Strategy against increased privatisation, competitive tendering and commercialisation of schools

Brosjyre

A group of five smiling teenagers in a school yard, looking at the photographer.
The Union of Education Norway (UEN) believes that education should be a public service available to all. Photo: Katrine Lunke

Private and commercial players have been gaining an ever stronger foothold in Norwegian schools in recent years. Not only is the number of private schools growing, the commercial providers are also gaining greater influence over content and teaching.

Publisert 20.03.2017

Strategy against increased privatisation, competitive tendering and commercialisation of schools

Also read the Norwegian version of the strategy

The Union of Education Norway (UEN) believes that

  • Education should be a public service available to all.
  • Public spending on education should benefit children and young people in its entirety and not generate profit for commercial enterprises.
  • Education content should not be commercialised. Responsibility for pedagogical content in Early Childhood Education (ECE) institutions and schools should rest with the leaders and teachers.
  • Increased privatisation and commercialisation weakens democratic control and governance of education in Norway.
  • Employees in private ECE institutions and schools must enjoy the same terms of pay and employment as their peers in public ECE institutions and schools.

Strategy against increased privatisation, competitive tendering and commercialisation of schools

Private and commercial players have been gaining an ever stronger foothold in Norwegian schools in recent years. Not only is the number of private schools growing, the commercial providers are also gaining greater influence over content and teaching. For that reason the 2015 UEN National Congress decided that the union should take a stand, at every level, against increased privatisation, competitive tendering and commercialisation. In this strategy we will be setting out goals and means for this process.

The strategy aims to boost our efforts to combat increased privatisation, commercialisation and competitive tendering of school provision. We shall be working for the education sector to remain under public sector control and for public funding to benefit pupils. The strategy highlights the role and influence of the teaching profession in safeguarding equity and quality in education. Equally important is working to ensure that school staff enjoy good terms of pay and employment and that employee representatives have genuine co-determination.

Members working in the public and private sectors are equal

UEN members represent a variety of roles and positions in the education system, including in private schools. A union that is this broad-based and that aims to maintain this breadth must acknowledge that its members represent different fields of work with different challenges. We must respect our members and recognise their professional practices while at the same time making clear our objections to the growing influence of commercial forces in the sector. The UEN shall fight increased privatisation and commercialisation while also respecting and recognising our members’ professional practices under these very same employers.

Schools are a public responsibility

The UEN believes that education is a public responsibility and that public funding should benefit the pupils. Privatisation and commercialisation in the education sector and competitive tendering of public services are a threat to equitable education and political governance of the education sector by elected institutions. When power is shifted away from elected institutions towards private decision-makers, it leaves local and county councils with limited governance of and influence over private schools. This extends to both the content and the scope of the provision.

In many cases it is the local and county councils that have to adjust to the private providers, not the other way around. Private schools are replacing municipal schools earmarked for closure, or public schools are shut down because private providers take over.

In practice it has also proved to be very difficult to reverse the privatisation of schools.

Education should not be a commodity, either nationally or internationally

The Norwegian education system is influenced by international trends. One issue of great significance to us is the growing commercialisation of education provision and services in both rich and poor countries. Power is increasingly shifting towards commercial players and private interest to the detriment of elected institutions, teachers, leaders and other professionals. These commercial enterprises are often multinationals operating in several countries. Commercial forces are also gaining influence and control over education content and teaching practices, both in Norway and abroad. This may be in the form of teaching programmes, testing or consultancy firms. This commercialisation will weaken both democratic governance of the children’s education and the role of the teaching profession.

Fighting commercialisation and privatisation in and of education is one of the main focus areas of the international teachers’ organisation Education International (EI). Its goal is to identify, stop and reverse commercialisation globally. The UEN is working with the EI to prevent increased privatisation, commercialisation and competitive tendering in all EI member countries.

Equal terms of pay and employment

As yet only a relatively small proportion of primary and lower secondary schools are private, but just under one fifth of Norwegian upper secondary schools are in private hands. Private enterprises offering educational services frequently change employers’ organisations and wage agreement areas to circumvent the terms of pay and employment agreed for similar public sector enterprises. Inferior collective agreements in the private sector are undermining collective agreements in the public sector. This poses a threat to UEN members’ terms of pay and employment. This is particularly true for pension packages.

