Unshackle The Professional

In one way shape or form we are all professionals in what we do, as many of us remain in the particular role that we have chosen to do. However there are those among us who have trained long and hard to undertake roles that require perhaps a lot more dedication and knowledge. It is these professionals that I am really referring to here. In saying that, the other roles would also feel similar stresses. In particular, education, law and the medical profession are areas where I have spoken to the people concerned about their anxieties and the daily stresses they feel.

A teacher has trained at university not only to attain a relevant degree level but to also learn and understand the levels of human ability to learn. A key component here is again to see that all human children, and adults, have differing ways in which they find learning easier or difficult. In addition to this, is the important concept that not all children are able to achieve the same level of skill, or knowledge, as their peers. This is something that, as a teacher, you understand but the priority is to ensure that every child achieves their own maximum potential. This is a primary motivator for all those in this profession.

Having said this we now have a level of bureaucracy that attempts to structure education into a matrix of pigeon-holes and change the function of the teacher to allocate a particular hole to a particular child within a set period of time. This immediately creates tension as a child may not fit easily into a particular 'hole' and a teacher is trying to steer it in one direction to meet 'the system' while he, or she, knows that this is not primarily in the child's interest. Not only does this create anxiety and distress to the child but also creates anxiety within the teacher who on one level is trying to do the best for the child and on the other satisfy the system for their own job. The result of this is that many in the profession are leaving voluntarily or many of those who have remained to fight the system have succumbed to clinical stress. This state of affairs cannot continue otherwise it becomes self destructive.

The problem here is that the state is trying to create a system whereby all children achieve the same level of, state defined, ability within a controlled period of time. There are too many variables at play here to be able to achieve this at a top level, whether it is through regular testing or not. I basically believe that two periods of testing at primary and secondary level is sufficient and like all competitions, some win and some lose. Some reach a standard and some do not. We all have to learn to deal with failure - ask any auditioning actor! And choose a different direction. This can only be done at the personal level. Something that a teacher is trained to help with.

All teachers are different and all schools are different as are the children within them. Many of the differences in schools can be attributed to the areas they are located in. This can be due to the industry in the area, the affluence of the population or the spread of the population. Trying to make a less affluent area the same standard of education as a more affluent area involves looking at the abilities of the parents in these areas and coming to some stark conclusions that in a general sense those in less affluent areas perhaps do not have the skills, and ability, to help their children as much and as such people tend to group in these areas as do immigrant populations. This is a fact of life that can only be dealt with at a local level and should not be micro-managed. In a reducing population we would also need to allow individual professional decision making to overcome the many varied situations that would occur.

I have also discovered similar tensions within the police service as many new regulations are defined in such a detailed way, that like teachers, the police are trying to fit crimes into categories to meet targets rather than deal with Right or Wrong. In this respect the police have an additional problem as they have to deal with the public who see the law in the context of Right and Wrong while the police know that the justice system is merely dealing with what can be administered within a set of law definitions. Again if this framework of laws was reduced (howls of derision from the legal profession) and more authority and responsibility was delegated to lower levels then a police officer could do more to control the lawless levels within their community. In addition to this a police officer was more able to have a 'feel' for the areas when they actually lived within the communities they policed, whilst in police houses. These days they are more detached from the areas they police.

As with the teachers application of the law in different areas requires different techniques to apply. For example applying the law of driving without due care and attention can be applied by many officers to cover many situations. However, the legal system has overlaid so many more precise definitions and sub-laws that the previous flexibility for any officer to make a judgement has gone. Like the teachers the inherent anxiety is felt to a degree that many leave.

The same situation is happening in the healthcare system. The local GP is having one eye on the targets set for various things while trying to analyse a patients problems. I recently spent 3 hours with medical staff while a patient was given a pre-op assessment and I became concerned about the number of statements made about risk of things going wrong that could worry elderly patients and cause them to dwell on some aspects and worry a lot about others. However, the staff were not allowed to use their professional judgement but were compelled to go through a whole list of pre-defined processes to meet the criteria. They also perhaps had to deal with the consequences later of some patients that became worried. In previous times a doctor would use judgement as to whether a patient could take information or not and advise accordingly. Some would do this better than others. This is common sense and thankfully they are not robots but professionals.

I have noticed the same exists in the dental profession where under the NHS, certain remedial action is pre-determined regardless of whether the dentist agrees with it or not. This is why so many prefer to remain private as from a professional point of view they have the flexibility to determine the treatment based on the condition - we are all different after all!

Most professional associations have codes of conduct that determine how the members operate. These should be sufficient to ensure that the qualities of decisions made are the highest standard possible. Mistakes will be made, accidents will happen and worst situation that can occur is that every possible variant is ruled for. We must change our structure so that professionals are able to use their professional judgement and also, most important, we must accept that this will create a rich diversity of service across the country that can be managed at macro level. The problem at present is that we are trying to move teams of professional leaders into roles where we are to restrain them as mere managers of systems. The two are incompatible and do lead to adverse stress. If nothing changes what will happen is that our professions will staffed by unspirited mangers of the worst kind - the principle of Taylorism is at work yet again.

This document maintained by alan.harmer1@btopenworld.com.
Material Copyright © 2009 Alan Harmer.
Last Updated March 2010