Seminar by David Hartley - 28th October

Professor David Hartley (Oxford) will be leading a seminar for the Critical Education Policy and Leadership RIG on 28th October 2013 at the University of Nottingham. 


Venue: University of Nottingham

Time: 10:00am - 2:00pm

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The intensity and persistence of the fiscal crisis has coincided with a period of reflection in the field of educational administration, management and leadership (Simkins, 2012). Notwithstanding the endorsement of 'autonomy' in England, central control has increased, not weakened (Glatter 2012:564). It is a paradox, one justified by the necessity to provide would-be consumers – once known as parents – with the objective, public and comparable data upon which they can base their rational choice of school. On this logic, the market begets bureaucracy. Other reflections within the wider field of organisation studies have pointed up the recent comings and goings of various management fads (Abrahamson, 1997; Grint, 2008; Nahapiet, 2008; O'Reilly and Reed, 2011). In education, between about 1985 and 2000, the dominant rhetoric was 'rational', complemented by the gradual emergence of 'leadership'. Since 2000, as the economic cycle neared its peak, and as the legitimatory power of rational rhetorics lost their appeal, there have emerged more normative appeals – for example, to distributed leadership, to emotional management, and to 'hybrid' leadership. In the latter days of the Labour government there was even a tendency for politicians to refer to 'we', rather than to 'the government' (Mulderrig, 2011). The Coalition government has continued this line, reminding us that 'We are all in this together'. 

Here a speculation is introduced, but with a view to the past. It is that management theory in education may be on the verge of a code-shift. To explain: historically, rational management  often emerges as a major economic upswing gathers pace, and especially so if it is grounded in economic liberalism. (The rise of scientific management theory after 1910 is a case in point.) Normative rhetorics, however, are more likely to be deployed near the end of a major economic upswing when the technology which had initially given rise to the upswing ceases to provide high productivity-gains, and when rational controls no longer elicit workers' compliance. At this point managers resort to 'softer' appeals in order to motivate workers to be more productive (Abrahamson, 1997). (Witness the rise of human relations management theory in the 1920s before the 1929 crash.) This more normative rhetoric persists beyond an economic crisis until such time as a new political and economic settlement has been agreed or imposed, at which point there is a resumption of a more rational rhetoric. This is not to say that the rational ends and the normative replaces it, or vice-versa: at issue is the variation in the weighting given to each, and why. 

Crises tend to generate debate about how they might be resolved. In the aftermath of the current financial crisis we have not yet had the equivalent of the 1975 Great Debate about education which occurred in the wake of the previous fiscal crisis of the early '70s; and nor in the UK has there yet been a resolution of the political way forward, and of its attendant economic ideology. The policy options are being explored (Lingard and Sellar, 2012), but it remains unclear whether there will be a continuation of a neo-liberal, market-driven, for-profit, 'free for all'; or whether the market will be reined in. In England, there are few signs that education is about to change course: it remains an enticing market for the purveyors of digital technologies, and for would-be 'providers' beyond the public sector. 

Whatever the political and economic ideology which comes to pass, evolutionary economics argues that a new 'social technology' will be required. The history of capitalism has witnessed periods when major new technologies have been installed, attracting massive speculative capital inflows, which result eventually in a financial crisis. In the latest instalment, digital technologies took root in the 1970s, and the economic upswing which they facilitated ended in 2007. In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crash, the institutional and organisational structures of society, so this argument runs, require to be rendered compatible with the new digital technologies which had been installed before 2007. A 'social technology' is needed to complement the material technology. (Similarly, after 1929, educational and corporate structures in the US were made compatible with those of mass-production technologies.) Put differently, a new 'correspondence principle' may now be established: the social relations within educational 'spaces' may anticipate those within highly digitalised work-'places'. 

If history repeats itself, and if the political will is to establish new organisational structures and psychological dispositions which will complement digital technologies, then how shall its realisation be accomplished, or managed? Historical analyses suggest that, towards the end of an economic downswing, stronger rational management rhetorics and practices begin to supplant those normative appeals which had emerged before the crisis, and which were sustained for a while afterwards (Abrahamson, 1997). This time – and this is the central point – the distinction between the rational and the normative may not be so clear as in the past, and may reveal a paradox. This time, the rational discourse might not sound so rational. The state may seek to loosen the structures of a 'mass' education system so as to render them compatible with digital technologies. But this structural looseness comprises 'distribution', 'collaboration' and networking at all levels, isomorphically. The paradox is that this 'collaboration' may need to be rationally managed by the state: 'You will collaborate'.

Upcoming Dates for this event

  • Mon 28 Oct 2013
  • Fri 18 Oct 2013
  • University of Nottingham, , Nottingham

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