excellence to engage with several authorities to learn about efficiency and
procurement practices introduced to deliver Change for Children reforms.
Journal of Education Policy 91

● Produced with the ODPM, National Procurement Strategy and 4pS – the Part-
nering and Procurement Newsletter.
● DfES and Government for London report on The impact of mobility on service
delivery to London children (2006).
● Membership of the London Child Mobility Group (Alex Chard).
● Two studies, part of HEFCE Equal Opportunities Research Programme: (1)
Cross-sectoral comparative study; (2) Cross-national comparative study.
● Edward Smith, a chartered accountant and a senior partner in Pricewaterhouse-
Coopers (PWC), appointed to the HEFCE Board (2004).
● Report on a Business model for the e-University for HEFCE (2000). Develop-
ment for the HEFCE of a good practice guide on the effective financial
management of HE institutions.
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● Evaluation for the CVCP (now Universities UK) of the extent of overhead
recovery on research contracts with government departments.
● Research report for Universities UK (2007): The economic benefits of a degree .
● Evaluation for the HEFCE of its funding method for teaching.
● A project with HEFCE to develop good practice guidance for risk management
in the sector.
● Working with the Department for Education and Skills, and HEFCE on
monitoring and supporting the consortia implementing the vocationally
oriented Foundation Degree.
● Member LSC internal audit working group (Sarah Nattress).
● Adult Learning Inspectorate – Internal auditors.
● Appointed to support the LSC in developing the business requirements of the
MIAP programme and to procure suppliers to design, build and operate the new
services that will deliver it. Review of the DfES’s relationship with Ufi.
● As part of their Corporate Responsibility Programme, PWC are involved in:
Euro-traveller Challenge – a numeracy-based learning project in partnership
with British Airways and the Hillingdon business partnership with two second-
ary schools, as part of the London Challenge.
● Partnership with VRH (Volunteer Reading Help): 200 PWC staff became
trained volunteers.
● PWC is a national founding member of Cares, a BitC business-led employee
volunteering programme.
● Elsewhere, PWC sponsors the Russian Charity Maria’s Children and supports
the International Finance Corporation project ‘Chance for Success’ and
conducts special programmes at HE institutions in Moscow which help students
gain practical experience in audit and consulting.
● PWC (Singapore) has underwritten the costs of publishing a book documenting
the learning of children from the Child at Street 11 charity.

These many ‘points’ and sites, roles and responsibilities constitute a grid of
Figure 1. PWC, the state and state agencies.

power ‘above, across, as well as within, state boundaries’ (Cerny 1997, 253) through
which a particular form of discourse flows and is distributed, embedded and natura-
lised. This is a discourse of business sensibilities. Through these multiple engage-
ments the particular social and commercial relations enacted through such
sensibilities are insinuated into increasingly more aspects of the education policy and
the practices of educational organisation and control. At the same time, in many
92 S.J. Ball

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Figure 1. PWC, the state and state agencies.

instances, the reports and recommendations which are produced create new spaces
and opportunities for influence and for profit for educational businesses . Such
discourses work by arranging and re-arranging, forming and re-forming, positioning
and identifying whatsoever and whosoever exists within its field, and the field of
business activity within education policy is continually expanding.
As at the institutional level described previously, PWC and other companies
provide and enact ‘solutions’ to policy problems which take the form of inserting into
public sector organisations generic organisational relations based on contracts, best
value, partnerships, performance monitoring, management, brokering, etc. These in
Journal of Education Policy 93

