Educational Managerialism

These days I’ve been reading a book entitled Educational Leadership: Ambiguity, Professionals and Managerialism, by Eric Hoyle and Mike Wallace. (Warn you, not a leisure read – I read it for research purpose.) It seems to have summarised some of the problems we teachers face in the workplace under the climate of increasing educational managerialism.

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The following excerpt will probably generate some resonance if you are a teacher:

Meetings are particularly rich in opportunities for finding problems. Meetings have now become a major leadership and management tool. In many schools, attending meetings has become almost a way of life. They occupy time during the school day and also after school hours, contributing to the high number of hours worked each week by teachers. … Such meetings exist to enable staff to solve problems and make decisions. But they also fulfil many other functions, including reporting, mobilizing, motivating, reinforcing group identity, impressing colleagues, or parading grievances. …

But meetings have increasingly become opportunities for generating problems. Constructing an agenda often entails a search for problems … Some committees and working parties are dumping grounds for ‘problems’ that are not resolvable at a particular point. Managerialism thrives on meetings. To reduce the number of meetings may be to reduce the number of ‘problems’ that unproductively absorb staff time. But to do so would be heretical to the managerialist mind. (98-99)

To simplify, there are two types of meetings – meetings that solve problems and those that generate problems. The former is necessary and purposeful, while the latter is exhausting and demoralising.

No one really likes meetings, I suppose, not even the school administrators. Yet, why are we teachers still pestered by all the meetings big and small, eating up time for lesson preparation and generating problems and work that do not always relate to the benefit our students?

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If the school administrators aren’t sadistic, then there must be reasons for them to believe that such meetings are necessary or meaningful for the school (not necessarily the students). Such is the force of the governmental management which wants to tighten its grip over schools.

Yet, Holye and Wallace also point out that ‘there is room to manoeuvre over how far to enter into the spirit of these tasks, as opposed to doing the minimum required’ (91). Administrators ought to exercise their professionalism and decide what is in the best interest of their students, and this should vary from one school to another.

Another point worth noting is that while many activities or programmes could be beneficial to students, a question to ask is ‘whether these improvements have been of a magnitude that justifies their heavy costs, financially and in terms of sapping the energy and lowering the job satisfaction of teachers’ (95). And of course, to view the issue on a macroscopic scale, the same logic applies to governmental directives at the cost of school administrators’ burnout.

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Schools should always put the interest of students at the first priority, but in order to be effective, the working conditions and job satisfaction of teachers must not be overlooked. At the end of the day, who are there to teach the students? Would passionate and enthusiastic teachers inspire students better, or would overworked and unhappy ones do a better job?

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Author: Aaron Y.K. Chan

Aaron Chan is a Hongkonger who loves literature and his city. He is going to resume his career as a teacher of English Language and Literature in English in the coming school year. Perhaps teaching is his true calling after all.

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