Teachers Lack a Respect for Authority – The Challenge of Collaboration in Learning

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Nov 082013

The Independent is reporting today that “Too many teachers have no respect for authority and are hampering schools’ attempts to improve standards”. Chief schools inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, warned that “head teachers are being ‘undermined by a pervasive resentment of all things managerial’ by some of their teaching staff’, and that “some teachers simply will not accept that a school isn’t a collective but an organisation with clear hierarchies and separate duties.”

So it’s back to the days of the manager knows best and has the absolute right to manage! This pervasive culture of executive management has effectively taken over our public services during the last thirty years and has brought about an intense level of corporate instrumentalism in the delivery of learning and other public provision. No longer are teachers, parents and children allowed to have their own independent view of the world and the relationships that govern it. Instead their thoughts and concerns have to be subsumed to the corporate and brand imperatives that self-serving cadres of executive management regard as being de facto requirements for running a modern organisation – instrumentalism, transactionalism, cultural-reductionism and collective amnesia.

So any sense of collegiality, cooperation, collaboration and innovation gets tossed away in the interest of the corporate brand, the Whitehall dictat and the cult of the leader. Instilling a healthy disrespect for authority and for hierarchy is essential for good teaching. The expectation that we should Think for Ourselves is what fuelled innovation and progress in Western society since the Enlightenment. Why should independent thinking be stymied now, just as information and communication technology is changing the way that share and spark debate and knowledgeability, giving us new ways to appropriate and exercise ideas, information and creative thinking.

Contemporary teachers are exposed to the routines of scientific management and Taylorism like never before, and yet we don’t seem to be reaping any kind of reward in the underlying status of our culture. The UK still lags behind our competitors in performance indicators for basic literacy and numeracy skills. Perhaps if people like Sir Michael Wilshaw spent their time challenging the absurd and increasing inequalities in British society, in which a smaller and smaller social elite gain the rewards, and an even smaller global elite live in obscene opulence, then we wouldn’t need to condemn or berate teachers for wishing to exercise their conscience and practice a more collaborative, collegiate and cooperative approach to learning.

Academies and Executive Accountabity

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May 172013

Extravagance in Academies?

When I was Chair of Governors at a Leicestershire primary school, the ongoing challenge was to keep the school running effectively on a very tight budget. Given the circumstances of the school, there was continuing pressure to improve the performance of the school while working with a budget that would often make the pips squeak. One of the reasons that I stepped down from being a governor, however, followed the election of the Tory-Libdem coalition and their wholesale drive to turn schools in Leicestershire into academies. It was clear at the time that the push to make as many school as possible academies, regardless of the suitability of this system for the wide range of schools in the authority, would lead to a paucity of governance and management accountability.

It’s regretful, then, to read that the Daily Telegraph is reporting that “‘Extravagant’ academy school bosses blow thousands on luxury hotels and first-class travel”. According to the Telegraph: “Auditors warned of a culture of “extravagance” at the heart of the E-ACT group – the second-largest provider of academies in England – that led to hundreds of thousands of pounds being wasted. In a damning report, a Government quango found widespread examples of “lax” controls from senior managers and the use public of funds that “stretched the concept of propriety and value for money”.

According to the TES “The damaging findings for E-Act have been revealed in a report by the UK government’s Education Funding Agency”, and that: “Expenses claims and use of corporate credit cards indicate a culture involving prestige venues, large drinks bills, business lunches and first- class travel all funded by public money,” the agency’s report said. It added that expense and card payments by senior managers had “occasionally stretched the concept of propriety and value for money. Controls have been lax and some payments have tended to extravagance. However, we found no evidence of fraud.”

While actions of this kind might not be strictly illegal, I have a growing sense of unease that public money and the public service of education is being bastardised by an short-term and crude management culture. A culture that sees executive action as impervious to criticism and justifiable on the basis that education is now a business activity that needs to be managed in the same way that other consumer brands are managed.

The obvious risk in running our schools as quasi-commercial operations means that the virtues and values of education in the UK can get tossed aside. Social impartiality, accountability, freedom of expression, financial transparency and willingness to serve for the public good are increasingly at risk as our education system is pushed into these lamentable reforms.