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‘No change there then!’ (?): the onward march of school markets and competition

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This article reviews Bernard Barker's claims that ‘the pendulum is swinging’, in relation to school markets and competition. Barker's arguments are complex in this regard. He rejects markets and competition as a means of improving outcomes and equity, but supports some of the system features that are often associated with marketisation, such as school autonomy and differentiation. With this in mind, the article reviews the underpinning ideology and design of market and competition policies in England under different governments since 1988, as well as the evidence on the impact of these policies. It argues that the pendulum is not swinging away from markets and competition, although ideological shifts are discernible in the policies of the new Coalition government. One reason for this is that the evidence for the damaging effects of marketisation is not nearly as conclusive as Barker suggests. The pendulum is, however, swinging away from central regulation, including from regulatory mechanisms to protect against the worst effects of market policies on social justice. This may accelerate demands for a progressive post-market alternative, although the article concludes by pointing to the difficulties in practice of reconciling the values of equity, opportunity, social mobility, choice and community within system design.

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