Teachers and education officials can get angry when told to run schools as businesses. In some ways they have a right to be angry — in crucial ways, a school isn’t a business. Yet quality schools do take tips from the business world. They adapt business practices and principles to the world of education.
The management of Mugg & Bean coffee shops are required to give their staff training on a set of core values. Read the franchise’s values and see whether there are any that don’t also apply in an excellent school or education department office: integrity, passion, excellence, innovation, generosity, quality, trust, energy, transparency, discipline, consistency, loyalty, recognition, performance, community and respect.
Does your place of work score full marks in the Mugg & Bean values test? Many good businesses and good schools have ethics and values that are similar, if not identical.
In the business world there is constant scrutiny of how money is spent. Owners and shareholders don’t want to see money wasted.
Financial management procedures are put in place to stop thieving.
A business knows that it has to give its customers value for money. If it doesn’t customers will go elsewhere. Ditto for a quality school — parents and learners are “customers” or “clients” of the service offered, namely education. Families want the school to spend money soundly in the best interests of their children. If it doesn’t they’ll try to enrol their children at better-managed schools.
Excellent businesses are obsessed with the quality of what they make or do. You will find, for example, that grocery item labels have telephone helplines on their products. If there’s a complaint or suggestion, phone them and they’ll answer within four or five rings.
Mrs Balls’s chutney has been on South African dinner tables since 1870, but the manufacturers haven’t become complacent. Mrs Balls’s telephone number is on the label.
Outstanding schools are not complacent either. They listen to the concerns and suggestions of children, parents and staff. Then they move with speed to tackle the issues.
No successful business today offers the identical product or service it offered 10 years ago. There are changes. The mantra is “continuous improvement”. Staff are always being trained and their skills updated. Money is spent on staff development.
Quality schools are learning organisations for every staff member. Each year sees staff upgrading their skills and physical resources being improved.
Business leaders of distinction know that they’re accountable. They are personally responsible for what happens in the organisation. It’s part of their jobs to face customers and the media to explain what’s happening. When they’ve done well, there might be a performance bonus.
If they’ve performed poorly, there could be a salary freeze, a resignation or even a dismissal. The approach is: shape up or ship out.
Quality schools and education department offices accept that they are accountable to the communities they serve. They take the compliments when they’re deserved but also accept fair criticism. They’re not afraid to act decisively to root out abuse, nepotism, political interference and incompetent, lazy work performance.
Businesses compete against one another. In shopping malls and towns it’s quite common to find Checkers, Pick n Pay, Spar and Woolworths within walking distance of one another. The customer has the money and makes the decisions. If the quality and price aren’t right, the customer goes elsewhere. Without customers, a business closes down.
Schools are also in competition. When the education is excellent the school is usually full. When the school provides poor education, learner enrolments can drop. There is the threat of such schools being closed or linked up with other schools. Healthy competition can add further quality education among schools.
Quality businesses constantly check their quality. They have their own in-house assessors or evaluators who make sure standards are maintained. Floor managers walk the floor to make sure customers are happy. The business gets regular evaluation from its head office. Any drop in service delivery is identified and immediate corrective action is taken.
Checking of quality happens within excellent schools, too. Senior members of staff, for example, visit classes to evaluate teachers and learners. There are scrutinies of the learners’ workbooks and the teachers’ lesson-preparation files.
Outside assessors of school quality are also needed. A school might think that it’s doing a great job, but it needs to be confirmed by professionally competent outsiders. If we want to raise standards, we need to allow quality assurance to take place.
Yet there are distinct differences between a business and a school. Imagine a Toyota or Volkswagen factory. Any identified defective item is taken off the production line. The car as end product is expected to be 100% non-defective, and rightly so. In a school situation there’s no such thing as a perfectly manufactured product. The grade 12 learner, for example, who has passed with a “full house” of distinctions is still a work in progress and should become a lifelong learner.
Teachers work with “defective” products every day. Neither the perfect learner nor the perfect teacher exists. There are children who have behavioural, learning or physical challenges. Unlike a business, a school is not driven by the need to maximise profit margins. A quality school is prepared to spend money to help each child reach his or her full innate potential.
In the business world the relationship between the person providing the product or service is often narrowly transactional — put the money on the table and the product or service will be provided. The business person then moves on to the next customer.
In education the relationship between teacher and child is not solely to achieve a required skill, such as an understanding of the Pythagoras theorem. It’s also a relationship. A teacher adds quality to a learner’s life by the values imparted, which extend way beyond preparing for an exam or teaching a new skill.
Quality schools aren’t businesses, but they can learn much from the business world. There are things to be copied and tweaked. Effective school governing bodies often have parent members who have business backgrounds. As an educator, you provide quality education. Look at what’s done in the business world. Adapt and adopt those business strategies that will help you to facilitate quality education.
Richard Hayward is a former principal of two state Gauteng schools. Leadership and management training workshops are done under the aegis of the South African Quality Institute at schools across the country. Poor schools are sponsored. Contact Vanessa du Toit (012 349 5006 or [email protected]) or Hayward (011 888 3262 or
[email protected] ) for details.