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Perhaps more properly ‘quasi‐market’ as applied to education, this term refers to a political, social, and economic context in which competition is encouraged between schools, between colleges, and between universities for student numbers, excellence of results, and a reputation for delivering ‘value for money’. The ideology of the free market as expounded by Friedrich Hayek (1889–1992) began to shape Conservative thinking radically in the mid‐1970s. Hayek argued against socialist ideals of collective planning—a role which, in educational terms, could at that time be said to be embedded as a function of the local education authorities—claiming that such measures are doomed to failure in the face of the complexity and unpredictability of society and human nature. The market mechanism, it was argued, would lead to survival of the fittest through competition. In terms of education, a free market ideology is based on three propositions: that provision must reflect the public will; that schools, colleges, and universities which are responsive to the public are likely to survive; and that unpopular institutions will be forced to change or close. Critics of the free market in education address their arguments to one or more of these propositions, their main criticism being that changes brought about by the market will not necessarily be driven by genuine educational issues. For example, the public might be less concerned with educational excellence than with league tables, tradition, or conformity of behaviour. Critics also argue that the market creates a situation in which favoured schools are able to exercise choice over the pupils they accept, thus reinstating selection by the back door and subverting the claim that a free market in education will increase parental choice. Proponents of the application of a market model to educational provision argue that it functions to drive up performance standards, including cost‐effectiveness and academic achievement.

Subjects: Education.

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