The Depersonalisation of Education
by Mark Edwards
Mark Edwards' biodata and picture will be found at the end of the article, or by clicking here.
think it was in the late eighties that the rot started to set in. I remember
attending, as an aspiring headteacher, some sort of management course where the
trainer recounted a story about how a parent who was working as a volunteer
helper in a school had remarked that the work was ‘therapy for her.’
The trainer pointed out that she
was there to serve the school’s needs, not the other way round.
all nodded sagely in agreement at this, but I do remember feeling vaguely uneasy
about it at the time. My thoughts ran along the lines of ‘well, she is some
child’s Mum, and the volunteer work lifts her spirits in some way, so that
must make her a happier Mum, and that’s good, isn’t it?’
reason that I have been reminded of this is the current obsession with Job
Specification and Essential/Desirable traits. The job recruitment process is now
so regimented that little account seems to be taken of the person sitting in the
interview chair. It’s as if he or she is a bundle of skills and competencies
which are to be compared against the ones on the list and ticked off
accordingly. Whoever gets the most ticks wins.
has happened over the past ten or so years? What has happened is that we have
become so achievement orientated that we have driven the heart out of the
workplace. In industry, the focus of targets has been on short-term profit –
in education, on short-term SATS results. While is it clearly essential to make
a profit and achieve good SATS results, it is also essential to make the
workplace somewhere that people can feel they can be – well, people.
interesting that I have read the same thing in two seemingly unrelated books
recently. They both said that certain personality types were leaving the
workplace to be replaced by other, different personality types. Those that are
leaving, if you will forgive a broad generalisation, are the more
‘people-centred’; those that show a concern for employees as human beings.
To put it succinctly, the people that put the ‘heart in the workplace. And it
gets worse, because those new employees – let’s call them ‘task’ as
opposed to ‘people’ orientated– are rising to positions of power and
appointing others who are cast from the same mould as themselves.
is fine when recruiting people to work in data-processing or as particle
physicists but in education? In schools, where the focus should be on the
development of young people as fully-rounded individuals?
compound the problem, I now read research which tells me that the biggest cause
of stress in the workplace is not long hours or difficult tasks, but other
people. Whether it’s bullying managers, gossiping colleagues or non-team
players. There is no avoiding the fact that we are people first and workers
second and most jobs, apart from say, that of a lighthouse keeper or railway
signal operator, involve quite a high level of interaction with others. It
doesn’t matter how competent you are at analysing data; if you are a pain in
the neck to be around, then it will show and it will matter.
managers think they understand this and are sending people on
‘team-building’ and ‘work/life balance’ courses. These phrases are
becoming so over-used they are almost meaningless, and the reason for that is
that although those that are in charge have got wind that ‘looking after your
workforce’ is important THEY DON'T UNDERSTAND WHAT IT MEANS.
various reasons to do with their preferred thinking style, they are not the
types of people that are good at looking after people.
may sound exaggerated, but the DfE’s recent brief to produce a document on
schools about emotional literacy was reportedly severely hampered by the low
levels of emotional literacy at the DfE itself.*
viciousness of this particularly vicious cycle can be understood when one raises
the issue of psychometric testing. These tests could be used as part of a
recruitment process and might ensure a good balance of ‘people’ people and
‘task’ people – but the difficulty is that psychometric tests are disliked
by the majority of ‘task’ orientated managers. This is because such tests
are holistic in nature and linear, task-orientated people are not.
came across what I consider to be a horrifying example of depersonalisation
recently when talking to a group of teachers – one said that a recent Ofsted
report had identified their local headteacher (a warm, friendly chap by all
accounts who ran a successful school) as being ‘too available to the
children.’ Presumably in that inspector’s view, his time would be
better spent analysing his SATS data.
what all children really need nowadays are good SATS results, don’t
they? No wonder sales of alchopops are soaring.
me that small incident sums up everything that is wrong in education at the
moment. The hard-nosed linear thinkers have taken charge and the softies are
being pushed out, or are choosing to leave. There are, of course, still plenty
of managers in post who put people first and policies second but my fear is that
the trend is against them.
I think I’ll go and help out in my local school. I’m in need of some therapy.
Source : Antidote, Campaign for
Emotional Literacy. Katherine Weare.
Mark Edwards was a headteacher, who still teaches part-time but combines this with writing articles, educational consultancy and entertaining people who like to hear badly performed rock, pop and music hall classics. He still carries a torch for child-centred education and is encouraged by the current interest in emotional literacy and thinking skills in schools. Mark is re-locating to Somerset, with his partner Liz, where he will continue his training in Integrative Counselling. He is a Master Practitioner in NLP (Psychotherapy). Email: Mark4Ed@aol.com.