Nutty monopolies

The market for teachers is an odd one. This week, the UK’s National Union of Teachers (NUT) was up in arms, this time dramatically declaring that schools are breaking the law by using classroom assistants to fill in for teachers. Instead, they ought to be going for the rather more expensive option of bringing in supply teachers. (All this against the backdrop of horrific public sector cuts)

This situation is strange in some ways, because in any other job, filling in while the boss is away would be seen as a natural progression of your career. I do understand that classroom assistants don’t necessarily have the correct qualifications, but it isn’t at all obvious that a supply teacher would do a better job at filling in. The classroom assistant already knows the pupils, knows what they have been working on, and knows about different pupils’ needs.

The study of monopoly behaviour is a standard part of most economics courses. Monopolies have market power, and of course it’s in their interests to protect that power. Keeping other competitors out of the market is a big one on the to-do list of any monopoly worth its salt. Because competitors could undercut the monopoly’s prices and reduce its profits.

Is there some element of this in the NUT’s behaviour? I wouldn’t blame them if there was – their employer has quite a bit of market power itself.

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