I think Sir Michael Wilshaw must have been reading my blog. (“Teachers saying good things about me. Hmm, must fix that…”) His latest speech ‘warned’ that too many teachers have no respect for authority and are hampering schools’ attempts to improve standards.
He spoke of head teachers being “undermined by a pervasive resentment of all things managerial by some of their teaching staff” and that “some teachers simply will not accept that a school isn’t a collective but an organisation with clear hierarchies and separate duties.”
He went on, “…many teachers still think that school leaders do not have the right to tell them how to teach or what to do.” And just as I was thinking about beginning to start warming to the guy…
Well, we all know about leopards and spots, I suppose. This man appears to have no understanding whatsoever of what it means to be a professional (as opposed to act like one), or to have a brain of one’s own – let alone of the concept of Motivation. He seems never to have heard of the notion of professional scepticism, or think it might apply to education. This pro-management view that ‘wisdom can only descend from on high’ is sharply at odds with much of what Ofsted preaches with respect to children.
By nature, I’m a resolutely non-confrontational person. I could not remotely be personified as the archetypal hard-left ideologist. I believe that management and staff should work in a consensual way, and I certainly don’t consider ‘them’ to be the spawn of the devil. But I also know that when that doesn’t happen, the fault is by no means always on one side.
These are graduate professionals we are talking about – the successful products of the very process Wilshaw supposedly champions – and he’s telling us we’re fit for nothing more than blind obedience? The man who supposedly advocates higher professional standards in schools seems to equate this with a workforce of unthinking zombies who unquestioningly obey their managers’ every diktat, no matter how ill-advised or unworkable. And we have all seen plenty of those; staff rooms and the teacher blogosphere resonate with them.
Even the most enlightened of school managers has not been immune to the perverse incentives that exist in modern education – many of which are the consequences of the policies of Wilshaw’s own organisation. Does he not expect people to react to impossible demands and unreasonable impacts they encounter, let alone plain bad education? Maybe he would drum all such people out of the profession – but he would be left with a rather large teacher shortage.
Intelligent, reflective professionals need be given as much space as possible to be self-directed, to be given credit for having a vocation of their own, and indeed for a modicum of intelligence to work out what does and doesn’t make sense. Neither does being a professional somehow insulate you from the vagaries of morale and motivation, even if it does you oblige you to combat them more resolutely. Understanding that is not wishy-washy idealism, just perceptive management.
Willshaw might also consider that far from all managers are the enlightened, highly-insightful individuals he seems to believe. It is perfectly possible for them to be causing more damage than they cure (no matter how unintentionally). If you find a consensus of people questioning the wisdom of something, then maybe – just maybe – it might be worth listening. It is surely the duty of professional individuals to speak out, to be the eyes and ears that combat management blindness – and if (as is often the case) they are not listened to, in extremis to act to preserve the best interests of their pupils, schools, and yes, themselves.
Wilshaw should realise that not all sceptical teachers are anti-establishment radicals – I am the living proof of that, as hopefully are blogs such as this – and he might want to reflect on why conscientious individuals feel the need to question these things in the first place. Insofar as they dictate policy, and thereby alienate even moderate people, such criticisms are self-fulfilling. The fundamental assumption is that teachers can’t be trusted – and I consider this an affront to my personal and professional integrity.
History is littered with the chaos and destruction caused by blind mass-obedience.