their component parts and as a whole constitute a political economy of details and
‘small acts of cunning’ (Foucault 1979, 139) which work as technologies of the
‘modernisation’ and ‘transformation’ of the public sector.10 That is, it is important to
recognise that these relationships take the form of ‘a multiplicity of often minor
processes, of different origin and scattered location across and beyond the state. These
overlap, repeat, or imitate one another according to their domain of application, they
converge and gradually produce the blueprint of a general method’ (Foucault 1979,
138). They become ‘totally inscribed in general and essential transformations’ (139)
– in this case the firming-up or enterprising of the public sector, and the state itself.
A reiterative stream of ‘solutions’ and ‘best practice’ and ‘evidenced’ develop-
ments are ‘offered’ through reports, ‘research’ and ‘evaluations’ which seem almost
always to privilege further privatisations or ‘business-like’ methods in a series of
moves which are ‘always meticulous, often minute’ (Foucault 1979, 139). There is a
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closed, circular logic, privatisation, both endogenous and exogenous (Hatcher and
Hirtt 1999), which takes on a meta-policy status subsuming almost every aspect of
public services under its rubric. All of this as Foucault puts is ‘apparently innocent,
but profoundly suspicious’ (1979, 139). This is not, as often presented in the traditional
literatures on the state and capital, the general exercise of business influence or
ideology on government and policy or a process of pressure from the outside-in.
Rather the private sector is now part of, and doing the work of the state, in several
respects. As a result, in terms of education policy changes both of first order and
second order interests are served – profit and product. That is, the production of a new
kind of workforce and the production of new ‘policy narratives’.
However, none of this is unique to the UK, although perhaps is more advanced
here. This work of public sector transformation is an international phenomenon, as
Larbi points out in relation to developing societies and ‘crisis’ states. He writes:
Large international management consultants, accountancy firms and international
financial institutions … have been instrumental in the increasing ‘importation’ of new
management techniques into the public sector. They have played an important role in
packaging, selling and implementing NPM techniques, as state agencies contemplating
institutional change or strengthening often enlist the services of expert consultants to
clarify available options – and recommend courses of action. (Larbi 1999, 5)

Like many other education and consultancy companies in the education business,
the reach and interest of PWC in education services now extend worldwide and along-
side projects undertaken for the World Bank, EU and DfID. They are currently involved
in education development and policy work in Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, Russia
and the former soviet states, and in the Caribbean, Africa and the Middle East.

The global reach of education business

Increasingly the education businesses, like other firms, are seeking to diversify and
internationalise and are continually looking for new market opportunities, especially
when aspects of market growth in the UK are modest, and as Caves (1974) says, firms
do not become multinationals unless they are good at doing something. The UK educa-
tion services market is a proving ground for the development of expertise and credi-
bility, which come from holding government contracts, which can thence be exported.
● The UK experience has served as the underlying model for much of the devel-
opment internationally of School Based Management (SBM) (
94 S.J. Ball

● Nord Anglia’s reputation and expertise with British education gives it a rare
opportunity to capitalise upon the demand in overseas markets for improved
quality in education provision (Company Annual Report 2006, 8).
The companies may or may not be increasing their risk as a result – that remains
to be seen. The increasing international activities of especially US and UK education
businesses (and others like NIIT (India) and Bennesse (Japan)) are in part made
possible by the increasing liberalisation of public services both through national
commitments to GATS and various bilateral agreements, and in the future through
appeals to WTO tribunals,11 as well as the market advocacy of the World Bank and
OECD and financial support of the IFC. We can see something of the increasing global
flow of educational services with two examples of cross-border private participation
(see Boxes 2 and 3).
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Box 2. Cambridge Education (previously Cambridge Educational Associates –

now a sub-division of Mott Macdonald)
New York, the US’s largest school district with 1.1m students has hired Cambridge
Education (CE) to lead the introduction of a programme of ‘school reviews’ based on
the English Inspections model (worth around $6.4m a year). CE is an Inspection
contractor in England. CE is training New York reviewers so that they can assume full-
control of the review system in coming years. As the tabloid New York Sun put it ‘The
British have arrived: They’re reviewing city schools’ (31 July 2007). The newspaper
goes on to say that the City’s mayor learned about the English Inspection model ‘from
Sir Michael Barber who has worked as a consultant for the city’s education department’.
Cambridge Education also works on a range of projects with the Gates Foundation,
evaluates US Charter Schools through its Quality Review Program and works with
the KIPP schools, the Knowledge is Power Program foundation which runs 57 public
schools in 17 states.

