Persons, Performance, Privatisation ...
And there’s plenty more where those words came from: prejudice,
productivity and profitability being just three of them; but apart
from their alphabetic cousinage, is there anything else that might
relate them to each other? Unsurprisingly, a good deal and although
this issue of FORUM mainly concerns itself with the three
title words, the others are there as a persistent sub-chorus.
A mixture of theoretical and context-based articles illustrate
these words and Michael Fielding’s ‘The Person-centred School’ is
a challenging example of the former. In it he takes issue with the
way in which the ‘effective school’ movement has attempted to take
or hijack, the notion of community to itself, not because it values
it for the sake of those who make up that community but because
it makes use of it for its own ends, these being the ‘performance’
of the school and its perceived ‘effectiveness’ by the outside world.
The people for whom the school is presumably there in the first
place, only mattering insofar as they contribute towards the school’s
productivity. Michael Fielding urges us to pull back from the seductive
model of the ‘effective and performing’ school and think again about
the basic principle of valuing those people within schools and putting
them, not performance, first. To quote him, ‘The imperative of performance
is, despite good will, good intentions and much effort an inevitable
if unwitting betrayal of education. It is intellectually shallow,
spiritually destitute and corrosive of much that is central to human
development’ His analysis of the present situation is perceptive
Other context-based articles demonstrate the positive changes that
can be brought about by a genuine consideration for and of the person
and the respect due to them both individually and as part of a community.
Gill North’s article, for instance, on the work she and her colleagues
are carrying out in the ‘Learning Space’ for disaffected secondary
pupils, exemplifies the positive and successful effects of treating
young people respectfully and as individuals. Brian Simon’s account
of the life and work of the pioneering headteacher, Tim McMullen,
also illustrates the energising and constructive effects that can
happen in a school when teachers are supported by someone whose
life and principles are essentially ‘person-centred’. The person
at the heart of the school community is also developed by Jacquie
Turnbull and Elizabeth Muir, who argue that for the benefit of this
community as a ‘learning organisation’, citizenship should be mainstreamed
and not sidelined as a separate subject.
Other contributors write about what can also happen when that respect
towards the person becomes skewed by different priorities which
place other values first and the effect that can have, for example
on an individual when this occurs.
For instance, Elizabeth Burn’s article ‘Battling through the System’
is a telling account of an inner-city primary deputy head who is
made to feel aware, on practically a daily basis, that she is quite
distinctively a member of the working class. In this instance, the
person’s value is primarily estimated with regard to a factor that
pre-judges people and consequently rejects them as individuals in
their own right. Class is still one of the most significant and
damaging factors acting as a powerful undercurrent to much of English
education. Tony Brown ‘In the Direction of Children’ also describes
the destructive effects on an individual teacher by discrimination
of another kind: that of bringing into question a person’s core
values when they don’t tally with a certain ideology that diminishes
the importance of the person. His attempt to regain his sense of
what is essential to education makes moving reading.
Patrick Yarker’s articulate and thoughtful article on the
way in which ‘literacy’ is insidiously taking priority over English,
can also be read as pointing to the way in which the importance
of a person’s development through the subject of English is being
increasingly diminished by the current stress on the acquisition
of secretarial skills, that are coming to be seen as of prime importance
in their own right rather than serving the ends of a more liberal
and humane view of education.
The person-centred school is a place in which learning and the
involvement in learning, is personal; indeed it acquires meaning
through that very involvement. Elizabeth Jurd’s article on her findings
with Year 6 pupils and the recent changes in the teaching of primary
science, underlines what damage can happen to children’s real understanding
when a mechanistic model of teaching replaces that of genuine pupil
involvement. Dolores Loughrey has written an informative article
about the changes to the early years curriculum through the new
Early Learning Goals and if ever a stage of education demanded a
person-centred school it must surely be the infant years.
The connection to the words ‘pounds’ and ‘profitability’ is not
hard to make. The sense of justice that underpins an humanitarian
view of education and its view that everyone should have an equal
chance in the enterprise is given a considerable jolt by Chris Tipple’s
exposure of the basic unfairness at the heart of school funding
(‘The Funding Farce’) The pounds allocated to schools in one LEA
can become virtually pence in another. Even the government has recently
conceded that ‘there are problems with the way that funding is distributed’.
Perhaps this will change, albeit not necessarily for the better,
if Dexter Whitfield’s sobering predictions on privatisation come
about. Even some headteachers now see privatisation as a solution
to the seemingly intractable problem posed by the apparent inability
of some local authorities to establish a more equitable basis to
school funding (The Guardian, 23 May). Quoting recent evidence
though, Dexter Whitfield shows that even if we are now familiar
with British enterprise in terms of privatisation (The Times
Educational Supplement, 15 May) it is nothing to the predatory
ambitions of USA-based firms, not all of whom have creditable track
records, who are already sniffing round what they perceive as a
very profitable market: nothing less than our education system.
The privatisation of services is but the first step into (the suitably
unpleasant-sounding term), ‘commodification’, of the whole of education.
It is a word that has its only and proper place in the financial
market; it has no value other than that of maximising its profits
for its shareholders and doesn’t even appear to possess the saving
grace of enlightened self interest. While privatisation may solve
problems in the short term, its lack of democratic accountability,
especially if multinationals become involved, means the government,
unions and LEAs should be very wary indeed. Those cheery souls apparently
manning the welcome life raft may not have ultimately friendly designs
on their would-be passengers.
BACK TO CONTENTS LIST