Now, let’s think this through, shall we? The clunkish philosophy driving today’s education.
by m lewis redford
The philosophy with which education (and all public services) has been treated in the last 15-20 years is one of treating service as business. The service receiver is the client, the service is the product. Simple. This philosophy, begun by Tory-thought constriction, consummated by retentive New Labour (Frankenstein-monstered by the Coalition), has shaped the provision of public service. The insidious result is that education, teaching, has become a process and stopped being a practice. Workload has increased exponentially while the education that ends up in pupils’ heads is unaffected by all this work and continues to go round and round again like a badly loaded washing machine. It is the wrong philosophy to use in a service.
The issue of workload is annoying because it is inextricably linked with the job we do. If we try to identify particular jobs that we could not do within teaching it only slightly relieves our workload, if at all, and it will often leave yet another liaison to have to manage anyway. There are two ways in which workload can be understood: one is simply an ‘accumulative’ model that more and more discreet jobs are just added to the basic job – the crisis point occurring when the proverbial last straw is added. The other way of understanding it is seeing successive refinements and developments of the job as an integrated and necessary component of doing the job ‘well’, an ‘integrated’ model. The accumulative model applies to jobs which are ‘piece-meal’, the workload is regulated either by hours of productivity or rate of productivity – efficiency can be realistically measured and enhanced but cannot easily be exploited: overwork will affect the rate of production. The second way applies to ‘professional’ jobs whereby productivity is usually in the form of a service. Service cannot easily be quantified numerically, it can only be measured by the degree of customer satisfaction for her investment. Ways are found to modify the service to meet the needs of the customer. Overwork is controlled by regulating the number and weight of client cases (when one’s case load is full one can either begin a waiting list or delegate).
Public service jobs are neither piece-meal nor client-controlled services. However they have been administered over the last 15-odd years as a perverse mixture of the two, although neither model, together or individually, is an appropriate way to treat a public service. This perverse philosophy has worked its way through education and I believe is becoming apparent most in the issue of workload which can neither be addressed ‘piece-meal’ or ‘performatively’ because it was the wrong philosophy with which to run the public service in the first place.
The experience in teaching is one of more and more jobs just being added on and added to. ‘Productivity’ is more and more forced to be numerically-based. Jobs are being added on/to in the name of enhancing the service but are seen as integral to doing the job, they are not so much ‘add-on’s’ as ‘doing properly’s’. Extra work in teaching is not regulated by number and weight of the ‘customers’, the number of pupils we teach grows both in class size and in the number of classes we teach as more and more is squeezed onto the timetable. The ‘customers’ do not directly invest in education anyway, they haven’t directly paid to be there at all, they are just there. The regulation of what happens to them comes from the management of the school/LEA/Government*. You cannot take off jobs because this would be the undermining of the service; you cannot refuse to do the work because this would be unprofessional. The regulation of workload is established by the holding to ransom of the education of pupils in the name of ‘professionalism’. There is consequently no check on the hours it takes to achieve the target productivity nor any negotiation about the increase in productivity envisaged.
The whole notion of treating the education service the same as a business is a fundamental philosophical mistake. Business exists fundamentally to provide a service to meet the customer’s needs. The customer responds to the business by buying the product. The dynamic involved is that of the market force which requires the business to make a response to the market and to establish the most efficient way of providing a service in order to maximise its profits. The aim of the business is to meet a need in order to get from the customer. Within education you are involved in providing a service to give to the recipient. Therefore education is not subject to the market forces as is business. In being in the position to give to someone, that ‘someone’ must lack it in the first place, and you must have what that someone needs in the second place (the facilities for health, education, advice, protection etc.) Because these ‘someone’s’ do not have and you do, then you are the determiner of when and how and how much etc. to give; you must decide this because they cannot. To give them the same sort of power as the consumer – that of having a say in the transaction, the when and how and why of the transaction – shows the absurdity of the comparison; the recipient of the service cannot determine the nature of the transaction. That stroppy pupils, with some vague sense of empowerment to do so, will arrogantly criticise the methods of teachers; and even more when parents who do not understand the nature of education come in to ‘fight for their rights’ and compare the school adversely to a badly run business, then the damage is complete, irreconcilable. The philosophy does not work. That the school has to run its service under this perverse philosophy is never going to work when looking at the service as a whole…
… and it doesn’t work internally either. In running education like a business the governments are setting up a business mechanism which inherently wrong-foots the whole profession. When we are responding to ‘targets’, ‘initiatives’, ‘budget concerns’, ‘drives’, ‘parent-response’ etc. we are involved in a business-dialectic which fundamentally misunderstands the nature of the education service, that of the professionalism of the service provider. Teachers are not business people, they are givers. But when we are responding to ‘targets’ etc. we are conducting our ‘giving’ like a business. And this establishes an inherent dissonance in our work which is irreconcilable and destructive. The feeding from Government to LEA’s to schools to school’s management to HoD’s to teachers to pupils of ways to improve ‘productivity’ simply produces pressure, from Government down to pupil. There has been a huge amount of work in recent decades in schools trying to enhance teaching and learning, much of which is done on the assumption that because there is a perceptible lack in some aspects of education (literacy, numeracy, teenage pregnancy, ill-health etc) it must be the fault of the means of production, the teachers. Therefore we are constantly ‘training’ and developing ‘professionally’, and still the ‘productivity’ is unaffected, and the sense that we don’t really know what we are doing in teaching becomes stronger in the classroom, in schools, in households, in the press. But I wonder if you stop treating education as a process and rather as a growth, where teachers become nurturers rather than operatives, where schools become greenhouses rather than factories, then literacy, numeracy, teenage pregnancy, health will maturate as it will, rather than mutate as it is forced.
* This was written well before the dismantling of LEAs all over the workplace floor, and the junked-together creation of Academies with no bolts or screws; no one is sure how to put it all back together again, even if they wanted to …
professionalism & results-led education wormhole: I think I know why I don’t like teaching, even though I quite like teaching and am quite good at it, even if I do have to say so myself