Image or Education?

Today, many schools have fallen victim to image obsession. In the past, teachers had relatively high levels of autonomy. They concentrated their energies on educating students. But as a result of constant educational reforms, schools are now more and more focused on various auditing exercises. In the UK, the event that most head teachers worry about is the periodic auditing exercise by the government schools inspector. When parents of prospective students visit a school, they are treated to lengthy PowerPoint shows with all sorts of tables detailing its performance in these auditing exercises. Schools spend time and resources working on the quality of leadership, how the school is branded, and its vision and strategy. Many window-dressing activities are set up to give an impression of ‘excellence’. In Sweden, one of the overarching obsessions in many schools is getting their ‘grounding values’ right. These values always look impressive – but they are also very vague. Once they have got the values right, school leaders assume that success will follow. What the school looks like seems to count for more than the actual education. The people who run schools end up allotting less time and resources to teaching and learning, and more to image-polishing exercises. Schools become machines for persuading others that children are getting a good education, rather than institutions for educating children.

Mats Alvesson & André Spicer, The Stupidity Paradox: The Power and Pitfalls of Functional Stupidity at Work (London: Profile Books, 2016), Loc 1261-1271. ISBN: 978-1-78283-202-7.