Selling services in the other direction is Edison, through its UK subsidiary Edison-

Box 3. Edison Schools UK

An American education company is being paid £1 million to take over the manage-
ment of a north London comprehensive school and improve its results.
Edison Schools, the largest private operator of state schools in the USA, took charge
this week at Salisbury school, in Enfield, on a three-year contract. Part of the
company’s payment will be based on pupils achieving better GCSEs grades and
scores in national tests for 14-year-olds. The management team is being led by
Trevor Averre-Beeson, a former head of Islington Green School in North London.
He is credited with taking it out of out of special measures and making it one of the
most improved in the capital. Two of his former deputies there have joined him at
Salisbury School. Mr Averre-Beeson said it was a ‘radical step’ to outsource the
management of a community school to a private business. ‘It’s a very different way
of doing things,’ he said, ‘We are bringing together two sets of brilliant experience,
from Islington Green and from Edison’ (, March 2007).
Journal of Education Policy 95

As well as the flow of services between western states, the education businesses
are increasingly active in Asia and developing countries, for example:
China: Cambridge Education trains Beijing inspectors (BMEC)

In May Cambridge Education was invited by the Inspection Office of the (BMEC)
Beijing Municipal Education Commission to run a training course for over 200 of
Beijing’s key inspectors.

Uniquely, this included the Cambridge Education inspectors shadowing an actual

inspection in Chaoyang District and then discussing their observations with the Chinese
inspection team.

David Taylor (ex-Director of Inspection for OFSTED) and Roger Fisher, a veteran
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Cambridge Education inspector, led the training and observations.

The training was so positively received that plans are already afoot to bring a team of
Beijing inspectors to the UK where Cambridge Education will create the opportunity for
them to shadow a (mock) inspection. The programme of training in Beijing will be
extended in 2008. (Company Website)
Indeed, Cambridge Education is currently working with:
● National Government of Thailand
● Provincial governments in China
● Education Ministry in Hong Kong
● California
● New Orleans
● City of New York
● DfiD, EC, Word Bank, ADB projects – in Papua New Guinea, Eritrea, Bangladesh,
Cambodia, etc., in partnership with Universities, NGOs and other private
These kinds of activities entail both ‘policy entrepreneurship’ and at the same time
a process of policy transfer, and perhaps a mechanism of ‘policy convergence’. The
companies are delivering ‘development and aid policy’ (for a potential profit), devel-
oping local policy infrastructures, and embedding prevailing western policy discourses,
directly or as ‘spillovers’ into the local policy systems, working with various ‘part-
ners’.12 This can also be seen as what Kelsey (2006) calls ‘regulatory re-territorialisa-
tion’, which increases the political power and regulatory influence of state, societal and
transnational agents who are able to exert control over territorial assets, as well as
producing infrastructures which are amenable to further business penetration. These
profit-seeking behaviours bring about the insertion and naturalisation of western models
of organisation, education, leadership and employment, and the extension of the
commodification and commercialisation of education, through forms of what Mihyo
(2004) calls ‘intellectual dumping’. In the development of basic educational provision
in many developing societies, private involvement is built into the systems from the
start. Here the private sector is the instrument of a form of re-colonialisation.

Concluding thoughts
What I have started to do here is to sketch in some of the multi-faceted involvements
of private providers in education policy, at different levels and on different scales,
96 S.J. Ball

through advice, consultation, evaluation, philanthropy, partnerships, representation,

