Notes From a Native Son: Alexandra School is a Metaphor for Failure of a System

Hal Austin

Introduction:
The crisis at Alexandra School, being played out before the nation, is but a reflection of the generally meltdown in education in Barbados. Although the Inquiry itself may be the public humiliation of a man, his stubbornness and the notorious Barbadian culture of spite and vindictiveness, the message it sends to the rest of the world is not a very nice one.

There are two broad reasons for this symptom of decline: first, the authorities have failed to make education as attractive professionally as law or medicine and, therefore, have not seen it necessary to spend a reasonable share of GDP on education, nor to attract the best graduates, because they do not appreciate its central importance in the future development of the nation.

Second, there is a traditional policy of promoting the longest serving and best connected person, rather than the most competent and best able. We must skip a generation in order to professionalise teaching. Following on from this is a lack of proper training provisions for teachers at all grades, and especially head teachers, who are not only the senior teachers in schools, but also the chief executive of the enterprise.

However, this can only be done once there has been a radical transformation of the structure of schools, their management, and their relationship with the ministry, teaching and non-teaching staff, parents and their children, the local community and other stakeholders. Too much power in Barbados is centralised under the control of ministers and civil servants. It is a system that creates little Hitlers, intellectual Napoleons who desperately want to show who is in control. One way forward is to turn all secondary schools in to individual charities, run by a board of trustees, with the school head/CEP reporting to a management board.

Management Skills:
Teaching is one of those professions in which team work, unity, and formal respect for colleagues, especially in front of the children, is essential if it is to succeed. The head teacher is not only the formal head of the school, s/he is also the moral leader as chief guardian of all the pupils. Given this, good managers do not manage teams as a collective whole, but as individuals. People have different personalities, what may be funny to some, may be offensive to others, some, members of the team may want to conspire and form cliques, while others will be only too keen to put the children first.

It is the job of the head teacher to manage this by first having universal rules that apply equally to all staff, not showing any favouritism or dislikes and, most importantly, not being over-familiar with members of his team. While not being aloof, s/he must be sociable, yet maintain a distance which would not compromise any need for disciplinary action or, generally, making unpopular decisions. S/he must avoid gossip and tittle tattle and at all times, on or off duty, demonstrate that s/he is a person of the highest ethical standards.

It is a myth that a senior manager, which is what a head teacher is, can one day go to Kadooment and behave in the most awful way, and the next return to the class room and command the same respect from the very staff and children who had seen him or her as s/he did the day before. This, of course, does not apply to the Alexandra head. In general, a head teacher should at all times behave with dignity and authority; it is not important to be loved and be popular, but to command respect, which is very important.

A key part of being a senior manager is controlling dissent, allowing those who may have opposing views to have their say, while at the same time preventing them from being disruptive. A simple device is to have regular team meetings, allowing the dissenters to speak out, then once back working, enforcing the basic workplace disciplines. It is important that if the dissenters have good ideas that they be given the same objective consideration as those coming from ‘favourites’. In this maelstrom of dissent and conflict it is important not to lose sight of the objective: educating children to the best of your ability.

So, team solidarity and cohesion, although good qualities for many manager to have, are secondary when it comes to the key objective of the institution – preparing young people for their future careers, a responsibility that goes far beyond teachers being classroom mates. A good manager must show tolerance, patience, decency, fair play, objectivity, impartiality and honesty. The crude fact is that whatever the management failure and lack of staff discipline at the local level, the reality is that the fundamental failing is at the ministry and government levels.

First, the ministry has failed to deal with bullying unions, which quite often behave like street gangs; it has failed to put in place a proper disciplinary code for all staff, including head teachers and non-teaching staff; and it has failed to devise a proper management contract between individual schools, stakeholders and the ministry. On top of all this, to have an outspoken, demonstrably over-promoted person in charge of education at this particular time on our history, cannot be nothing short of irresponsibility on the part of the prime minister. But Alexandra School is but one manifestation, even if a publicly humiliating one, of the failure of the education ministry.

Look, for example, at the money-wasting, empire-building that is going on at the Cave Hill campus, at the decades long failure of school leavers to get five or more CXCs/GCEs at grade C or above, or, even more, just look at the scruffy, bearded, dread-locked staff that stand in front of school children every working day as moral examples. Education is too important for our future development to be allowed to drift uncontrollably like this.

