After almost 60 years of almost unrestricted growth it does appear that the size, role and status of the public sector is set to diminish for the foreseeable future. In education this change is manifested in the reforms brought in by the coalition since 2010 – notable the decline in the role of local government, the dismantling of the infrastructure of agencies and regulatory bodies and the increase in the autonomy of schools through the academy movement. Thus a relationship which might have been characterised a generation ago as one of dependency and control has now become one of autonomy and, to some extent, market forces.
Every time we go out shopping and choose supermarket A over supermarket B we reinforce the power of the market economy. In choosing our cars (indeed being in the position of being able to choose) we consolidate the importance of choice as the basis for living in a modern democracy. There is the mythology that choice raises standards – try flying with low-cost airlines on certain routes on a Friday evening. There is clearly a need to ensure that authentic choice is available for all. The market only works if all have equal access and the same amount to spend.
These changes might point to a need to rethink many aspects of the prevailing norms of educational policy. There seems little doubt that for some there is evidence of the emergence of what might be seen as a corporate approach while others are moving towards greater engagement with their communities – for example the cooperative academies. However given the social challenges and the issues of sustainability a different approach might be needed:
Social entrepreneurs worth their salt do not follow conventional ways of working. Their view of the world begins with people, passion, experience and story - not policy, statistics and theory. (Mawson 2008: 2)
For many in education the public sector has been their primary experience of how things happen in society – largely driven by government policy and funding with some engagement with commerce and charities. Shifts in government attitudes towards the role of the public sector mean that the traditional perspective will have to change – not necessarily into a commercial mode of operating or purely charitable but rather a new mode of working that combines elements of all three traditional approaches – usually described as social entrepreneurship. Social entrepreneurship focuses on social and moral capital as well as economic capital.:
Perhaps the most compelling and distinctive feature of social entrepreneurship is that it is responsive to real local need rather than imposing generic solutions or assuming that agencies know better than their clients. It is the focus on solution-based strategies and relevant projects that gives social entrepreneurship its potential impact and ability to build capacity and sustainability. This is not to diminish the social and economic significance of the other three areas – all have a place in a modern complex society that has to serve and meet an astonishingly varied range of demands. What is clear is that the types of provision may have to change, as will the provider, and the ratios of different types of activity and providers will inevitably change as the role of government is gradually lessened in terms of historical provision in the public sector.