October 14, 2017

One of the biggest cultural changes in education that has happened since I trained to teach has been in attitudes to management. This impression has been somewhat re-enforced by some temporary work in independent schools (and a grammar school) where the hierarchy more closely resembled what schools were like when I started teaching. Based on my experience, the following trends have concerned me over the last decade and a half.

  1. Excessive numbers of managers. When I started, people doing admin tasks were given “responsibility points”. These were changed to TLRs many years ago, and this led to people who only wanted to edit a spreadsheet being encouraged to line manage a colleague. One source claimed 42% of teachers have management responsibilities. In some schools I’ve worked in that’s been more like 50%. If this is a matter of remuneration and doesn’t reflect a power structure, then fair enough. But if it means there are people being paid to line manage one person, or large departments where there is one main scale teacher and everyone else is a middle or senior manager, then things are unbalanced. The more managers you have, the more likely you are to have managers just creating work for the managed, not actually helping them with their work.
  2. Excessive numbers of formal observations. I genuinely think it is a good thing if senior managers are engaged in monitoring what is happening in their schools. If managers what to look in on hundreds of lessons that’s fine. But formal observations – those where teachers are expected to prepare – create workload. In some schools a teacher can expect to be observed twice a term or more by somebody more senior and every observation is “high stakes”, i.e. if that particular lesson goes badly, no matter how wonderful every other lesson they teach that week is, there will be consequences for that teacher (usually more observations).
  3. The view of managers as the experts about teaching. This may be a result of the TLR system, but for a while schools were encouraged to conflate management responsibilities with teaching expertise. Obviously, those who have been teaching long enough to be promoted may have more experience than NQTs, and there are those who are promoted entirely because of teaching expertise, but in some schools those with management responsibilities will have taught fewer lessons in their career than many of their colleagues because of time spent on management responsibilities. The most expert teachers in a school are often those who have taught a full time table for several decades without seeking promotion. When you hear of somebody who has been teaching for 30 years, getting great results and building a real relationship with the kids and their parents, being told the correct way to teach by somebody who is a middle manager after 3 years teaching, there is something very wrong.
  4. Micro-management. I have to be careful here, as I think consistency, particularly about discipline, is a good thing, so I don’t think teacher autonomy is unlimited. I also think we can learn from adopting the highly effective methods of others. However, classes differ. Subjects differ. Teachers differ. If we change our own approach for different classes, how can anyone tell us the correct approach for a class they haven’t taught? The line between ensuring consistency of approach and micro-management is sometimes an arbitrary one, but if you don’t trust teachers to make some decisions for themselves, then why employ them? Managers should have a clear idea of what decisions they expect teachers to make for themselves, what decisions they would hope to influence but not make for teachers, and what behaviour is required of teachers. Without personal autonomy, you do not have a profession.
  5. Management being seen as the only career path for teachers. Promotion can be seen as the point of teaching. Managers are simply the most successful teachers. If you don’t seek promotion, you can often be treated as a failure. The fact that women teachers are apparently less likely to seek promotion than men is seen as a deficiency in women, who we are told should be braver, not a sign of dedication. A recent slogan told women teachers that they should be “10% braver” in seeking promotion, according to those who apparently believed that only cowardice could explain somebody’s decision to put their time and effort solely into teaching. People I polled on Twitter did not feel the same way.

    It’s quite a common suggestion that there should be some new system for rewarding excellent teachers for staying in the classroom, but even those suggestions seem to be about providing alternative rewards for those management have recognised, rather than accepting that some teachers don’t want trinkets and don’t want recognition; they just want to do the job. We should recognise that the success of a teacher is in how much their students learn.

I believe that management has a disproportionate impact on schools. Good schools have good managers; bad schools have bad managers. However, good management is management that enables teachers to do their job. It is about creating a culture in which the most important work, the teaching, can be done. If a school values management, but not teaching, it will not get far.


  1. I’ve been reading some of you other posts and although you are so right these subjects are constantly discussed in staff rooms but no one ever listens. In FE things are much worse, predominantly due to lack of funding which has created a “get them though” culture. As for SMT hmmmm. It’s a car crash and after 5 years I have decided to go back into industry. Great posts 😀

  2. You’ve only scratched the surface of a festering chancre that’s eating into the heart of the teaching–and indeed, virtually all corporate activity in the public and private spheres. The notion that management is a discrete skill that enables an individual to ‘manage’ a wide range of activities has sunk into our beliefs and justified the creation of the MBA and the management consultancy industry. No prizes for guessing the equivalents that apply to education.
    I’m just re-reading ‘The Management Myth’ by Matthew Stewart, who struggled to find any gainful employment after completing a Philosophy degree, but was recruited to work as a management consultant. He thought it was bizarre that he would be sent into client firms to tell them what they were doing wrong, but he was trained how to use statistics to befuddle them. Stewart recounts how the industry was created over a century ago, and how it has prospered despite the fact that there is no evidence that consultants improve profits. Indeed, there’s even evidence that managers without MBAs are more effective than those who have them.
    I’ve always been skeptical of the Ark Academies hype because of their association with Future Leaders. Several years ago, prospective Heads of Free Schools had to undertake an evaluation by FL. Someone who shall remain nameless experienced this, and a key part of the procedure was a mock interview where he was required to explain away an unfavourable press report about his fictional school. He said the entire procedure was designed to put him under stress by forcing him to act when he had inadequate information and no time to reflect. Despite failing the FL assessment, his free school application succeeded, and happily the requirement was subsequently abandoned by ministers.
    One aspect of the managment glut in our schools that deserves mention is Ofsted. In mediocre schools, one of the main functions of the SLT is to fabricate evidence to impress inspectors. Ironically, the recent move away from demanding specific performances such as the protocols for marking workbooks and the ‘Ofsted lesson’ is making matters worse; in trying to second guess inspectors, SLT are demanding more and more of teachers. As one teacher commented:
    “Ofsted have been cleverly removing their ‘checklists’ for a number of years. It’s led to observations without grading, no explicit requirement regarding frequency of marking etc. When they explicitly tell us what to do, they make themselves vulnerable to reason. They want it all to be wooly as possible.”

  3. […] recently, I found myself agreeing with much of what Andrew wrote in this blog about what he terms “managerialism.”  I hope I summarise it correctly if I say that in his […]

  4. Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

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