Is there a case for an Institute of Educational Management?

An encounter with a young teacher a few days ago revealed the ambition, “to enter management as soon as possible”. I don’t cast blame: this is what we are told to want, and when anyone who hasn’t gained a Headship by their mid-forties probably won’t do so, if that’s your plan, then I suppose you have to start early.

But read another way, this is a declaration of intent not to spend many years in the classroom, but to reduce one’s teaching load, increase one’s salary and spend the rest of one’s career increasingly directing others rather than doing the job oneself; Teaching it is  not.

It also seems to be increasingly the case that those with this ambition play their cards close, making little common cause with their colleagues, until the moment when they can make a break for the sunlit uplands of the management team. I’m not convinced this augurs well for their management style; I suppose it makes it easier for them when they come to turn on – ahem! I mean ‘manage’ – those former peers, as one did to me last week…

I entirely accept that schools need people prepared to take the difficult decisions and field the flak (though Old Andrew raised some pertinent concerns in his recent posts regarding the freedom of managers to do as they please). But there is something wrong in such career game-plans. They distract good teachers from the classroom– probably too soon for them to have truly mastered their pedagogy. Arguably, people entering teaching (as indeed any career) should demonstrate their ability at the core business first, and only then consider their case for promotion. In a sense, management should be the afterthought bestowed on the talented, rather than a game-plan from the outset.

It also means that some of those being trained have little intention of actually becoming that which it costs to provide, namely hands-on teachers, but the nation only has itself to blame for promoting a culture where the only worthwhile career seems to be that of bossing others around. The main determinant of who enters management has become ambition rather than aptitude. It may also favour those who are prepared to kow-tow in the interests of their careers over those who may, in all earnestness (let alone astute observation) ask difficult questions or speak uncomfortable truths.

It is the purpose of the interview to filter candidates – but can one be confident that recruitment operates by the most appropriate methods and criteria? Confirmation Bias will be present, as everywhere, and it is not as though Teaching has never seen any examples of inappropriate, even inexplicable promotion…

The blunt fact is, the ability to teach children seems to be a weak indicator of an ability to manage adults. In too many cases, teacher-managers seem to be expected to learn important skills by osmosis, and the breadth over which reshuffles sometimes occur suggests that decisions are more a matter of logistics than deploying genuine talent where it can be best used. The worst are often not senior management but their inexperienced yet ambitious juniors, who remain close enough to the grass-roots to do daily harm.

So maybe we should consider creating an entirely separate profession called Educational Management, replete with its own full-blown Institute. John Tomsett has commented, for example, on the benefits to be gained from employing a qualified personnel manager, and the unexpected skills that such people can bring.

This would create clarity. Those who trained to manage would develop the specific skills required for that activity. Good management requires a rare blend of charisma and fortitude that could then be properly nurtured. It might not cure the lack of sound judgement, but it could filter it – and we would also know where we stood with those who purported to have trained as teachers. Trust and confidence could grow; suspicion might decline. Teachers could then concentrate on a pedagogic career path free from distractions.

The two groups need not be entirely watertight: managers do need to experience the core business, and there could be scope for genuine transfers – but it should not be made easy, as it arguably is today. Requiring people to obtain a management qualification first might work – but in most cases one would need to choose the preferred path and stick to it.

I may have painted too stark a distinction here. While I think the relationship between management and an intelligent, professional workforce can never be as simple as just barking orders, I do accept that managers need to be able to manage. But the genuinely talented people I have worked with are those who understand that management is a subtle art, far more than playing dictator or policeman, that it involves cultivating genuine confidence and loyalty within one’s staff, that in the long term treating them poorly rarely brings forth their best.

Unfortunately, plenty of those who enter educational management seem not to realise this. In some cases they don’t have many ‘people’ skills at all; some don’t even seem to connect poor treatment with the justifiability of the inevitable reaction. What an own goal this is! Like many, I set out to be a loyal, hard-working, trusted and principled employee; I would like nothing better than to proffer my unreserved confidence to the management – I’m talking generically here. But the unnecessary, unjust and even unkind micro-management witnessed over the years, from people who appeared unaware or unconcerned that that was their effect, has made me sceptical. My support is unlikely to be forthcoming for harshness or petty manipulation. Training managers properly – and separately – might address this.

But there is one much bigger flaw in my idea: Will Hutton observed that the strength of aspiration to rise to management is a mark of how dire conditions are in the rank-and-file. Who, in the current climate would ever dream of training as a ‘Classroom Teacher’?


5 thoughts on “IEM?

  1. Hey, this post is interesting. I’ve not heard of something like this before and would like to hear more. It’s kind-of related to things discussed at the Politics in Education summit; from my website I’ve linked to a few popular threads discussing the event. Would be great to see you in those threads taking this idea into the public sphere some more. Best, Leah.

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