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Message from the Head of Secondary Mr Paul Harrison

A friend of mine, who was a former colleague many years ago, recently posted a link in Facebook to a blog (Strauss, 2013) about whether schools could be run as businesses. The story relates how a former ice cream company executive in the 1980s became a firm believer that schools should not to be run as businesses, after being an advocate for the opposite. The story goes something like this:

The CEO of the ice cream company was proud of the high quality of ice cream his company produced, referring to it as the “best in America”. One of the products his company created was blueberry ice cream. Like all their products it was made from the highest quality ingredients, especially the blueberries.

There came a time when the CEO, because of his good works and support for education in schools, was asked to be the keynote speaker at an educational conference for teachers. He decided to focus his address on the principle that schools could be run as a business. He was convinced of two things (and here I quote):

“First, public schools needed to change; they were archaic selecting and sorting mechanisms designed for the industrial age and out of step with the needs of our emerging “knowledge society.” Second, educators were a major part of the problem: they resisted change, hunkered down in their feathered nests, protected by tenure, and shielded by a bureaucratic monopoly. They needed to look to business. We knew how to produce quality. Zero defects! Continuous improvement!”

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Having stated these beliefs, the CEO was challenged by a member of the audience, a teacher who asked what his company did if a batch of blueberries was delivered that did not meet the exacting standards of his company. To which he replied that they would be sent back to the farmer who had delivered them.

The teacher then responded as follows:

“We can never send back our blueberries. We take them big, small, rich, poor, gifted, exceptional, frightened, confident, rude, and brilliant. We take them with ADHD and English as their second language. We take them all! Every one! And that is why it’s not a business. It’s school!”

The name of the CEO was Jamie Volmer. After his experience at the conference he visited hundreds of schools coming to the view that they should not be run as businesses. What about you?

I do not want to make any parallels between BISB and the contents of this story. It is a simple anecdote that I freely share to try and illustrate the challenges my colleagues (the teachers of your children), face every day of the year. We too have our blueberries, and we do our utmost to help them ripen and to reach their full potential before that sad day when they will leave us. It is what we do. It’s a school!

A final word, and please excuse my poetic license by stretching the blueberry analogy a little bit. We have two groups of blueberries preparing for the next challenge on their long educational journey, one group in Year 11 and the other in Year 13. Year 11 are preparing for their final IGCSE examinations in May/June, and Year 13 are preparing for the final IB examinations in May. We have high hopes for both groups and I hope that they know that the whole school is behind them and supporting them all the way. It is what we do. We are BISB!

Thank you.

Paul Harrison

(Ref:      Valerie Strauss, “Why schools aren’t businesses: The blueberry story”, (2013), The Washington Post)

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