One of the things I have loved about moving to the private sector in Education is how straightforward it is. It works like this: if the parents are happy, they pay the fees and the school stays open.
I’ve drawn a picture to show this:
Of course, the challenge is to know what to do to keep the parents happy, i.e. the ‘???’ in my diagram. I think the bulk of the answer is ‘feedback’ and I’ll come to that, but it’s worth considering just how complex the equivalent picture is for state schools.
In state schools you have to keep the parents happy. And you also have to keep Ofsted happy. And your local authority, or Academy chain if that’s relevant. And you have do well enough with your SATs scores to keep a decent position in the league tables. The pictures looks more like this:
My diagram is by no means accurate, but I hope it shows that people running state schools have a lot more ‘stakeholders’ to please. This obviously filters down to the teaching, because pleasing parents, pleasing Ofsted and attaining brilliant SATs results are three different things (related, but different); therefore, they require more complexity. Often we hear the phrase ‘putting the children first’, and that’s a lovely sentiment, but the reality is that there are many different factors affecting what goes on in the classroom.
Anyway, I need to get back to the point about providing feedback to please the parents and so I will. But it will be in the next post.
It is a description of an emotional state that everyone experiences. Sometimes life, or work, becomes so intense that the frantic feeling is unavoidable. But to have such an extreme word characterising day-to-day life in an education system cannot be a good thing.
I left the state education system a term ago. After 19 years in it, I moved over to the ‘darkside’ – the independent sector. From that new vantage point I could look back and see how frantic I had become responding to the ever more frantic requirements of the system. Since then I’ve had a few interactions with the state system that have confirmed my diagnosis. Some of these interactions have been with former colleagues and some with teachers from the schools my children attend.
I see it in the eyes. They are too wide. Or too sleepy. Or full of tears.
And people have seen the change in me. “You look really well,” and “the weight has gone from your shoulders,” are both comments I have received on more than one occasion in recent weeks.
I think there are a range of reasons for this collective emotional state of ‘frantic’, which I hope to explore over future posts. And if you’re feeling ‘distraught with fear or anxiety’ over our Education system or your role in it, I hope to point to some solutions.
When a friend who is a headteacher uttered these words a few months ago, I was in the midst of my angst about whether I should resign or not. Mired in my own personal work trauma, I hadn’t realised at the time how true her words are.
UK Education has gone to the ‘dogs’. And by ‘dogs’ I’m using a technical term as defined by Pink Floyd’s 1977 album ‘Animals’, in which a section of the lyrics from the 17-minute long song ‘Dogs’ goes:
You have to be trusted by the people you lie to,
So that when they turn their backs on you,
You’ll get the chance to put the knife in.
The song is about business people. That’s who state education has gone to.
Somehow, somewhere we’ve got the idea that education can be run like a marketplace. So we’ve got businesses involved in it. Companies that run academy chains and companies that market resources for a curriculum that’s only a skeleton and so is ripe for fleshing out with expensive products.
But the marketplace is all wrong. In a normal market, companies compete for the business available. Some succeed and some fail, but in competing the idea is that the consumer gets a better deal. Companies make profit and the whole thing is based on money.
But the education market is a kind of half-way house between socialism and capitalism. Every school gets roughly the same amount of money per child (pupil premium excepted) regardless of how well they are doing. Schools are then judged on student performance, evaluated by Ofsted and put into league tables based on test results. There’s very little financial reward or penalty for performance in the education market.
The very best schools can become teaching schools which can then effectively take over other schools. The very worst schools are said to be failing and then struggle to recruit teachers and take on families who want the very best academically for their children. These schools can be closed, or turned into an academy or taken over by a teaching school. However while these schools are failing, their students are suffering. Those students will never get their wasted education back. What can happen during this time is that the school becomes another province in the burgeoning empire of an executive headteacher, therefore justifying a higher salary. Or the school could become part of an expanding academy chain, creaming off more money from state education into private business.
A virtuous cycle is set up for those who are part of it. The teaching school headteachers and academy chains all know the HMI inspectors. They form a powerful network that other schools can’t easily join. They set about making their own bit of state education the very best it can be, ignoring the effect that a poor-education-for-some has on our overall society.
And sometimes they stoop to anything to make sure this happens. Before I resigned from my previous post I was lied to by those in charge. And just as it says in the song, when I tried to get on with my work having been told one thing to my face, other things where being said behind my back which had the metaphorical effect of putting the knife in.
Headteachers of teaching schools are the very people who should be standing up to the DfE and fighting for the rights of all children to have a great education. But instead they have stood by while the DfE have handed over much of the system to business, because the system has suited their growing empires.
Since moving to the independent sector, I’ve been impressed by the honesty of those who teach and work within it. It’s quite simple – you’ve got to do your job well or parents will stop paying the money to keep the place going. Everyone is clear – the school is a business. It provides education but the bottom line is money.
By contrast the half-way house that exists in the state sector blurs the lines between finance and standards. And when lines get blurry, those without moral purpose can prosper.
Secondly, either education should be a great socialist venture into making education great for all or it should completely go over to the market (based entirely on money: actual hard cash). The current half-way house is disastrous for everyone, except for those dogs creaming money off the state sector.