The school year is here. And, with it, the last wave of schools that are embarking on the drafting of piloting plans recommended by the General Administration of Education in the Walloon-Brussels Federation is preparing. It is expected that by 2020–2021, all schools will develop a steering plan that will become their » contract of objectives » for 6 years.
WHAT ARE THE OBJECTIVES OF THE PILOTING PLANS?
The steering plans, now presented as one of the first key measures of the Excellence Pact, have been designed by McKinsey-style management. Their goal is to get teachers to implement « good practices » that will improve our teaching. They will put the changes on their shoulders without questioning the flaws of a complicated system, organized in competing networks. And above all without increasing the budget.
Officially, there is a clear intention to » change » the school so that it produces « satisfactory results in terms of efficiency and equity « . These are:
« 1| to significantly improve students’ knowledge and skills ;
2| to increase the share of young people with higher secondary education;
3| to reduce the differences between the outcomes of the most advantaged students and those of the least advantaged students from a socioeconomic point of view;
4| to progressively reduce repetition and dropout;
5| reduce school changes within the core curriculum;
6| to progressively increase the inclusion of students with special needs in regular education;
7| increase indices of school well-being and school climate improvement. »
IN CONCRETE TERMS, HOW ARE THE STEERING PLANS IMPLEMENTED?
Different stages follow one another: diagnosis, quantified objectives, strategies, control and sanctions. In the first phase, the educational team determines a diagnosis of the strengths and weaknesses of its school, based on an anonymous survey of teachers, students and parents. Based on these findings, the team then identifies specific projects for the improvement of the facility. These projects are then submitted to the General Inspection Service for approval and become a contract of objectives that binds the teachers for a period of six years. When implemented, the contract is evaluated annually.
It is the 88 delegates to the contracts of objectives, trained by McKinsey, who approve, disapprove and control after 3 and 6 years the performance of each institution. In case of deviation, they can launch different types of actions:
- if the failure is not attributable to the institution, the plan is updated and its objectives adapted;
- in the event of a disability » or » the institution is subject to a « clear unwillingness « , the institution is subject to a « clear unwillingness », the institution is subject to a « clear unwillingness ». close follow-up » or « a The company may be subject to an « external audit procedure » or to sanctions such as a reduction in operating resources or the removal of its management and its replacement by a » crisis manager « ;
- if it is an institution » in difficulty « , it benefits from a » contractualization mechanism » with an audit, a » specific remedial mechanism » and an » annual evaluation « .
BEHIND THE WORDS
The Central Group’s objectives and declarations of intent are commendable, as stated in its Opinion No. 31, the true showcase of the Pact: « The Central Group is committed to the following objectives to make the school evolve « , » improve knowledge and skills ‚ » » increase the number of upper secondary school graduates « , » Reducing the differences in outcomes between the most advantaged and least socioeconomically advantaged students ‚ » progressively reduce repetition and dropout ‚ » » increasing indices of school well-being and school climate improvement ‚ » etc.
The discourse of the obvious is at work here. Weak evidence » that is relayed in order to gain public approval and to seduce the organizing powers, teachers, parents and… public officials. But beyond these arguments for legitimizing the steering plans and the Pact itself, other words used are revealing of the managerial ideology and the real aims underlying the steering plans.
The very terms » governance « , » management plan « , » director’s leadership « , » team empowerment « , » contractualization « … testify to the intrusion of corporate vocabulary into official discourse. Beyond the stylistic effect, the simple metaphor, the linguistic varnish with reassuring connotations of expertise, performance, and proven efficiency, its presence also denotes a real intention to organize the school on the model (and with the methods) of the private sector, together with a real step towards the privatization of what has functioned until now as a public education network.
Thus, the term « governance » is derived from an Anglo-Saxon term related to business management : it refers to the way of governing, of exercising power in a public or private domain. Pilotage plans « , terms initially used in air and sea navigation, etc., have the soothing appearance of optimal « guidance », of a perfectly mastered « conduct », considered in all its aspects, based on forecasts, possibilities of alternative routes, reorientations, etc. But the management technique developed by the company (and stemming fromlean management, toyotism), the management plan evokes above all a work organization method aiming at limiting waste, reducing costs and putting workers under pressure to reach performance targets.
