The Core Business of Schools

July 1, 2007

One of the more controversial suggestions I made was in my blog entry about Non-Uniform Days. I put forward the opinion that schools should be concerned with their core responsibilities, i.e. providing students with the opportunity to learn and creating a safe and orderly environment in which learning takes place, and not with (worthy) but less vital efforts like fundraising, community work and school productions.

I’d like to revisit this, partly because I want to explain where I’m coming from and partly in order to modify my position.

I think I formed my opinion on this issue as a result of my experiences at Woodrow Wilson School. The school’s Senior Management Team (SMT) were proud of their links to the local community. A particularly favoured project was the collection of Christmas parcels (usually containing food) for local old folk’s homes. As you can imagine, students and staff made an effort fir this cause, often treating it as a competition between form groups, to see who could contribute the most. For some reason it was seen as a particular responsibility of Year 7, who were expected to really push the campaign with their forms.

In my second year at the school there was a particularly effective Year 7 team. The discipline system was based on referrals, which were written reports of incidents that required action by the Year Head or Senior Management. Ninety percent of referrals would just vanish (at least that was the case when the referrals came from my department). Most noticeably the school’s policy of excluding students who missed a detention twice was not followed by most year groups. Only year 7 responded to referrals, only year 7 saw that students who missed detentions twice were excluded, only year 7 could be relied upon to support teachers. However, they couldn’t be relied upon to collect Christmas packages. They were so busy ensuring that the students in their year behaved and that the school’s behaviour policy was enforced that they seemed to forget that they were meant to do a lot of good work for charity.

One morning Gary, the headteacher, came in and addressed all of the year 7 team for their pitifully small number of Christmas Parcels and told them how ashamed they should be. He didn’t have a go at year 8, where students were having a competition to see who could verbally abuse the most teachers. He didn’t have a go at year 9 where the Head of Year refused to help staff confiscate contraband or deal with the disorder in the corridors. He didn’t have a go at year 10 where the head of year admitted she couldn’t cope and only followed up referrals from teachers who visited her in person. (I’d heard Gary wasn’t happy with Year 11 either, but I may have just assumed this because they were also fairly competent).

I concluded that any project unrelated to sorting out discipline or improving learning was a distraction. Schools could become preoccupied with these projects at the expense of teaching and learning. It’s a principle of management that you should focus on your core business and in schools that core business is what happens in the lessons (and between the lessons) rather than distractions such as charitable acts or public events.

Nowadays I think that is actually going too far. If students and teachers want to organise charitable collections, or school productions, or anything else within reason, it shouldn’t cause problems within the school. There is only one group within a school who might be distracted by high profile but unimportant endeavours: SMT. They should be confined to places in the school where teaching or poor behaviour is going on.

Perhaps electronic tagging could be used to achieve this?


  1. Have you ever tried getting an electronic tag to stay on a slug??

  2. Who isn’t an unlawful enemy combatant in your personal ‘battlefield’, oldandrew?

    “Even a hard-working, well-behaved, student with a history of staying out of trouble will usually lie when told to by his superiors…”

    Everything is corrupt to you, oldandrew, and you only seek the absolute power to deal with it. I can’t help but remember that power itself corrupts.

  3. or power attracts the corrupt and corruptable?

  4. “Who isn’t an unlawful enemy combatant in your personal ‘battlefield’, oldandrew?”

    It’s not my personal battlefield. It’s there, I’m just reporting from it.

    I don’t seek absolute power. I merely wish schools and teachers to have the power necessary to educate.

  5. I can relate with this. Where I come from, schools (and colleges) have become the latest “businesses” Everyone is opening one, and everyone is doing all sorts on non-curricular events to get into the papers and put bums on seats!

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