“Effective management practices are lacking and the information needed by people in all parts of the system to make choices is seldom viable.” Picot Report May 1988
It is an incredible testimony to the power of a label that people still refer to “Tomorrow’s Schools” 20 years after the administrative earthquake of David Lange’s education reforms.
We all know that tomorrow never come and neither did Tomorrow’s Schools in respect to some of its original interlocking architecture. Nonetheless the changes were portentous. The fall of the Department of Education and local education boards was not quite as momentous as the near simultaneous fall of the Berlin Wall but it was still a bureaucratic big bang event-and most bureaucrats hate change.
Earlier in the eighties the government had called for a review of the curriculum. The public were consulted but the initiative was overtaken by reforms of the administration of education. Two major reports appeared. The first had the Tom Peters-inspired title Administering for Excellence and had much input from business and industry, reflecting the neo-liberal agenda promoted rather ironically by the Labour Government. It was known as the Picot report after its leader, Brian Picot, a supermarket owner.
The second report called Tomorrow’s Schools was the Minister’s blueprint for the process. The government replaced the Department of Education with a ministry and turned schools into autonomous entities, managed by boards of trustees. This was a world first. The fact that it does not appear to have been replicated elsewhere may speak volumes.
Picot had found that the education administrative structure in 1988 was over centralised and made overly complex by having too many decision-making points. It was a pain just to replace a broken window. It was purported that the relevant “fix it” papers went through 14 pairs of hands. The lesson was if it’s broke don’t fix it.
I recall, during a short teacher recruitment stint in the Department of Education well pre-Picot, encountering former principals and school inspectors chained to musty office desks in the historic old wooden Government Building in Wellington while they handled tactical tasks such as approving new light bulbs.
Lange saw the light. He regarded the dinosaur-like Department of Education beyond evolutionary adaptation and new organisational forms and drastic reforms were needed in the shape of autonomous school boards.
In Picot’s words “The result is that almost everyone feels powerless to change the things they see need changing. To make progress, radical changes now required.”
Radical they indeed were. The trouble was as part of this process teachers in their professional dimension were sidelined. In education and health and elsewhere the politicians fear of the day was professional capture.
Managerialism was the answer du jour. Bus companies, hospitals, government departments-they were all amenable to the management span of control. Brain surgeon or bus driver? Bring them on. It’s all grist to the MBA mill. And millstones were what we sometimes got. The missing part of the equation was professional credibility. It is true that some people skills are eminently transferable. But it is also true that credibility resides not just in what is said but who says it and in their background and experience.
In the laudable rush to get community input and involvement the professional voices of teachers were muted. (It didn’t help matters that the 1980s tactics of the teacher “unions” -the professional terms “association” and “institute” were used less and less frequently- were on a par with the Cooks and Stewards Union, the difference being that the latter chose the school holidays for their stoppages).
Tomorrow’s Schools was a more radical change for primary schools than their secondary colleagues, who already had the right to appoint their own staff. It led to a nearly 3000 autonomous school boards, without some of the regional and national connecting structures envisaged by the Picot Report.
Autonomy led to an atomised educational landscape with “clusters” of schools providing limited local connectivity. Important professional supporting roles like national in-service programmes and curriculum and resource development became fragmented or non-existent for a number of years. Curriculum reforms were postponed and it is only now, near the end of the first decade of the new millenium, that a new 21st century curriculum is finally being implemented.
In the meantime societal shift has happened big time. Today, Tomorrow’s Schools are very much last century.
Lyall Lukey 6 Dec 2009
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ILQrUrEWe8 Shift happens-2009 update