For those who’ve been under a rock it was General Election time in the UK this week. The results were pretty much a slap in the face for all of the parties involved. What was clear was that, given the current system, no party really had a clear mandate from the electorate.
I didn’t actually see the great David McCandless’ effort until after I finished mine but we’re effectively showing the same story: the electoral system in the UK needs to be reformed. We need to move from a combative first-past-the-post system to a fairer system that promotes negotiation and compromise.
Proportional representation (PR), sometimes referred to as full representation, is a type of voting system aimed at securing a close match between the percentage of votes that groups of candidates obtain in elections, and the percentage of seats they receive (e.g., in legislative assemblies).
Disclaimer: I usually hit delete when I get unsolicited email requests by media consultants, but this intrigued me. You can take it or leave it but, as ever, the thoughts in this post are my own!
Ever since Barack Obama managed to sweep to victory in the US on a wave of personality and Web 2.0 savvy, people have been talking about the importance of ‘new media’ in politics. I see it as a good thing, especially engaging young people in the political process. It was great the other night, for example, to see the deluge of tweets with the hashtag #leadersdebate during the first ever live televised debate amongst the leaders of the main political parties.
It’s also encouraging to see each main political party – the Liberal Democrats, the Conservatives, and Labour – present their manifestos in such forward-thinking ways. Out are boring-looking printed documents and in are engaging videos, social media groups and ebooks.
But of course, the importance of new media isn’t that people who have always been able to get across their message continue to have their say, but that new voices are heard. That’s why I was buoyed to watch the following video by the Edge Foundation, set up when Edexcel was sold to Pearson PLC in 2003. They have invested millions of pounds in the promotion of practical and vocational learning for young people as well as funding two academies (Nottingham and Milton Keynes). But we’ll not hold that against them. 😉
I’m not sure that highlighting the dichotomy between ‘academic’ and ‘vocational’ is necessarily useful. I’d be inventing new ‘third way’ terms to lose the historical baggage. What I am sure about, however, is that the so-called ‘academic’ courses I’ve taught as a teacher have turned into knowledge cram-fests and the so-called ‘vocational’ courses are nowhere near as demanding.
So what’s needed?
I agree with the Edge Foundation that young people need to be given choices.
I agree that there need to be more and different routes to employment.
I agree classroom-based activities don’t stimulate some (most?) learners.
But I’d go further. I’d say that all students need to be doing vocational courses. Not the spurious ones mentioned above, but proper, rigorous, out-in-the-field vocational courses. That’s how to improve our education system: real-world learning.
And I don’t know anyone who would disagree with that! 😀
I can see now that it takes more than having passed through school as a student to understand the education system.* After all, it looks something like the diagram below, right?
Of course those who have worked in educational institutions know that the above is far from the truth. Instead of, for example, research being the bedrock of all that goes on, it is marginalized and distorted. The issues** along the lines linking the elements together show how it’s a messy picture – not in itself a bad thing – and it’s distorted by politics (which is a bad thing) :-p
* Not that you’d know that from talking to your average member of the general public! 😉
** N.B. The reason I didn’t add ‘time’ as a factor in the second diagram is because, as I’ve said to a few people this week, time itself isn’t an issue. It’s priorities – which is a different matter.
Owen calls the middle management of an organization ‘the matrix’. It can be an uncomfortable and difficult place from which to emerge, he says. The five most common pitfalls of survival are:
The expert in the matrix
The cave dweller
The boy scout
The expert in the matrix
The expert in the matrix has been promoted because of their technical competency. On becoming a leader they are out of their comfort zone and therefore lean on their exceptional technical skills. They are likely to demand almost impossibly high standards from their subordinates leading to friction and discontent.
The cave dweller
Cave dwellers try to avoid the matrix as much as possible by hiding in their ‘cave’ of pseudo-certainty. In an attempt to recreate the security they felt lower down the organization they become more territorial and less valuable to the organization. These, says Owen, are likely to be the first to go in any organizational ‘rationalisation’.
Coming across as rather too enthusiastic about ‘learning the dark arts of the matrix,’ the politician works hard to cultivate a power network. They are constantly on the lookout for new initiatives and seek a position in relation to them. Politicians seek to be close enough to projects to be able to claim a stake in them if successful whilst being able to distance themselves from projects that fail or are discredited. After a while politicians are seen for their true colours and are ignored.
The boy scout
The opposite to the politician is the boy scout. They think that by working hard and delivering results they will automatically receive recognition and promotion. In practice, however, they got ‘lost in the matrix.’ Boy scouts need to stake their claim and show that they are leading and delivering.