The anglicism » leadership « , like « governance », » piloting « , and below » crisis manager « , also underlines the lean managementorientationThe new system, with its reinforcement of management in general, whether it be that of the head of the establishment, the DZs (zone directors) and the DCOs (delegates for objective contracts), at the heart of a system redesigned in the direction of greater hierarchization, greater control and more constraint, even coercion.
The » crisis manager The « specialist » will be the one who intervenes on specific issues, after the management has been removed, as part of an emergency, momentary and transitory arrangement, and whose mission will be to initiate changes aimed at improving the performance and competitiveness of a company (and of the school considered as such, from now on).
The » accountability » of teams and teachers (implicitly, the actors in the field were not previously accountable?) clearly indicates on whose shoulders the burden of achieving the objectives, namely student success, will fall. Until now, when professors did their jobs well, they could not be blamed for the poor performance of their students. From now on, teachers will be responsible for this.
The expression » The « contracts of objectives » emphasize this contractualization, this commitment and, in a way, this « imprisonment » of the teams, with the threat, as we have seen above, of serious consequences such as the reduction of the institution’s treatment grant in the event of breach of contract or failure to achieve results. Which, by the way, is not going to improve the situation of a struggling school. What an ambiguity this note is — which could easily disappear when the Pact is readjusted or updated — which stipulates that the contract of objectives does not impose an obligation of results on the institutions, but rather an » obligation of means « . Does the nuance she brings change anything, finally, to the sanctions stated by the Administration?
Performance indicators » are also part of the terminology of lean management. However, what are these performance indicators? Who determines the level of performance? Is it « ambitious » or simply serving the needs of the labor market? How will success be defined? The risks of drifting from the piloting plans are enormous, a drop in level or elitism depending on the institution.
Finally, in the training provided to delegates of the contracts of objectives, McKinsey emphasizes three main objectives: » effectiveness « , » efficiency » and » equity « . But the definition given by the management consulting firm is as follows:
- total efficiency: set up procedures and standards to be followed, be accountable;
- efficiency: doing more with less;
- equity: to ensure the acquisition of minimum skills that will enable everyone to access employment. And this is not put in the service of values of critical citizenship, student empowerment, social justice and equality. It’s about defusing the social bomb and aiming for profitability.
We are far from an emancipating education that would give everyone the tools necessary to construct meaning. To succeed in learning, a child must build a relationship with knowledge and it is also the progress made and the autonomy acquired that count. Philosophical, critical and civic education, and the ability to question oneself, also lead to democracy and emancipation, but seem to be neglected in favor of skills designed to inculcate docile behavior and skills that are essentially subject to the labor market.
But we want » a school that forms critical citizens, capable of understanding the changes and challenges of society, but also capable of resisting and participating in the transformation of the world . »
AMBIGUITIES AND CONTRADICTIONS
The official speeches raise a number of questions inherent in the actual implementation of the piloting plans. What will happen on the ground?
First of all, will the drafting of plans, which is supposed to be done with the whole team, in fact be done by only a few, for example, the management and a few selected collaborators? Will teachers really be the designers or will they become the implementers?
In the operation of schools, some enthusiastically implement piloted collaborative work as if it didn’t exist before. Others, accustomed to an all-powerful hierarchy, are careful to keep their hands on a way of functioning that is not always very democratic or respectful of all teachers and their students.
