Accountability, Values and Schooling
An invited contribution to a UK Social Science Research Council seminar on Accountability in Education, held in 1977 in response to then Prime Minister's James Callaghan's 1976 call for a "Great Debate" in Education. Not up-dated for the website re-publication.
1 I had the benefit of discussion with Tony Becher, Judy Keiner, Heather Lyons before putting pen to paper. Tony Becher, Maurice Kogan and Ian Lister made written comments on the draft version of this essay. None of these people, who were so generous with their time, necessarily agrees with my arguments; none of them has read the final version.
2 In relation to broadcasting. See Report of the Committee on the Future of Broadcasting (Chairman: Lord Annan), Cmnd 6753, RMSO 1977, para 4.11.
3 Rhodes Boyson, The Crisis in Education, Woburn Press, London 1975. The question, how does a relatively uninstructed person distinguish false from true prophets? is an important preoccupation of both French and English political theory in the 18th and 19th centuries. For France, see Robert Darnton, Mesmerism and the End of the Enlightenment in France, Harvard UP, Cambridge, Mass 1968, especially the extract from a paper by Condorcet, pp 189-192. For England, see Sir George Cornewall Lewis, An Essay on the Influence of Authority in Matters of Opinion, John Parker, London 1849. I discuss the question at length in my M. Phil thesis, How is Political Knowledge Possible? (University of Sussex 1978).
4 Central to Boyson's argument is the claim that parents have not changed, and from this follows the necessity of denying that children have changed. In his view, it is only schools which are different, see eg p 13 of his book, op cit.
5 Joseph Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, 3rd edition, George Allen and Unwin, London 1950, pp 250-283, reprinted in Anthony Quinton (Ed), Political Philosophy, Oxford UP 1967.
6 In the case of William Tyndale School, the extent to which managers of a school can be socially unrepresentative can be gathered from Robin Auld, William Tyndale Junior and Infants Schools Public Inquiry, ILEA, London 1976. The evidence there, interpreted in the light of more general knowledge of developments in inner London, seems to confirm the analysis of Barry Hindess, The Decline of Working Class Politics, MacGibbon and Kee, London 1971.
7 Kenneth Arrow, Social Choice and Individual Values, second edition, Yale UP, New Haven 1963. Arrow rediscovered and generalized an inherent limitation of voting (aggregation) procedures, which had first been pointed out by Condorcet in his little read, Essai sur l'application de l'analyse a Ia probabilite des decisions rendues a Ia pluralite des voix, Imprimerie Royale, Paris 1785, and periodically rediscovered ever since. Roughly, if there are more than two choices, no voting mechanism can be devised which consistently represents voters' preferences; it will sometimes produce less preferred to more preferred results. This is usually called the 'paradox of voting'. See Arrow, esp. pp 59-60.
8 Cmnd 6869, HMSO, London 1977, hereinafter referred to asEducation in Schools.
9 See Auld, op cit, and Terry Ellis et al, William Tyndale, The Teachers' Story, Writers and Readers Publishing Co- operative, London 1976.
10 See the account of the functioning of the 11 + in Boyson, op cit, p 57.
11 Education in Schools, op cit, para 3.6.
12 Max Weber, The Theory of Social and Economic Organization, Free Press, Glencoe 1964.
13 Boyson, op cit, p 141.
14 Jurgen Habermas, Legitimation Crisis, Heinemann, London 1976.
15 Compare Boyson: 'The malaise in schools in Britain has followed from a breakdown in accepted curriculum and traditional values. There was little concern about either political control or parental choice so long as there was an 'understood' curriculum which was followed by every school. Schools may have differed in efficiency but their common values or curriculum were broadly acceptable. The present disillusionment of parents arises from their resentment that their children's education now depends on the lottery of the school to which they are directed. Standards decline because both measurement and comparisons are impossible when aims and curriculum become widely divergent. These problems can be solved only by making schools again accountable to some authority outside them. The necessary sanction is either a nationally enforced curriculum or parental choice or a combination of both' (p 141).
16 On the role of the inspectorate, see the interesting letter from Val Arnold-Foster and Sarah Wood, of CASE, in The Guardian, 21 June 1977.
17 On the theory of this in relation to science, see J.D. Ziman, Public Knowledge, An Essay Concerning the Social Dimension of Science, Cambridge UP, 1968. In practice, hierarchies often put obstacles in the way of the progress of knowledge, though not so systematically as to halt it.
18 This seemed obvious to early social scientists who embraced what we should now call social engineering approaches to policy formation and administration, since they were confident that scientific knowledge could be secured about both ends and means. Condorcet, Comte and Saint-Simon fit this bill, though Condorcet has more democratic spirit than the others: see Keith M. Baker, 'Scientism, Elitism and Liberalism: The Case of Condorcet', in Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century, vol LV, Geneva 1967, pp 129-165; and more generally, Leon Bramson, The Political Context of Sociology, Princeton UP, 1961.
19 The Auld Report, op cit, is instructive in this connection. See, for example, paras 346-351 (pp 109-111)
20 Often it is scientific, which is not to say it is without shortcomings, such as biases in the research design. But all science is open to misuse, and this is what will happen to educational research in a crisis situation, especially where its shortcomings match social prejudices. See the reception of Neville Bennett's Teaching Styles and Pupil Progress, Open Books, London 1976.
21 Reported in the Times Educational Supplement, 18 March 1977.
22 Marx takes great pleasure using this argument in his 'Comments on the latest Prussian censorship instruction', in Lloyd D. Easton and Kurt H. Guddat, Writings of the Young Marx on Philosophy and Society, Doubleday, New York 1967, pp 67-92.
23 To intrude a personal concern, I do think that the commitment given in Education in Schools to discriminate 'in favour of children who are under-privileged for whatever reason' (para 1.13) ought to be followed by legislation outlawing compulsory school uniform or by large increases in school clothing grants. For whatever the intentions, schools which impose school uniform requirements discriminate against 'under- privileged' children, as the Child Poverty Action Group has argued.
24 Quoted in the Times Educational Supplement, II February 1977, p 3.
25 Charles Stevenson, 'Persuasive Definitions', in Mind, 1938.
26 Quoted in Pauline Gregg, A Social and Economic History of Britain, 1760-1963, 4th edition, Harrap, London 1964, p 247. G.M. Trevelyan observes, 'It was characteristic of the two nations that whereas the German people already enjoyed good schools but not self-government, the rulers of England only felt compelled to 'educate their masters' when the working-men were in full possession of the franchise. It was felt that for so important a purpose as voting for Parliament, if for nothing else, it was good that a man should be able to read' (British History in the Nineteenth Century and After, 1782-1919, new edition, Longmans, Green and Co, London 1937, p 353).
27 See the further quotations from Sir Robert Lowe in Gregg, op cit, p 508.
28 See Ivar Berg, Education and Jobs, The Great Training Robbery, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth 1973,
29 Roy Edgley, 'Education for Industry', in Educational Research, November 1977.
30 Habermas, op cit, especially chapter 7
31 In the period that I am writing this, ILEA has cut off its grant to White Lion Free School, which has had to be rescued by the National Association for Mental Health.
32 Education in Schools, para 3.6, refers to the work of the Assessment of Performance Unit and says that it is concentrating at present on the development of tests suitable for national monitoring in English language, mathematics and science. The emphasis is revealing. The original intention of the APU was to assess six areas of curriculum; the verbal, mathematical, scientific, ethical, aesthetic, and physical. The last three are taking second place in the APU's work, not just because of the intrinsic difficulties of assessing them but also because of political decisions which have been taken. See the interesting article on the APU by Martin Leonard, 'Art of the Impossible?', in the Times Educational Supplement, 17 June 1977, p 19.
