Much is written about the standard of teaching these days, both in the popular and academic press. Governments consistently try to ‘fix’ the perceived problem of standards by regularly reforming teaching itself, tightening up on observational visits, and vilifying teachers for letting their students down.
Now even if we take all that as true (which I don’t, but let that pass for a moment) then it still doesn’t address a component that has bedevilled the sector for years. Namely: the standard of management.
Firstly, can I say that this isn’t just a problem in the education sector; it affects just about every enterprise where management operates in the UK. Standards remain poor across the board, or so I’ve found from the many instances of incompetence that I’ve come across in my time. But what makes the education sector suffer particularly badly is the massive power inequalities within the system itself.
Over the past thirty years or so, the post-compulsory sector has become very casualised in its employment practices. Full-time jobs are increasingly rare, and most teaching posts tend to be part-time contractual. Some are even agency work. (And don’t get me on about the various abuses that occur within this system). Because of this, a great many teachers do not belong to a union, or are actively discouraged from joining one. Since the end of IfL they are also without a professional membership body (I do not include ETF as a serious option here). They find themselves dangling powerlessly between arbitrary employment regimes on one hand and unemployment on the other.
When management behaves poorly, acts incompetently, or fails to actively support the teaching process, teachers are unable to speak out. They fear to criticise due to lack of any job security (and the clear possibility of victimisation). They therefore stay quiet, and big issues that cause immense problems in educational standards are never fixed. This results is a system where teachers end up being blamed for issues outside of their control, whilst management fails to rectify its shortcomings. The outcome: continuous decline in overall efficiency, quality and trust.
There are answer to this problem, if institutions are brave enough to take them on board. They include:
- Using the same pastoral (and other) standards with teachers that apply to students.
- Every institution to create an independent self-organised tutor/teacher advisory group, whose role is to monitor (and feed back on) management performance.
- All managers directly in charge of staff to be qualified to Level 4 in management technique, and this status to be maintained by registered yearly CPD.
- Observation of Teaching and Learning (OTL) to be on a ‘peer’ basis only. No management observers.
- OTL grading to end.
- Institutions to minimise the number of non-teaching staff, ideally with organisations being ‘all teaching’ bodies (i.e. everyone teaches, even the Principle)
This is not to say that some organisations don’t include good managers. However, from 35 years of experience of working for just about every educational body you can think of on Tyneside, I can say that the number of excellent managers I have worked for I can count on the fingers of one hand.
This is an unspoken problem. I’m sticking my neck out (yet again) for even mentioning it. But unless something is done, many of the educational problems that we have will continue unrecognised.