Managing Education

The real problem with education is that it is actually a play of two acts. One act is education management and the other is educational business.
These are two different things. One is about curriculum and curriculum development, resources and rhetoric whereas the other is about management of business, property, funding and human resources.
Over the years the two have been mixed up with each other to the point where they are indistinguishable. This is very much to the detriment of both.
With the introduction of the Australian Curriculum, the differences have become far more obvious, and important, than ever.
Unfortunately, this has not translated into action to separate the two activities but alarmingly seems to have entrenched existing attitudes.
Everyone seems to be complaining about how education is on the slide in this country, (and has an opinion on why as well as how to fix it) but so far whatever has been done has failed to stem the tide.
I have no better answer than anyone else, but I would offer that the administration of education has a huge role in this failure. There are no magic bullets to fix the problems facing education but I strongly suspect that if educators took control of the curriculum management, and, business managers took control of education management, then some things could improve.
Delivery of education curriculum would, of necessity, change. Decisions of Curriculum Management could be based on community and current need not teacher need or edurhetoric. Decisions of education management could be based on community need, not past practice.
How this could be organised would likely be anyone’s guess, but, I suspect that decision making by specialists would improve the chances of improving outcomes.
Nothing is guaranteed but it seems that decisions based on need, and with experience, are far more likely to be successful than current practice. Of course, current standards practices and procedures would have to be radically changed, which would never be permitted to happen.
Let’s face it, principals are in charge of multi-million dollar businesses; rarely have any business qualifications and quite often have no business skills. Even with the support given them by their schools, and from the State Department, they still get it wrong too often for it to be just poor skills, it is poor leadership, poor administration, poor judgement.
Right now, there is a crisis within education management. It seems that something like 14 schools across my home state are in need of principals. Obviously, not just anyone could apply and be successful, but in a system that has over 21,000 teachers surely 14 of them are qualified, and capable of being a principal. Seems not. So what is the problem?
In South Australia, we use a promotional system called “The Merit Selection Process”. I suggest that merit actually has little to do with it. In fact, I would go so far as to suggest that between the Union and the Department, the “Merit Selection Process” has become corrupted. Unfortunately, the system favours the people who make the decisions, and they cannot get it right. But why? Where is it wrong and why can’t people get it right?
The process has three parts, the job specifications process, the application process and then the assessment and appointment process.
[I am going to admit here that the “Merit Selection Process” is one of several reasons why I quit the Union in disgust. As a Union man all my life this is something I have never done before and I am appalled at both the Union and my actions.]
If one of these processes wasn’t working, then the whole thing could be called “flawed”. If two of these processes weren’t working then the process could be termed “deeply flawed”.
All three of these processes are not working, both the Department and the Union support this system so it can only be called “corrupt”.
The job specification can be, and frequently are, manipulated to favour a particular applicant. The document is written partly in specific language to establish a selection criteria. The rest is in non-specific or vague language so it can be interpreted in several different ways. The specifications are worded in subtle ways to eliminate almost all applicants. Not everyone can read between the lines of job specifications so what is required in the job is often blurred; it can be interpreted in a number of ways.
The writing of an application can be a difficult procedure, for most. First and foremost, the application is a triumph of self promotion. The writing “displays” what the applicant understands of the JSpecs, providing evidence of the successes the applicant has had in promoting things like “whole school change”, “well-being”, “curriculum understanding” etc., etc. These things are supposed to show ability. however, quite often, the “change” these people are effecting is – well – ok, they are not effecting any change. It’s like claiming to be an “assistant director” when actually the term should read an “assistant to the director”, or “manager of custodial services”, reads much better than “janitor”. What is much worse though is when seeking advice on an application, advisers have gone beyond just offering advice, but have changed applications significantly. There was one instance where the applicant had their entire application re-written by the same person who wrote the JSpec. Unethical? Most likely, but that person was not going to be involved in the Selection Process for that position, so while not squeaky clean, it is acceptable under the rules, apparently. That applicant was successful, but then proved they were incapable of actually doing the job – but that made no difference, they were reappointed and went on to other leadership positions.
Then the assessment and appointment process comes into play. Applicants are culled quickly. At most there is usually four applicants left, quite often only two, the rest get a short email saying “tough, you didn’t make the shortlist”, with the usual platitudes of better luck next time. There is a panel of people, and depending on the job, it may consist of two, three or four people, two for the lowest ranking positions and four for the highest. Principal positions can have a Union representative, a Staff representative, a member of the School Council and another principal.
For middle and lower management jobs, the Panel Chairperson is usually the principal of the school. This is interesting because too frequently the person the principal wants in that job is the one usually appointed. If a job is up for renewal, and there has been a change of principals at the school, incumbency can hamper reappointment. Otherwise, if the principal has not changed, incumbency is the largest hurdle for a new applicant. If the person is a dud, and their application writing skills are brilliant, they are likely to retain the position, previous form is no barrier to reappointment. You only have to “talk the talk”, no need to “walk the walk”.
At one level, this is so reminiscent of gaining a degree. If you can read and write, present a good argument, irrespective of validity, then you can graduate, sometimes with honours. A degree does not confirm competence, just that you can read and write.
Same with merit selection, it only confirms the ability to read and write, which is why so many appointments are just wrong.
There are so many issues we are facing, so how can we fix them?
One issue at a time.

About colinfraser

I claim the title of educator, because I want to be more than "just" a teacher.
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