33 Habermas, op cit, especially chapters 4 and 5.
34 Compare the numerous post mortems on British incomes policy.
35 As reported in The Daily Telegraph, 22 July 1977, p 6.
36 See, for example, Kenneth Arrow The Limits of Organization, Norton, New York 1974.
37 W.B. Gallie, 'Essentially Contested Concepts', in Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 1955-6, pp 167-198. Gallie says, 'there are concepts which are essentially contested, concepts the proper use of which inevitably involves endless disputes about their proper uses on the part of their users' (p 169, my italic).
38 I argue that a need for participation exists in 'The Experience of Politics', Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 1973, pp 547-560, though I do so in an anthropological rather than historical manner, which is inadequate.
39 There is a fascinating account of this in Frances Yates, The Art of Memory, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London 1966.
40 The existence of a second dimension of power has been identified and theorised by Peter Bachrach and Morton Baratz, 'The Two Faces of Power', in American Political Science Review, 1962, pp 947-952, and also in their Power and Poverty, Oxford UP, New York 1970. The existence of a third dimension of power is argued for in Steven Lukes,Power, Macmillan, London 1974 (revised edition 1976).
41 Op cit, note 40
42 Op cit, note 40
43 Lukes, op cit, p 24.
44 J.S. Mill, Inaugural Address delivered to the University of St. Andrew's, 1 February 1867. Longmans, Green and Co, London 1897
45 See Rachel Sharp and Anthony Green, Education and Social Control, A Study in Progressive Primary Education, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London 1975. They show how the definition of children as 'having problems' easily turns into the denial of opportunity to those who have been defined as unable to benefit from it.
46 I feel free to make this comparison, having elsewhere done my bit on behalf of a Welsh nationalist cause (in Television and the February 1974 General Election, British Film Institute, London 1974).
First published on this website 2006 following the text of the version published at pages 61 - 94 in Tony Becher and Stuart Maclure, editors, Accountability in Education (Windsor: National Foundation for Educational Research Publishing Company 1978). Copyright SSRC [Social Science Research Council]
In this paper I argue that preferences among different possible forms of accountability in education relate to and serve different orderings of socially-available values. I distinguish five such values and for simplicity treat each as if it was the only value governing the choice of accountability procedures. On this basis, I try to show what procedures will be preferred, why and with what consequences. Though my discussion is not, I hope, unreal, I do not discuss combinations of accountability procedures in relation to combinations of values (which is how we find things in the real world), for I wish to emphasise the distinctive nature of each value and of its possible translations into forms of accountability.
The five values I distinguish are these: schooling (which I use interchangeably with 'education' for the purposes of this paper) should (A) respond to parental preferences; (B) use public resources efficiently; (C) allow teachers professional freedom; (D) meet the requirements of society; and (E) satisfy children's needs. As for accountability, this is a concept distinct from that of responsibility, as Mary Warnock has urged in a different context2 where she distinguishes the accountability of an institution to another institution, with legal or quasi-legal authority over it, from the responsibility which an institution may owe or feel it owes to those it affects, but where those affected do not, directly, exercise authority over it. In the real world, the accountability which an institution owes fuses insensibly with the responsibilities which it feels, and this should be kept in mind in reading my paper, which concentrates on the accountability end of the spectrum.
In the exercise and performance of all powers and duties conferred and imposed on them by this Act the Secretary of State and Local Education Authorities shall have regard to the general principle that, so far as is compatible with the provision of efficient instruction and the avoidance of unreasonable public expenditure, pupils are to be educated in accordance with the wishes of their parents
1944 Education Act, Section 76
In the present context, I take 'parental choice' to mean that parents should be able, collectively or individually, to determine the general character of the education which their children receive in maintained schools in relation to curriculum, method of teaching, discipline etc. On this interpretation of 'parental choice' there are no existing institutions in the public sector of education which provide for the direct translation of parental wishes into educational practice, subject even to the constraints specified in the 1944 Act as quoted above. Yet it is plainly possible to create mechanisms, such as voucher systems or the democratic election of school boards (an expression I use to avoid the cumbersome 'managers or governors'), which would give parents considerably more power than they have at present to translate whatever wishes they have into reality. Voucher systems and democratically elected school boards are possible mechanisms for making schools accountable to parents for whatever parents wish schools to render them account. We do not have the mechanisms because we reject parental choice as an overriding or even an important value, and this is simply a consequence of a history in which the claim of market mechanisms or democratic procedures to govern central areas of our existence has been rejected. Instead the State has successfully developed extensive activities which take place outside the marketplace, and the State has developed as a representative government: Parliament has conceded much to what nineteenth century liberals called the 'numerical principle', but it has not conceded it dominance. Our practice remains faithful to the aspirations of John Stuart Mill's Representative Government, not Rousseau's Social Contract. And where nineteenth century liberalism perfected the case for representative government, twentieth century social democracy has entrenched the case for extensive state activity, the 'mixed economy'. Both together made provision of education a central part of the state's activity. The private education ghetto reflects the relegation of market principles to a secondary role in education, and the purely token representation of elected parents on school boards, as also the auxiliary functions of parent-teacher associations (as fundraisers, etc.), indicates that recognition of the numerical principle is only a concession.
If parents were successfully to assert that schools should be accountable to them, through the obvious mechanisms I have indicated, they would have to throw overboard the inherited cultural-ideological baggage alluded to in the previous paragraph. That would involve them in arguments at least one of which seems particularly relevant to my discussion.
In our practice in relation to the government of education, there is still embodied a theory which may well seem culturally outdated, even offensive when put in the terms in which it was developed in the nineteenth century, and employed explicitly for much of the present century. That theory held that if education was to have - as it should - a progressive, civilizing function, as opposed to a non-progressive, merely socializing one, then power to determine its contents and forms must rest with those who had reached the higher eminences of the achieved level of culture, not those still engaged on the fatiguing climb, or happily encamped at the bottom. Since most parents are at the bottom, it follows that educational power cannot rest in their hands, unless it can be shown that they are best able to see the summits, know how to get their children there, and want to do so.
Now the general break-up of faith in progress and in the existence of non-relative values makes this position impossible any longer to rationalize, which leads those whose practice still commits them to the old theory either to silence or to purely verbal substitutions, such as the replacement of the nineteenth century�s 'civilizing purposes' with our positivistic 'socializing functions', which will not, however, do the job required.
For those with no faith in 'progress' and 'absolute values' it is easy to justify market and democratic forms of educational accountability, since they no longer recognize the existence of summits which they have yet to climb. For those who retain the faith, it is difficult but not impossible to believe in parent power, as Rhodes Boyson has shown. He takes the view that parents, though not themselves representatives of the higher culture out of which further progress will come, are qualified and eager to recognize those who do stand high (though not very high) above them and are able to detect the false prophets among the true3 . In this way, he is able to combine a belief in market accountability with adherence to traditional values.
