Game of Shadows



According to Dr Avis Glaze there are 21 trends for the 21st century that will have a profound impact on education and therefore the whole of society. During her talk at #ILConf2014 we were asked to pick our top trend. I chose number 16.

A spotlight will fall on how people gain authority and use it.

I chose this as it seemed to me to be a worrying example of locking a stable door after the horse has bolted, set up a meth lab, organised a red wedding and is now trying to become president of the United States.

For any cats without a Netflix subscription let me explain. The authority has already been gained, in shadowy darkness, and the spotlight, by shining on how it is being used, has been turned on too late.

You just have to cast your eyes over the ‘Trojan horse’ headlines concerning those handful of schools in Birmingham that have hogged the spotlight recently. These schools illustrate not the faults of Islam extremism but of the subversion of power within a particular type of school. As local authorities fracture, the cracks have been filled with unregulated systems of power.

Is it surprising that in these schools there are stories of governing bodies becoming distorted with an over-representation of a single-minded vision that has gradually suffocated and silenced the Head? Allowed to operate outside the local authority and with less checks than state maintained schools, for academies, there is no spotlight except for Ofsted.

And when the corruption and damage to a school-full of young people is finally exposed it should prompt the ultimate powers that be to re-think the system; instead however, their solution is to maintain the organisational status quo whilst trying to now catch everyone else unawares.

Sadly it doesn’t stop there. What about those academies where it is not the governors who are operating under the radar and on the sly, but the Heads themselves? Never mind the pathological lying crazies who syphon off the school budget to pay for parties, holidays, unaccountable pay-rises and an awful lot of shoes; what about the career nepotism? What about those organisations where the common interview is something that they have neither the time nor the inclination to bother with? I mean it is easier to invite someone for a cup of coffee and offer them a job whilst you’re dunking your hob-nobs, than go through the tedious process of shortlisting, putting in place a panel, coming up with tasks and actually putting a range of people through their paces in order to, you know, find the best person for the job, but hey…who’s watching?

I’m all for building up a team and spotting talent but I’m also a believer that the good will out. If I had someone in my mind who I wanted to get a job but found someone else better through interview then surely I still win. I get the best person, a nice clean conscience and the smug feeling that everyone else knows I make decisions for the school not for my convenience.

More importantly, if you do appoint through the nudge-nudge wink-wink system how are you building in accountability? How can you justify their authority and your integrity when the spotlight shines on your organisation and it casts no shadow? Your failings are always your own but at least when the gaining of authority has been proper, the processes you go through to sort out the problems are easier to put in place because we can rely on, oh what’s the word, ah, yes; we can rely on our professionalism.

Finally, and this seems like a far more trivial example of the 21st century gaining of authority than those mentioned already, what about twitter? Is it a sorry state of affairs that popular social media users gain authority, or if not authority, influence? I have experienced this first-hand (albeit on an exceedingly small scale) when I was asked to DfE to talk about the new national curriculum and life beyond levels. I was not asked because I am an outstanding Headteacher, or because I was an outstanding teacher or because I have contributed anything of significance to the world of education. I was asked because I tweet and have written one or two blogs about education that, if I’m lucky, contain the odd cheap gag. Is this really an appropriate acquisition of authority? Now don’t worry, I do not seriously consider myself to have any ‘authority’ with the DfE but the principle of government and policy makers allowing themselves to be influenced by social media commentators occasionally seems a bit worrying. I mean, can’t they think for themselves? Should they really go after popular opinion so lazily? Does a massively re-tweeted message necessarily contain a sensible idea?

Probably not.

But at least in the world of social media the spotlight is on. Those tweets and blogs are for everyone to read and opposition to any popular tweet is just as visible to anyone willing to be engaged. If, when the spotlight shines, the public do not like what they see, they will simply unfollow and the deranged ramblings will fade to black and cease to have any influence or authority.

The same cannot be said for those who have been allowed to have authority within a world of shadows.