How obsessive auditing produces “a profession which is incompatible with a normal life”

80% of new teachers in 2005 were still teaching after their first year. In 2015 that has shrunk to just 62%, coupled with record numbers leaving mid career. In the intervening period, we’ve seen successive governments seek to transform schooling in a way that has left the “profession monitored to within an inch of its life”: increasingly teaching can’t retain its new recruits and given 76% of new teachers report having considered leaving the profession, it’s possible the retention rate will continue to collapse over time.

Can you blame them? David Cameron recently pronounced that “if you’re not good or outstanding, you have to change” and that “If you can’t do it yourself, you have to let experts come in and help you” – with ‘good or outstanding’ constituted through the unreliable judgements of an audit regime utterly disconnected from the realities of teaching. The result is a ratcheting up of situational demands amidst a climate of fear, leaving teachers drowning in assessment, terrified of negative assessments and increasingly prone to illness, as a recent survey found:

  • 83% had reported workplace stress.
  • 67% said their job has adversely impacted their mental or physical health
  • Almost half of the three thousand respondents reported they had seen a doctor because of work-related mental or physical health problems
  • 5% had been hospitalised, and
  • 2% said they had self-harmed.

This has produced a situation which the general secretary of the ATL describes as teaching having become “incompatible with normal life”. This is what audit regimes do when they’re pursued as an instrument of workplace control. How far behind is higher education? Will the greater sunk costs of newly qualified PhDs preclude a mass exodus from the profession? The analogy is far from perfect, not least of all because of the much lower ratio of available jobs to newly qualified academics, but there seems to be a similar direction of travel in both professions.

5 thoughts on “How obsessive auditing produces “a profession which is incompatible with a normal life”

  1. “let experts come in and help you” – that’s the motivation, the creation of a massive industry of assessors, advisors and expensive literacy and numeracy schemes. Some people have got very rich from this.

  2. Performance monitoring is a technology. Its main thrust is to effect a ‘re-attribution of responsibility’ from those deploying the technology to those who become its objects. The main difference between schools and universities is that the technology is aimed at whole schools, so, e.g. so one can talk about ‘failing managers’. In universities it is the managers that deploy the technology. After all, it cannot possibly be the managers that fail when research rankings drop, NSS scores sink or student recruitment falters. I once worked briefly in an institution where academic staff ftes were linked to student fte recruitment. Academic staff ‘recruitment performances’ were monitored. If student recruitment fell then academic staff were laid off. Meanwhile the same institution had a growing ‘ Marketing and Recruitment’ department. This department was unaffected by any drop in recruitment – as a management department its ‘performance’ was not monitored. There was no monitoring technology to do this. Oddly, whenever the work involved in recruitment arose (producing copy for brochures, marketing in schools, dealing with ad hoc inquiries etc.) these were all directed to the academics on the grounds that they ‘best knew their own programmes’ etc. Staff in Marketing had standard non-academic appraisals so there was no performance criteria critical to the institution’s strategic aims in their personal record. The responsibility for all critical criteria are always transferred to staff who are positioned in such a way as to be least able to affect the context of those criteria.

    School teachers are simply in an absurd situation. Frankly one cannot have a good conversation while the interlocutors are focussed on a screen monitoring the metadata of that conversation.

  3. I question the expertise of the ‘experts’. A criteria for good or outstanding is the ability to demonstrate all students’ learning progress. Behind this criteria is the flawed assumption that learning is a linear process. An additional erroneous assumption is that a good or outstanding teacher is one that achieves good or outstanding results. Isn’t that the achievement of students? And what about the teacher who is good one year, requiring improvement the next, but is using the same techniques and strategies that were once regarded as outstanding? As a ‘secret teacher’ in the Guardian recently wrote “Dear Ofsted, please can you send me copy of the real rules?”

  4. I think that opacity is inherent in the process because the assessment regime will always be hyperactively orientated towards continuous improvement – what else would the assessors do when not assessing? Add big data into the process and this gets really scary…

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