Boyson's way of reconciling belief in the traditional values with parental power will, of course, be unacceptable and unnecessary to those who take their stand with twentieth century relativism, and my general feeling is that the long term factor working to push up parental choice on any list of educational values is the breakdown of the old hegemonic value system, and its replacement with patterns of preference which are perceived as merely personal and subjective.4
But commitment to value relativism is not a sufficient condition of a belief in parental power, any more than it is a necessary condition. A relativist can dispute the assumption, which has tacitly been made, that parental wishes or choices are or would be original or non-derivative - that is, in some sense genuine. Just as Schumpeter argues that the political values held by citizens are outputs from the political system, not inputs to it,5 so parental preferences could be argued to be creatures not creators of a system. To privilege parental preferences would then merely represent a confirmation of the power of those institutions or constellations of influence which had created those preferences in the first place, and a relativist could consistently give that as a reason for refusing to take parental preferences at face value. (The believer in progress is most likely to find in parental preferences a demand that their own educational experience be repeated on their children, a demand which - to use a favourite Victorian expression - would reduce society to a state of 'Chinese stationariness').
So both the believer in progress and the relativist can find arguments to bring for and against claims for according parental choice a high place among the values education is supposed to serve. There are other possible arguments, and two other negative ones deserve mention here. First, a sociologically-minded critic would point out that democratic values are rarely realized in class and status divided societies, even where the necessary legal mechanisms exist, and this because of variations in political participation rates. So if we had elected school boards, they might well be legally representative yet not at all socially or politically representative. And if we had direct democratic government of schools, through parents' meetings, they would not be representative either. In other words, formally democratic procedures can create or leave unrepresented minorities, and even majorities, just as much as existing systems for the appointment of school boards6. Second, a logically minded critic would use Arrow's general possibility theorem7 to show how even a voucher mechanism could not consistently represent parental choice where more than two choices are available.
These are not decisive criticisms: they serve only to indicate some of the dimensions along which we might argue about the weight to be accorded to the value of parental choice, and hence of accountability to parents.
Efficient Use of Public Resources
Education, like any other public service, is answerable to the society which it serves and which pays for it.
- Education in Schools,
A consultative document, para 1.58
To measure the efficiency of resource allocation requires a prior specification of performance or output objectives. This is as true for schooling as for soap powder. In an educational system where determination of objectives was effectively delegated to individual schools, the assessment of efficiency had to be correspondingly individualized. In British educational practice this is where, so it seems to me, the Inspectorate fitted in; for it was able to offer assessments of efficiency which took into account a school's own specification of its objectives. Theoretically, an unholy row might be going on about the aims of a school, but the national or local inspectorate could remain above it, confining itself to study of and advice about the means-end relationship. There are elements of this in the relation which the ILEA inspectorate had to William Tyndale Junior School.9 In general, like exhibits in a horticultural show, schools were judged good or bad of their kind, but not all of them were expected to be apples.
This is an oversimplified account, and a number of modifications are required to approximate it to reality. Notably, there were fewer actual differences than the system theoretically permitted since there existed mechanisms, formal and informal, through which schools were made much more alike: appointments policies; managerial and parent pressure tending in a common direction; the occasional open bust-up; and, notably, public examinations.10 Yet I want to argue that the oversimplified picture was useful to both teachers and inspectors, since it justified a practice with which both were reasonably satisfied. This can be seen if we look at a phenomenon which seems anomalous if it was indeed the case that inspectors were mainly concerned with the subjective and qualitative11 judgement of efficiency in relation to individualized systems of ends.
That phenomenon is, or was, the absence of explicit, written-down policies, objectives, targets or plans in most schools. If schools were autonomous and valued their autonomy as a means of creating difference, would they not have stressed this in written formulations? Is their lack of explicitness compatible with the thesis being argued? The answer to these questions can be made by employing distinctions drawn by Weber12: schools had goals, but they were expressed in traditional terms (ritual, routine, implicit understandings) rather than rational-legal ones (aims, objectives, rules, regulations). No doubt this was connected with the actual existence of an educational consensus, the breakdown of which Rhodes Boyson laments13. Now this traditional mode of operation increased the power of both teachers and inspectors. In the case of teachers, it made it difficult for them to be held to account by parents or managers with whom it was possible, if desired, to pursue a 'catch us if you can' game. In the case of inspectors, it required of them a hermeneutic understanding of the schools, the efficiency of which they were assessing. They could not do their job with a standard inventory, but had to engage in the kind of interpretation at which only insiders can be really adept. I suggest that this put them at a distance from their political masters, at both local and national level. That we still have Her Majesty's Inspectors, not DES Inspectors, may be symbolic of this. Education, like medicine and the law, had its mysteries to which teachers and inspectors were privy, and parents and politicians were not. Politicians were dependent on their inspectors to interpret to them these mysteries, the secret garden. There was no question of their barging in on something they could not fully understand, even when the value in question was such an eminently rational one as efficiency.
This is now changing: as Education in Schools puts it, 'Growing recognition of the need for schools to demonstrate their accountability to the society which they serve requires a coherent and soundly based means of assessment for the educational system as a whole, for schools, and for individual pupils' (para 3.3). Now I suggest that this change, ironically enough, has been made possible14 by the 'legitimation crisis', to use Jurgen Habermas' expression, in which some teachers' own acceptance of the traditional curriculum and values has crumbled, and in which the traditions have been challenged to justify and rationalize themselves. This has permitted the politicians to intervene legitimately and on an equal footing, something those same teachers never desired15. For the breakdown of a traditional consensus constitutes not only a sort of desacralization, but also re-equalizes rights to contribute to argument. There are no longer self-evident specialists. In other words, when the priests have doubts, then is the layman free to make his intervention again, of which history affords numerous examples. Congregationalism is analogous to demands for parent power, and where in the seventeenth century demands were heard for the cashiering of kings, now it is for the cashiering of teachers. In the present conjuncture politicians have emerged principally as flag carriers for the fourth value in my initial list, (i.e. 'meeting the requirements of society' ) and so I shall have something to say about them when I discuss that.
In summary: efficiency as a value would have been less important if there had been no traditionally-expressed consensus, and the inspectorate has derived its importance from its ability to assess efficiency against unwritten standards. Efficiency was the only value for which politicians felt able to demand accountability. Inspectors have consequently enjoyed considerable independence, and schools have felt more accountable to them, perhaps, than to anyone else. In this way, schools have been held accountable to inspectors.
It is consistent with and indeed part of this analysis that the role of the national and local inspectorates has become increasingly advisory. For if it can be ruled out that schools are willfully inefficient or hopelessly incompetent, then by definition they are committed to being efficient, and must rationally be willing to accept advice on improving their efficiency, advice which the inspectorate has been able to offer16.
The Professional Freedom of Teachers
The type of freedom claimed by teachers is professional freedom. Just as the doctor claims the freedom to treat the patient according to his or her own best judgment, formed in relation to available knowledge, technology and resources, so the teacher claims the freedom to teach the pupil. In both medicine and teaching, as in science, recognized hierarchies of knowledge and status define who is best qualified to decide in case of conflict over what constitutes the appropriate course of action17.
This notion of professional freedom is acceptable so long as the ends or different ends being pursued are not generally contested, and can co-exist, if diverse, without creating a pressing awareness of incompatibility. If there was no consensus on the meaning of health and cure, then doctors would not be able to make the claims to professional freedom which they do. The same applies to teachers. More strongly, once the ends are agreed it is rational to institutionalize professional freedom, for that is only to grant what is the due of expertise, and professionals are simply experts in the means required to achieve given ends18. In the consensual situation, the extent to which, for example, a school board can hold teachers or a school to account for its performance is strictly limited, since by definition its members are not expert and can at best only claim to be able to identify cases of gross incompetence, gross inefficiency and plain corruption - and even here they may well feel constrained to rely on the advice of the head teacher or an inspector.19
As for accountability, where the value of professional freedom thrives the notion and practice of intra-professional accountability will thrive too, though the fact that teaching has never achieved this to the degree that law and medicine have indicates that neither consensus nor professionalism have been so strongly developed in teaching as in these other occupations.
