«The problem is no longer whether management is private or not, it's bringing the best into the classroom»

In the 38th episode of the podcast Isto Não é Pera Doce, we spoke with Francisco Vieira. An administrator at the Maristas Colleges, Francisco has worked for the Secretary of State for Youth, the administration of the Cascais Foundation and the board of the Forum for Freedom and Education.

«The problem is no longer whether management is private or not, it's bringing the best into the classroom»
Fígura de ondas técnologicas azul

In the 38th episode of the podcast Isto Não é Pera Doce, we spoke with Francisco Vieira. An administrator at the Maristas Colleges, Francisco has worked for the Secretary of State for Youth, the administration of the Cascais Foundation and the board of the Forum for Freedom and Education. 

Schools have always focused heavily on teaching and pedagogy, which are undoubtedly crucial. However, in today's context, we observe a growing importance placed on school support services. Good education must now encompass addressing these emerging needs driven by societal evolution. Watch the full conversation:

Professionalisation of services

When we think of schools, we primarily think of teaching - a school year that undoubtedly presents numerous learning challenges for all students involved.

Nevertheless, while teaching remains central to the school's mission, management is an area that demands significant attention these days. School support services have expanded and need to be profissionalizaed. 

And schools were created around that idea - they were created, or they've always been that way - very centred, and that's how it should be, on the teaching part and the pedagogical part, on the teaching part. And that's important, but the school support services - the area where I have the most freedom - have become more important. Or they've become more necessary. Before, you didn't need those support services so much, and now, in order to do good teaching - not that they are central, the central thing is still the teacher in his relationship with the student, but you need them much more.

We know that currently, the human resources department has been evolving exponentially. Both HR, as well as, for example, the communications department. In various companies, these departments have been growing to great dimensions. Today, in public schools, according to Francisco, its growth is beginning. 

If we look at the staff of the Marist schools, for example, they're the ones I know best, but it's the same in most schools. Objectively, we're talking about highly scientific organisations, so the average qualification in a school is brutal. All the teachers are at least university graduates. And they make up the bulk of the staff. But apart from the teaching staff, there were virtually no graduates. All the support services were undifferentiated services: cleaning, surveillance, canteens... Today, that's unthinkable. You have a range of support services that are also staffed by highly qualified people.

This is where technology becomes essential, as teachers require effective technology support services to effectively integrate technology into their work.

The technological part, at least in my view, is a tool, not an end in itself. The biggest challenge is the teachers. It's the teachers who have to change their teaching practices, adopt new approaches, even new ways of being at school, with new tools. And the second big challenge [...] isn't with the students either, it's with the parents.

Parents are concerned about monitoring their children's progress at school. And schools are increasingly concerned about responding to these concerns. That's why the platforms chosen for schools are no longer focused solely on administrative processes, but also on the teaching-learning process. The focus now is to make education as comprehensive as possible, across all processes and dimensions.

So we have a set of platforms, which we can call pedagogical and content platforms, where the complexity of use is indeed greater. [...] Even today, a parent who goes to a nursery with a three-year-old child may have to learn to work with a platform because it's the one where they can see what the child ate and what they didn't eat 

So all these issues are on the table when it comes to running a school.

I would say that in a public school we have some freedom. And so I think the biggest challenge will be to try and do the best we can within the freedom we have, both politically and financially. And we've tried to make some changes which we've achieved and which I think state schools, for example, are struggling to achieve. [...] In any case, managing change, whether in the private or public sector, is always the biggest challenge. I would say in any institution, and especially in a school.  

«Teacher shortage is a problem»

There are many challenges, but there are also problems. And the shortage of teachers is one of them, says Francisco.

The shortage of teachers is a problem. And it's a real problem. It's more or less difficult to say. From a pragmatic point of view, the first argument, the first level of evaluation, the first factor: salary scales.

Francisco Vieira e Sousa points to the salary scale as the first factor in the problem of teacher shortages. According to him, a public school doesn't have the capacity to react so quickly to sudden changes in salaries because it tries to maintain a certain balance. He therefore assumes that if the salary scale rises too quickly, they will have a problem.

We try to have a certain balance there. If the wage scale suddenly goes up too fast, then we have a problem. I would say that the state has a different capacity to deal with this issue.  

However, his reflections extend beyond this point. He recollects a time when Portugal had an absurd pay scale for teachers, where entry-level salaries were minimal and those who remained in the profession for longer earned significantly more. He highlights that this arrangement posed no issue for either the government or the private sector as long as few teachers advanced to higher pay grades. Thus, he asserts that the recent adjustments, particularly at the entry level, are entirely justified.

Having said that, because I may seem insensitive to the real issue, Portugal had a completely absurd salary scale for years, many years, and we all lived with it and nobody got very angry as long as there were teachers. That's my personal view, of course. And the OECD reports have shown that. Every year, if you want to look at the series from 20 years ago, there's always a graph showing how much you earn at the beginning of your career and how much you earn at the end of your career. Portugal was always at the top of the list of countries where the difference in salary at the start and end of a career was the greatest. So we had a system where you actually started out earning very little and ended up earning quite a lot. That's my assessment.

So, in Francisco's experience, what advantages do private schools offer teachers that public schools lack?

What do we have? We have other tools, I mean... in the business world, when we talk about management, almost everyone will ask you what the mission, vision and values are. I'm not one of those people who thinks that's going to change the company. In an organisation like a school, a private one, it has an identity, it doesn't have that, but it has an identity. We at the school, we're a marista school, that means something. So we have an identity.

An identity that is lacking in public education, says Francisco.

I think the teaching staff is becoming more and more stable from what I see, from the schools I visit. Yeah, because there's no identity. There isn't an identity. And, to a certain extent, nobody wants there to be. Because public schools, by definition, are supposed to be the same for everyone and, because they're the same for everyone, they're all the same and, if they're all the same, they have no identity.

«The war on public schools was a war on catholic schools»

Are we creating a divide between state and private schools?  

I think that the war against state schools was once a war against catholic schools. Maybe I'm being unfair, but that's the feeling I have. Because public schools were mainly catholic schools, schools like the Marist schools [...] I don't want to be unfair, but I think it was very much an ideological war between left and right, but more than an ideological war, it was a war of a certain left against the Church. And I am sorry for that.

Francisco believes that the reason for this 'war' lies from criticism of the endoutrination that the church can make. The truth is that you have to think about what is best for the doctrine. It's essential to have the ability to scrutinize doctrine and bring out its best aspects.

The reason is that there is a criticism of any endoutrination that the Church might do. And I'm not saying that the Church doesn't do that. So there may be schools where that exists, so I understand that it exists. I think that was the reason. And I feel very sorry for that reason because it ended the covenants and I think the covenants were a good thing. I think that anyone who defends the public school is defending a school for everyone. And I think that's a good thing. I just think that - I look at it a little differently now than I did at the Forum for Educational Freedom a couple of years ago. I think we have to be able to look at the education system and try to get the best people into the education system who like the education system and want to do good things in the education system.

For all these reasons, we need to find escape valves.

I think the question of management, the problem is no longer whether management is private or not, but whether we get the best people into teaching. And we lose a lot if we close ourselves off to the logic of the state. I don't think [...] we're going to change a purely state system into a private one. It doesn't make sense, the schools are there, the teachers are there. And it's based on a teaching career that has been set up, and that's not going to change overnight. So find escape valves instead of having something rigid that you can't move and every time you want to take a step it's a pain. I would open escape valves.

Watch the full episode on YouTube, Spotify, iTunes or Google Podcasts.



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