December 10, 2003
It's not the pupils – it's the management

There's an interesting article in the Telegraph about the differences between a state comprehensive school and an independent school, by Matthew Godfrey, who went from teaching at one to teaching at the other. It's not a surprise that he found the latter school to be more civilised. But he believes that the difference was not so much that the independent school pupils were more civilised in their social backgrounds but that the management of the independent school was better. Simply, the government meddled relentlessly in the running of the state school, and didn't allow it to be run so well. Resources were not the problem. The eagerness of children to learn was not the problem. The problem was that the place was badly run.

… the vast majority of 11-year-olds who started at the comprehensive each September were conscientious and bright, too. Apart from a few notable exceptions, their parents were committed and concerned. It was a sad truth, though, that a significant minority of the children soon became troublemakers, and the number increased steadily over time. A year group that the teachers used to call the "gorgeous" year seven had become the "nightmare" year 10 by the time I left.

A lot of this gradual deterioration was a result of increasing peer pressure and other problems related to the pupils' social background. But there were so many other issues at the comprehensive – many of which had nothing to do with the pupils – that I ceased to believe the problems within the school gates were simply a result of what happened outside them.

In contrast, the independence of judgement of the people running Latymer Upper, which was the consequence of Latymer Upper itself being independent of the government, fed through to its pupils being more independent minded and confident themselves. Meanwhile, at the state comprehensive, the nationalised industry syndrome of indolent, ineffective and demoralised management likewise fed through to the attitude and conduct of the pupils. Several times, the management of the comprehensive …

… refused to allow the expulsion of highly disruptive pupils, preferring to send in expensive but largely ineffectual "consultants" to give advice and monitor teaching and learning. Instead of engendering a sense of ownership or pride in the school, they contributed to a growing culture of tiresome bureaucracy.

Consultants. This final paragraph will strike another chord with all those who are the victims of bad management, not just in schools but anywhere:

The comprehensive had a long and interesting past, too, but it was not shared with the pupils or parents. Its future goals were expressed in a hugely long-winded "mission statement", which was so filled with management gobbledegook that it meant nothing to anyone. If it can learn anything from Latymer, it is that a spirit of independence goes a long way to motivate pupils and teachers.

This blog does not have a mission statement. It just gets on with it, free from government interference.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 08:37 PM
Category: SovietisationThe private sector