Genuine co-determination

Genuine co-determination is essential in order to achieve equal terms for our members working in private schools. The UEN must be conscious of its principles surrounding privatisation while also placing emphasis on being a professional and trustworthy partner in the education sector. To succeed with this partnership, we must work to ensure day-to-day oversight and transparency, and we must work to prevent private providers from using UEN’s policies as an obstacle to co-operation. For employee representatives to be effective drivers for good and consensual co-determination processes in this complex political landscape, they need special support from their trade union.

Private schools must be run on a not-for-profit basis

The UEN is pushing for a robust public education system modelled on the comprehensive school principle. The UEN takes the view that private schools must be run on a not-for-profit basis to be entitled to public funding. The schools must be regulated by the authorities. Private schools must represent an alternative education philosophy or be faith-based. The existing Independent Schools Act aims to prevent private providers from making a profit on private schools in receipt of state funding. Yet there are numerous examples of providers attempting to make money on private schools. The Independent Schools Act must prevent all forms of profit in private schools.

Our goals

  • Safeguard democratic control of schools and the teaching profession’s influence over methodologies and pedagogical practices.
  • The Independent Schools Act must be strengthened to prevent all forms of profit in private schools.
  • Public schools must not be privatised.
  • Retain the statutory right to terms of pay and employment for personnel in private schools in line with those in public schools.
  • Pension schemes for personnel working in private schools must be equal to public service pensions.
  • All private schools must be covered by collective agreements and be entitled to negotiations and co-determination.
  • Better inspection and control of private schools.

How do we reach these goals?

In order to succeed in our effort against increased privatisation, competitive tendering and commercialisation, all levels at the UEN must keep highlighting these issues. We must take part in the public discourse locally, nationally and internationally in order to form opinion against increased privatisation, commercialisation and competitive tendering. We must build alliances and work with politicians, other education sector employees and parents.

To achieve this, we rely on highly trained employee representatives and members. We must enable people in all parts of the organisation to share experiences and knowledge. The goals set out in this strategy must be disseminated at all levels, and they should permeate our argumentation locally and nationally.

The issues listed below are key instruments that must be adjusted, supplemented and refined according to how the lobbying activities will be carried out.

To achieve our objective of stopping increased privatisation and preventing increased commercial influence in the education sector, it is particularly important at a local level to:

  • Help form opinion by participating in the public discourse.
  • Lobby local councillors by systematically engaging in information-sharing and dialogue in order to prevent privatisation and commercialisation. Reinforce efforts to recruit members and employee representatives in order to increase the degree of organisation in private schools.
  • Work to make equal terms of pay and employment a criterion when putting contracts out to tender.
  • Be a driver for effective and consensual co-determination processes in municipalities that are considering competitive tenders and privatising municipal enterprises with UEN members.
  • Offer adequate training and support to employee representatives in private ECE institutions and schools.

To achieve our objective of stopping increased privatisation and preventing increased commercial influence in the education sector, it is particularly important at a county level to:

  • Help form opinion by participating in the public discourse.
  • Lobby county councillors by systematically engaging in information-sharing and dialogue in order to prevent privatisation, commercialisation and competitive tendering.
  • Enable professional learning communities and professional awareness amongst members and employee representatives in order to identify and prevent commercialisation of education content.
  • Demand collective agreements for all private schools in the county.
  • Educate local employee representatives on processes surrounding competitive tendering, privatisation and commercialisation in particular.
  • Help ensure that private schools are inspected when it is considered necessary.

To achieve our objective of stopping increased privatisation and preventing increased commercial influence in the education sector, it is particularly important at a national level to:

  • Help form opinion by participating in the public discourse.
  • Lobby the national authorities to change laws and regulations by highlighting the consequences of privatisation and commercialisation.
  • Actively use Unio and the EI to form opinion.
  • Support the EI’s strategy on commercialisation and privatisation in and of education.
  • Ensure that all parts of the organisation have the knowledge and facts necessary to be credible contributors and to persuade politicians and public opinion.
  • Continue the work to negotiate and develop collective agreements with good pay, employment and pension terms.
  • Further develop and implement course materials to educate members and employee representatives.
  • Enable experiences to be shared at all levels within the organisation.
  • Defend and further refine the provisions in the Basic Agreement on co-determination on issues concerning competitive tendering and privatisation of municipal enterprises.
  • Ensure good frameworks for co-determination in private enterprises by strengthening and refining the Basic Agreements.