Governing through parents: educational policy and the construction of neoliberal subjectivities in England

  • Antonio Olmedo
  • Andrew Wilkins University of Roehampton (London)


In this paper we explore the relationship between market norms and practices and the development of the figure of the parent within British education policy. Since the 1970s parents in England have been called upon to perform certain duties and obligations in their relation to the state. These duties include internalizing responsibility for risks, liabilities, inequities and the spectre of crises formerly managed by the state. Rather than characterize this situation in terms of the ‘hollowing of the state’, we argue that the role of the state includes enabling the functioning of the parent as a neoliberal subject, so that they may successfully harness the power of the market to their own advantage and (hopefully) minimize the kinds of risk generated through a deregulated education system. In this paper we examine how parents are compelled to embody certain market norms and practices as they navigate the field of education. In particular we focus on how parents are 1) summoned as consumers or choosers of education services, and thus encouraged to embody through their behaviour a competitive orientation; 2) summoned as governors and custodians of schools, with a focus on assessing financial and educational performance; and 3) summoned as producers and founders of schools, with a focus on entrepreneurial and innovative activity.