programme delivery and other outsourcing. As part of this there is an increasing flow
of actors between state and business which is integral to the installation of ‘cross-
cutting’ initiatives and different kinds of ‘delivery partnerships’ (Sullivan and
Skelcher 2002), which also involves the increasing use of ‘arms-length bodies’ – that
is, hybrid agencies which have been privatised within the state – all of which is
indicative of the increasing complexity of government and the process that Jessop
(2002, 199) calls ‘destalization’, that is the ‘re-drawing of the public–private divide,
reallocating tasks, and rearticulating the relationship between organizations and tasks
across this divide’.
Two sorts of related changes are going on here. One is in forms of government and
the other in the form and nature of the participants in processes of governance. These
new forms constitute in the language of political science ‘network governance’ – that
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is, ‘webs of stable and ongoing relationships which mobilise dispersed resources
towards the solution of policy problems’ (Pal 1997). Although as Pal goes on to say:
‘This new situation does not completely overturn conventional policy instruments, of
course, but they will have to be placed within the context of new assumptions – a new
regime’ (Pal 1997, 5, original emphasis). Increasingly, policy-making occurs ‘in
spaces parallel to and across state institutions and their jurisdictional boundaries’
(Skelcher, Mathur, and Smith 2004, 3), and in the process parts of the state and some
of its activities are privatised.
While there has been a massive outpouring of conceptualisation, commentary and
development efforts around the ideas of ‘network governance’ and ‘policy networks’,
the overwhelming bulk of this work excludes or gives only passing consideration to
the participation of private sector actors. Indeed, much of this work reads like a rather
idealistic and ‘heated-over’ pluralism. In some of this work network governance is
also presented as a process of ‘hollowing out the state’. However, these changes in
modality do not signal a thorough-going weakening of the state’s capacity to steer
policy, although internationally this clearly varies from nation to nation. The state is
vigorous within these governance processes. There is no ‘institutional void’ here
(Hajer 2003) rather the reflexive use of decentred guidance strategies like contracting
and performance management. While steering may become more complicated across
the ‘tangled web’ of policy networks (see Figure 1), with the development of an
increased reliance on ‘self-administered’ policy communities, the ‘core executive’
retains a substantial authoritative and coordinating presence over policy and in some
respects (Marinetto (2003) and certainly in education) has achieved an enhancement
of ‘capacity to project its influence and secure its objectives by mobilizing knowledge
and power resources from influential non-governmental partners or stakeholders’
(Jessop 2002, 199).
I have argued that there are a number of interwoven processes involved in the work
of the privatised state and I want to underline these. First, the selling of their retail
services by the education businesses is linked to the New Labour project of ‘transfor-
mation’ through the re-modelling of schools, colleges and universities, the instilling
of new management capacities and the arts of performance management, and the
insertion of narratives of enterprise. These ‘services’ and the work they attempt to do
on and in schools are part of the ‘recalibration’ of state organisations and their ‘organ-
isational ecologies’ (Jessop 2002, 241); they also contribute to the production of new
kinds of public sector subjectivities. In other words, this is part of a process of
enabling organisations and their actors to think about themselves and what they do,
Journal of Education Policy 97

differently. ‘Improvement’, ‘re-modelling’ and ‘recalibration’ are also linked to and

part of the promotion of economic growth and competitiveness in and through educa-
tion, through ‘almost permanent institutional and organizational innovation’ (Jessop
2002, 242). Second, this is a developing market, and states (national and multi-lateral)
are market-makers. This is not some kind of spontaneous neo-liberal free market, its
dynamics have to be understood alongside the dynamics of and changes in the state
itself and the role of the state in shaping industry behaviour and economic transactions
(Burch 2006), creating and withdrawing business opportunities and mixing them with
other strategies. This is not a simple story of economic determinism and the triumph
of business interests.13 There is a complex inter-relation here between companies and
states (at least in the West); the relationships, as Kelsey (2006) suggests, are ‘recipro-
cal and contradictory’. Thus, as Leys (2001, 80) points out: ‘It is not that the state has
become impotent, but that it is constrained to use its power to advance the process of
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commodification’. The state provides stability and legitimacy and acts on behalf of its
own national businesses to promote and finance educational services, and uses public
policy to stimulate the outward investment dynamic, and as a broker for social and
economic innovations, and is very active in the focused allocation of its resources.
‘There is a wide range of government support measures for exporters, reflecting the
easily identifiable benefits from increased overseas trade’ (Tavares and Young 2005,
12). Globalised capitalism needs the state, first, to restructure and then to enable its
profitable operation and expansion across borders. This is the work of what Jessop
(2002) calls the ‘competition state’. The state acts as a ‘commodifying agent’ render-
ing education into commodity and contractable forms, and ‘recalibrating institutions’
in an attempt to make them homological with the firm and amenable to the processes
of the ‘market form’ thus creating the necessary economic and extra-economic
conditions within the public sector within which business can operate. The state
‘needs a strong economy’ (Kelsey 2006, 4) and capital offers the state a means of
achieving efficiency gains in education, in terms of quality improvement while at the
same time cutting costs (Hoxby 2003), and business does the work of recalibration and
organisational change. There is a mutual conditioning and accommodation. As Burch
(2006) points out and illustrates there is no simple zero-sum process (state or capital)
here but often the emergence of new forms of public–private collaboration. The state
works to develop appropriate meta-capacities and supports the development of ‘new
policy narratives’ which in turn mobilise support behind the expansion of business
Privatisation and the state need to be thought together. The state works to the
extent it can manage the inter-scalar interdependencies among different sites and
spheres of action of policy and service delivery which are generated by diverse priva-
tisations and as Jessop (2002, 2003) puts it: ‘the state retains an important role
precisely because of the development of such regimes’ of governance.

