'It amazes me how quickly the corporate mind of business has infiltrated our schools'

26th May 2016 at 14:00
Old Primary Head
Are we blindly all following a corporate Pied Piper with no real idea of the consequences, asks one leading headteacher

I was once attacked in an email with the line, “You would be a ‘nobody’ in the corporate world.” Initially, I was a little stung by this rather vicious dissection of my ability to lead my school, until I relaxed and realised that this was exactly what I was doing: "leading a school". I was not running a multi-national telecoms business, no matter how much some thought I should.

It amazes me how quickly the corporate mind of business has infiltrated the world of our education system. Often I read or hear about how schools need to be made more efficient, effective or economic. It is as though success is measured through a business model, rather than as an education institution. I understand this but I think it has gone too far and it is at odds with other attitudes in education. We have been sold this "come together" rhetoric when, in fact, it may just be a crowded meeting room of corporate ambition vying for a place on the honours list or bigger bank balances. 

The first time I heard the economics of school success used was with the sentence, “So, who are your customers?” I struggled for a little while and answered, “The children and community?”

“Yes! And how can we offer them a better service?”

If I’d been a revolutionary I would have said: “By streamlining our effective workforce and maximising our income to ensure high-end data outputs!”

I just bumbled: “Teach better?”

It is as though we only look to the economics of big business to answer the key questions in modern day schooling. I really did once sit through a conference that compared Tesco to schools. The Tesco model reflected its community: it was bespoke, culturally enlightened – oh, and it made a tanker load of money. I found it hard not to agree with many of the arguments being presented about dragging the "old-fashioned" schooling system into the 21st century, and yet I kept thinking, "What is so dirty about a village school being just that? Are we afraid that if we don't force them into the slick corporate world of CPD, cloud nine aspirations and six-tier management structures they will have nothing better to do than burn future generations in their Wicker Man? They may be cash-cows but surely we should be aiming for purer ambitions?" (This is why I’d be a ‘nobody’ in the corporate world.)

'The simple joy of being a community school'

However, I do have great admiration for many people in the multi-academy trust arena. Two of the educationists I most admire are central characters in Mats but many of us have just let reality slip on by because the climate has allowed it. We have lost sight of the pure and simple joy of being a great community school looking into our communities rather than readying ourselves for world domination.

The language of education has changed drastically over the past six years. In some recent headteacher adverts, I noticed that apart from the title, the word "teacher" was almost completely wiped from the expectations of the role:

"Executive, experienced manager, a track record of success, exceptional leader, accelerating improvement, ambitious, director, bringing innovation, imaginative direction, inspirational, driven, unique ethos, dynamic, exceptional and creative..."

True, a headteacher needs to bring many superlatives to the table but maybe we can start to live in the real world for a moment. Maybe headteachers are better seen as "ordinary humans" rather than the smartest, coolest, most perfect, brightest leaders and managers around.

Writing as a parent, I don't give a damn about the headteacher's CV or ambition. I want a human being at the helm, not Data from Star Trek. I care about my child's experiences in my child's school. In the hubbub of the mad rush to make education the executive's playground, many seem to have forgotten the basic science of a good school, a school that is delivering the best for its community day after day. Many Mats seem like broken toys wrapped up in silver paper; once unwrapped, they don't work like they used to.

The past scares me. It amazes me how we allow things to happen without fully challenging them at the time. In some parts of the USA interracial marriage was illegal as recently as the Sixties. It is only in retrospect we realise just how terrible things really were.

Are we at that stage in education now? Are we blindly all following a corporate Pied Piper with no real idea of the consequences? Watching the six-figure salaries rise and justifying it through good PR. What will the legacy of this time in education be? Will we look back on the "Schools for Sale" era where the fattest cats really do sit on a Mat, or are we heralding a new dawn in quality education?

Brian Walton is headteacher at Brookside Academy in Somerset. He tweets at @Oldprimaryhead1

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