Preface: the UK government is driving all sorts of misery right through the art of living in the name of preparing national life for the future and responding to The Economic Situation That We All Find Ourselves In!!! Nowhere more so than in public service, and most keenly felt by myself in Education, where the reform seems to be aimed at disenfranchising the professional teacher from the very exercise of their own skill: teaching. Schools are being put in a position whereby they have become reliant on providing an education service which can only run on various extra fundings (erstwhile specialisms); the fundings have now disappeared – ‘wail, what can we do?’ – and ‘never fear, we offer you … Academies’. With what seems a lot of money – we were made an offer we couldn’t refuse. However, legally, these Academies have now haemorrhaged from local authority control – big saving of money. Management of Academies has devolved to the Academies themselves. “Freedom,” bannered our school when it became an Academy at the beginning of this year (‘aha,’ I thought ‘this could be creative’) “… to all think along the same lines” (‘wail’). Towards the end of this year the government has made proposals that Performance Management (through which a teacher is targeted and measured how well they do their job) and Capability Procedures (through which a teacher goes if their work is perceived as inadequate) should be grafted together into one procedure. Our Review would henceforth start with the check to see if we are still capable, and that if there is the slightest question over any aspect of our performance our review would suddenly become a struggle for our jobs. Our Academy would like to take this up. We have a period of consultation. The following is what I offered to the discussion:
Of course the government document highlights and emphasises that grafting performance management and capability is the way forward in management of teachers. The ‘way’ ‘forward’ is to streamline the teaching workforce into a unified cadre of Education Deliverers and the only way to do this is to nullify teacher thought and experience – the very vocation that has moved a person to turn their life to teaching in the first place – to sterilise it by declaring it an obstacle to progress, to make it un-relevant. But this does not fore-decide that we should do likewise. We are an Academy now. This means we have the freedom … (oh, ‘to all think along the same lines’, damn, I thought I had a good point there – even the opportunity to pursue a dialogue is now denied me). In pursuing this ‘reform’ the school is demonstrating its willingness and determination to weed out those who are not ‘like-minded’ (as narrowly and ineffectively defined by the school), quite independent from whether they are good and effective teachers or not. How ironic, now, that this would be performed under the aegis of what was formally known as ‘professional development’. This move would simply make it easier to define individual teachers out of their jobs – it would complete the bypassing of the organic, sharing, collegiate creativity that is the craft and art of teaching.
‘FREEDOM … to all think along the same lines’ isn’t this the most oxy-moronic slogan to have been heard?
More and more, a career in teaching feels like life in a cult: the over-riding and rendering-irrelevant of the very basis and reference that formed an individual’s teaching identity in the first place. If my thought and creativity do not comply with the ‘acceptable’ practice of the organisation I am immediately rendered anathema by the organisation which holds tight to the only means of endorsement of my work and identity: performance management. My thought and creativity will be banished, excluded, rendered untouchable, polluted, much like the ultimate punishment of early societies – to be banished was to lose your very identity, it would have been far better to have just been killed.
This is not what I came into teaching for and yet I am obliged to have to respond to it. I am obliged to have to conform in it. And the proposed streamlining of capability and performance will complete the alienation from my own endeavour in teaching that has been making me ill, now, for the past decade. How on earth can I be expected to believe that this is in the ‘best interests’ of teachers, let alone pupils or their parents? When the proposal goes ahead – as it inexorably will – will my objections in this consultation render me ‘incapable’ unless I change them? And will I then be ‘performance managed’ out of my career?
I will say it now, and I will say it here, (even though it will not have immediate sway over what is happening anyway, but being one in a million who marched on the streets of London in 2003 saying ‘NO’ to Tony Blair obliged him to become so ridiculous in his determination to go to war that it rendered him a liability, I can hope): government-nurtured management of education/schools/teachers is just plain, simple wrong. This current proposal is the epitome of wrong management, of either people or public service. It is demotivating. It is mechanised only to identify the lack (or even just the ‘satisfactory’), it absorbs the good and immediately takes it for granted, rather than seeing how it works and cultivating it. Teachers work hard now to cover their backs and stay out of hassle rather than culture their practice. Lazy management just demands over recognising or understanding or nurturing; it doesn’t bother working out how to meet (and therefore manage) the demands itself. It narrowly pre-defines success criteria – extracting from the whole community that is communication – reducing education to a process rather than a growth. It practises outcome-led management to the detriment of value-informed practice, and in this way exploits endeavour rather than nurturing it. Management does not recognise teachers as a resource but as mechanisms (reductio’d ad absurdum) to those imposed outcomes in which they have no investment and in which they had no decision. Management has become dictatorial and inconsistent and determinedly non-democratic or non-nurturing. It may be the way the government wants management to be, but it is wrong. Governments are often wrong.
Am I saying all this simply because of my own experience of being ignored rather than managed during the last decade? Yes. Are my words therefore rendered irrelevant because of this? No. Unless the way I have been treated was all a very long-running mistake. And unless the litter of other teachers’ careers I have seen discarded by the roadside, crumpled and shaking, was wrong as well (I have seen teachers with decades of successful experience reduced to ‘satisfactory’ and then retired; I have seen teachers hounded to cure a hastily diagnosed symptom until they became ill and left the profession; I have seen passionate teachers walk out of their career with no forwarding post, during a recession; I have seen teachers shift out of their job to become successful elsewhere where they were listened to; I have seen teacher’s whole legacy rubbished once they were retired; I have seen teachers dis-abled in their career because they hadn’t been practising the sudden advent of a new initiative for years previously; I have seen teachers shifted into teaching wholly different subjects as a reward for evading being made redundant; I hear, every day, the attrition of spirit every time an e-mail is opened). Wouldn’t it be better for my career if I just shut up and didn’t express my unhappiness and reservations about this ordeal which is my career? For the decade past, it makes no difference; if this proposal goes ahead: yes.
If I don’t send this, it is because I need to look after my health. If I do send it, it is because I believed the word ‘consultation’ and because I shouldn’t be thinking only of myself.
(I did send it – it presumably got consulted, although I have not talked to any manager about it. We hear the results on Monday 16th July – the week we break for the summer holidays.)
career wormhole: Child of Illusion
compromise wormhole: really
money & performance & politics & teaching craft wormhole: teaching: which is it going to be, procedure or nurture?
obligation wormhole: the / pyrrhic / play
performance management wormhole: teaching performance
professionalism wormhole: responsible
recognition wormhole: across the room / through the patio doors / through the conservatory windows / at the bottom of the garden / the still bifurcated trunk of / the oak / before the let-grown hair and fringes / of the fir tree / blown every lifetime in a while by the winter sun // actually
teaching art: Resource