Self-managing education: More recent times

Theories and practices of contemporary management have moved away from bureaucracy in the direction of self-management. Chapter 3 discussed this change in the larger world of work, calling it post-Fordism. This change applies in educational organisations as much as it does elsewhere. At the same time, the boundaries between the insides and outsides of educational institutions are blurred somewhat in the case of self-managing modes of education.

See Jane Addams: Hull-House; The Future Museum and the Future School.

Dimension 1: Class management

The teacher in the self-managing classroom gains more professional independence and scope to design learning experiences for their learners. So, too, learners become progressively more independent or self-managing of their learning processes. This approach to classroom management fosters a kind of teaching and learning competence we call ‘autonomous’. The autonomous teacher is in control of their own classroom. As for students, the autonomous learner spends more of their classroom time figuring things out for themselves. The students may come up with answers to which they have been guided, but they manage to do this more or less as a product of their own thinking. Their learning is, in this sense, grounded in self-motivated inquiry.

This stage in learning may emerge as you become more familiar with a subject or situation. You may need highly structured, scaffolded and explicit assistance at first, but once you’ve mastered the basics and feel comfortable, you can become a progressively more autonomous learner. Then you can take greater personal responsibility for the next stage in your learning, and take initiative in finding facts, interpreting theories and solving problems. For the teacher, this entails a classroom management style that moves beyond direct instructional command of the bureaucratic variety. For the learners, the management of learning becomes, at least in part, a matter of responsible self-management.

See Practicing Democracy in the Classroom.

Dimension 2: Curriculum planning and evaluation

In self-managing systems of educational organisation, greater responsibility for curriculum planning and evaluation is placed upon teachers. Systems may set standards, but the business of meeting these standards is up to the teacher. Curriculum planning and documentation is a task for teachers and schools. Sometimes, assessment is also school-based, rather than standardised external examination. Other times, a hybrid of internal curriculum development and external assessment is used. Some of the critics of this hybrid model argue that the tail of external assessment ends up wagging the dog of curriculum. It might look as though teachers have autonomy in their curriculum development, but pragmatically they have to ‘teach to the test’.

Other critics of school-based curriculum argue that it loads an unrealistically onerous burden onto teachers. Workloads have grown as the old, highly scaffolded syllabus and textbook infrastructure of bureaucratic education systems has been replaced by school-based and teacher-designed curriculum. These pressures have made teaching a more challenging job. More than ever before, the breadth and depth of the teacher’s knowledge and the lesson choices they make have a direct impact on levels of learner engagement and performance.

Dimension 3: Educational leadership and management

Schools are increasingly expected to be self-managing. Principals are ideally leaders who work with their communities to develop and articulate a shared vision. They build resilient self-governance structures, which give the broader community, the staff and learners a good deal of responsibility. They take financial responsibility and ask groups within the school to assume budgetary responsibility at a cost-centre level. With budgets devolved, they are expected to work more like businesses. Some people have even suggested voucher systems in which ‘clients’ select the school of their choice and pay with a voucher issued to them by the government (Friedman 1975).

See Friedman on School Vouchers.

Within the school, organisational arrangements are made along the lines of the post-Fordist workplaces described in Chapter 3. Teachers and educational administrators form project teams to address areas of educational need and concern. They develop an organisational culture that tends to find new entrants who will ‘it into’ or be similar to the existing ethos and self-conception of the organisation. This, however, may be at the expense of staff and faculty diversity. They require that teachers and administrators be multi-skilled and work cooperatively in teams. They build a common culture of learning. Sometimes this may also be at the expense of recognising the depth of diversity in the particular education community. They empower members of the community to take control of their own work and learning.

See Caldwell and Spinks: The Self-managing School

See Fullan on School Leadership.

As schools have become increasingly self-managing organisations, educators have been provided with new opportunities. Schools have been able to differentiate themselves and provide offerings more closely aligned to the needs of local communities.

See El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz Academy, Lansing, Michigan.

However, we might ask whether this has added to the burden of running the business of the institution as well as doing the teaching. Has education been too influenced by the logic of business and managerialism? A growing part of the educational process has literally been turned into a business as government reduces its overall contribution. Educators increasingly find they have to ‘sell’ their ‘product’ to fee-paying students, domestic or international. There has in recent times been a growth of partially self-funded, private and community based schools. Some countries have even seen the establishment of for-profit schools built using private investment. Then we might ask, do we want to go back to the good old days when teaching was a quiet, public service job?

See KIPP: 3D Academy, Houston.