Political Football: will education in England ever be overseen by teachers and guided by educational research?

Will Green's picture
There comes a point when something begins to feel a bit different, a tipping point I suppose. I’ve recently been in touch with the Slow Education website and in the emailed response W.E.Deming was mentioned, the same W.E.Deming that Maurice Holt quotes in his recent article about the sorry state of US/UK education: to try to improve process by studying outcomes he says “…is like driving by looking in the rear-view mirror.” W.E. Deming’s book ‘The New Economics’ (2000) is a guide to business management. In it he recognises that competition within an institution, be that a business or a school, can be destructive. Cooperation is promoted as the positive alternative. One way to do away with unhelpful competition is to abolish ‘performance reviews’ at work and grades/levels at school. ‘Performance Related Pay’ is now a reality for England’s school teachers. This reveals to the world that we have an education system overseen by non-educationalists who don’t value a collegiate workplace for teachers; want to encourage competition within schools (as well as between!); do not know their own history (‘Payment-by-Results’ was abandoned in England over one hundred years ago because it leads to teaching to the test, a narrow curriculum and fiddling the data) and are inspired by – Deming would argue outdated – business practices rather than anything like an educational philosophy.

I haven’t read The New Economics but I have read two books recently both entitled ‘Together’, one by Henry Hemming (2011) and the other by Richard Sennett (2012). Both these books are about cooperation. Like W.E.Deming these authors take issue with the distorted view of Darwin that claims his theories of evolution are proof of the supremacy of the anti-collective, individualistic life. Hemming’s book suggests that associations and clubs have seen a massive resurgence in the last ten or twenty years; in studying this phenomenon he not only asks why but also draws attention to the precise nature of any association or club: in describing such a community he states “…it is not an identity that you can foist on an unsuspecting set of individuals.” (p.226) If this is true how can teachers in England really recognise themselves as a community of professionals? After all, their identity is very much ‘foisted’ upon them by a damaging treadmill of short-termist political leaders. Ordinary Voices, an organisation promoting new approaches to education management, describes the short-term vision of these politicians as “…sometimes creating instability and uncertainty in the system.” This is putting it very politely indeed!

As Richard Sennett says in his book “When reform is conducted top-down, what goes missing is equality.” (p.50) Ordinary Voices turns this quote on its head because it aims to build “…a broader consensus for what kind of service we want to provide…” The bottom of their homepage states simply “More voices of ordinary people want to be heard in the education debate.” This isn’t the promotion of a particular type of educational uniformity by a combination of global business interests, Think Tanks and politicians (sometimes known as G.E.R.M. the Global Education Reform Movement). This isn’t the promotion of any particular educational agenda, it is simply a call for a more participatory democracy. Sennett describes how the internet has enabled people to share their interests and come together with greater ease and in greater numbers than ever before. An organisation like Ordinary Voices is a community in the modern sense of the word, not bound by place and faith but by common interest or cause. Robert Nisbet (1913 – 96) describes any association like this as “…the greatest single barrier to the conversion of democracy from its liberal form to its totalitarian form.”

“A club is a community engaged in the task of educating itself.” J.M.Brew ‘Informal Education: Adventures and Reflections’ 1946

When does the tipping point occur? Is it when the community grows to a certain size? Is it when the task of educating is obsolete because the truths are self-evident? Is it when the contents of that education crystallise into something like an astonishing diamond that can no longer be ignored?
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Jenny Collins's picture
Tue, 09/09/2014 - 14:58

"The very meaning of public education is being recast from a project aimed at forming national citizens and nurturing social solidarity to a project driven by economic demands and labour-market orientation."
'Pisa, Power and Policy: The Emergence of Global Education Goverance'
Heinz-Dieter Meyer and Aaron Benavot (2013)

Andy V's picture
Wed, 10/09/2014 - 13:16

“The very meaning of public education is being recast from a project aimed at forming national citizens and nurturing social solidarity to a project driven by economic demands and labour-market orientation.” It would have been really good if the thrust of this sentence had ever been true for British education but fear that our schools have always been focused by the needs of employers and therefore the economy. The closest we get to the veneer of halcyon days in education are the pre-national curriculum era but even then the core activity was producing young people for the jobs market.

jennyquestions's picture
Wed, 10/09/2014 - 21:19

Indeed. The whole debate then is revolving around an institution that needs to be seriously re-considered, not just tinkered with. Thanks goodness children and adults find so many excellent ways to educate themselves.

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