Are you being served?

To paraphrase the title of the very popular if somewhat risqué and innuendo laden department store-based sit-com of the 1970s and early 80s, clearly many people currently aren’t!

How the fictional Grace Brothers would have faired on the high street today, who knows? However, I guess there would be every chance that along with, as we discovered this week, giants of the genre like House of Fraser they would probably be struggling!

The principal reason identified for demise of the high street department store appears to be these slow moving monoliths lack of responsiveness to changing customer needs, tastes and online habits...


I guess if you think about it, a secondary school has at one level much in common with a department store. Not least because they are almost always organised on a subject department basis! Lots of separate, semi-autonomous subject areas ‘selling’ their own ‘product’ under a single roof - or at least series of roofs - on a single site.

So, should we as schools, be more also responsive to customer needs? Are we running the risk, like many of the under seize high street department stores, of becoming an anachronism; a throw-back to a previous age, distant from and disengaged with its key customers?

It’s an interesting question! Particularly because despite what is widely regarded as the ‘marketisation’ of education since the 1980s, we aren’t completely free to be the entrepreneurial masters of our own fate.

In many respects I think schools - and Park House in particular - have been very ‘agile’ in response to meeting changing customer needs. Structurally, we’ve converted from being a Local Authority School to a Single Academy in 2011 and now the Hub Lead School in a Multi Academy Trust - all order to give us greater autonomy to use resources creatively to support teaching, learning and student achievement…

Multi Academy Trust

Ironically, however, there’s at the same time a significant disincentive to go further and also break away from the ‘department store’ structure of the curriculum offer, whether it’s offered with the context of a Local Authority School, Single Academy Trust or a MAT. And that’s because, of course, young people continue examined, whether at 16 or at 18, almost exclusively on the basis of subject-based knowledge tests, just as they have been for most of the last century, too!

Exams In Progress 

So, whilst I’m delighted that we’re one of the ‘John Lewises’ of schools, there’s part of me that yearns to push things even further and move to the thematically-structured, skills and competency based curriculum that would, in my view best prepare young people for the rapidly changing world that awaits them beyond school.

Unfortunately, that would mean that, in the exam room at least, our customers wouldn’t currently be best served...

Are You Being Served?