“Tony Blair’s government is responsible for a systemic wide pattern of blunders, such that the institutions of the UK make deep sacrifices of basic state obligations to their citizens to increase general indicators of social, political and economic well-being.”
The Bee-Watcher watched the Bee-Watcher. He didn-t watch well. So another Hawtch-Hawtcher had to come in as a Watch-Watcher-Watcher! And today all the Hawtchers who live in Hawtch-Hawtch are watching on Watch-Watcher-Watchering-Watch, Watch-Watching the Watcher who’s watching that bee. You’re not a Hawtch-Watcher. You’re lucky, you see!
— Theodore Geisel
According to World in Figures 2006, the United Kingdom (UK), along with Ireland and Switzerland, ranks tenth overall in terms of quality of life when compared with all other 193 countries in the world. Moreover, the UK ranks third in terms of percentage of total world exports (behind the United States and Germany) and scores seventh in terms of raw GDP. These are impressive statistics for an island just 93,788 square miles in size (less than half the size of France) and a population in the 60 millions. According to the Labour party, internal UK statistics are equally impressive:
Britain has the lowest inflation rate for thirty years… We have the longest period of sustained growth for 200 years… Hospital waiting lists in England are at their lowest since 1987… In the NHS there are 19,300 more doctors and over 77,500 more nurses [since the last Tory Prime Minister]… More teachers are in our schools than at any point in [the] last 20 years… Police numbers are at record levels – up over 12,500 since 1997, and are assisted by over 4,000 new Community Support officers.
Assuming the above figures are accurate (for the sake of parsimony this article will not dispute them), why is Tony Blair so unpopular? This article argues that it is ironically due to the increases in the above empirical measurements of progress, and the sacrifices which have been made to achieve them, that has brought a shameful end to Tony Blair’s premiership.
While one could cite the deteriorating conditions of the war in Iraq as a major factor in Blair’s unpopularity, this article suggests that the fall of Tony Blair stems from an even more basic problem than his foreign policy: political scandals at home. Political scandals in politics occur when a flaw in the administrative organization of the state undermines the public interest. Periodic errors in judgement, such as the shooting of an innocent, unarmed person, can occur due to random human error. However, political scandals do not always occur due to random human error. Political scandals are systemic; they are based on the social science concept ‘externality’, that is, unintended consequences. For example, the release of failed asylum-seekers in the UK and moreover the loss of their files at the Home Office led to a report which states that between 2001 and 2005 ’403 foreign nationals were released from prison without deportation proceedings being completed.’
Citizens use common-sense (and the media) to determine whether a political scandal is an anomaly or a property of the system. When a mistake is a property of the system, the government responsible for overseeing the public institution under scrutiny becomes unpopular, as citizens hold their government culpable for its blunders. Tony Blair’s government is responsible for a systemic wide pattern of blunders, such that the institutions of the UK make deep sacrifices of basic state obligations to their citizens to increase general indicators of social, political and economic well-being. In short, political scandals occur in the UK, particularly in England, due to the necessity of Blair to empirically demonstrate that Labour makes progress.
The reason why Blair is so unpopular is due to one organizational policy disseminated to all institutions in England: performancism. In short, public services have become overwhelmed by performance fanaticism among front-line workers and obsessive performance monitoring among administration. Performancism, then, is staff deference to administrative regimes which define success by the achievement of narrow targets and the appropriation of resources, such that improvements are made in one facet of an institution at the expense of other essential components of the institution. Thus these tick-box regimes cripple the efficiency of public institutions insofar as the empirical measurement of achievement is at disparity with actual qualitative performance. Performancism, as the nursery rhyme above indicates, cultivates a bee-watching society.
In short, performancism is the prioritization of quantitative over qualitative performance. Performancism requires the elimination of subjective measurements of achievement to the benefit of increased quantitative performance in terms of narrowly defined parameters of what constitutes achievement. The practical application of performancism requires staunch professionalism, from the way one dresses to the control of space around one’s office. Professionalism is not only a politically-dictated regime of norms followed by colleagues in terms of dress, appearance and manor, but also a set of expectations in terms of measurable outcomes. In scientific disciplines, such as engineering or medicine, in which outcomes are defined and achieved by virtue of the scientific method, empirical measurement of success is essential. However, in social institutions, and even in the administration of science-based institutions, such as National Health Care (NHS) dentistry in England, obsessive professional standards, such as complicated vetting procedures for dentists trained outside the European Union (EU), leads to deficits in providing basic public services.
Performancism creates the possibility of ‘accomplishments’ despite gross failures in the providing of basic services; all rulers with significant time in power have accomplishments, as sovereignty credits the leader for national achievements. For example, the new UK Home Secretary, installed after his predecessor resigned over the release of hundreds of failed asylum seekers and the release of foreign nationals from prisons, cites the accomplishments of his predecessor, which:
included cutting applications [of asylum-seekers] by 72% and reducing the time it takes to process applications from 22 months to two months: ‘It is just not true my predecessors did not have major achievement.’
The above demonstrates that the achievement of targets requires the cost of undermining the actual process of immigration such that hundreds of unaccounted foreign nationals roam the streets of the UK despite the reduction of time it takes to process asylum seekers through the system. In other words, UK immigration cut off its left arm (quality of processed applications) to save its right arm (number of applications processed).
Despite numerous political scandals for Labour, the claim that ‘Britain is working’, and the statistics to back up the statement, has kept Tony Blair in power for nine years. However, Labour’s political scandals, for which Blair is ultimately responsible as the Prime Minister, are based on institutions increasingly characterized by rejection of the subjective human element. Social institutions in Britain, in the adoption of an economic model of organization and achievement, have forgotten their primary duty: to serve the public interest. This is not to say that all of the UK has fallen victim to this problem, as devolution has allowed the periphery of Britain to formulate its own administrative ethos in education, policing and a variety of other domestic institutions. However, with the majority of the population and economic base of the UK residing in England, political scandals in the core region impact the entire UK periphery.
