This article aims to analyse the content of Bottery’s attempt to assess the impact of standardisation on the educational system, question the assumptions made by challenging the evidence presented and conclude that there are important lessons to be learnt from his hypothesis of the dilution of professional trust in schools.
Bottery asserts the impact of global economic standardisation as a negative force on healthy society, and that schools are a primary base where this can be addressed by nurturing greater degrees of trust, creativity and flexibility to help negate the fragmenting of society caused by the individuals’ inevitable reaction against the de-humanising of standardisation (p98). McDonaldization is a term used by Bottery and others drawing an illustration of the rationalisation of economies that seek to increase efficiency and calculability to ensure all services, irrelevant of context and location, are predictable and controlled. Bottery aligns with Ritzer (2004) that where this might be culturally satisfying for Americans it might be equally unfulfilling for the rest of the world because it has no contextual success to offer. Bottery looks to Marx and Weber for support of economic and cultural influences respectively and finds Marx provides an explanation for the ‘instability and turbulence of capitalist activity, [and in Weber] the standardising and controlling effects of McDonalised rationality’ (p84). Bottery uses this as a platform to show that the standardisation of education has been brought about by target-led teaching which only serves to prevent the education system from nurturing the qualities required in a modern citizen. He concludes ‘while standardisation, micromanagement and tightened inspection systems may therefore have been adopted in large part as a consequence of global pressures, it is likely that they are exactly the opposite of what is required to meet the challenges of this global future’ (p86). The education system is discussed in some detail to identify how standardisation has been employed to raise standards on a wide scale but is actually depleting the quality of education by making it all about quantitative measures and not about the enriched nurturing of good society members. Ultimately, Bottery identifies trust, or the lack of it, as a critical area for development if we are to begin to undo the demonstrative global impact of standardisation.
To evaluate Bottery’s article one must examine the evidence presented to show how standardisation and control have changed the educational system and/or society. There is little argument against the claims of globalisation put forward because it is plain to see economic franchises appearing all over the world that are employing globalised uniform strategies. For example, in the UK Tesco supermarkets dominate the grocery market via a system of international product sourcing (http://thisismoney.co.uk, 2009) and have recently branched out around the world. However, this is not always the case; Italian restaurants are legally obliged to source no less than 85% of produce within the local region making sure they are contributing to the local economy and rendering the process of McDonaldization nigh impossible. By the same token we can safely assume that not all schools are the same. Whereas we might be concerned about the impact of nationwide strategies to improve literacy, numeracy or the use of ICT because they remove autonomy from the teacher who knows the children and the immediate physical environment, we are also aware of examples of teaching and learning that embody principles of creativity and flexibility. Bottery also fails to make a case for standardisation. Why has standardisation taken hold on a global scale? Maybe there is a genuine demand to drive up standards in the education system; and those that govern are trying to provide schools with tools by which they can measure their success. If we subscribe to qualitative criteria then are we not allowing a school an artistic, subjective licence to say they are improving performance whilst national standards gradually slide?
Bottery argues a good case against standardisation but has left this vulnerable to criticism by not addressing the need for empirical based evidence of progress across the education system. Acknowledging that the shortcomings of wider standardisation might be shown in the increasing number of working days lost to stress (p92), Bottery cites the words of several teachers interviewed being disaffected by an obligation to apply standardised pedagogical strategies in which they have no say as to how and why something might be done. This leads to the mutual degradation of any trust that exists between the Government (the employer) and the teacher (the employee). Without this professional trust, a trust that enables teachers to select the best way to educate a body of children, and equally allows a teacher to rely on the Government to maintain the core principle that every child matters, morale and confidence is eroded that makes the individual question their involvement in that profession. Bottery correctly identifies this as a major concern, and one that must be further explored, but falls short of convincing the reader that standardisation is all bad because Bottery calls on emotive micro-examples of failure and the intangible macro-trends of big business. No attempt is made to address the bad practice that underpins failing schools or any alternative method of implementing improvement on a national scale.
Bottery, M. (2004) ‘The Impact of Standardisation and Control’, in The Challenges of Educational Leadership. London: Sage.
Cavazza, M. 2009 (on-line) Asda makes gains on dominant Tesco Daily Mail, 18/02/09, accessed 21/11/09, from: http://thisismoney.co.uk