I am very grateful to Meg Maguire, Patricia Burch and Miriam David for their helpful
comments on the previous version of this paper. I would like to thank Evi Markou for her help
with some of the searches on which the paper rests.

1. I am grateful to Patricia Burch for emphasising this point to me.
98 S.J. Ball

2. All the quotations used come from company brochures or website documents and these
were accessed during 2005 – for examples of full documents see: http://www.cocen-;; http://
3. Patricia Burch suggested the important point to me that in these ‘reculturing’ solutions
‘there is little or no reference to the role of deliberation, collective input into the policy
process’ (personal communication 21 January 2008).
4. Some of these companies are also Inspection contractors; they derive income from both sides
of the Inspection process, in effect working for transparency and opacity at the same time.
5. Primary Review says there is no evidence to back Government claim that testing raises
standards. Children’s reading standards have barely improved in 55 years, despite ministers
spending £500 million on the National Literacy Strategy, the biggest inquiry in primary
education in 40 years has been told (TES, Warwick Mansell, 2 November 2007:
6. ‘KPMG is committed to helping shape education at both the local and national level. We
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are involved in both policy discussions and implementation to ensure that employability
issues are well represented’ (Mike Rake, Chairman of KPMG International and Senior
Partner of KPMG in the UK). KPMG is Co-Sponsor with City of London Corporation of
an Academy and a Supporter of Every Child a Reader.
7. PriceWaterhouseCoopers worked with 100 primary, secondary, nursery and special schools
across England and Wales to investigate the full range of teachers’ and head teachers’ jobs.
In 2002 PWC produced a report for DfES on the costs of pupils with additional educational
8. The aim of the evaluation is to assess the overall effectiveness of the initiative, in terms of
its contribution to educational standards, and to examine the impact of key features of
Academies including sponsorship, governance, leadership and buildings.
9. The DfES contracted PricewaterhouseCoopers to produce four separate reports on five
children’s services markets. The markets are: Children’s Homes and Fostering (two
separate but very closely linked markets); Parental and Family Support Services; Positive
Activities for Young People; and Childcare. The objectives of this report are twofold: to
identify the cross-cutting issues common to the markets; and to put forward suggestions for
improvement as inputs into DfES policy thinking.
10. We need to focus here on the ‘stone-cutting’ (Foucault 1979, 139): the detail as well as on
the architecture of the system through the techniques of business accounting – and I
paraphrase Foucault here – a new object is being formed!
11. A plurilateral request on higher education has been tabled at the WTO by New Zealand
supported by 5 other countries, targeting Argentina and 13 other countries for access to the
delivery of private higher education services. The GATS rules on public services state that
once any service is delivered nationally by non-state providers then access by outside
providers cannot be denied. With private providers at higher education and school level,
Argentina and many of the other countries named would appear to have no grounds for
restricting the entry of overseas for-profit providers to their systems.
12. The complexity of these roles, relationships, models of working and underpinning
principles makes it difficult to distinguish between public and private in a simple way.
13. The new policy communities emerging within education policy are both routes of influence
and access for business organisations and business-people and new ways of realising,
disseminating and enacting policy.

Notes on contributor
Stephen J. Ball is Karl Manheim Professor of Sociology of Education at the Institute of
Education, University of London, Fellow of the British Academy and author of Education
Plc (2007) and The Education Debate (2008).

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