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People changed management

Tim Middleton is the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools [ATS].

Are schools what we hope for? Should we be looking elsewhere for schooling? Have we ever asked those questions? Of course, we have! It is natural; it is right; it is healthy. Usually, we ask them when something goes wrong, or is not what we anticipated. In truth, these are age-old questions; the most notable person to ask such questions was John the Baptist when he was in prison and he wondered if he had made a dreadful mistake with regards to Jesus. “Are you the one who was to come or should we expect someone else?” People looked at Jesus and said His results were poor: He never took on a high position in society; He never lived in fancy houses; He never gained any qualifications; He never attracted the important people to His side; He never even had a job! He only attracted the misfits, the ‘failures’, the poor, weak and the discarded. In terms of results, He fared really badly.

If it had been us, we would probably have answered by rattling off statistics and achievements. We would have been quick to show our results. Results, we think, are the proof of what we are doing. We follow Results-Based management. It is all about Results – results, results, results! People will say about business or education what golfers say about their score: “There is no ‘Comments’ column on the scorecard!” They think that it is just the result that matters. That is not true or valid.

Of interest is how Jesus answered John’s questions. He did not say: “I preached to 10,000 people; I fed 5,000; I turned water to wine; I told brilliant parables; I beat Satan away from home, 3 times (I am undefeated)” as a school might be tempted to do with regard to education. He simply asked people to look around them and see what had happened. Lives were changed, unquestionably.

While Jesus answered the question (not in the way they expected), He also turned the question round and asked the people a question of His own: “What did you go out into the desert to see?” He wonders why they were surprised by what had happened. In a similar way we might ask the same question to any who might wonder about our school. What did we come to find? As Jesus answered His critics, so we might ask a similar question: Did we expect a school that simply follows the trends of others, being blown like a “reed in the desert” whichever way the wind blows (note, reeds do not grow in a desert!)? Did we expect miracles to turn a child’s 30% into 80%? No! Did we expect to see a school “dressed in fine clothes”, with fancy buildings and expensive facilities? Are parents simply after fancy uniforms, buildings, qualifications, colour brochures and the like? No! Did we not expect to find a “prophet” (not a ‘profit’, like some schools might want), one who makes lasting sense?

Finally, Jesus also pointed out how some people will never be happy, no matter what the results are! He saw the irony and humour in how his opponents objected to John the Baptist not eating and drinking, but they objected to Jesus eating and drinking; there was no pleasing some! It is like the man who noted how hard it can be to ‘win’ with women: “If you work too hard, there’s never any time for her; if you don’t work enough, you’re a good-for-nothing so-and-so. If you try to keep yourself in shape, you’re vain; if you don’t, you’re a slob. If you’re proud of your achievements, you’re full of yourself; if you are not proud of them, you’re not ambitious.”

So it can be with parents, it seems. We complain about expensive school fees but we are the first to complain about a lack of resources. We complain about the level of indiscipline in a school but we are quick to complain about the school being too tough when it is our child! Parents want the academic standards to rise but also want an inclusive policy to be seen! What exactly do we want?

What is important is not Results-Based Management but People-Changed Management. Results-Based Management is actually nothing more than Reputation-Based management; it means that schools will only do things that are good for their reputation. They will only take in bright pupils so that the school’s results are high. They will only take in talented sportsmen or women so that their teams are undefeated. They will tell people all about the school but not about the person or persons that make up their schools. Changed lives are more important than miracles or results.  It is fine to question. It is important to look at the answer. Ultimately, though, it is crucial to see lives changed, not results contrived. We do not need to be a prophet or in prison to work that out.

  • Tim Middleton is the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools [ATS]. The views expressed in this article, however, are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of the ATS.
  • Email: tim@atszim.org
  • website: atszim.org

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