When the ends of education cease to be consensual, and differences can no longer peaceably co-exist, becoming territories to defend or attack, the claim to professional freedom logically collapses. For in such a situation there is no longer a neutral professional practice dealing in expertly-assessable means.
The contrast which is being made here will appear over- simplified, though just as teachers have an interest in exaggerating their professionalism, so in a crisis of values, politicians and parents have an interest in painting the consequences for professionalism more bleakly than is really warranted. In practice, means and ends are not so sharply distinguished as I have painted them: 'ends' are rarely simple matters of subjective preference, and 'means' are rarely neutral techniques. Even in a crisis situation, teachers can claim some special competence: they can claim to know something about what ends it is possible to pursue within the school system; they can point out that the miracles expected of them do not come cheap; and they can claim to understand something about the relation of secondary ends (e.g. teaching basic skills) to primary ends (e.g. meeting the child's needs). Most importantly, a good part of current disputes concerns not conflicting ends, but whether means alleged to be effective in reaching agreed ends are actually so, a dispute which could be eminently scientific.20
Nonetheless, the collapse of agreed values - the legitimation crisis again - has put teachers on the spot, and put 'professional freedom' in danger of being relegated to the fourth division of values. It is not surprising, therefore, to find teachers actively suggesting new forms of accountability which are effectively proposals for more effective and responsive forms of intra-professional accountability than have hitherto been used, though there are plainly limits beyond which they cannot go. Thus, at the time I write this, politicians are putting the question of getting rid of dud teachers on the agenda (Education in Schools, paras. 6.36-6.39) - something teachers could scarcely do themselves.
In this context, we can appreciate proposals like Margaret Maden's21 for CNAA-style validation of school plans which would be drawn up internally by each school showing targets, curricula, teaching methods, resources, etc., and arguing out the relations conceived to exist among the elements of the plan. This is a particularly interesting idea, and the borrowing of an approach from higher education strikes me as significant. For it ties the disputed idea of teacher-control to the still consensual value of academic freedom. This is legitimate, since teachers are plainly involved to some degree in the same line of business as academics - the transmission of knowledge, over the production and dissemination of which it would be irrational to introduce formalized administrative and political controls, since that would require of politicians and administrators that they know better than those who are defined as those who know best.22 But the proposal's weakness is that it takes no account of the important fact that schooling is universal and compulsory, whereas higher education is selective and voluntary. Is it really enough for one group of professionals to certificate another group of professionals to practice their skills on children who have little or no say in whether they wish those skills to be exercised on them, and whose parents have as little say, too? Furthermore, schooling is not only about the transmission of knowledge, but also about the civilizing, socialising, or controlling of a new generation. Could a CNAA-style panel successfully legitimise a claim to deal authoritatively with the non-intellectual aspects of schooling, such as discipline regulations?
In reality, such proposals as Margaret Maden's seem to have come too late. Traditional forms of intra-professional accountability have ceased to satisfy, and critics will not be satisfied with more rigorous versions of the old mechanisms. This is partly a dissatisfaction specific to teaching, but partly belongs to a more general movement of distrust of autonomous professional groups, including lawyers and doctors. Individuals do their own conveyancing and defend themselves in court cases; the Women's Movement has developed a critique of doctors and started alternative forms of medical practice. As these examples should make clear, these criticisms cannot always be associated with traditional right-wing and left-wing political positions: some of them hark back to traditional self-help doctrines; all of them dissent from the social democrat's confidence in the State. Of course, there are critics whose positions are typically right- or left-wing, especially in relation to schooling. Thus on the one hand, we have those who argue that teachers have abandoned their own previous good standards, to which the rest of us allegedly remain attached. On the other hand, it is argued that teachers retain a typical professional attachment to barbaric practices no longer acceptable to lay people, such as their retention of corporal punishment, uniform23 and curricula which stereotype children into traditional sex roles.
In conclusion, this section has relied on fairly intuitive notions of 'professional freedom'. I suggest that a useful research project would concern itself in analyzing and differentiating varieties of professional freedom, the sorts of arguments which can be advanced for each of them, and the kinds of accountability procedures which would put them out of existence.
Whether or not it is found that standards have remained constant, risen or fallen over some past period is less important than whether the standards which are being achieved today correspond as nearly as possible to society's needs
- DES Guidelines
for the regional conferences
of the Great Debate24
The speech [by the Prime Minister at Ruskin College, October 1976] was made against a background of strongly critical comment in the Press and elsewhere on education and educational standards. Children's standards of performance in their school work were said to have declined. The curriculum, it was argued, paid too little attention to the basic skills of reading, writing and arithmetic, and was overloaded with fringe subjects. Teachers lacked adequate professional skills, and did not know how to discipline children or instill in them concern for hard work or good manners. Underlying all this was the feeling that the educational system was out of touch with the fundamental need of Britain to survive economically in a highly competitive world through the efficiency of its industry and commerce
- Education in Schools, para. 1.2
The interpretation of 'social needs' is no more, and probably much less, consensual than the interpretation of the other educational values we have considered. For in practice its meaning is not established by argument, but by the authoritative definition of the State. The epigraph to this section from Education in Schoolsillustrates this splendidly: education has been criticized for all sorts of reasons, apparently from numerous different standpoints. The Green Paper disabuses us: all along, you know, you have really been feeling 'that the educational system was out of touch with the fundamental need of Britain to survive economically'. And this is not just a persuasive definition in the philosophical sense, 25 but an authoritative one, for it is a definition on which Government intends to act and has the ability to act.
In the nineteenth century the State defined society's needs primarily as a need for citizens. As everyone knows, universal compulsory education was introduced after the second great Reform Act of 1867. Its citizen-forming purpose was immortalized by Sir Robert Lowe: 'Educate your Masters'.26 Today the definition has radically altered and society's needs are defined principally as a need for workers, a concern largely absent from nineteenth century political debate.
For the purpose of this paper there is no need to document the emphasis being placed on education as a preparation for working life; one has only to readEducation in Schools. Parents plainly regard education as the principal determinant of job prospects; politicians have sought to make it so - here they again differ from their predecessors27; employers complain about the failure of schools to produce workers competent in the required skills. However, the volume of and stress placed on these positions should not lead us into assuming that each party is making a correct judgment.
For instance, while parents are more or less right, individually, in thinking that if their children achieve higher standards in core subjects then their job prospects will be improved, collectively this does not hold, for a fallacy of composition is involved in the transition from individual to universal case. If job opportunities are relatively fixed in number and distribution and determined by the semi-autonomous and slow development of the economic system (and leaving aside policy-created unemployment), then if all children achieve higher standards all that can happen is that either employers raise job qualifications all round (as in the USA)28 or they resort to non-meritocratic selection criteria (jobs for the boys).
