From my previous post, it seemed clear that your desire to talk about education in terms of its higher purposes, like individual fulfilment, creativity etc. was strong, yet the proxy goals of passing tests, hitting targets and delivering measurable outcomes remains very real in your day-to-day lives.
This is regrettable but understandable. With principals fearing for their colleges, and leaders fearing for their jobs, our data driven accountability system has come to dominate almost everything some institutions do. The transformation of complex educational processes into data points that can be used to sort, order, benchmark, compare, and rank has the effect of distorting professional priorities and practice and develops a growing sense of alienation, as teachers are compelled to focus on outputs over individuals (Allen, 2014).
We see lots of data, usually in the form of numbers. Numbers assume a form of objective reality that is apparently beyond question (Taubman, 2009) because they’re seen as ‘scientific’. It seems as though it is not possible to speak back to the numbers because the numbers speak for themselves. Roberts-Holmes (2015) has called this the “datafication” of teaching and Stephen Ball (2015) describes it as the “tyranny of numbers.
The question is, when so many of us complain about this and want something different, why is there “very little evidence of overt resistance and precious few hints of covert resistance” (Hall & McGinity, 2015, p. 12) and this could “…be something about the way that teachers define themselves and their role that made resistance unlikely” (Hutchings, 2010, p. 112).
Those of us wishing to survive, or thrive, under this form of control have had to reconstitute ourselves as “neoliberal professionals” (Ball, 2003). Individual contribution is what counts, made possible by the datafication of many of the pedagogical and organizational aspects of college life. Under this control, passing judgement on yourself or on others, becomes the ideal mode of talking about teaching (Hall & Noyes, 2009).
As individuals then, our struggles with the accountability system become highly individualised as we, as ethical subjects, find our values challenged, or displaced, by the voice of the numbers. Of course there are some who embrace the system and have done very well out of it, the ‘gamers’ i.e. school leaders whose priorities and practices are shaped by the demands of the accountability system, who play the system to get the best outcomes. In more extreme cases, they either exhibit a range of unethical practices or succumb to more explicit examples of career ending dishonesty (Turner, 2016).
At the opposite end of the scale are the ‘missionaries’, school leaders who simply refuse to play this bureaucratic education-by-numbers game; leaders whose decisions are shaped, not by the government’s agenda, but by their own sense of mission — by the higher purpose to which they have dedicated themselves and their institution. The risk to ones career here of course is equally high.
In-between the gamers and the missionaries lie the pragmatists, the fence sitters, in neither camp, all of them are subject to the magnetic pull of these two poles. The need to meet the performance targets on which their own careers, and those of their colleagues, depend, and the instinct always to put the educational and developmental interests of their students first. Goodrich (1920/1975) called this the “frontier of control”.
On the basis then that we’re not all about to march on the DfE with burning pitchforks (although it has merits) how do we speak back to the numbers? One option is to quit, which, as Ball (2003) indicates, is simultaneously an act of resistance and capitulation.
Alternatively, we can engage in a dialogue about troubling questions and as we begin to question our own ethics and values, we question not only what we do, but who we are. “It requires the deconstruction and recreation of the self and a certain capacity to examine ourselves critically” (Ball & Olmedo, 2013, p. 89).
I hope that this Blog will progressively become a “critical space” in which it is possible to develop an alternative discourse, a refuge or asylum, a forum for “being” and for “being yourself” (Duckworth et al., 2016, p. 13). As we are able to share concerns, care of the self (ethically) becomes care for each other. Transforming individual concerns into shared understandings becomes central to developing the collective responses required to make significant change possible.
And behind all these aims is one over-riding objective: to help those of us who lead and teach reclaim ownership of their institutions, their profession and their practice.
So friends and colleagues, be angry, be sad, be determined, but most of all be you. I leave you with this song https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JcJ4C0pTGDw