Analysis and Conclusion:
Throughout this conflict the union, led apparently by a most uncompromising activist with a perceived propensity to thuggery, has been making it clear that the head teacher had to go for there to be any progress in the negotiations. If this was a negotiation tactic, it was crude and barbaric, if it was meant as a threat then the authorities – from the head master to the ministry – should have refused to have any further discussion with her. As a matter of democratic principle, you do not enter any negotiations with a gun at your head; and this is particularly so when you are a government minister and the person is representing staff in a single school.

The second serious mistake the government has made was when the prime minister publicly humiliated his minister by taking over the negotiations, inviting the rebels to Llaro Court, pouring further slime on his minister’s face. That the minister did not offer his resignation immediately was a mistake; that he did not do so publicly is career damaging.

Ignoring the civil war within the DLP government apart, at a time when the country is crying out for proper economic management to spend nearly Bds$1m on a needless inquiry is unforgivable. That money would have benefited the Alexandra School, its pupils and staff and the nation far more if it had been spent on teacher training and the delivery of lessons.

The Inquiry itself is theatre, with witnesses ignoring the finesse of being dignified in the witness box, with many demonstrating clear clinical mental problems, and others just about being able to control their brawling manners. What was even more insane was the head master excusing himself from the hearing for days to such an extent that the commission chairman had to raise the issue in public.

If, as the Inquiry was led to believe, the head master was absent on those days because he had visiting relatives, it must have said something to interested parties about his judgement, or lack of it. That he could not postpone entertaining a visiting child and her offspring to attend a career-threatening Inquiry must say something about his inability to priortise.

0 thoughts on “Notes From a Native Son: Alexandra School is a Metaphor for Failure of a System


  1. Dear native son:

    Do you know of any country that prevents bearded or dreadlocked people from becoming teachers?


  2. @native son “Look, for example, at the money-wasting, empire-building that is going on at the Cave Hill campus ”

    Methinks native son is jealous of Sir Hilary.

    @at the decades long failure of school leavers to get five or more CXCs/GCEs at grade C or above”

    In fact UWI/BCC/SJPP receive more qualified applications each year than they are able to admit students.


  3. “just look at the scruffy, bearded, dread-locked staff that stand in front of school children every working day as moral examples.”

    Does a crew cut. shaved head and beardless look less scruffy?


  4. Moral examples are our crew cut, shaved head and beardless politicians and church leaders and they have failed us miserably.


  5. If, as the Inquiry was led to believe, the head master was absent on those days because he had visiting relatives, it must have said something to interested parties about his judgement, or lack of it. That he could not postpone entertaining a visiting child and her offspring to attend a career-threatening Inquiry must say something about his inability to priortise.

    ac

    Broomes judgement and lack of is the reason for the Inqury, His absence was his abilty to activate and demonstrate his preference, giving proof to the term’ Broomes way or the highway”


  6. Some people think that the Ministry of Education n has failed us.

    The current Minister of Education, and the one before him, and the one before him, and the one before him, and the one before him, and the one before him, and the one before himand the one before him, and the one before him, and the one before himand the one before him, and the one before him, and the one before himare/were all “nice” bald heads.

    A low haircut ain’ saying nuttin’


  7. Judging from the evidence so far given at the Commission Of Inquiry, it is a miracle that Mr. Broomes retained some semblance of sanity in such a “supposed” teaching institution.

    I am not suggesting that Mr. Broomes was without fault, neither am I advancing the view that erros of judgement were not made by him.

    However, it seems obvious to me he was not wanted at Alexandra School by a “cabal” from the day of his appointment and some with their own agendas sought to prove that to him. I wrote some months ago that Alexandra School is a microcosm of Barbadian society, nothing has happened in subsequent months to undermine that view. Neither have I changed my mind about saying at inception the inquiry was a good idea by Prime Minister Stewart.

    It is true it will cost much needed dollars but if “drastic” action is necessary; it is always best to have substantial “evidence” to underpin it.

    Some will no doubt go on their palings and crow but they have nothing to crow about, they too have been exposed.


  8. Very good informative and completely knowledgable. One of the first really
    thoughtful reports on the problem at the school…How come noone has ever
    recommended that previous school attendees are not allowed to teach at
    their former schools.


  9. ”One way forward is to turn all secondary schools in to individual charities, run by a board of trustees, with the school head/CEP reporting to a management board.”

