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

Paddy Masefield: still sending out shock waves and unsettling foundations

It’s been a hectic few months what with Treasured at the Cathedral, the Serbian and Macedonian visit, the business start up work at Liverpool Vision and the myriad of other activities we are musing about, thinking of and trying to lay the foundations for. Paddy’s commemoration means that I can get away for a few days and think about all that fragmentation and stresses and strains in an environment which is a little quieter and offers the opportunity to reassess exactly what it is we want from the world ahead.

This was Paddy’s legacy for me. Working with him both at LIPA and within Aspire during times of organisational growth and stress and challenge meant that you had to step back from the common place, the usual, the humdrum, and completely reassess what we were doing, how we were doing it, and why we doing it at all.

His work with us at LIPA on establishing Solid Foundations sent powerful shock waves through the organisation, challenging established ways of thinking about disability, ability, arts training, arts development and who had a right in the first place to stand on stage and command attention.

His work meant we had to rethink everything about the student experience; how they got into HE, what he meant by accredited prior learning, the integrated curriculum and student progression. This of course had a direct impact on the students who joined solid foundations – but it’s impact and his influence were more wide ranging.

It meant that students on the so called mainstream programmes had to address their own concepts of identity, of ability and what was being asked of them when it came to not only developing and devising new work, but what it meant to rethink traditional ways of acting, of music making, and of dance for example. It meant that staff had to rethink how impairment might inform the student assessment process for example and whether there were other insights that disabled staff could bring to the process that couldn’t be accessed by their nondisabled counterparts. Far from providing solid foundations, Paddy was instrumental in rocking the very foundations which we thought held up conservatoire arts training in the UK.

Paddy’s influence was felt by many students and staff, although many may not have met him in their times at LIPA. Many of them are still working and have gone onto great things, Mark Rowlands, Mandy Redvers Rowe and Jaye Wilson Bowe to name just a few. I’d like to thank you Paddy for giving me that space to rethink, to replay and regalvanise. Your shock waves are still rocking our foundations to this day.

Testimonial for Paddy Masefield, 20 October 2012
Battersea Arts Centre, London