Again, individual employers may be right in protesting the lack of skill displayed by school leavers, but it can also be true that overall there is a secular trend towards a deskilling of work, job requirements becoming increasingly polarised between very high and very low skill jobs. Roy Edgley summarizes some of the evidence which points this way in a recent paper29. Even if it is not the case that work is being deskilled, a belief that it is may be involved in pupil perception of the world of work. For there do exist 'reluctant learners' who justify their opposition to school in terms of the pointlessness of learning what they are taught. Habermas categorizes such phenomena as belonging to a general 'motivation crisis'30, pretty obviously connected to phases of economic crisis and which in Britain's case are chronic rather than acute, with the dole queue the certain destination of a proportion of school leavers. Youth unemployment may be small percentage- wise, but it has a ripple-effect impact on morale. It is all very well forEducation in Schools to list as an aim of education 'to help children to appreciate how the nation earns and maintains its standard of living and properly to esteem the essential role of industry and commerce in this process' (para. 1.19, v), but this is not a lesson anyone can teach young people who think that they are destined not for industry and commerce but unemployment, or even for what were called, when I worked in the Youth Employment Service, 'dead-end jobs', to the elimination of which we looked forward. Some school leavers might have to put up with such jobs; we did not consider it our business to make them esteem them. But that was a dozen years ago.
Rhodes Boyson seems to me entirely wrong in denying the existence of a motivation crisis among pupils, other than one brought about by the schools themselves. He has to take this position since he also takes the view that parents have not changed, but only the schools.Education in Schools also makes light of the 'lack of motivation and uncooperative attitudes displayed by some pupils' (para. 2.16), but these seem to me of quite fundamental importance. Partly, we do not adequately understand them; partly, we are reluctant to face up to them, since we realize that their resolution (as opposed to their repression) may lead us outside the range of policies we are prepared to consider - a range which threatens to get more, not less, restricted.31
Unfortunately, I must leave such issues aside, and return to the current advancement of 'society's needs' as a value to be served by schooling, for this emphasis explains many of the most important new forms of accountability being canvassed, such as a government-defined core curriculum and government~administered national testing or monitoring in specified subjects at various ages32. Some of the connections are fairly obvious. A government can no more have an active manpower policy without predictive knowledge of and ability to influence the qualifications which school leavers will have, than it can have a rational teacher training policy without a registry of births. If the analogy serves to raise a grim smile, it may also introduce some remarks on the possible limitations of accountability procedures designed to permit the implementation of labour market policies. (Though these procedures are not designed for this purpose alone).
My first and central question is this: Are we witnessing an overestimation of the possibilities of central planning? My second question is: Is an extension of political and administrative power, through the activation of existing legal rights (Education in Schools, para. 1.14, iii), being proposed in response not to a crisis of administrative rationality, but to a crisis in belief (legitimation) and motivation which cannot be solved by administrative means?
My answers to the two questions are interconnected. Habermas uses the expression 'rationality crisis' to refer to the systematic failure of an administrative system to produce the required quantity and quality of rational decisions.33 He has in mind, for example, the apparent inability of governments to translate the theoretically simple Keynesian stabilizing strategies into effective economic management policies. Not only have grandiose National Plans had to be abandoned, but even more limited, expert- formulated wage and price policies have had to be ditched in favour of ad hoc coercion, political bargains, compromises and understandings.34 Habermas' explanation is partly in terms of the inherent limitations of administrative rationality as such; partly in terms of the workings of uncontrolled forces outside the power of individual governments (such as the level of oil prices); and partly in terms of the political resistances which supposedly neutral, technocratic policies create, and which administrative procedures are unable to process.
This general argument of Habermas seems to me relevant to the appraisal of the kinds of national educational planning- through-accountability-mechanisms which are being proposed. For these are also vulnerable both to the impact of autonomous economic and social developments which they cannot control (such as crisis-enforced educational cutbacks in which the Assessment of Performance Unit may be an early victim!) and to political resistances: the day that the Secretary of State puts on the agenda the question of getting rid of incompetent teachers, the General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers warns her that she is 'entering a minefield'.35
Political resistances will be that much stronger to the degree that the government is reacting not to failures, internally or externally recognized, of its own administrative system, but to a crisis of belief and motivation arising independently of actions by the administration. Now it seems to me that the government is reacting to such an external crisis, and is advancing the value 'social needs', to be pursued through core curricula and national monitoring, as a means of resolving that crisis. I suggest that this underestimates the actual autonomy and rationality of the belief and motivation crisis, and cannot possibly resolve it, though it may suppress it. Maladjustment, truancy, vandalism and radical educational innovations (which are often only reactive crisis-avoidance adaptations) will not go away because government enforces a core curriculum and national monitoring of standards in the interests of British industry, or for any other motive. If there really is a deep-seated crisis of motivation and belief, the effect of the political and administrative measures being proposed may only be to increase conflict at the classroom chalk face; and to deepen antagonisms between teachers, government and parents, and within the teaching profession itself. In the crudest terms, the list of aims which Education in Schools hopes that 'the majority of people would probably agree with' (para. 1.19) may just not be consensual enough for the most relevant groups - parents, teachers and pupils. To return to the analogy with British economic policy, governments are prone to launch policies on the assumption that they are broadly supported (and they may even have reason to suppose this from opinion polls and the like). But then trouble develops, the government calls on us to stand up and be counted - and we all remain sitting down. I am not saying that governments should avoid political battles; far from it. I am saying that governments seem to be naive about the extent of agreement which they can achieve or enforce by administrative means. Nor do government systems learn rapidly from mistakes, so that the tragedies of history have plenty of opportunity to return as farce. The above discussion leaves aside the larger question of whether in principle administrative systems can meet the increased demands which are now likely to be placed upon them. Yet this is relevant too. I do not know enough about organization theory to enter into this; I only know of arguments to show that the bounds of possible administrative rationality are quite limited.36 Fortunately, it is the task of other contributors to consider whether the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and I do not enter into the topic here.
The schools available for an area shall not be deemed to be sufficient unless they are sufficient in number, character, and equipment to afford for all pupils opportunities for education offering such variety of instruction and training as may be desirable in view of their different ages, and aptitudes, and of the different periods for which they may be expected to remain at school, including instruction and training appropriate to their respective needs.
- 1944 Education Act, section 8 (i)
Where society's needs are stressed in the epigraphs to the previous section, the 1944 Act quoted immediately above is committed to the value of the needs of the individual child, which is an expression of a traditional, liberal, regard for the individual as the end which policy must serve, not the means to the furtherance of some other policy goal. This regard endured in official educational thinking at least up to the Robbins Report (1963) and the endorsement of its proposal to gear the expansion of higher education to student demand for it rather than to manpower needs. In this section I want to consider, and reassert, the value that education should satisfy or meet children's needs.
Of course, the interpretation which is given to 'children's needs' is disputed and, perhaps, essentially contested.37But I do not think that the concept is necessarily useless for purposes of rational argument or social scientific research. It need not be a non-operational, merely 'boo-hooray' expression. In the first part of this section, I shall seek to give 'a child's needs' an interpretation which is at the same time plausible and operational, and then go on to argue for a further development of the concept. I shall use this differentiated concept both to defend parts of the present school curriculum which Education in Schoolspasses over with indifference, and to suggest lines of social scientific research which could result in the identification of areas of unmet human needs (to meet which the curriculum could possibly be adapted) as well as to evaluate areas of the existing curriculum. I think that the approach I adopt offers a way of treating children as human beings, without being either subjective, unrealistic or sentimental. In short, I am looking for a way of interpreting 'children's needs' which puts this value in a form where it can be served by policy-related research. In conclusion, I consider the relation of this value to forms of accountability.
My first task, then, is to give an interpretation to 'children's needs'. The first point to note is the way in which the word 'need' applies to both intermediate and final needs, as is illustrated in the following hypothetical interchange:
A: John needs a holiday
B: Why does he need a holiday?
A: Because he's been ill
B: Why is that a reason for saying he needs a holiday?
A: Because a holiday will restore his health
B: Why is that a reason?
