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When Schools Have Business Targets

Gemma, a  Teaching Assistant  who has worked through Protocol Education in Sheffield shares her views about the concept of schools as "profit systems" in her interesting and somewhat  thought-provoking Protoblog. 

When Schools Have Business Targets

Schools seem to be moving more and more towards corporations. We see a burst of schools forming which are allowed to handle their own finances, staff being viewed from a performance appraisal position and student grades viewed as yearly business targets.

I suppose the argument here is that if people view schools as a ‘profit’ system then people will work harder to boost those profits and streamline the education system. But in reality, whenever a sense of profit is introduced into a system people start to cut corners in order to get the most output for the least input, and if only a specific output is valued then all other factors get ignored.

School 'Output'

Let us think for a minute what the ‘output’ of schools are. Ultimately for the government they are grades… a system of fair judgement of a child’s ability and proficiency in a subject that can then be used to determine suitability for jobs and further education. But this is not the sole output (and it is by no means a perfectly reliable output, but that’s another story).

Schools also have the ability to provide further outputs:

•    Build the self esteem and social capabilities of children
•    Develop practical skills that can be applied to many subjects
•    Develop manners, respect and good citizenship
•    Teach general life skills such as writing a letter, keeping track of your money
•    Be a place to make friends and good quality relationships
•    Instil a love of learning and all of the subjects on offer
•    Provide a taster of the various career routes on offer and how to get to them

And probably hundreds of other little things that we take for granted in our school lives

But what I fear is that when the sole output that politicians value is merely the grades children come out with, then schools start jumping through hoops to boost these grades and lose sight of some of these far more valuable outcomes of good schooling.

How Targets Affect our Students

In my work as a supply teacher and TA I’ve seen many different styles of teaching and approaches to children in the class. Sometimes its very upsetting to see how these targets affect teachers views on how best to spend their time. Take for instance a class of 30 children showing your average bell curve of achievement. A few high flyers, a few SEN or very low ability and then all the other children in the middle.

The high flyers already have a very good set of grades, are secure in their knowledge and are guaranteed to hit the targets set out for them by the government. Therefore if teachers put time into these children to really push their achievement on further, it won’t make a lot of difference to the stats at the end of the year because they have already hit the number expected of an average child of that age… so teachers will reduce the amount of time spent on them.

The children in the middle are the ones that will gain most of the teachers time, especially if they are just between grades as a little bit of extra teaching will push them over the edge and bump up the class statistics.

Now consider the really low ability children and those with special needs (not that the two are interchangeable, but are often seen grouped together). They are already well below the average and need to make a lot of progress in order to reach what is expected of them… or have low targets set for them given their circumstances. Often children with difficulties will take longer to learn a skill or fact than another child of the same ability, so they almost need twice the amount of work to make the same amount of progress.

… so under a ‘business’ style system is it worth spending an hour helping the low ability learn one fact, or half an hour getting the average to learn 1 fact? When time is money, teachers will place their time with those who they think will be the most ‘boosted’ by it and allow those who are behind to stay behind with the justification that “they are never going to achieve so I have to do what’s best for the rest of the class” (said to me by an actual Y6 teacher about 3 children who were working at level 1-2).

This means that these children are often left to hobble along with a teaching assistant. Trying to get through work that is not the right ability for them, not receiving quality first teaching and not ever having the benefit of someone believing that they can amount to something. In addition, time that is wasted trying to shuffle them through a task (rather than actually achieve a learning objective) is time that could be spent working on life skills or pastoral care that these children sometimes really need. For example learning to add up accurately for shopping, knowing how to set out a letter, how to follow a food recipe, how to eat healthily, how to handle an argument with a friend.

These children are the ones that are most let down by the changes to the system, and yet they are the most in need of good quality education!

Not a Fair or Productive System

Running education like a business is not a fair or productive system. It brings in a sense of competitiveness and so called ‘value for money’ that only benefits the average children and will widen the gap between the majority and the minorities. It also reduces enjoyment of school and the types of learning taking place as children are being taught to exams, taught to answer questions rather than problem solve and learning that foundation subjects such as music, technology and history are not as valuable as English and maths, despite the joy and skills they have to offer.

If Britain keeps moving the way it seems to be I fear that we will soon start seeing schools who simply ignore those children who are not viewed as ‘profitable’ to teach, which is not only unfair on the lives and wellbeing of those children, but will also result in a terrible backlash to society years later when we rely on these children to take up jobs that they have simply not been educated for.


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Tags: Gemma, Teaching Assistant Jobs, Support Workers, Primary Supply Jobs, Teachers, Protocol Education, Schools

Category: Australian Teachers

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