Whence came the managers?

25th November 2005 at 00:00
The pit in our village had a manager, Mr Jackson - known simply in his absence as "Jackson" or "t'manager". I have no idea what his Christian name was. All the kids were frightened of him. We were even frightened of his house.

Pit managers were hard nuts, you see, ready to don the helmet and go down to sort the men out if necessary. The Co-op had a manager, too - a kind, smiling man in a suit whose business was sacks of flour and sides of bacon.

And our school had a headmaster, Mr Simpson, who had served in the Far East and now enjoyed peace and freedom so much that at the slightest provocation he'd take us all out to play idyllically on the field.

By no stretch of the imagination did anyone think of these three as having anything in common in their working lives. The idea that they were all managers, and might have had what we now call "shared issues" to discuss was, I'm certain, never in anyone's mind.

I am moved to think of them by reading of the death of management guru Peter Drucker, who has just gone to the Big Boardroom at the age of 95.

It could be argued that he invented management, in the sense of a separate set of skills and attributes - "managing as specific work, and being a manager as a distinct responsibility", as he described it in the 1940s. It was surely the spread of his ideas that led eventually to many people being labelled as "managers" who had not previously been thought of in that way .

"Do they think I'm a biscuit factory?" we spluttered when we first heard the word management used in connection with school. "What's all this got to do with education?"

Now, just about everyone in school is a manager, and some have had to be promoted to the rank of "leader", presumably in order to distinguish them from the rest. And that's all fine as long as we don't forget some of the principles that Peter Drucker stood for. For example, although he believed in management by objectives, he meant agreed objectives and not imposed targets. He also believed that "a manager's task is to make the strengths of people effective and their weakness irrelevant".

And here is one that could be borrowed as a mission statement: "To eliminate the arts from education - or worse, to tolerate them as cultural ornaments - is anti-educational obscurantism".

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