A: Because we all have a need for health
A: We just do
The need for a holiday is what I call an intermediate need; the need for health is a final need. Now, while the intermediate needs which any individual has depend on peculiarities of self and circumstances, and so vary infinitely from person to person, the final needs which we recognize are rather restricted in number. In argument, we rarely have to refer to the final needs, since the specification of an intermediate need will usually indicate to what final need it could be related. Thus, the statement 'He needs a meal' would not normally produce a series of challenges which we would eventually stop by referring to the need for survival. But it could do so, and it could meet those challenges.
On the other hand, a statement about an intermediate need could be challenged not because the questioner had doubts about the final needs to which it related, but because they considered that there were other or better ways of meeting the final need than those envisaged by the initial speaker.
This discussion could be extended at length, but in its present form it provides just about enough for a discussion of children's needs. What are the final needs of children? It seems to me there are at least eight which we would all recognize: children have a need to be able to survive; to get or stay healthy; to be able to work with application; to enjoy themselves; to have a sense of their own worth; to be able to relate to others; to understand the world in which they live; and to be able to participate in its major institutions. 38 It is possible to reduce some of these needs to others; the need for health could be said to be served by having a sense of one's own worth; the need to be able to work and the need to enjoy oneself are not unrelated. But I shall not pursue that possibility. Likewise, I won't break down these final needs into more precisely specified ones. Nor will I sharply distinguish the child's present and future needs. But there is one point I should like to take up, namely, the suggestion that these supposedly 'individual' needs are just as much 'social' needs as those discussed in the previous section. It might be said that while some of the needs specified in my list are quasi- anthropological (for instance, the survival need), others are historically-conditioned (such as the participation need), but that they could all be put on a more logical and equal footing as expressions of social requirements: there could be no society if no one survived, and society could not function if, for example, no one could 'relate to' anyone else. Why not admit this social determination of needs, and avoid the false dichotomy you set up between needs which society has, and needs which individuals have?
This is an important question which I would answer by saying that as I conceive things not all individual needs are perfectly convertible into functional social needs. Some individual needs, whether anthropological or historically conditioned, stand in tension with social requirements and it is out of that tension that progress may be generated. An education which fails to respect individual needs as a guiding value necessarily becomes a one-dimensional practice which gives no push either to the individual or to the emergence of new social forms. It fails both in an individually civilizing mission and in a socially progressive purpose. Liberal theory is often criticized for polarising the 'individual' and 'society'; but if there is a contradiction there, it is an incredibly dynamic one, which will hopefully survive the application of an undialectical logic.
Whether this is granted or not, it remains to consider what one can possibly do with a list of needs such as the one I wrote out above. We can clearly use it in argument to show that certain positions simply overlook needs which children have. Thus, should someone say 'Children don't need to learn to sing at school; they are unlikely to become singers', we could reply: 'Children need more than to be able to get jobs; they also need to be able to enjoy themselves, and singing is an activity in which they can learn to enjoy themselves'. Of course, there are other ways of enjoying oneself. Schools provide several enjoyable activities to children, because not all children can enjoy themselves in the same way. The range they provide is, of course, conditioned by cultural tradition; time and resources available; the suitability of an activity to an age range; and the popularity of different activities. But so long as they provide a range of activities in which children can find present and (ideally) future enjoyment, then schools can claim to be meeting children's needs in at least one area.
Should anyone doubt that children have a need to enjoy themselves, or to learn how to enjoy themselves in adult life, it is surely only necessary to point out that doctors' surgeries and mental hospitals are full of people who are unable to enjoy themselves, for reasons which are not obviously connected to their material circumstances.
The argument sketched above is very simplified, but it should indicate that we can argue about children's needs without plunging immediately into the depths of irreconcilable differences of ultimate value. Indeed, I think we could use the concept of 'need' in social scientific research. For example, suppose it is asserted that 'Children need to know the multiplication tables by heart'. When it is put this way we can legitimately ask for a kind of justification which we could not have asked for had it been said, 'I want children to learn the multiplication tables by heart'. Since a need to know the multiplication tables is not final, but intermediate, we can ask why it is thought that children need to know them. Suppose the answer is, 'To prepare them for the world of work', which we can intuitively connect up with our survival needs. In this form the answer is in principle scientific. It can be either true or false that children need to learn the multiplication tables in order to prepare them for the world of work. If this is so, there is the possibility of scientific investigation. A historically minded sociologist might start out by noting that prior to the invention of printing, memory skills, comparable to mental arithmetic skills, were much more developed than they are now. People needed them and developed them. Nowadays, the Greek memory method of places39has no other use than as a party trick. The sociologist might then ask, Does the apparent decline in mental arithmetic skills, if it exists, reflect the fact that it has ceased to be a skill people need? If this has happened what technological or organizational changes have brought it about? These seem to me genuine questions, though obviously ones to be tackled in a broader perspective than I have indicated. The fact that they can be asked, and that we can hope for a scientific answer does have the consequences that as far as any debate on children's need to learn mental arithmetic goes, there is no need (!) to strike 'traditionalist' or 'progressive' postures. We can do so if we wish but then risk the charge that what interests us is not the needs of children but our own prejudices: 'Children need �..� really means, 'I want�..�
An approach which studies needs is complementary to an approach which studies deprivations, for to ask 'Does a child need to learn to x?' is only a way of asking, 'Would a child be deprived if it did not learn to x?' , for 'deprivation' means inability to satisfy needs (except that it is restricted to inabilities which have social rather than natural origins: I can have a need for health which cannot be satisfied because of an inherited, biological weakness, a situation to which we would not normally refer as 'deprivation').
But as so far developed, my view of needs and deprivations is one-dimensional, since it only allows for the identification of needs by reference to observable deprivations. But just as political scientists have argued that there are non-observable second and third dimensions of power40. I want to argue that there are second and third dimensions of deprivation, and of children's needs - dimensions which are very relevant to our understanding both of those needs and of school practice.
In their famous article, 'The Two Faces of Power', Peter Bachrach and Morton Baratz41 argue that behavioural scientists in studying only the actual exercise of power in overt acts in conflict situations overlook the power of individuals or institutions which resides in the fact that often they do not need to exercise power overtly, because they are not challenged. They are not challenged because those who might otherwise enter into conflict with them recognize their possession of superior power, and so abstain from courses of action in which they would be bound to lose. Bachrach and Baratz call this the other face of power, the power of non-decision making.
How is this relevant to our understanding of children's needs and deprivation? Consider the following two statements:
A. Jill Smith could not get a job of type a (which she would have enjoyed/felt worthy in/been able to apply herself to), because school did not teach her to x, which it could have done. Therefore, school has failed to meet her needs.
B. Jill Smith has never tried to get a job of type a (which she would have enjoyed/felt worthy in/been able to apply herself to), because she knows you have to be able to x to get such a job. School did not teach her to x, which it could have done. Therefore, school has failed to meet her needs.
In the case of statement A we can observe the deprivation someone suffers when they are turned down for the job; this is deprivation in the first dimension. In the case of statement B, we can observe nothing. Jill Smith may appear contented. But just as power can be said to be exercised over people even though they do not contest it, just as much as when they do contest it, so Jill Smith can be said to be deprived, though she may appear satisfied. And statement B is no less scientific than the first, even though we will have to use different research methods to detect the second dimension of deprivation and need than to identify the first dimension. We would have to interview Jill Smith, not look at her unsuccessful job applications - which is to say that research into the second dimension does not require a revolution in research methodology. But it might yield revolutionary findings, for example, about participation and non-participation in institutions, since we could certainly research statements of the form:
C. Jill Smith (a parent) never goes to parent-teacher meetings because she knows you need to be able to speak well in public to have any impact on them. School could have sought to give her the skills and confidence to speak in public, but didn't. Therefore, school failed to meet her needs.