Political scandals cannot be understood through process-tracing; merely telling the story chronologically does little to say what systemic property is responsible for the unintended consequence of a political scandal. Process-tracing only tells us when a breakdown occurs in a series of events. Moreover, due to space limitations, this article cannot delve too deeply into the political scandal itself. This article sets out to examine the internal characteristics of English institutions in order to test for performancism and learn what performancism entails, in detail, to understand how prioritization of empirical achievement leads to the erosion of public interest. In the examination of the case studies, the researcher discovers systemic flaws within institutions which explain how and why political scandals occur. Specifically, there are two political scandals which inspire this research, one whose effects were salient in the media, that is, the Soham murders, the other whose effects are obscure, but equally damaging to society, that is, the increasing lack of discipline in public schools.
The first political scandal under examination is the dramatic Soham murders which took place in Humberside in 2002. The Soham murders were committed by a school caretaker previously suspected of sexual assault, but whose police record was unknown by school administrators and staff. The second political scandal is the less dramatic, but equally problematic, lack of discipline in English schools such that a deficit of qualified teachers has emerged despite the increases in numbers in the overall number of teachers in the UK. Even while record numbers of teachers are employed, tick-box regimes in the process of teacher qualification have created a significant deficit of teachers. In both of these cases this article argues that government micromanagement of institutions (i.e. the ‘long screwdriver’) has undermined the capability of English society to look after itself through common-sense. Common sense is important for agents to follow when procedure interferes with the primary function of a given institution. Common sense cannot thrive under a bee watching society; however, when political scandals occur, the first solution proposed by government is more administrative oversight to assure compliance. This automatic response to political scandal assumes that government policy is always correct but that workers are just not following procedure well enough. In other words, the case studies will show that lack of staff training is not the cause of political scandal, but rather too many regulations and procedures gum up the process of public servants using common sense to perform their duties.
The hypothesis of this article is that blind adherence to procedure for the sake of increasing quantitative performance undermines the efficacy of public institutions. In order to test this hypothesis, the researcher conducts field research into the police and educational sectors of England. In total, two police divisions from two regional police forces and two high schools in a different region are examined. These case studies take place in the Northern and Southern regions of England respectively. In terms of the police divisions, the researcher interviews 24 police officers on decision making and perceived discretion. In terms of the educational sector, the researcher conducts field research as a participant-observant, that is, a teacher. The researcher expects to find that these two institutions share the characteristic of performancism, as Tony Blair has based his career on achieving targets within the public sector, especially in terms of police and education.
Each case study has a significant anthropological research element. This means that the research depends upon a personal experience that adapts to changing circumstances and accounts for the culture of institutions to add meaning to the results. In this way, the researcher deconstructs the institution to see the smaller components which come together to produce the undesired outcome. In terms of the police study, the undesired outcome is the Soham murders. While it is impossible to go back in time to look at how the institution worked prior to the scandal, it is possible to observe the institution and propose explanations for how such major oversights might occur. Moreover, in the course of this study, the Soham murder trial comes to a conclusion, and so does the hypothesis emerge that a possible cause of the Ian Huntley oversight lies in an administrative culture of performancism.
In formulating a questionnaire and conducting personal interviews with officers, the researcher encourages officers to be critical, but honest, and assures the officers that the study will adhere to the data protection act thereby shielding individual officers from possible scrutiny for negative responses. The status of the interviewer as a researcher adds credibility toward these ends and officers are in general cooperative and willing to give their opinion on what needs fixing in the daily routine of policing.
In the study of the educational sector the researcher becomes a teacher for a fixed period in two different schools. In each of these schools the researcher occupies a position with an ideal vantage point of the school: the music department. As head of music, the researcher learns from the experience of actually being a public sector worker in the UK. This first-hand observation adds an anthropological element to the study which allows for self reflection and subjective judgement. As a self-interested member of the school system, the researcher takes field notes describing the personalized experience of being a front-line worker in the public sector. The primary strength of this approach lies in the first-hand observation of professional individuals and the institution itself. This approach allows depth and meaning to qualify empirical results.
The empirical research of the police and educational studies are thus part observational and part experimental, and therefore, while a variety of causes might affect the decision-maker, causes could not be distinguished from one another simply by looking at the outcomes. The relative strengths of effects do not apply, as political scandals are defined by a sudden and severe lashing out of the public toward the government after a significant blunder. By conducting these two case studies from a reflectivist standpoint, it is possible to formulate a common institutional model which applies cross-institutionally. This means that to find out what is responsible for political scandals, it is necessary to observe the institutions themselves to prove or disprove one common administrative link. The researcher expects to find several causes all of which can be linked to an institutional culture of performancism.
While internal validity is important for a study of micro-institutional behaviour, the greatest strength of this study is its exportability to other public sectors both horizontally, that is, applied to other public institutions, and vertically, that is, applied to higher or lower levels of public administration. In addition, this article opens the door for future research of the UK public sector as there are dozens of major public sectors in which can be examined by the methodology employed in this article.
The study of the police reveals an institutional culture of performancism, which officers define as the need for detailed record-taking, target-setting and the satisfaction of tick-box regimes. The researcher spends one full year conducting 24 one-on-one interviews with officers from two major UK police divisions located in the Northern region of England. Of these 24 officers, six are female and eighteen are male. This study controls for division, rank, sex, age and time served with police. Due to space limitations, these variables will only be mentioned when relevant. Two sections will follow. The first section will detail the events surrounding the Soham murder trial investigation as the revelation of a political scandal involving an alleged mishap in the police administration. The second section will consist of a look at police views in terms of reputation, distribution of resources, discretion, professional standards, visibility policing and the completion of paperwork all of which support a culture of performancism whereby lack of agency guided by moral discretion causes administrative contradictions which undermine the core responsibility of the police: maintaining safety and security in the community.
