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The core business of education?

On the whole, schools seem to be reactive, conservative institutions more usually being dragged kicking and screaming through the wake of economic and social change than providing inspirational leadership.


Monday 30 September 2019, 10:00AM

BISP students working on robotics in the school’s ICT department. Photo: BISP

BISP students working on robotics in the school’s ICT department. Photo: BISP

Those who assume responsibility for our schools seem more comfortable with words like “standards”, “efficiency” and “tradition” than “innovation”, “creativity” and “risk”. And like a dog with a bone, how we seem to gnaw and salivate over those examination grades! It is surely difficult to find schools willing to invest in ventures, however whole­some, that are not directly perceived to be advanta­geous to the core business of education.

But just what is it? At times it seems to be all smoke and mirrors – the skilful use of data and statistics overlaid with a finely polished veneer of tradition. In such a climate, how much opportunity for genuine lead­ership exists within our educational infrastructures?

Most institutions, when not counting pennies, appear to be constrained by government decrees and bench­marks, university admissions procedures and Boards of Governors who tend to be conservative by nature, committed to, if not consumed by, a passion for the sta­tus quo and tradition.

Furthermore, in a competitive world, accountabil­ity to the market must be of paramount importance, and the market, for the most part, consists of anxious parents who have little option other than to pin their faith and hopes upon scores and results – the world­wide currency-base of educational worth. And despite all our assurances that this is not necessarily the case, many parents are still inclined to believe that their children will only have one shot at this thing called academic success and, consequently, the benefits that such success will bring.

Schools, then, are market-driven, despite all our pious noises they would not seem to be laboratories of learning; in such a market the “good” schools would appear to deliver against both the mandated as well as the popu­larly perceived criteria – they meet, perhaps even exceed expectations, rather than drive and determine them.


Despite my apparent weary cynicism, however, I believe that there are many positive signs. The more recent emphasis placed upon values-based education, pro­moted in large part by the growth and development of international schools and concepts of internationalism, has finally projected what was once termed the “hidden curriculum” out into the open.

Leadership is not about efficiency and good management (although these are essential prerequisites of a good school), it is about values and the projection of those values upon the consciousness of others. In some cases this will manifest itself in a unique approach to curriculum delivery, but most often, I would suggest, it requires a creative response to the con­text in which a school finds itself.

– Neil Richards

Neil Richards is the Headmaster at Brit­ish International School, Phuket – BISP. For more information, visit them at www.

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