And if the statement was shown to be true, the question would automatically follow, What are we going to do about it?
By definition, a school's failures in the second dimension do not come to light in the way that failures in the first dimension do. They are failures which we must want to bring to light, and which once brought to light will require changes in schools if they are to be remedied. Now an accountability procedure can only hold schools to account for things the importance of which we are already aware. I suggest that one task of social science research is to search for things of which we are not aware, but of which we would hopefully be glad to be aware and willing to do something about. I assign the task to social science, but it should not be over- looked that the achievement frequently belongs to pressure groups. It is the Women's Movement which has made us aware that Jill Smiths suffer second-dimension deprivations.
I turn now to the argument for the existence of a third dimension of deprivation, by analogy with Steven Lukes' theory of a third dimension of power42.
Lukes argues that individuals or groups can legitimately be said to be oppressed by a structure of power even in cases where they neither contest the structure of power, or refrain from contesting it, but are actually unaware of its existence as a structure of power (or consider justifiable what others call their 'oppression' - as in deference politics). This is how Lukes puts it: 'Is it not the supreme and most insidious exercise of power to prevent people, to whatever degree, from having grievances, by shaping their perceptions, cognitions and preferences in such a way that they accept their role in the existing order of things, either because they can see or imagine no alternative to it, or because they see it as natural and unchangeable, or because they value it as divinely ordained and beneficial?43 Of course, it is difficult to formulate and research testable propositions about such a third dimension of the exercise of power, but Lukes concludes after discussing the question (pp.50-55) that 'A pessimistic attitude towards the possibility of such an analysis is unjustified' (p.56). And Habermas, who develops a similar idea to that of Lukes in his Legitimation Crisis (pp. 111-117) using the concept of 'suppressed interest' (p.117), is able to list four 'empirical indicators of suppressed interests' (p.116) and concludes by expressing the view that the approach he has sketched enjoys 'some hope of success' (p.117). Debate on the viability of the approach favoured by Lukes is spreading rapidly across the pages of The British Journal of Political Science and the journalSociology. Rather than summarize that debate, I enter directly into the question of whether the approach can be transferred to the study of third- dimension deprivation in relation to children's needs.
Let us return to Jill Smith and statement C above, reformulating it in the way which would be required for it to indicate a third dimension of deprivation. We could write:
D. It has never occurred to Jill Smith (a parent) to go to parent- teacher meetings, because she never thinks of things like that as meant for her. School could have opened up to her the possibility of perceiving participation in society's institutions as a need or as a means to satisfying her needs but did not. Therefore, school failed to meet her needs.
This is an extremely cumbersome statement, but it can be linked to very familiar ideas which form part of our educational and political tradition. Notably, we distinguish between people who don't do something, because they have considered doing it and rejected it, and people who don't do something, because they have never considered it. And when we think of education, one of the things which has always been emphasized is the rightness of opening up possibilities to children in such a way that they have the choice in later life of pursuing or declining to pursue them. This differs both from an approach which introduces activities as the sort-of-thing-you-will-do-regardless, and the approach which leaves things out so-that-you-won�t-do-them-whatever. John Stuart Mill speaks in opposition to the first approach when, in his Inaugural Address at the University of St. Andrew's, he says that religion should be taught not as something which has been chosen for people but as something they will have to choose for themselves.44 The second approach has coloured much of our thinking about sex education and is just as illiberal.
Yet over broad ranges of school activity the underlying justification is precisely this idea of opening up possibilities to children, in order that now or later they can choose whether and how to incorporate into their own lives the activities opened up. As I shall indicate below, it can't and doesn't always work out as we would like, but there is no satisfactory alternative to it as a way of realizing an aspiration not to confine the individual with invisible threads. For while there is no doubt an element of fiction in a teacher's conceptualization of children as separate individuals with specific needs, this does create a space for the child to develop and exercise autonomy which is restricted or eliminated in approaches which see the child as a mere bearer of an intelligence quotient or class position. Undoubtedly, children 'have' IQs and 'belong' to classes, but if the perception of these elements exhausts the teacher's preceptions of their pupils, then the child is limited from the outset. Either he or she will be offered no more than is appropriate to their IQ, or else they will be taught that which in virtue of their position it is believed they ought to know, and no more. Very simply, there is in liberal theory an idea of the individual person as someone who can play an active part in shaping his or her own culture, which indicates an educational practice responsive to such activity. To what extent practice institutionalizes such conceptions is another question, which I cannot pursue here.
To return to statement D, however cumbersome this is it does seem to indicate the direction in which we could hope to make talk of a third dimension of deprivation scientific. We can entertain some hope of identifying things which people never do because they have never thought of doing them, and we can envisage explaining them by referring to possibilities which have never been opened up to people. In connection with the current debate on education, I think we are in danger of overlooking just how many possibilities schools do open up to children, and just how valuable that is. Even a traditionalist like Rhodes Boyson narrows his attention to deprivation in the first dimension; Education in Schools goes as far as the second dimension; but the awareness we were beginning to have of the third dimension seems in danger of being foreclosed. One possible explanation of a wariness to approach the third dimension is that it does involve us in facing up to awkward issues, and may even commit us to taking up positions which it has become fashionable to reject. For, firstly, the idea of opening up possibilities is associated with what is now dismissed as 'cultural elitism', unacceptable in a relativist culture where all modes of socialization are equal; and, secondly, the experience of possibilities cannot be separated from the experience of disappointment and that we shy away from. I want briefly to consider these two lines of criticism, for they seem to me to be double-edged.
The critic of cultural elitism would, I think, say that the idea of 'opening up possibilities' to children has meant and continues to mean, in practice, the attempt to get working class children to take to middle class culture. No wonder we have reluctant learners when all we try to do is impose our own peculiar version of the good, the true and the beautiful on everyone else! I certainly used to think like that at school: I was fascinated by Agatha Christie, Edgar Wallace and John Steinbeck, but could not abide Shakespeare. In the school of my dreams, Shakespeare would have gone and Steinbeck would have ruled. But what happens when Steinbeck, or to put it more sharply, Mickey Spillane or Manchester United Football Club rule? It is one thing, as a pedagogic method, to start from where the children are at; it is another thing to stop there. One is more likely to stop at the latest craze manufactured by the entertainment industry than at any other destination; nor is one likely to discover anything which might be called 'working class culture'. For if by that is meant the sort of culture with which social and labour historians are concerned, then it is something which just as much as 'middle class culture' has to be discovered and consciously learnt. Chap book, ballad and broad-sheet literature are no closer to children's experience than Shakespeare, nor is the matchgirls' strike more real than the Crimean War - and that is why it is important to introduce children to all the different worlds which these examples instantiate. This is quite different from a simple 'responsiveness' to children's expressed interests and definitions of relevance, a responsiveness which can have radical intentions but end up educating children for their station. So while I take to heart some of the critique of middle class cultural imperialism, I want to try to retain this idea of 'opening up possibilities'. Otherwise, I think we will only increase whatever third dimension unmet deprivations exist.
This is relevant to the question of 'disappointment'. Disappointment is an inseparable consequence of opening up possibilities, yet it has become unacceptable to disappoint children. In effect, this is on a par with preferring people content but ignorant, a position denounced right through our radical tradition, in Oscar Wilde's Soul of Man under Socialism and George Orwell's 1984, for instance. The resistance to disappointing children stems, I think, from failure to distinguish two sources of disappointment, from one of which it is absurd to shelter us, the other of which has to be combatted, not covered up.