The Soham Murder Investigation and Trial
Before this case study proceeds into the interviews, which will reveal the causes of political scandals, it is first necessary to discuss the Soham Murders, which are seen as an unintended outcome of an administrative culture of the police lacking discretion among individual officers. The Soham murder trial and subsequent finding that a school caretaker, Ian Huntley, was ‘known’ to the police as a suspected rapist and furthermore that Huntley was given a job at a school despite this fact outraged the British public, as it appeared that Ian Huntley would not have had access to children in the first place if a proper vetting procedure (or common sense) had taken place which would have correlated Huntley’s record of alleged sexual offenses and his desire to work with children. However, as the trial exposed, a proper vetting procedure was in place, and Ian Huntley did not ‘escape the system’, per se, as officers were following procedure which required the striking off of suspects, no matter how many times allegations were filed or the severity of these allegations, from the computer registry that would have crossed referenced with his background check performed as part of the application procedure for working at a school.
Between 1995 and 1999 there were four accusations [against Huntley] of underage sex involving girls between 13 and 15 years of age, three rape allegations and one of indecent assault against an 11-year-old girl . . . The inquiry, which opened on January 13, 2004 and lasted approximately 5 weeks, found that there were indeed critical errors made by police and other organizations involved in the intelligence system.
The guilty verdict against Huntley impacts this study in terms of the openness of officers and the practicality of scheduling interviews with a performance-monitoring department busy with public relations concerning the conclusion of the 17 December 2003 Soham murder trial which found Huntley directly responsible and the regional Police forces indirectly responsible for the deaths of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman. After this date, the two police divisions did not allow interviews for six months during which lack of available officers prevented the scheduling of interviews. The researcher attributes this temporary discontinue of the research to the negative media attention of the police during this period. Moreover, while the Soham murders took place in August 2002, the true effects of the case did not manifest until after the verdict, as Huntley maintained his innocence throughout most of the trial, changing his story throughout.
Thirteen of the twenty-four interviews occurred before the Soham murder trial. Eleven interviews were thus completed after the Soham verdict. In terms of the eleven interviews after the conclusion of the Soham murder trials, officers were less likely to open up or say something ‘off the record’. However, the quality of interviews increased such that when officers did open up, they went into greater depth. The general view of those who spoke of the Soham murders was that if individual officers had had more discretion and had used common sense in judging whether his record should have remained on the computer then the murders might never have happened. Notwithstanding the guilty verdict, interviews remained the same insofar as what the researcher asked the officers. However, it is important to recognize that the result of the Soham murder trial, and the subsequent resigning of a Chief of Police, put the police under great scrutiny. This is a variable for which the researcher was unable to control, except for sticking to the original questionnaire and being aware of the mounting criticism against specific regional police.
In sum, the resolution of the Ian Huntley trial and subsequent investigation into how Ian Huntley ‘escaped the system’ exemplifies the nature of an administrative culture of authority in which officers must defer to official policy over common sense discretion or end up in impossible moral dilemmas that force them to return to the most primitive of moralities: that of self-interest. After all failure to follow procedure, no matter the intention, can lead to losing one’s job. It is therefore in the self-interest of officers beset in a culture of performancism to err on the side of the administrative regime which mandates the control of striking people off registers to individual officers and encourages this practice as part of a policy of deference to human rights. This system creates absurd contradictions between the rational thing to do (striking off a vandalism or shop theft charge) and the irrational thing to do (striking off records of allegations of violence, rape and sex with girls under the age of sixteen).
The variables the researcher found to be most pertinent to the examination of political scandals are listed below. The finding is that officers are self-aware agents with a social consciousness far more capable of good decision-making than an administration regime out of touch with what is going on in the field at any particular time. One might call this finding the ‘Dirty Harry’ hypothesis insofar as the proverbial argument between the police detective and the police chief concludes with an angry detective saying, ‘it all looks good from behind that desk,’ or some variant thereof. In other words, streamlining decision-making at the micro level is not the answer to police blunders; police must have the capability to use common-sense in making decisions, as opposed to fearing for their jobs by not following exactly the newest government policy.
Public Perception of Police
The researcher asks officers what they believe the public thinks of the police institution, where they think the public gets their information to come to this opinion and whether the opinion is correct. Most officers believe that ‘Joe Public’ has a negative view of the police. Words such as ‘poor’, ‘bad’ and ‘awful’ are used frequently to describe the public relations of the police. According to officers, this negative view of the police is correct and there are three causes of this view. The first is the quality of crimes themselves. As one officer puts it, ‘we may solve murders, but if we don’t solve car crime we are . . . ineffective.’ A second concern cited by officers is the location of a police division as predetermining its popularity. For example, in crime-ridden areas, citizens view police as ineffective; in low-crime areas, citizens view police as effective. According to officers, crime-ridden areas tend to be poor neighborhoods and low-crime areas tend to be middle-class neighborhoods. The third reason officers cited for poor public relations is periodic political scandals, such as the Soham murders, which highlight one narrow failing of the police without weighing the overall performance of the police in preventing and detecting crime.
Officers give a common-sense solution to the above problems of poor public relations with the community. Officers express a desire for ‘community policing’, that is, returning the power over the means and ends of police to the community; this would mean that neither the government nor local authorities have ultimate control of the police, but rather Joe Public. The system would not have to change radically to do this; rather, officers themselves, in speaking with the public, would set their own means and ends based policies based on reports filed from individual officers relating to the particular needs of local communities. In other words, if the ‘West End’ in Leicester, for example, notices an increase in shed break-ins, then the community of the West End should be able to allocate more resources to preventing and following up on shed break-ins.
As a natural follow up to speaking about how police should make policy, the researcher asks officers which crimes deserve the most resources and which crimes deserve the least resources. Overall, officers believe that crimes against the person and crimes against property deserve the most resources, while anti-social behaviour and drugs deserve the least resources. Indeed, the Commander of one police division cites the policing of children on the streets as a waste of police resources. ‘People believe that it is a crime for children to be on the streets. They may be a nuisance, but they are not committing a crime just by walking the streets.’ As a lower-ranking officer put it, ‘policing children on motorbikes pleases the masses, but it ignores the real crimes.’ In other words, the British government pursues a war against anti-social behaviour, and as such groups of children coming home from school constitute a social crime as citizens come to associate derogatory words such as ‘yobs’, ‘hoodies’, ‘youths’, etc. with images they see in the media. Seeing these ‘dangerous gangs’ (groups of children) flooding the streets (coming home from school) and engaging in anti-social behaviour (e.g. tipping over rubbish bins) citizens phone the police and expect armies of uniformed officers to escort children from school to their homes. Officers feel that it is wrong to view all children as potential criminals and thus cannot respond to the majority of complaints, which are, in their experience, nothing more than children acting like children.
