Prehistoric pretensions

28th February 1997 at 00:00
Chuck away all those checklists, development plans and management manuals, and don't waste money on management courses. They're all a way of treating you and your staff like the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park.

The "education management industry", the multi-million pound labyrinth of publishers, consultants, trainers and course providers who purport to help schools and colleges run more effectively, is part of a destructive attempt by government and business to plan and control the work of teachers. Or so claims a book which has just landed on the desks of education management professors in the universities.

It likens the attempts by education management practitioners to impose systems on the classroom environment to the misguided belief of the creators of the fictional Jurassic Park that they could anticipate and control the behaviour of their animals. Trying to control teachers is equally likely to end in disaster warns the author, Helen Gunter, former secondary teacher turned inspector and consultant, who now lectures on education management at Keele University.

While some education management professors dismiss Ms Gunter's warnings as "neo-Marxis t fantasy", others agree that the education management field is facing an identity crisis, and needs to redefine its role and purpose. They back her call for teachers and education management professionals to join in a wide-ranging debate on the subject.

Ms Gunter says that by colluding in the Government's drive to foist on education a largely discredited model of industrial management, education managers have made teachers feel that their professional skills are redundant and their judgment is not to be trusted.

"What the rapid adoption of the managerial model has done is to exclude other versions of organisation life from teacher training and development," alleges Ms Gunter. "Management is an ideology and is central to the New Right policies and legislation that have transformed teachers' work and their relationships."

She argues that "management by ring-binder" is trying to turn teachers into technicians carrying out prescribed procedures, and that "self-management" checklists and manuals tend to make teachers feel inadequate and to blame for problems caused by economic and social factors.

Ms Gunter fears "Jurassic management" is affecting school governing bodies, and she cites advertisements for heads with "vision" and "collaborative management skills". Quoting a study that suggests managers like the "visioning and human resource management processes" because they "promote an illusion of the future which enables them to deal with their fear of not being in control", Ms Gunter says managers may not have realised that Jurassic management strategies mean collaborating in the very policies that have created the fear.

"The failure of Jurassic Park illustrates that we cannot, nor should not, create organised human relationships that are based on simplistic notions of interaction and control," she suggests. The only function of visioning is to provide comfort for those who are uneasy about living with turbulent changes of the kind now taking place in society.

"Schools will always be a complex issue, as their existence and form are a matter for values, ethics, politics and interests," she says. "Management can only have a role to play for the practitioner if it looks at its role within, and its contribution to, knowledge creation and how it facilitates the practitioner's access to it."

Despite repeated avowals that she is not attacking the "industry" of which she is part, Ms Gunter concludes by warning: "In the general move towards practitioner relevance and the rubbishing of the academic, we have failed to see the creation of a new lite which is more pervasive and dangerous than the ivory-tower mentality we have loved to ridicule. The growth of experts in the form of consultancies is not a new democracy, but another lite."

The book is the first in a new series on management and leadership edited by John Sayer, a distinguished former grammar and comprehensive head, who is now at Oxford University's department of education. He agrees with much of her criticism.

Professor Peter Ribbins, Birmingham University's dean of education, who is editing other books in the series, has not yet read the book but admires Ms Gunter's work and believes she should be taken seriously.

Professor Tony Bush, who heads Leicester University's Education Management Development Unit, says a good deal of soul-searching is taking place and that the Economic and Social Research Council is to fund a nationwide series of seminars this summer on the theme of redefining management education.

But two of Keele's own most eminent professors, both of whom are also widely respected educational administrators, dismiss Ms Gunter's views. Professor Margaret Maden, director of Keele's Centre for Successful Schools, and formerly Warwickshire's director of education, says: "It's all rather fanciful, this idea that teachers are some kind of special animal with nothing to learn from the outside world, and it is a distraction from the task of providing them with practical support."

And Tim Brighouse, Birmingham's education director and former professor of education at Keele, where he is still a visiting professor, says that anyone who has watched a head turn round a failing school will understand the importance of vision.

Rethinking Education: the Consequences of Jurassic Management by Helen Gunter, is published by Cassel Professional. #163;45 in hardback, #163;12.99 paperback, pp #163;1.30

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