First, disappointment arises from everyone's discovery at some time or other that certain things are outside tehir abilities, or beyond the amount of effort they are willing to devote to them, but which they would have to contribute to achieve success. I would have liked to learn to play the recorder at primary school but somehow, and unlike everyone else, I could not get the hang of it and ended up hiding my lack of skill as I moved my fingers up and down, not blowing at all. This first sort of disappointment is a lesson we all learn about something or other, and it does us no service to shelter us from it.
Second, disappointment arises from discovering that some things are beyond our reach because we lack the money, backing, connections or facilities to grasp them. In this case, a formal equality of opportunity is like inviting guests to a banquet in the knowledge that they cannot afford to attend, as R H Tawney puts it in his classic book Equality. This second source of disappointment is of overwhelming practical importance and remains something to be contested, not covered up by sheltering children from it by making no demands on them that they might be unable to meet. I think we should make those changes in society which would make it possible for all children to benefit from educational possibilities, not restrict education to a core curriculum (or equally a child-centred course45) which anyone can be got through, even if dad is unemployed, mum drinks and elder brother beats you.
If there is a third dimension of deprivation, is it important? In our desire to tackle deprivations in the first and second dimensions, could we increase deprivations in the third dimension? I want to approach these questions in a rather naive manner, but one which, I hope, can be turned to good account.
I begin, then, by asking myself three questions about my own schooling. First, what possibilities and opportunities do I think it opened up to me from which I have subsequently benefited? Second, what opportunities did it offer which I couldn't cope with, ignored or have now more or less forgotten all about? Third, what opportunities did it not offer, which I now think I could have benefited from? Anyone could produce answers to these questions; they don't have scientific value, but they may be indicators for argument and research.
To begin with, I am able to say that my schooling played a part in teaching me to sing, dance, take an interest in nature, speak up in public, write adequate English, as well, of course, as making it possible for me to go on being educated past compulsory school age.
Second, I am aware of not having learnt to swim, understand physical scientific procedures, or play the recorder, though the opportunities were there, and others were able to take advantage of them.
Third, I do wish I had had the benefit of a proper health education, including sex education. I imagine I would have benefited from a more co-operative working atmosphere and from a less sexist curriculum and environment than a boys' grammar school offered.
Despite the fact that our own perceptions of our schooling are highly problematic this list does indicate one thing, I hope, and that is the breadth of schooling which is required actually to go any way towards meeting children's needs - awareness of which fact seems absent from, or even rejected in, current debate. Thus Education in Schools in listing the aims of the schools (para. 1.19) makes no mention of any aims which might justify what schools presently do in teaching children to develop, use and enjoy their bodies (PE, health education, etc.), or in learning to cope with adolescence, independence and parenthood (sex education, domestic science, etc.). All we have are the aims to, 'instill respect for moral values, for other people and for oneself, and tolerance of other races, religions, and ways of life' (aim ii) and to, 'teach children about human achievement and aspirations in the arts and sciences, in religion and in the search for a more just social order' (aim vii), neither of which can sound very promising to the PE or housecraft teacher. It is all so intellectualist, moralizing (in the bad sense), and limited in its view of human needs and potentialities. Education in Schools does not seem to have been written by people who have any appreciation of the world in which people need to work; have to cook; or enjoy singing, swimming or sewing.
In terms of an investigation of a third dimension, the social scientist might use the politician's and the administrator's insensitivity to some obvious children's, or more generally human, needs as an indicator that within the area of those needs or associated with them are needs which are scarcely recognized, and scarcely met, though evidence can be produced to show that such needs do exist and are important.
Consider, for example, the question of our health. We seem to recognize the existence of a need here and apparently try to meet it. But are our expectations in fact much lower than the need itself justifies? The critical social scientist might compare, on the one hand, the existing knowledge which we have that the general level of health of the population is much lower than it need be as a result of wrong diet; growing consumption of alcohol; high consumption of tobacco; and unhealthy working conditions; with, on the other hand, the rock-bottom importance given to health education. InEducation in Schools it cannot compete for attention with Welsh in the curriculum of the schools in Wales, which rates six paragraphs.46 There is no health education lobby with any political clout, but that does not mean, once we allow for a third dimension of need and deprivation, that there are no unmet needs as far as our health concerned. What I am suggesting is that one of the research task of social scientists is to gather and interpret data relevant to questions about needs and deprivations in all three dimensions, not just the first two. From what I have said, I conclude that schools may have developed greater sensitivity to the range of children's needs than parents or politicians, and that that has become a weakness when it should be a strength. The danger at the moment is that we increase the number of unmet needs unnecessarily, and with results we shall later have cause to regret.
But now I face a difficulty. How does all this relate to accountability? On the one hand, I think that schools should be held accountable for meeting children's needs. On the other hand, parents and politicians and administrators seem determined to think of the functions of schooling in the narrowest, instrumental terms. The most active and organized parents quite reasonably want their own children to get on and are apparently prepared to sacrifice the all-round development of all children to that end; after the comprehensive will come the crammer school. National politicians bear the weight of a permanent economic crisis on their backs and inevitably dream sweetly of transforming us into a nation of technicians producing transistors for Taiwan. (What sort of schools do they have there, I wonder?). The two together are capable of squeezing children into a Hard Times mould. So we are left with teachers, social scientists, and the children themselves. These lack either the ability or the right to enforce accountability to themselves. But they can and will try to modify the plans of parents or politicians. I hope they do so. Otherwise, we risk moving to a state of affairs in which children will never see a recorder, let alone learn to play one.
Written June/July 1977.
In a comment on my paper, Michael Eraut pointed out that schooling is expected to serve a value which cannot be assimilated to any in my list, a value which he calls 'generational control'. By this he means that schools are expected to ensure that children behave as children are expected to behave in relation to adults, in terms of manners, politeness, deference etc. Acceptance of this value by schools explains their insistence on such things as school uniform, and a great deal of popular criticism of schools is concerned with their failure to secure an acceptable level of generational control.
I agree that such a value exists, and I overlooked it because it seems to me illegitimate. However, it is socially legitimate and is therefore required in any explanation of what schools do. I take the view that schools are able to do much less towards meeting children's needs than otherwise they might be able to achieve, just because they also have to secure acceptable inter-generational control. This does not come across in my paper, which paints schooling in its most favourable aspects and is misleading insofar as it suggests that schooling can and does do a great deal for children; it does not, and one of the reasons for this is that it has to control the children assigned to it.
Too optimistic about schools, I was too negative about parents in section II of my paper. For from the way in which parents behave in an exclusionary system, we cannot infer how they would behave in a participatory system. (Consider how people can express anger that criminals 'get away with it' when interviewed by pollsters, but prove quite reluctant to convict when converted into jurors). It was the genius of John Stuart Mill to realize that participation civilizes people - less tendentiously, that it broadens their outlook in forcing on them awareness of conflicting imperatives.
In a low growth economy, conflicting imperatives of special importance seem to me to exist between individual demands on the educational system and social requirements. For example, individuals may demand socially expensive higher education, though the economic system is unable to make use of their qualifications. Fairness to the rest of society may demand that opportunities for higher education be restricted, or else made available in diluted form as a consumer good to the whole population. Only in a participatory system is there any hope of reconciling such conflicts in a mutually acceptable way.