Officers are as likely to mention the futility of policing drugs as much as the futility of policing children on the streets. As an eight years veteran PC plainly says, ‘decriminalize or criminalize all drugs’. Police feel conflicted over the legal and the social point of view concerning drugs. In other words, while police generally feel that drugs should be decriminalized, they would first prefer a consistent approach to drug addiction by the government, something officers view as addressing the cause, as opposed to the symptom, of the problem. Officers found that time spent on drugs-related offenses consumed the most paperwork and wielded the least results in terms of reducing crime. The common-sense solution to this problem was recognizing the difference between a medical and a social issue, i.e. drug consuming, and a criminal one, i.e. drug dealing. Officers would like to focus more on the latter.
The researcher asks officers whether ‘visibility policing’, a branch of policing whereby officers walk the streets to reassure th public, is more important than policing outside the public eye, which, as officers remind me, is where the majority of policing happens. Officers express frustration at the changing emphasis toward visibility policing. One officer explains that when an officer is in the street it might take ten minutes just to get to a call a few blocks away, while a car can get there in five minutes originating from a three-mile radius. In short, police on foot have a very narrow area that they can cover. Most officers believe that visibility policing is not an effective tool for crime fighting. However, officers acknowledge that visibility policing increases public opinion of the government and thus negotiate with the government for increases in pay and benefits for cooperation in terms of visibility policing.
Overall, officers express contempt at the emphasis of visibility policing and believe the public has a warped perception of effective policing based on government policies aimed at increasing the perception of security as opposed to actual security. One officer notes that visibility policing tends to take place in areas where there is no crime. This officer believes that the reason for this is to make people in crime-free areas feel like their areas are crime-free due to the presence of police, while the police only start to patrol the area due to the crime-free status of the area in the first place. This strategy of visibility policing in areas that do not need police directly contradicts the job of the police to reduce crime. A sergeant notes, ‘if people see us walking about [they think] it’s going to change the world. It’s not going to change the world.’
The Commander which the researcher interviewed believes strongly that if there is no crime in an area then police should not be in the area. The Divisional Commander also expresses the belief that he is powerless to divert resources to more effective areas of policing, despite being the Divisional Commander. An inspector notes that in the last ten years policing has gone from ‘structured policing’ to ‘visibility policing’, meaning fewer officers are actually available for the prevention and detection of violent crimes because officers take on the role of public relations. It was common for senior officers to express contempt at the politicization of their work. For example, officers believed that regardless of the administrative hierarchy, that the most important policing strategy is listening to the community and expending resources to the particular needs of a given policing zone.
A counter argument to this position provides a compelling perspective. A PC with 30 years experience and just six months from retirement argues that visibility policing is the strategy of the old school and that ‘[i]f you have more visible officers on the street, then you have a visible deterrent. If you have visible officers in sight, yobs would disperse and that particular culture would stop.’ The point here is that officers should spend more time on the streets, in crime ridden areas, and less time at the station doing paperwork. However, this experienced officer admits that visibility policing should be a natural product of the police force, meaning that there are so many police that they are naturally overflowing unto the streets. In other words, this officer highlights the absurdity of visibility policing if there is not a large force underneath doing adequate work behind the scenes.
The visibility issue underscores the point that in a culture of performancism public relations are of utmost importance. ‘Saving face’ becomes more important than delivering the services of the organization. While in the corporate environment this policy saves jobs and shareholder equity, in the state system, prioritizing of reputation leads to a deficit in resources aimed at upholding the core values of the institution. In short, visibility policing is fine if seen as something on top of a fully staffed police organization, but the view of officers as a whole is that resources are not great enough to bolster visibility policing without significant sacrifice of actual crime fighting.
Arrest versus Warning
This question determines how officers decide whether to make an arrest or refer the case to social services, or simply have a stern word with someone if they are caught engaging in low level crime, such as shop theft or drugs possession. The researcher asks further whether respect or time ever factors into the decision to make an arrest. Responses are mixed. Officers do not agree on whether they have discretion to make an arrest. Some officers believe that they have no discretion, as policy is clear on when to make an arrest and when not to make an arrest, while other officers believe that discretion over arrest versus a warning is the cornerstone of policing and that the rule should be to give out formal warnings as a crime prevention and cost saving tool especially for non-violent crime. When it comes to violent crimes, all officers agree that arrests are mandatory.
Officers believe that there is pressure to make as many arrests as possible for specific types of crimes in order to indicate rising performance standards in terms of salient political issues, such as petty theft. In this way, officers compare their jobs to parking wardens; performance is rated in terms of violations detected and processed, as opposed to violations prevented. This is partly due to greater reliance on external funds to inflate the budgets of local police. The Divisional Commander, for example, says that on any given day, that out of one hundred crimes, ten are petty theft. Assuming the Commander’s data is correct this means that ten percent of police resources are spent policing citizens who have caused damage to or stolen property worth less than 5 British Pounds. As an eight year PC comments, ‘it costs more to process the crime for shoplifting than the cost of the item, might as well just give the money to the shopkeeper.’ An Inspector serving 15 years with the police believes they ‘have lost the plot in many ways with performance. Performance overrides everything. It’s overriding to the point that it’s destructive.’
As the Divisional Commander says, ‘out of 250 crimes, 17 are burglaries. If burglaries are all that the government is concerned about, that leaves the 233 crimes without the resources to deal with them properly.’ As performance monitoring relies on the detection of petty crime statistics as an indicator of overall police effectiveness, the emphasis on solving crimes such as ‘shop theft’ interfere with the resources aimed at preventing and solving violent crime and burglaries. The significance of petty theft statistics on the arrest versus warning issue is that officers feel compelled to put an individual through the system, regardless of the nature of the crime, in order to meet performance-monitoring targets based on ‘over all reduction in crime’. This means that periodic scandals in the police are more likely as serious offenders are more likely to escape the system.
