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Convenience of teachers or education of children?

By Des Treacy - posted Wednesday, 4 April 2007

George Bernard Shaw commented that schools are organised more for the convenience of teachers rather than for the education of children.

This fact was supported in theory by Amatai Etzioni in Modern Organizations where he recognised a phenomenon he described as “displacement of goals” in all bureaucracies. Over time, incumbents in a bureaucracy tend to make decisions, or alter structures, to suit their own administrative ease rather than keep their activities focused on the organisation’s primary goals.

He cited as an example the Salvation Army that started as a religious organisation, but which over time developed into a very successful accommodation chain termed commercially “The People’s Palace”. On recognising this movement away from its original goals, that organisation reverted to its roots of religion and charitable work.


Were this same phenomenon of “displacement of goals” to be recognised by education authorities throughout Australia, tremendous change in efficiency of service delivery could be achieved in terms of educational outcomes. The main problems are not basically lack of funds, flawed pre-teacher education, rationalisation of curricula, et al, although each of these aspects needs radical rethinking; it’s the system!

When a Parliamentary Committee of Enquiry into Educational Standards was set up in Queensland more than 20 years ago, the first question put to the panel by the Townsville group, representing teachers, was: “Are you looking at the system as well as educational standards?”

The answer was negative - the terms of reference precluded any examination of how the system was hamstrung by an outmoded and inefficient bureaucratic structure that was not meeting the educational needs of the state’s children. That position has not changed much and is most likely an Australia-wide problem that no one wants to address. It’s the same resistance that hinders the more efficient amalgamation of local councils - the protection of personal interests by the incumbents.

One needs to understand the difference between accountability and responsibility in getting an appreciation of the present situation in state schools. At present school principals (a negative term if ever there was one - more on this later) are responsible for the standards being achieved in their schools, but, there’s no way they can be held “accountable” for those standards, while they have no say in the selection of their staff. Regardless of the needs of a particular school and the philosophy of its leader and staff, new staff members are, more often than not, allocated on the needs of the State Staff Department rather than that of a particular school.

Education departments could still maintain a pool (national, if possible) of qualified teachers from which schools, through a selection committee, could select staff suited to their needs. With new staff available from anywhere in the Commonwealth, cross fertilisation of ideas would be beneficial.

Accountability can have a very salutary effect on those in a position of responsibility, although it is freely admitted that many of our “leading” politicians brazen out on moral issues. Teacher tenure, however, would depend on competence. The sinecure that teaching has become for many is no longer acceptable.


Previously, school leaders known as “head teachers” were generally highly competent, and initiated invaluable professional development for staff members. This most important role of fostering continued professional growth for teachers could be undertaken by a highly paid and competent team of experienced teachers - a Professional Development Team for each school. Pre-service teacher education can go only so far and new teachers, in particular, need the professional support of more experienced people.

A distinction would need to be made between real experience and the same experience each year since the year dot. Some who claim to be experienced have the same recipe for each class they teach, year after year, regardless of individual needs. Thus the talented children these days are performing at a much higher level in some areas of learning than those of years past, but the low achievers today are in many cases being neglected.

Many who have taken on the role of principal or higher administration have done so as escapees from the school or classroom and many have rarely visited a classroom in years. The same escape attitude has filled many places in special education or university lecturer positions as well.

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About the Author

Des Treacy OAM was with Queensland Education 44 years as class teacher, head teacher, “principal” and, for a short term, acting District Inspector of Schools. He served for a time on the Council of James Cook University and was involved with innovation in pre-service teacher education, particularly in regard to practice teaching in primary schools. The OAM award was for service to primary education.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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