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.