Too Much Paperwork
The biggest complaint officers have is the amount of paperwork necessary as part of the daily job. Most officers agree that they spend up to fifty-percent of their time in the station doing paperwork. This coincides with a government report that surveyed officers’ diaries in terms of time spent in the field versus time spent in the station. Officers cite the setting of targets as the major cause of increased time the station, as targets require officers to fill out tick box paperwork which constitutes evidence of achievement. Most officers believe that mountains of paperwork prevent the police from going out into the community to learn what is going on in the streets and therefore knowing how better to police specific areas. The overwhelming amount of paperwork of the police leads to irrational policy, such as treating ‘shop theft’ on par with violent crime in terms of police resources.
This section will argue that paperwork and an emphasis on professionalism over vocationalism interferes with quality teaching and actually increases the discipline problem among pupils such that pupils and teachers alike are victims of verbal and physical abuse from children on a daily basis. While some schools excel when it comes to Ofsted, these schools sacrifice staff morale and school wide safety, which leads to a dangerous environment in which the rights of children outweigh the rights of adults such that children are, in the Hindu sense of the word, the ‘untouchables’. This article argues that the government has made this problem worse through its NCLB policy which redistributes educational resources toward schools that refrain from permanently excluding pupils regardless of how serious their behaviour.
The first-hand study of the educational system reveals a system characterized by obsessive professionalism leading to a deficit of social education and a growing systemic disciplinary problem, an institutional culture which believes that a ‘professional standards and learning framework for teaching should have [Qualified Teacher's Status] QTS at its core.’ According to the Blair government, whether administrator, teacher, or support staff, the educational sector requires formal certification and professional standards to define promotion and successful assessment of learning, measured by high scores on standardised tests. While certification of educators is important to assure knowledge of the subject area and basic disciplinary skill sets, a monopolized certificate which testifies as ‘ability to effectively teach’ treats the highly-educated (those with a M.A. or above) as bad teachers. This means that the educational system in England tends to exclude the highly-educated and most experienced in the professional sector. On the other hand, teaching certification tries to fill the gap between adequate knowledge of subject area and work experience outside of teaching. However, as the researcher finds, QTS neither improves discipline in school nor assures adequate knowledge of the subject area. Moreover, emphasis on professionalism and administration in schools has not prevented social education from becoming the worst performing subject according to the 2006 Ofsted report. According to Ofsted, citizenship is the only class in which assessment of teaching and of learning allow for subjective education, such as what it is to be ‘British’.
The education portion of the study takes place between January 2005 and August 2006. During this time, the researcher works full time as a Head of Department (HoD) within two different secondary educational institutions. Extensive field notes are taken in which key events are recorded and reflected upon to formulate principles, which are hypothesized to not only have generalisability to the educational sector, but also the institutional culture of England as a whole. The study of the educational system along with the study of police allows the researcher to gain a more complete picture of performancism in all institutions.
This section will proceed by analyzing the problem with discipline in schools and how this chronic problem has impacted the educational sector. Next, a series of factors which are seen as contributing to this problem are offered with anecdotal cases from the point of view of the participant-observer, that is, the researcher. These factors consist first of an emphasis on professionalism over vocationalism as qualifications for becoming a certified teacher; there is only one official route to teaching which involves a standardized set of criteria that must be fulfilled through a monopolized industry of teaching certification. Next, an examination of how obsessive performance monitoring causes a culture of performancism in which tick box criteria of what constitutes a good teacher and classroom takes precedence over common-sense approaches to the classroom. In other words, the epistemology of what administration agrees makes a good classroom takes precedence over the ontology of reality experienced by teachers themselves.
Professionalism versus Vocationalism
It is an understatement to say that the secondary educational system in the UK emphasizes professionalism. The emphasis on professional, as opposed to vocational, standards affects issues from the way one dresses to the methodology of classroom management. It is not debated that professionalism is at the heart of the educational system. However, this professionalism comes at a cost. With an emphasis on professionalism the benefits of vocational and educational experience are lost.
The emphasis on professionalism, according to veteran teachers (those teachers with at least ten years of teaching experience) is a recent phenomenon. While the advent of state education in nineteenth century France saw the standardization of state-run schools in matters of the core principle of l’étude séculaire, the methodology of the classroom, i.e. pedagogy, was somewhat less developed. Teachers relied on vocational credentials or community standing to place them in a classroom. Indeed, the methodology of teaching draws on all experiences of a human being and the capability for disciplining children stems most from experience and the trial and error between ones personality and the personality of the pupils. Professional credentials became important, as teaching became a vocation. As a vocation, teaching has its own language, culture and common referents in philosophy and literature. Teachers learned a basic skill set in the liberal arts to standardize knowledge and through imitation emulate their past teachers. Still, the vocation of teaching benefits greatly from those who have experience in the ‘real world’. Seen in contradistinction to vocationalism, professionalism is artificial and theory-based.
The above differentiation might seem pedantic, as in common usage the terms profession and vocation are interchangeable. However, the terms are important due to the connotation of work-related experience as inferior to university education. As Emma Lee Potter writes, ‘education Secretary Alan Johnson recently suggested that ‘teachers and politicians should stop talking about ‘vocational’ courses and use the word ‘professional’ instead.’ The differences between these terms are meaningful and important, as it is the consensus of veteran teachers that the emphasis of the UK government in terms of performance monitoring has switched from vocationalism to professionalism.
As professionalism in teaching relies on methodological training based on standardized knowledge, teachers complain that it is difficult to teach because expectations are that one will keep up on the latest trends which seek to throw out the old methods and replace them with the new. As a Deputy Head Teacher said in a curriculum development meeting, ‘how do we know how to teach if we don’t keep up on the latest research?’ Professionalism, therefore, is learning the methodologies codified in academia and applying them in practice in the classroom; in this way, teachers are lab rats, always testing out the newest theories.
