Hanging out at the International Festival of Business: how is a business a school?

Contrary to what many employers might hanker after, potential employees do not arrive on their doorsteps for their first day of work as fully formed potential employees of the year. Employers might bemoan the lack of literacy, numeracy, ICT-cosy-ability, the ability to walk and talk at the same time and other human being related skills, but the proto-employee will have learnt loads of other things since they were in school, college, university or at Her Majesty’s Pleasure. Whether they were taught those things is another matter: but they will have certainly learnt loads of things albeit not necessarily of the employer-user-friendly-type.

That’s because as human beings our natural state of being is to learn, to be inquisitive, to be curious and to construct meaning. It’s what separates us from the dolphins, the chimps and the allegedly intelligent fungus that lives on leaf mould in Patagonia. None of these things construct meaning like human beings and if you’re not sure about that, just go to your nearest pub on a Friday after work and tell me what you see constructing meaning. Not a dolphin in sight and certainly no chimpanzee holding forth on why Manchester United are in such steep decline. No: it’s the human being in the room who is making meaning from their every day learnt experiences, many of which are forged in the workplace.

So, businesses might help themselves if they recognised that they have a stealth-like educational function to their raison d’être. This isn’t about passing exams or following curriculum or heaven forbid just learning a list of mechanical skills to evidence in their portfolio of competences: it’s much more important than that as it’s about making social sense of our existence, economic sense for our families and cultural sense for our communities.

Businesses may not think they’re schools but they so have a powerful educational mission and could do everyone a favour if they stepped up to the plate a lot more frequently.

More to follow on education and business at our June conference: http://www.allourfutures.co.uk

Hanging out at the International Festival of Business: how is a school a business?

Some time after the Tony Blair’s testosterone fuelled ‘education education education’ mantra started being chanted around UK school playgrounds, I found myself working with a number of schools around Liverpool who were preparing for the tsunami of funding that was heading their way.

Whether this was for kids from rich families or for kids from poor families who were starting with a deficit of life chances before they even stepped through the school gates or the kids in the middle who were neither GandT (Gifted and Talented, aka troubled, awkward and difficult to manage) nor HTR (Hard-to-Teach aka troubled, awkward and difficult to manage) but were still able to attract funding due to their perceived invisibility, the fact was that many schools found themselves awash with cash. Sometimes more than they knew what to do with and sometimes more than was good for them.

This led to many schools to take their fiduciary duties even more seriously and to believe that that they now had to start acting as if they were businesses.

This might involve the appointment of a ‘business manager‘ (sometimes a redeployed bursar who would have struggled in any commercial organisation, never mind one that was pretending to be one); the consideration of students as ‘customers‘ and the teeth grinding proposition that the curriculum was something that students could pick and choose from much like a visit to their favourite sweet shop on a Saturday afternoon.

Now don’t get me wrong: I’m enthusiastic about personalising curriculum where it makes sense and responds to students’ interests in a meaningful and authentic manner: but all too often the personalisation agenda became subsumed within a Disneyfied agenda which threw any critical faculties off the fourth floor of the head teachers executive lounge suite and sold sold sold a morally bankrupted curriculum which valued the individual at all costs: visible in one school I visited which encouraged students to think of themselves as the Me PLC of their generation.

From now on, schools were businesses, students were customers and teaching subjects was something you only did in the privacy of your own home. ‘Subject knowledge’ became a dirty word used between consenting adults and certainly not something you would wax lyrical about in public.

There was of course a lot of resistance to this tendency of talking about schools as business centres; but more often than not, the rhetoric was seductive and many schools accepted their new identity as business start ups with the minimum of squealing.

What the consequences are of that turn of affairs will be explored in future posts – and of course at our next conference, All Our Futures which will be held in Liverpool in June 2014. Further details are here.

All Our Futures: The Business of Education or the Education of Business?

We’re producing our next All Our Futures international education conference in June this year and, as it’s part of the International Festival of Business (IFB) which is being promoted across the Liverpool City Region, we thought it only right and proper to align the focus of the conference with the energy of IFB itself.

Which is all very well until you start thinking about the thorny relationship between those two apparently innocent concepts: ‘business’ and ‘education’.

Surely (and here I’m reminded of Prof. Derek Colquhoun, my Ph.D supervisor’s comment that any sentence that starts with ‘surely’ should ring lots of alarm bells immediately) the links between education and business are obvious and trouble free?

Educating children is about preparing them to get work, create work and become valuable net contributing members of our economy isn’t it? Surely education must attend to the needs of business in order to make sure that our net contributing members of the economy (aka children) can take their fit and rightful place at the big dining table of the Big Society? Surely schools should remember that fundamentally they are businesses in their own right and grow up and behave as such?

Well, surely these ‘surelys’ are going to get a right good going over on this blog in the months to come and throughout All Our Futures too. I hope you can join us – either online or in person – because we surely are going to put the world to rights during that week!

For more information please visit http://www.allourfutures.co.uk