Autocrats act as if they are already higher than they actually are in the organizational hierarchy. Whilst they talk about the importance of being a team player, in reality they are chiefly concerned with people being loyal to them. If they perform well, autocrats can succeed and are promoted. If not, they become irritating and a burden to their colleagues.
The path through the matrix
So how do middle managers be successful in and/or find their way out of the matrix? Owen believes this comes back to the ‘three and a half Ps’ that he outlines at the start of the book:
People – focus not only on those you have direct formal control but those ou can motivate and coach. These widens your circle of influence.
Professional – model the values needed as a senior leader. One of the best ways to do this, believes Owen, is to chair meetings well.
Positive – being positive is especially important in the middle of the matrix. Treat ambiguity and change as opportunity instead of risk. Learn how to deal with conflict in your particular context and you will be successful.
Performance (the half-P) – you need a ‘claim to fame’ to emerge from the matrix. Show that you can deliver exceptional results out of ambiguity and complexity. Actively take on challenge.
I really liked this section of Owen’s book In fact, the whole thing is becoming invaluable to me as I step up from being a an ‘expert in the matrix’ (and ‘boy scout’ at times) to, hopefully, becoming an effectively and successful senior leader! 😀
My video response to the news that the UK government is proposing 6-month teacher training ‘fast-track’ schemes. This is apparently to make it easier for those made unemployed in the economic downturn to enter (what has been called up until this point) the ‘teaching profession’.
The biggest problem in education is political interference in the work of classroom teachers. This post has been brewing for a while. One long-term influence is dissatisfaction with the current education system. This dissatisfaction is one of the reasons I entered the teaching profession in the first place, and also a reason I’m in favour of the Conservatives’ idea of independent state schools under the Swedish model. More short-term influences include Vicki Davis’ excellent blog post Administration Should Be Like The ‘Pit Crew’ and a meeting/confrontation I had today. As usual on this blog, I’m not going to mention where I work nor individual names there.
Although with the recent financial turmoil this is turning into a less illustrative example, the delegation of responsibility by the UK government to the Bank of England for some financial matters I see to be a great idea. It puts those with the greatest knowledge and experience in charge of something very important. Education, on the other hand, is a very party political matter with endless tinkering of the system to attempt to win the support of middle-class voters. I’m a believer in government being as small as possible: whilst the state needs to intervene in the ‘big picture’ of education, I think there are other organizations and bodies eminently more suitable to deal with assessment and examinations, for example.
Ever since the Conservatives introduced a free market into UK education in 1990, schools have become more and more like businesses. I’ve seen the good and bad side of this system. In 1990, the new rules allowed my parents to take me out of the local, very poor, middle school (at my request) and install me at a much better school. I’m not against parental choice, per se, but I’m certainly against the endless analogies and comparisons of schools to businesses. Educating children is not like making products to sell at a profit. Instead, I think a better model is schools as charities.
If schools were seen as charities they would be:
Able to raise money from various other organizations
Focused on process as well as results
Diverse in nature
The type of leaders needed in charities and NGOs are different from those required by business. I’m generalising monumentally here, but those at the helm of the former tend to have inspiration and drive quite unlike those in the latter group.
So those in charge in schools shouldn’t be good managers, they should be great leaders. Instead of flaunting their power within the ‘corporate hierarchy’ they should, as Vicki Davis states, support teachers – those on the front line:
To me, times are lean and mean. The classroom should be like a well maintained car and administration should be like the pit crew. They should give the classroom the tools they need, encouragement, a mission, and quick “pit stops” to improve and keep them going…
If you’re not helping the cause of education, you’re hurting it. And with times being tough, those who count themselves leaders need to take a hard look at their own rolls when asking teachers to make cuts. For, to ask teachers to make sacrifices when you aren’t willing is unfair and breeds contempt.
Although I’ve been accused of it for the first time today, I’m not one for manipulating others and playing politics within my organization. Not at all: I’m there to make things better for the system – locally, nationally and internationally. The problem with a strictly hierarchical system is that it is nothing like a meritocracy. I’m certainly not questioning the overall ability of the senior management at my school, but I have felt, at times, and in my career overall, times when my ability as a professional to make decisions and put forward opinions has been undermined somewhat.
I’d like, as Vicki again mentions, school hierarchies to be as ‘flat’ as possible. Obviously, there’s a need for management. But now, more than ever, teachers need to be given freedom and be shown trust to exercise their professional judgement over issues affecting them. Not to do so would be to play politics for politics’ sake and to undermine potential educational experiences for a great number of children.