    ————–

    Sorry, I dont think this will help. Same-O, Same-O. Clico was a corporaiton with ‘independent directors’ and they did xxx all.

    I agree with the writer that the issue at Alexandra is systemic but agree further with Yardbroom that the issue is wider than just the area of education. It goes into all the civil service and even society in general.

    Go and try to get something done at one of the government departments. Have fun with that! The little Hitler issue goes much, much wider as well as the mish mash of employees, some good and some dragging the place down.

    As for the issue of education, I am seriously of the belief that incompetence is wider than people understand. People celebrate around 14 (more this year) scholarships annually from HC and Queens and rant about how good they are.

    As per a link to an analysis of London results which I posted sometime ago on another blog thread, those ‘top’ two schools are actually, statistically in terms of results, severely underperforming, compared to an average of schools in London.

    And it is worse, when you consider that the scholarship winners are heavily dependent on private lessons.

    The writer is right, that we have a major education problem. How do we solve this? Process, methods, egos and ethics need to be addressed.


  10. These teachers are something else; Why Broomes would want to be in the mist of these vindictive bitches is a mystery to me.

    Hal, Government spend a significant portion of GDP on education. The problem is due to the power of public sector unions in Barbados


  11. @Adrian

    You are correct the AX environment is a cesspool but the final blame must be in inability of managers in the system to do their jobs.


  12. Adrian Hinds | August 17, 2012 at 10:47 AM |

    Why Broomes would want to be in the mist of these vindictive bitches is a mystery to me.
    ++++++++++++++++++++++++

    Perhaps he viewed the job as a stepping stone to Chief Education Officer …..

    …. evidence of one teacher ……..

    …. and he didn’t mind who he stepped on …. my observation!!

    He might get stepped on instead!!

    Live by the sword, die by the sword.

    In my opinion he was caught behind ages ago ….. but he just refused to walk.

    … and that I think was his choice.

    So now we have the Commission of Enquiry which if I understand Caswell will produce findings that can’t be used to discipline anybody!!

    Can’t even think of the COI as the third umpire!!

    Lord have mercy!!

    He might be promoted up!!


  13. “The crisis at Alexandra School, being played out before the nation, is but a reflection of the generally meltdown in education in Barbados. Although the Inquiry itself may be the public humiliation of a man, his stubbornness and the notorious ”

    i disagree totally with the opening statement.the problem this has nothing to do with the above. it is all to do with a total lack of respect for authority because that authority did not go through the ranks of Alexandra. Broomes wanted to run the school as a proper institution with checks and balances in place but was frustrated every way he turned. those old rags need to be transferred to other schools. how come they are still teaching and working their for so many years? it does not happen at other schools, the Ministry of Education and Personnel Administration are responsible for this problem


  14. “@at the decades long failure of school leavers to get five or more CXCs/GCEs at grade C or above”

    this is really uninformed, many students leave school with at least 5 CXC between grades 1-3. check the thousands who apply to BCC the polytechnic and UWI. it is obvious that u are talking about what happened in ur day. some students do leave with below 5 but that is in the minority. get ur facts correct before u come spewing forth such dribble, with a pretend voice of authority


  15. Just to bring some balance to the immediate debate. First of all the facts.

    http://www.newsday.co.tt/news/0,162070.html

    second the anecdotes. Yes we do have thousands applying to BCC and SJPP, but with what grades? 53’s, 3 3’s and a 4. If we take a secondary population of approx 20,000….take out the 7-10 thousand that apply BCC/SJPP and another 3,000 that apply to 6th form, we still comfortably have a minimum of about 5,000 students who have “fallen through the cracks.” While our “top” 7-8 schools perform reasonably well and the rest moderately, there is a high rate of under achievement even in the post EDUTECH era. Some students take 2-3 attempts to reach 4-5 passes, that’s why the numbers would look skewed over time.

    A good gauge of the efficiency of a system isn’t how it caters to those that would have succeeded anyhow, but what it does for those that don’t or are unlikely to. This is where the core weakness in our education system at the secondary level lies. Early Childhood/primary is another story all together.

    Just observing.


    • @observing

      Thanks for the summary of performance. There is a myth which needs to be chatters and the last part of your comment summed it up!

      A good gauge of the efficiency of a system isn’t how it caters to those that would have succeeded anyhow, but what it does for those that don’t or are unlikely to. This is where the core weakness in our education system at the secondary level lies. Early Childhood/primary is another story all together.