Teaching as a profession means that management training lies at the heart of a well-functioning classroom, which leads to a successful and measurable outcome. In short, from a professional perspective, the best teaching is the most efficient administrative management of the classroom. On the other hand, teaching as a vocation relies on heuristics, life experience, instincts, in short, all things prior to entering a classroom that do not involve formal training. Vocationalism emphasizes diversity in the methodology of teaching, relying on trial and error and variation in approaches depending on such unquantifiable factors as the mood of a given class on a given day or hour of the day.
Professionalism is the reality of modern society and cannot be rejected completely. Professionalism at all levels is something that has become an emphasis in teaching and civil service only recently, especially in terms of ‘front-line’ jobs. Front-line jobs are those that put a worker in direct contact with citizen recipients of the public service. For example, in immigration, the front-line is the point of contact between the civil servant determining whether an immigrant has an acceptable application and the immigrant himself; in education, the front-line is the classroom.
Professionalism implements standards for front-line agents to follow in order to standardize procedures, as well as standardize codes of dress and behaviour, including scripted responses to questions. Standardization of procedure is supposed to make things fair for the recipient and remove discretion from lower-level agents. This move strengthens hierarchy and theoretically assures that agents inexorably carry out decisions from the top. This is not to say that in the most professional environments that agents do not circumvent professional standards, but rather that in ‘front-line professionalism’ a high-tension culture exists in which administration obsessively monitor agents on how well they are following operating procedures.
Performance Monitoring Causes Performance Fanaticism
In education, performance monitoring regimes conduct lesson observations and assure compliance on matters from control of space within the school to staff ‘giving their pound of flesh’ for professional development money. While the Senior Management Team (SMT) monitors Newly Qualified Teachers (NQTs) more than other staff, it supervises and scrutinizes all staff through regular ‘liaison’ meetings and formal lesson observations; teachers are also informally watched outside their classrooms by management and are given criticism based on these ‘secret’ lesson observations. Moreover, support staff take copious notes of their observations of classroom dynamics pertaining to the management of ‘special needs’ pupils. This ‘low level’ observation of teachers, while not a formal system for performance monitoring, nevertheless provides written documentation of what happens in a classroom. These notes are reviewed by the SMT. This bee watching culture in schools is often welcomed by parents who are concerned that their children are at risk from potential paedophiles and bad teachers. The media is of course partly to blame for sensationalizing claims against teachers before evidence is presented in court, but the obsessive monitoring also leads teachers to stick so strictly to procedure that they lose sight of common sense approaches to discipline, as they are afraid of offending children by pointing out their bad behaviour. The researcher was verbally assaulted on a regular basis and several incidences of physical assault resulted only in a few days of exclusion of pupils.
Like the police, teachers are performance ‘fanatics’, constantly self-evaluating, evaluating each other and evaluating pupils. Teachers are expected to be role models, security guards, National Curriculum deliverers, statisticians, curriculum coordinators, supervisors, mentors, bookkeepers, accountants, solicitors (in self-representing their own interests due to fear that consultation with the National Union of Teachers will lead to job loss). In short, professionalism in teaching has come to mean a master of all things professional; the job of teaching itself has become only one small part of the job of professional teacher.
In the classroom, however, teaching is ‘classroom management’; teachers are instruments of National Curriculum delivery, but also must deliver the material in a pre-formatted way so that even the order of material presentation has relevance for an administrator’s ‘professional’ opinion. Professionalism requires standardization and standardization requires performance-monitoring. As performance-monitoring increases, so does the need for performancism. With increases in performancism, other problems more basic than teacher qualifications become salient. As alluded to previously, these problems are discipline and punishment in relation to naughty pupils.
Discipline and Punish
Government efforts to micromanage educational institutions have been largely successful as administrators have positioned themselves as compliance enforcers of the latest government policy. While in society the legal system provides representation in the form of solicitors, the educational system relies on parents to act as solicitors for their children; parents are not only the ‘caregivers’, as they are formally called, but also they are awarded primary status in terms of the extent to which a teacher can discipline their children. For example, parents of excluded children tend to object to permanent exclusion. No matter how serious the incident, Head Teachers err on the side of allowing the child back at school when parents ‘make a fuss’. As one administrator reasoned, if schools permanently exclude children for assaulting fellow pupils or staff, they will just go on to take their bad behaviour to the streets. In other words, teachers are expected to contain anti-social behaviour by being the recipients of it.
Statistics from 2002-2003 show that a twenty-four percent decrease in permanent exclusions has taken place since 1997. Moreover, in a 2004 report on teacher shortages, the OECD determined that in the UK teacher shortages are significantly higher than the OECD average. A report based on this finding confirms that low pay, poor working conditions and lack of professional development lead to the poor supply of young and male teachers joining teaching. While pay for teachers compared to other professional jobs is only slightly lower, poor working conditions and lack of professional development are areas of teaching which fall significantly short of other professions. The greatest contributor to poor working conditions for a teacher is the management of perpetual classroom disrupters. Naughty children who remain in lessons decrease morale in the workplace, as teachers and pupils who have been bullied or assaulted must deal with harassment from the same children every workday. A ‘differentiated timetable’ does little to stop repeat offences, as naughty children are still given free time to wonder halls unfettered when they are feeling stressed.
No Child Left Behind (NCLB)
The NCLB policy of the Blair government assures that socially dysfunctional children remain at school, putting other pupils and staff at risk of verbal and physical assault. With persistently naughty children in classrooms, the morale of teachers wanes, as great emotional energy is required to manage children who are taking medication for conditions such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Teachers become social workers expected to deliver the National Curriculum while managing the high highs and low lows of a child on Prozac.
In any job, unpredictable work environments create low morale among workers. Declining teacher morale means that fewer qualified teachers are available. Moreover, human resources in the educational sector conflate qualified, meaning ‘with teaching certificate’, and qualified, defined here as able to effectively discipline and teach kids such that mentally stable children properly develop according to their moral, intellectual and physical potential in correspondence to age and in relation to the subject area. While as many as fifty percent of teachers in England are not ‘unqualified’, teachers with certificates are provided higher administrative status and enjoy more rights and benefits in accordance with the National Union of Teachers (N.U.T.). Certified teachers also enjoy greater job security. Moreover, constant chatter among staff and government about getting more qualified teachers in the classroom, as a solution to the discipline problem, marginalizes teachers with the capability to contribute to learning in ways that a teaching certificate cannot guarantee.
