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The Business of Education

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Those who have been in education for long enough will remember a time when education and business were distinct entities. Over the last few decades, however, it seems to me that business practices, ethics and language have been slowly creeping into teaching.

Curious about the extent of this phenomenon, I did a brainstorming session, noting any recollections or other thoughts that came to me on the topic (my conclusion caming as somewhat of a surprise).

The following is a typed transcript of that brainstorming session (it therefore comprises a series of notes in the order in which ideas came to me --- I have only tidied up when deemed necessary).

Off-loading of work, or decentralisation, i.e. jobs once done centrally by a few people now “devolved” to schools. For example:

1) school budgets force headteachers (HTs) to be accountants;

2) loss of advisory service resulted in huge increase of teacher workload;

3) each new update of curriculum (updates are happening more and more frequently) off-loads work onto teachers e.g. whereas previously each subject had a set of class texts and every pupil got a book, now teachers having to write their own books. Have any of you tried writing a book or a thesis? No small task.

School budgets: increased complexity in line with modern business practices – suits business down to the ground, complexity makes it easier to hide their shenanigans and “creative accounting”.

Curriculum has also become extremely complex and unwieldy.

Business practices and language: e.g. “auditing” courses, “bidding” for equipment, “annual reviews”, “project development”, departmental handbook (a useless document anyway), “quality assurance”, “performance indicators”….etc

As well as teaching, teachers now also doing work of managers but do not have power of managers – in fact, teacher’s power reduced to that of most menial worker.

If a subject department wants an item of equipment, submits a bid or a proposal, in writing, for consideration -- no guarantee bid will be successful.

Teachers used to be teachers, now teachers doing many other jobs e.g. management, secretarial, authors, accountants, cleaners, training student teachers, social worker, fund-raiser, salesman etc…

Sub-contracting: Used to have SEB (Scottish Exam Board), now board has been “privatised”, turned into a business, a profit making organisation i.e. SQA (Scottish Qualifications Authority). My relationship with SQA entirely different from that with SEB. Whereas I felt that I was working WITH SEB, now feel I work FOR SQA. SQA makes constant demands on me for data, constant round of form filling, constantly imposing new regulations which made my work far harder, far more time consuming, making unreasonable demands on my time etc, etc. Latterly I increasingly felt that SQA was using me, the teacher, as a source of cheap (i.e. unpaid) labour.

Cleaning now sub-contracted, so too catering.

Sands constantly shifting: constant state of flux, procedures for just about every aspect of work e.g. requisition, assessment arrangements, in constant state of change – don’t know where you are from one week to the next.

Advertising: course names used to be straightforward, tell you about the “product” e.g. O-grade (O = ordinary), Higher. Now have “Curriculum for Excellence” – What the hell’s that about? Tells you nothing. Pure advertising.

Teachers now have to “sell” their subject, themselves, their school etc. Advertising/business is about lying and cheating and stealing. Teachers have to lie about their subject – make it sound much more attractive than it really is.

Today: HT now in charge of school budget, so e.g. gets teachers to switch off classroom lights to save money. In old days, HT would have been fighting FOR his teachers, making sure they had sufficient resources to do their job. Neat turnaround here. Government no longer contends with demands from HTs, teacher no longer has HT to fight their corner. Divide and conquer.

Forcing mutli-tasking on teachers and forcing them to fight for equipment, creates conflict. Wrecking school culture. Forget any cooperation between staff – too many things instituted that put them in conflict with one another.

Multitasking roles: e.g. role of accountant in direct conflict with role of teacher – opposing goals: the teacher-role wants more resources for pupils, whereas the accountant-role wants to minimise costs. Two are NOT compatible. To have the one person performing the role of teacher as well as accountant creates internal conflict. Multi-tasking fine as long as both roles have same goals e.g. a teacher who teaches more than one subject is multi-tasking which does not create conflict.

Budgets – puts focus on money, not on teaching.

Today also have to account not only for money, but for time as well – teachers have to account for their every activity.

Introduction of forward planning in teaching: that’s business mentality.

Schools become businesses – teachers develop business mentality – business culture becomes pervasive – teachers behave and look more and more like businessmen – business people who lie and cheat and steal from folks.

Language of business: Quality Assurance, Performance Indicators, Annual Reviews, all very unsettling. Suits a culture such as business, where people voluntarily and routinely move from job to job – do you want that from a teacher? Instability creates a Whiz Kid culture; career chasing teachers go from school to school, only interested in career, so when take children on trips, it is only to further their career, not for children’s benefit. What is needed is a “Mr Chips” culture – loyalty to school, and children. Examine Whiz Kid culture more closely, see that children not being best served by it.

Also, if teacher only with class for a couple of years, no pride in job. Teacher who is with pupils through their time at school has a pride in their job, wants to see pupils do well, becomes part of a community, gets to know parents and the families -- can’t over estimate how important it is getting to know parents/families. Provides job satisfaction. If teachers satisfied, then work well; if not satisfied, don’t work well.

Business mentality is short term (weekly, monthly); might be out of business tomorrow. Schools part of community -- long term – need long term mentality – OAK TREE – strong, sturdy, to last. Business – SITKA SPRUCE – quick growing, harvested every few years, cash crop.

Creeping business practices, ethics, mentality means that people governing education can’t distinguish between a school and a business, can’t distinguish between an oak and a sitka spruce. Don’t know that need to treat different trees differently; they need different growing conditions etc. Would you want as your doctor someone who can’t distinguish between a horse and a human? This is what we have for government.

At the end of this I’m really surprised, almost shocked, to realise the extent to which schools have metamorphosed into business. I suppose the reason it hasn’t impinged so much on my consciousness is because these things have come on so gradually. It’s like a bad smell; one notices it at first but then one gets used to it, and when the smell gets stronger, if this happens slowly enough, one doesn’t notice the increase.

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