During my years of parish ministry, the greatest curse was the cult of managerialism. Church leaders felt that adopting models from the business world would be appropriate in an ecclesiastical setting. Of course, it proved disastrously wrong and has hastened the decline of the church. People were not factors of production, parishes were not factories, churches were not shop windows. Subtlety and nuance were lost in crude number-crunching exercises; returns were submitted as if one could measure the impact of pastoral care, as if one could attach index values to worship, as if one could gauge the dimensions of human relationships. Instead of the church focusing on those things it had done well, the managers talked about data and strategies and aped business leaders in producing charts of those things they had tried to measure.
Schools are suffering a similar curse, the managers believe that everything is measurable that numerical values can be attached to everything. Children are assessed, given standardised tests, given scores. Children become the subject of sheets and sheets and sheets of data.
Completing the data has become an important task for a classroom teacher. On a very frequent basis, column after column of numbers have to be entered into spreadsheets. Failing to complete every required entry will bring a quick email of rebuke, a request that it is done as quickly as possible. From the moment a child enters secondary school, she or he has a predicted grade in each subject. The data is intended to indicate whether or not the child is on course to meet that target. In the columns of the spreadsheets, the minus, equals, and plus signs demonstrate the teacher’s best guess at whether the child will be below, at, or above target.
A wise friend once commented that one could not fatten a pig by weighing it. The truth of the comment is evident in the education system. The process of constant assessment and prediction does not enhance a child’s education anymore than taking the temperature and measuring rainfall changes the weather.
The beneficiaries of the managerial desire for a constant stream of data are not the school students, nor the teachers, but those who provide the software packages to facilitate the furthering of managerialism. Data becomes the focus, time is consumed gathering and interpreting the data; all along, it could have been left to teachers to do their work and make their own judgements. Managers seem to ignore the fact that there are more things in a school than are dreamed of in their philosophy.