In other words, England depends on teachers without qualification to fill the large gap of officially qualified teachers, but sees these ‘temporary’ teachers as necessary fodder propping up an imperfect institution; QTS rids the system of these vocational teachers and instead replaces them with administrative automatons programmed to tick the proper boxes while ignoring the stark reality of mental and physical abuse and low morale which haunts high an low performing schools alike.
As one teacher writes in a written response to a staff survey, ‘the number of challenging children is growing to the point where more lesson time is spent on discipline and manners instead of teaching and learning.’ This statement epitomizes the institutional culture: the theoretical means toward better society, e.g. NCLB, does so at the expense of education. Also the SMT insists that the achievement and ratings of the school are much higher than the national average (this assessment originates in an Ofsted report that took place in 1992). According to one of the written responses, ‘the number of badly behaved pupils has increased dramatically over the last few years and is a major part of school life.’
Staff Survey: Empirical Validation
Toward the end of the study period, the SMT hands out a staff survey that would prove crucial for the examination of one of the schools at which the teacher worked. Moreover, a write in section makes it possible to examine teacher responses for ideas relating to this research. Forty-nine out of eighty-nine staff members (55.1%), consisting of teachers and teacher’s assistants, participated in the survey. The representative sample is thus high enough to represent a statistically significant study of the institution as a whole. However, there are three problems with the survey. First, the anonymity of the survey is in doubt meaning it is possible that only staff either conforming to or leaving the institution filled out the study. Second, there is a battery of questions that assures the overwhelming amount of issues represented on the survey overshadows single issues. No variables are weighted in the presentation of the survey results. Moreover, a small number of people answering a large number of questions decreases the reliability of any one variable being measured.
For example, a voter cannot be expected to vote for hundreds of political races without the use of a broad heuristic, such as political party affiliation. Third, interpretation of results confuses and obfuscates meaningful analysis of the data. For example, the benchmark performance of 81% as a performance score for the school stems from equal weight given to major issues such as ‘discipline’ and minor issues, such as ‘clarity of development plan.’ This problem is much like the police insofar as shop theft is treated on par with violent crime in terms of police resources. Overall percentages might be high when an individual issue is doing very poorly. This phenomenon is represented below by a chart which indicates the results of the staff survey in terms of worst performing areas in the school.
The above chart is the most telling of all the other data. The chart is consistent with national data. The overwhelming area of concern in the educational sector is school discipline, with seventy one percent of the staff at the school believing that school discipline is an area that needs improvement. One might attribute this opinion to the nature of the position of a teacher, which would seem to always desire more discipline. However, with the implementation of the NCLB policy indicating a national strategy of relaxing discipline and the personal experience of the researcher with extreme verbal and physical outbursts by pupils, with little consequences, it is clear from an empirical and reflectivist standpoint that the educational sector has a deteriorating disciplinary structure. Again, the intervention of parents who believe stories made up by their children compels administration to err on the side of pupils against teachers.
Written Responses Confirm Hypotheses
Staff returned fifteen written responses. Of the fifteen written responses, fourteen expressed concern about pupil behaviour and lack of effective procedures and senior management support for dealing with the worst offenders, including children who verbally and physically assault teachers and fellow pupils. Staff members write that the SMT blames teachers for the bad behaviour of pupils: ‘[t]he key issue is consistency, we need to work together to make a difference, rather than being lectured at as if we’re the ones who were not following the rules!’ The SMT told the researcher on a number of occasions that ‘further training’ is necessary to prevent bad pupil behaviour, indicating that the answer to psychologically aberrant children in the classroom is formal teacher training. While teachers are not psychologists, they are nevertheless left to draw from the one or two university courses they might have taken on child psychology to council deeply disturbed children. The researcher personally experiences random and chaotic behaviour from pupils which greatly impede classroom learning. At morning staff meetings teachers were told to just ‘give them [aberrant pupils or pupils on medication] space . . . if they walk out of your lesson, just let them.’
The line manager, a deputy head teacher, explains that behaviour problems in the classroom are the effect of lack of professional training in the teacher profession. While the researcher has two years experience with the grade level, a university degree in the subject area and vocational experience as a professional, eruptions in behaviour, according to the deputy head, are due to the lack of an official teaching qualification. This verifies earlier statements made in this section about professionalism taking precedence over vocationalism and experience. According to the SMT, years of experience in the classroom and thorough knowledge of a subject area is not enough to ‘manage’ a classroom properly. While this article does not discount the advantage of formal training in terms of classroom discipline, there is no evidence that certified teachers have any fewer incidences of verbal and physical abuse by pupils with severe psychological aberrations indicated by chronic verbal and physical abuse of fellow pupils and staff.
In short, lack of discipline is a systemic problem and therefore cannot be attributed merely to lack of professional training. Discipline was such a problem at one of the institutions that toilet paper and rubbish bins had to be removed from toilets for the majority of the year. This ‘treat the symptom’ approach to discipline at the school deprives the majority of students of basic facilities due to a lack of action against known offenders. As one staff member writes, ‘SMT [Senior Management Team] taking stronger action against consistently poorly behaved pupils is a first step toward a happier working environment.’
In the end, it is the lack of agency given to teachers to exercise disciplinary procedures, not lack of discipline, per se, which contributes to poor working conditions as a teacher. As one staff member writes, ‘many pupils are rude, arrogant and disrespectful . . . the lines of acceptable behaviour have become blurred and unclear . . . this is an issue which greatly affects staff morale.’ The link between low staff morale and lack of discipline is over-determined across schools throughout England. This thesis does not test whether there is a correlation between low staff morale and high pupil achievement, but this exchange would hardly be an acceptable one; education must cultivate high achievement and high staff morale. England has experienced a shortage of teachers over the last ten years, and one possible cause, according to the findings of this study, are poor working conditions. Academic achievement cannot sacrifice society without creating the conditions for the next political scandal involving children not properly dealt with at the level of getting the worst offenders out of reach of victimizing others. In short, criminal behaviour at schools, even if committed by children, should be taken seriously and administration should err more on the side of teachers, rather than accepting fabricated stories by children. This is currently the status quo as experienced by the researcher.