On the other hand, the standardized methods used to develop the plans have carefully planned to eliminate decisions that are not within the control of teachers. Thus, in the « why tree » technique advocated by McKinsey, teams will be made aware of the criteria that are outside their zone of influence in order to eliminate them. This tactic allows us to keep only the low-cost strategies, to avoid addressing the macro (the real socio-economic causes of the problems) and to focus only on the micro. Therefore, teams that have enthusiastically chosen to develop innovative strategies will, in a second phase, be disappointed by their confinement to narrow limits of action. In fact, some elements of the system are set up in the absence of resources: for example, remediation is carried out without any obligation for the students to attend. The « benevolent evaluation » and the passage of students to the next grade without real personalized follow-up risk lowering the level for some schools…
Then, the teaching profession will be reviewed. A teacher will be required to perform a variety of tasks that are not limited to teaching in front of the class, to experience (on a voluntary basis) professional mobility that can take several forms: changing assignments or functions within the institution. Opinion No. 3 even recommends » professional re-qualification to allow career changes according to aspirations or the shortage of certain functions « . On the agenda, therefore: teachers who can be cut and chopped at will, work overload, mobility, job insecurity, job losses, the first of which will probably be linked to the savings targeted by the merger of the two technical and vocational streams within the qualifying system and the sharp reduction in specialised teaching.
Moreover, from the point of view of governance, we observe a focus on procedural aspects, a lack of interest in the reflective aspects concerning the pedagogical choices to be made, pressure exerted on management, the use of individualcoaching that denies the collective dimension, the emergence of narcissistic personalities in the hierarchical ladder, an exacerbated logic of productivity that will lead to exhaustion and the sidelining of the « less efficient ». The steering plans therefore only deal with the « how to do with it », do not tackle the real social causes of inequalities and dump them on the actors on the ground.
And while we’re on the subject of steering plans, who will really be steering the education system in the end? a minister? a regulatory power (RP) composed of politicians or private individuals? The creation of a public interest organization (PIO) to serve as a regulatory authority makes it possible to implement the steering plans of the Excellence Pact. It is not a researcher or an educator who has been appointed to head it, but Renaud Witmeur, president of the management committee of the SOGEPA where he worked on the economic redeployment of Wallonia.
More than just an interest in teaching, the labor market is taking over the education sector. And all this, for what results? Will this new governance make it possible to achieve the objectives of raising the level, of equity? Is what is operational, functional and effective for the private sector also effective for the school? Tight framing, guaranteed results? Does excellent management (forecasting, planning, evaluation, accountability and contractualization, imposition of standardized methods…) necessarily imply success?
Democracy is not just words. First of all, it’s transparency. This has not been the case either in the terms of the official speeches or in the elaboration process: being consulted in the so-called « participatory process » or contributing to the implementation (under contract) of measures is not the same as actually taking part in decisions.
On the other hand, in what way do the steering plans establish more (participatory) democracy in the school itself? Again, not everyone is included: what about the students? If they were approached by questionnaire at the start of the Pact, and will be again before the steering plans are drawn up, do they still participate in the school’s operations? Are they involved in class councils, in the design of plans, the school project, internal rules, sanctions…? Moreover, the introduction of an « individual student’s notebook », presented as a means of ensuring better pedagogical follow-up, does it not risk functioning also as an instrument of surveillance and control? Is there a duty of confidentiality for the teams who will have access to it? Will this file still be in good hands? What about a right to be forgotten?
Finally, will the computerized tools for evaluating management plans (also from McKinsey and initially intended to improve performance levels) constitute the « incriminating » files that will make it possible to take sanctions against specific managers or against the entire team?
In conclusion, neither the objectives of eliminating repetition, excellence (which has become synonymous with performance), or equity (in the true sense of the word), nor the methods imposed, respond to democratic goals. Far from fighting against the school market, the competition between schools and networks, the transformation that is taking place in our schools enshrines its modalities and risks reinforcing the deep inequalities that we know today. The social mix and the reduction of disparities between students is put aside. The need for educational refinancing is completely evacuated. It is a matter of working in a closed envelope. Not only does education become a link in the chain of capitalism, an implicit subcontracting of the company, but it also transmits its values. The solution is not to change the current education system, but to rethink it entirely.
Geneviève Druart, Michèle Janss, with the help of the members of the Brussels regional of APED
To form critical citizens capable of acting in the transformation of the world is, in the eyes of Aped, the objective that requires the most urgent and radical reforms of the School. Far from the current submission to the world of work, it is a question of promoting an education where cooperation is superior to competition, where individual success does not hinder the progress of all. Aped calls for a truly egalitarian and democratic school.www.ecoledemocratique.org