Education International
Education International

UK: Teachers’ decisive action against ‘for profit’ drive in education

published 28 April 2015 updated 29 April 2015

“#TellPearson no to ‘for profit’ schools because #ChildrenDeserve good public education @pearson.”This was one of the rallying slogans of education trade union leaders and parents in their action opposing education privatisation in London, UK.

On 24 April, a group of international agencies and unions took action during education company Pearson corporation’s board of directors annual shareholder meeting. Pearson is a leading ‘edu-business’ with operations in over 80 countries.

The group comprised the American Federation of Teachers (AFT)/USA, the National Union of Teachers (NUT)/UK, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL)/UK, the Australian Education Union (AEU)/Australia and the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (SADTU)/South Africa, all affiliated to Education International (EI), as well as Global Justice Now and ActionAid.

The teachers’ action involved presenting a letter to the Pearson’s board of directors, along with the signatures on the “Tell Pearson Petition”, signed by 30,000 people so far, demanding that Pearson stop monitoring kids and open their contracts for public review.

The international grouping demanded that Pearson measure the social, emotional and academic impact of its education practices in the United States, the United Kingdom and developing nations.

Three specific requests were made to Pearson:

  • Stop spying on kids
  • Withdraw from ‘for profit’ schooling in the Global South
  • End high stakes testing

Wide-ranging influence

Globally, the education market is worth $4.2 trillion and increasing numbers of businesses are seeking to profit from this market. As a leading ‘edu-business’, Pearson’s influence on governments, education policy, and school life around the world is extensive, through direct lobbying and the funding of academic research, free-market think-tanks, and business lobby groups.

Business practices that are harming children, not only in the UK but also around the world must be stopped, the activists said.

NUT: Education for public good, not profit

“Pearson’s activities around the world indicate its intention to commercialise and privatise education at all levels,” said Christine Blower, the NUT General Secretary.

Pearson needs to end its involvement with fee-paying private schools in the global south, stop all practices that promote and support the obsession with high-stakes testing, and negotiate with teachers’ unions and others to secure agreement on the appropriate role of ‘edu-business’ in education, she said.

She also stressed that “education is a human and civil right and a public good, for the good of learners and society, not private profit”.

ATL: Greater inequality

Agreeing that “no one should forget that education is a human right which should not be perverted by the profit motive”, Mary Bousted, ATL General Secretary, added that ‘school curricula should not be patented and charged for, and tests should not distort what is taught and how it is assessed’.

‘As the profit motive embeds itself in education systems around the world,’ she said that, ‘’unfortunately, these fundamental principles come under ever greater threat leading to greater inequality and exclusion for the most disadvantaged children and young people”.

AFT: Social impact important

The AFT President Randi Weingarten also challenged Pearson to match its actions to its leadership’s rhetoric about being a socially responsible company. “While I recognise Pearson has a duty to its shareholders to be profitable, my question centres on another obligation: to conduct business in a way that befits the world’s largest education company—that is, in the words of its president, John Fallon, where every product must be measured by its ‘social impact’,” she said.

‘Children across the world should have access to free high-quality education’, Weingarten said, calling on Pearson to stop charging the poorest people in the world up to 30 per cent of their income to send just one of their children to school.

Twitter activity

The #TellPearson hashtag was widely used on Twitter on that day, with tweets such as:

#TellPearson  stop monitoring social media #ChildrenDeserve not to be spied upon @pearson #TellPearson end high stakes tests because #ChildrenDeserve a better education @pearson 40% of your income to send 1 child to school? #TellPearson: stop profiting from the world’s poorest workers http://aft.to/pearsonGS@pearson

You can download the flyer distributed by education unionists in London during the Pearson’s annual shareholder meeting here