There is a great deal more which needs to be said about the police and educational sectors before a final judgment can be made about their overall effectiveness in British society. What is clear is that despite the accomplishments of the UK in comparison to other countries, England as a region suffers from a culture of performancism. While achievement is something that should underline the domestic policy of any government, raising numbers cannot sacrifice the morale and common-sense of public sector workers dealing with subjective human behavior; all government workers, including teachers, should be protected from verbal and physical abuse. Police should be allowed to use common sense to protect the public from suspected rapists. Of course, more research is necessary to say exactly how this is to be done.
What this article has done is offer some criticism not of the workers in the public sector, but rather of the way the government supports an administrative ethos of performancism to create numbers which support popular idealistic policies, such as the NCLB. For example, the government is idealistic believing that the results of a court proceeding actually determine the guilt or innocence of a party and as such do not keep track of multiple acquittals of serious crime. The government is also idealistic in its formulation of the NCLB policy which takes for granted that all people under the age of 16 are innocent and thus must be given infinite chances in the compulsory educational system, despite exhibiting intimidating or dangerous behavior toward staff and fellow pupils on a regular basis.
A policy of performancism characterizes the institutional culture of England as such high empirical results cited by the government are achieved. However, performancism is a double-edged sword, as deteriorating morale and lack of common-sense decision-making, lost at the hands of professional standards, foster the conditions of political scandals which uncover a deep flaw in the system. The victims are always the public at large and government workers themselves who feel powerless to exercise discretion due to fear of losing one’s job. Performancism not only creates political scandals, it also alienates public sector workers normally supportive of a Labour government which sees the public sector as an essential component of society.
This article falls short of offering a detailed solution to the problems cited. The lesson learned by the researcher is that the knee-jerk reaction to any problem in institutions tends to be more supervision, more professional standards and more training. However, these solutions fail to offer common sense solutions such as allowing officers to spend more resources actually preventing crime, as opposed to increasing public relations, and focusing system resources toward the most serious offenses first and foremost while leaving social crimes to social organizations. In the educational system, it is necessary to permanently expel pupils that regularly exhibit intimidating or violent behaviour; schools must not be given incentives to keep these pupils. Moreover, blaming front-line workers for political scandals is simply another way for the Blair government to avoid blame for implementing these policies in the first place. In short, Britain could take the advice of Theodore Geisel and use fewer bee watchers in its public institutions.
1. The Labour Party, ‘Securing Britain’s Future: Our Policies’.
http://www.labour.org.uk/ourpolicies, accessed 11 October 2006
2. BBC News, ‘How the Deportation Story Emerged’, bbc.co.uk, 9 October 2006.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/4945922.stm, accessed 11 Oct. 2006
3. Caroline Parkinson, ‘Overseas Dentists “Cannot Work”‘, bbc.co.uk, 27 November 2006.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/6177330.stm, accessed 28 November 2006
4. BBCNews, ‘Asylum Backlog Cleared by 2011′, bbc.co.uk, 19 July 2006.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/5193018.stm, accessed 11 October 2006
5. This article cannot overtly reveal the specific regions under analysis as part of an agreement with the police to uphold the data protection act.
6. Rachael Bell, ‘The Disappearance of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman’, CrimeLibrary.com.
http://www.crimelibrary.com/serial_killers/predators/ian_huntley/index.html, accessed 20 October 2006
7. Not all officers agreed with the Commander. One PC with 25 years in the same division believes that even more time should be spent on policing ‘proper yobs’. This officer believes that at the heart of preventing crime is getting youths off the streets, as they are often the drug dealers and perpetrators of muggings and knife crime. Moreover, according to this officer, yobs (unruly male teenagers) were the worst perpetrators when it came to intimidation on the streets.
8. On 19 January 2006, the UK Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, indicated his intention to keep cannabis as a “Class C” drug, thereby downgrading the priority of its policing. This was in line with what the police wanted. BBC News, ‘Cannabis Will Remain Class C Drug’, bbc.co.uk, 19 January 2006.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/4625404.stm, accessed 20 October 2006
9. PA Consulting, ‘Diary of a Police Officer’, Police Research Series, Paper 149, 2001, 1-62.
10. The General Teaching Council for England, ‘Teaching and Learning: the Role of Other Adults’, A Response to Issues Raised by Professionalism and Trust, 2001.
http://www.gtce.org.uk/shared/contentlibs/93802/93125/trust.pdf, accessed 18 October 2006
11. Ofsted, ‘Toward Consensus? Citizenship in Secondary Schools’, ofsted.gov.uk, 2006.
http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/publications/index.cfm?fuseaction=pubs.summary&id=4265, accessed 18 October 2006
12. Emma Lee Potter, ‘Vocation vs. Academic’, SecEd, 29 June 2006.
13. Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), ‘Making Mathematics Count The report of Professor Adrian Smith’s Inquiry into Post-14 Mathematics Education’.
http://www.dfes.gov.uk/mathsinquiry/Maths_Final.pdf, February 2004, accessed 22 June 2006
14. Paul Santiego, ‘Teacher Shortage’, OECD Observer, March 2001.
15. Administration did not differentiate between teachers and support staff on the written responses, so the written views of teachers cannot be compared to support staff.
16. As of 2004-2005, 84,000 children in the UK are still on antidepressants despite medical recommendations that under-18′s should not be given such medication as the effects are not fully known in relation to children. BBC News, ‘Teens “Still Get Antidepressants”‘, bbc.co.uk, 8 February 2006.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/4693072.stm, accessed 20 October 2006
With scholarly interests in international private security, policing, education and the politics of science, Dr. Chapman is currently using a research grant toward field work in England. This field work seeks to further demonstrate the political similarities of volunteer organisations qualified by high stakes up to and including death, e.g. skydiving, martial arts, mushroom hunting (Fine et al. 1996), etc., and public citizenship. Dr. Chapman can be contacted at: email@example.com.