| Honey, I Just Shrunk
And the teachers. And the children. Each in their own
way are being, to use an over familiar Americanism, dumbed down by
present government initiatives. Subject specialists, for instance are concerned
that the new curriculum proposals will make for a merely simplistic approach rather
than establish the desired simplification; young childrens potential, despite
the occasional conciliatory nod in the direction of social and creative development,
is still merely reduced to achievement in certain 3R and clerical skills and teachers
are identified as a group for whom payment by results is perceived as appropriate
and sufficient motivation.
In business, the phrase dumbing down
has been frequently used as a derisory term in the context of firms that have
shed workers and resources in a claim to become lean, mean and hungry for
challenge. The fatal attraction of the short term answer being hard to resist.
In the event, they have often shed invaluable experience and know-how and as a
result become less intelligent as an organisation. As educationalists
are only too aware, there are a great many indications that these and similar
events are happening in education too because the business model in official eyes,
is becoming coterminous with a model for education. Not for nothing is Forum re-printing
an article by Simon Caulkin in this edition that originally appeared in the Observer
business section. On first reading it may not seem to be about education. On second
reading it is inescapably so.
It evidently appeals to bureaucracy to think
of education in business terms: we are only too familiar with expressions such
as targets, quality management, appraisal, product etc., and in some ways it may
have helped to clarify some otherwise fuzzy areas, but being able to speak the
language does not necessarily mean one wants to take out citizenship. We still
have a sense of unease and misgiving, of being somehow taken over.
The government see this rather negative reaction as just one more example of predictably
Luddite recalcitrance on behalf of teachers, yet could the misgivings be based
on the fact that while we hear tell of business methods, theres very little
talk of business ethics?
It doesnt need a long memory to recall what
happened when market forces were allowed free rein under the Thatcher government
and for market forces in education nowadays read privatisation. There
appeared, then as now, little talk about any other underlying ethic than the one
of becoming very rich, preferably very quickly and by whatever means available.
Even today, scan the business and management shelves of a large bookshop, as I
did recently, and only two out of approximately four hundred volumes so much as
mentioned the word ethics in their title. Anita Roddick, of Body Shop,
interestingly herself once a teacher, has been sufficiently concerned about this
trend to establish an Academy of Business based at the University of Bath which
serves to promote the study of business ethics.
Why should this concern
us though, when schools, we are assured, are secure in their moral base? They
are frequently quoted as being the most moral context in which many children will
ever find themselves. GCA is valiant in its attempts to secure a place for or
recognition of, moral values in education. But if the base is shifting, if edu-business
is to become to schools as agri-business is to farming, then conflict
is unavoidable and pupils will be the first to sense a discrepancy in values that
are stated and values that are acted upon. Public exam results equal profits,
test results equal measurement and league tables remind them and their teachers
that it is the weakest (and most vulnerable) that go to the wall. As a Best
Buy index they are a crude but effective way of introducing business values
into education. Schools are not favoured that value co-operation over competition
and streaming ~ and let us remember that five is the recommended starting age.
Cant start too early knowing youll never make it to manager.
name of the game then is competition. In casting around for a reason to justify
an overwhelming need to control, Chris Woodhead has consistently reminded us that
the base line is to make Britain, as, if not more, competitive than other countries.
In business though, firms that are unsuccessful conveniently disappear, are taken
over and never heard of again. Inconveniently for society, however, schools that
dont make it and in particular pupils that dont make it, become more
rather than less conspicuous.
We are reminded ad nauseam that competition
has to have losers as well as winners. The losers in this case are these very
children but by extension it is also society itself. In one of the neatest pieces
of statistical evidence ever to come the way of education, exclusion rates began
an inexorable rise from the introduction of the National Curriculum to reach an
unprecedented level once the league tables began to be published. The Government,
being made aware of the high proportion of the excluded that were involved in
juvenile crime etc. have recently ordered schools to cut back on exclusion. In
other words, the losers were seen as starting to cost society money in terms of
disaffection, court and police time and unemployment. (Inconveniently, the business
manuals never mentioned this as a possible outcome.)
The cost to the lives
of individual children is incalculable but rather than showing a sudden and inexplicable
rise in naughtiness or lack of application, it might be nearer the mark to suggest
that schools, who used to give time and resources to such pupils at risk, now,
often against their better judgement, find they can no longer do so. They are
placed in an unenviable and invidious position as the government vainly tries
to have its economic cake and eat it without cost.
The wholesale adoption
of this particular, and in the opinion of a number of management specialists,
rather outdated business model, is thus proving counter-productive. The more modern
business gurus are now starting to talk in terms of trust, mutual confidence and
co-operation. Simply put, it seems this makes money.
To the majority of
educationists though, these values have always made the kind of ethical sense
by which society as a whole eventually profits, albeit in a rather wider and less
materialistic sense. To many their adoption as official education policy cant
come too soon.