Relations strained by competitive edge

20th September 1996 at 01:00
Tougher surveillance and regulation of what goes on in classrooms is increasing stress among teachers and damaging education, according to Dr Diane Reay of King's College, London.

Studying staff relationships in four comprehensives, Diane Reay found that more interventionist Government policy and new forms of managerialism are shifting the emphasis from the pastoral to the academic, and creating a power imbalance between senior management and junior staff.

What constitutes a good teacher has been subtly altered by recent policy changes, Diane Reay suggests. Loyalty to the institution is now more highly valued than commitment to pupils. Relationships between senior and junior staff have become perfunctory, communication is mainly top-down and cursory consultation has replaced negotiation between management and staff.

The new competitive external culture has also increased competition within schools, between subject departments and other groups of teachers. There is far less space than there used to be for interdepartmental collaboration and growing tension between departments fighting for limited resources. Management policies of "divide and rule" have been exacerbated by the emergence of internal markets, competitive bidding for funds and intense competition for exam success.

"A chasm is opening between the concerns of many main-grade teachers and senior managers in relation to a range of issues from spending priorities to marketing. Different groups are divided between a set of concerns which give primacy to management, the market and the school budget as opposed to concerns about student needs, educational philosophy and teacher relationships."

In a parallel paper, Sharon Gewirtz argued that teachers' work was being reconstructed to meet market objectives. This was creating resentment and damaging relationships between students and staff and between teachers themselves. One teacher complained: "If you go into our staffroom at lunchtime you won't find anyone in it. Years ago that was the main collective point. " This decline in sociability, she suggests, is partly due to time constraints, but also to competitive pressures.

Some staff also complained that the opportunity to work on an individual basis with students was being compromised by pressure. Larger class sizes, extra paperwork and the growing emphasis on performance rather than process reduced teaching to "a production line".

Attempts to protect students from market forces, Sharon Gewirtz concluded, only tend to produce more stress. "We are exacerbating problems in schools by creating an unhappy, stressed, overworked and alienated profession."

Micro-politics in the l990s: staff relations in secondary schooling, Diane Reay; Post-Welfarism and the Reconstruction of Teachers' Work, Sharon Gewirtz, both King's College, London.

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