year, for example, the government agency Scottish Enterprise distributed 20,000 copies to schools of a magazine called "Biotechnology and You". This purports to be a "teacher's resource" helping children to navigate the moral and scientific complexities surrounding genetically engineered crops. But Scottish Enterprise failed to warn teachers that the "Biotechnology Institute", which published it, is a lobby group funded by Monsanto, Novartis, Pfizer and Rhone-Poulenc. The magazine repeats Monsanto's misleading claim that its best-selling herbicide is "less toxic to us than table salt". It attacks organic farming and suggests that it would be "immoral" not to develop GM crops.

In England, the old careers advisory service run by the Department for Education is gradually being replaced by a new agency, called Connexions. Once they have registered with this service, schoolchildren are given a swipe card, on which they accumulate points every time they turn up. They trade the points for discounts from the consumer goods listed on the Connexions website. The choices they make are monitored, and the information is then given to the service's "commercial partners". Last year, the education firm Capita, which runs Connexions for the government, told the Times Educational Supplement that companies such as McDonalds and PlayStation Magazine would have "the opportunity of seeing what these young people take up. They can be a very difficult group to reach."

By themselves, few of these developments will bring people onto the streets. "Labour," Richard Hatcher predicts, "will move cautiously and gradually, carefully preparing each step ideologically." Or, as the chief executive of the "edubusiness" firm Nord Anglia commented when he read the white paper the government released in September, "This is an astonishingly important point of transition. It is tentative, because it's politically sensitive, but it opens the door for the private sector to get involved, bit by bit."

We could argue about whether or not these steps towards full-scale privatisation improve or damage standards in education. In the United States, the evidence suggests that privatisation has been disastrous. In the UK, so far, the results are mixed. But this really isn't the point. Our schools are being privatised not for the benefit of our children, but for the benefit of our corporations, and the export economy to which, the government hopes, they will one day contribute. Children are simply the raw materials with which they work. They will, unless their parents demand an end to this experiment, be traded on the world's stock markets like so many barrels of oil.