  16. Alexandra is an older secondary school … and it has an institutional memory.

    Mrs. Greaves (40 plus years) and others ensure that memory exists and their experience is passed on.

    All of the older secondary schools have such a memory. By now the newer secondary schools are developing or have developed one as well.

    It makes no sense whatsoever to destroy something that has worked in favour of supposedly making everybody equal as wonderful as that may sound.

    Children should have equal access to older secondary schools … and they do.

    OK maybe there are a few children whose family connections get them in ….. but that is a disservice to the children if those children lack the ability to perform to the standard of the school.

    For sure they will be found out.

    I watch the saga at Alexandra and instinctively I know that a conscious attempt was made to destroy the institutional memory of that school and prevent its handing on to the next generation of teachers.

    Maybe I am wrong, I hope so.

    Left to its own the school would probably have run on autopilot because it has the pedigree which makes many Bajans go bananas, … my observations make me think because they are jealous.

    If I am right, my belief is that Mr. Broomes brought nothing to the table to replace what he would have destroyed.

    The divided teaching staff is evidence of those efforts.

    No school with its principal goal of educating children will have such a polarisation in its teaching staff. Educating children is difficult, thankless work and every teacher is required to contribute to that goal.

    As intelligent and educated as all of the teaching staff may be, some of the new hires never seemed to have figured out the game they were forced to play as pawns.

    I suspect some will have lost out on the transfer of experience from older teachers.

    That newer secondary schools have lost out in resources is probably undeniable but like the older secondary schools they need to develop an identity and esprit de corps which is/was evident in the older secondary schools.

    That identity/esprit more than any book learning contributes to the making of adults who will keep a stable society stable, bite their lips when hardship strikes and find a way through.

    The newer secondary schools may not get to pick students from the top percentiles but it does not mean that each child they get cannot excel and become an even more remarkable individual than one who got the privelege and never used it properly.

    Likewise, the priveleged few need to be taught and learn that to whom much is given, much is required and live their life, … humbly recognising just what priveleges society has bestowed on them.

    What has gone on at Alexandra I believe is a travesty.


  17. Why is their a ban on smart phones in school? they are of no more treat than a calculator, except that we the parents/students can keep an eye on the teachers with video recording. If smart phones were in schools this type of nonsense would not happen.


  18. it don’t matter if the teacher is a rasta, if he connect with the kids, and is approachable then he can do the job, some teachers in Barbados needs to connect to the kids, and stop putting children down in the school. Same thing with the union of social workers, they claiming if a person have a degree in psychology, the should not be able to be social workers, The most important job of a social worker is to show empathy, and help for the client, and not to judge, it dont go by which degree you have, psychology deals with the mind, and how a person thinks and their thoughts, therefore psychology should be the degree preferred as a social worker. Some professionals look at their degrees instead of doing their job to the utmost respect for the client, not sit there and judge and insult the person. I know some teachers insult the kids, especially if the kids from low performing schools, now you call that being a teacher?


  19. I know a kid who went to a lower secondary school where a senior teacher insulted and harrassed the boy until he left the school and never came back, the kid immigrated to the US and got the help with special ED and respect from his teachers. Some teachers in Barbados hide behind their unions, and only on the job for a paycheck to pay for their cars and big houses, they don’t care about the kids. This kid is now going on to college, Teachers should learn psychology, and communicate with students, and have patience and treat the students like human beings, not like a pack of dogs, and insult them. I know some teachers do that.


  20. I think the educational system should change, that means help children after they left school to go to evening classes and get the O levels needed to succeed or get a job. All children should be included in the educational system. I think the way the educational system is, they just push out slow learners way too early,and you see the kids at lower secondary schools walking up and down the halls, because the teachers don’t really care about these kids.When I went to school way back in the 70’s some teachers use to say, ” I have my learning, and I will get my check this month’s end so I dont care”. I talk to some kids when ever I come to Barbados on vacation, and unfortunately some teachers still say the same thing, so if the rasta guy is teaching the kids, and the kids could approach him and get some extra help, he should be able to teach. Some teachers dress up nice, but have not an ounce of manners or respect for the students, some not all. I prove it and it still happening. Maybe the principal at Alexandra was trying to erase those bad attitudes, but then again a story got four sides these days.

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