Naming the New Totalitarianism

01 February 2007
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The Houses of ParliamentMichael Fielding


(Lib Ed is grateful to the Taylor and Francis Group for permission to post this abbreviated version of an article first published in School Leadership and Management, Vol. 26, No. 4, September 2006)


There is significant acknowledgement in influential quarters that the dominant intellectual and practical frameworks of school effectiveness and school improvement are no longer sufficient to assist our understanding and guide our daily work. The kind of enthusiastic engagement with learning required of a 21st century 'knowledge society' has not emerged to any significant degree from a system designed primarily to ensure compliance and exert control. Not only is performativity diminishing of our humanity, it is, as many of us have for many years been at pains to point out, unlikely to produce the kinds of results it anticipates and requires. Transformation, not improvement, is to be the order of the day and knowledge creation and networking, not central control, are to be the key agents of its realisation.

Whilst the English government's response to the need to create a new momentum linked to new ways of working has in some fundamental respects been less imaginative and principled than that of their Welsh counterpart, there have, nonetheless, been some glimmers of hope. Arguably the most prominent of these has been the high profile commitment to 'personalised learning', which at first glance and on first hearing seems to have within it a much needed return to concerns for the wider, human purposes of schooling that give education its enduring significance and satisfaction.

Personalisation and the practical necessity of philosophy

Although at first glance the widespread championing of personalised learning is largely positive, a second glance often proves otherwise; at any rate the momentum of our initial optimism begins to falter a little. Though W. Stewart was able to say, in an article in the Times Educational Supplement in 2004, that 'The school of the future must have personalised learning as its starting point', Martin Johnson revealed in a paper published by the Institute for Public Policy Research in the same year that engagement with practitioners, academics and policy-makers revealed two things: firstly, that 'There was a consensus that there was a lot of confusion out there about what personalised learning meant' and, secondly, that 'despite the lack of clarity, the phrase is spreading like a virus through the system, with schools advertising for teachers with experience and understanding of personalised learning'. When we add to this the results of recent research revealing serious flaws in the much vaunted utilisation of learning styles, our pace begins to slow considerably. If we further add Martin Johnson's perception that whilst there may be benefits from certain interpretations of personalised learning, there may equally be significant problems associated with the continued commodification of individual academic success, we cannot be other than fitful in our desire to push ahead. Schools as agents of social stability and communal well-being seem to Johnson to have no place in the personalisation agenda. Finally, if we add to this mounting negative ambiguity and elusiveness Roy Hattersley's, sadly still accurate, observation in the New Statesman in the same year that in the field of secondary education 'the government has no philosophic compass with which to guide its policies', it seems wise to take stock in a more considered way than seems to have been possible thus far.

Roy Hattersley's remarks go to the heart of the malaise not just of this government's secondary school agenda, but of its wider education policy. Despite vibrant objections from a number of different sources, the rootless and sometimes contradictory imperatives of government departments pushing 'personalisation' not only reveal an intellectual indolence unworthy of Labour's rich history of committed educational reform, but also presage a wider and deeper crisis. Whilst some of the work emerging from the personalisation agenda is without doubt potentially radical and has much about it that is both motivating and engaging, much of it chooses to construct a world free from the intellectually contested realities of our history and our hopes.

The roots of our crisis go considerably deeper than the failure of our current 'high performance' model of schooling and the 'personalisation' phase with which it currently seeks to redress its worst effects and more obvious failings. Our crisis is as much a crisis of the human person as it is a crisis of economic effectiveness and overly-instrumental schooling. It is not primarily a crisis about engaging and motivating young people within the context of formal schooling (e.g. 'personalisa- tion' and the ill-fated Tomlinson review) or a crisis of diminishing capacity (e.g. workforce reform) or indeed a crisis about our systemic capacity to generate and spread innovative practices throughout this, or any other, set of arrangements (e.g. networked learning). It is fundamentally a crisis about human sociality, about our human being in the world. It thus returns us as much to ontological questions and to questions of educational, social, political, moral and religious significance as it does to questions of technique and the mechanics of accomplishment. Uncertainty about what we take education to be for mirrors the wider and deeper crisis about the kind of society we wish to sustain and create, the kinds of activities that enhance human flourishing and assist us in living our lives wisely and well. It is thus in an important sense a philosophical crisis, a crisis about meaning and purpose and the nature of our emerging humanity.

Putting philosophy to work

If schools are to continue to exist well into the 21st century they need to be more fulfilling, more creative and more humanly attentive places than they have been thus far in their very chequered histories, both for those who teach in them and for those who are required to attend them. This necessitates at least two things: firstly, a better understanding of the internal workings of organisational life and, secondly, a framework within which the larger concerns of schools as places of learning and being can be analysed and understood.

My first approach to these matters is to go deeper than schooling to excavate the bedrock of our social and communal being in the world. Here I draw on the work of the Scottish philosopher, John Macmurray, arguably the greatest currently neglected 20th century philosopher of the English speaking world whose radical reappraisal of philosophy remains an inspiration and a resource for those of us who regard agency, identity and community as the defining philosophical and practical problems of our epoch. For Macmurray, and for me, human beings are essentially relations:

The self is one term in the relation between two selves. It cannot be prior to that relation and, equally, of course, the relation cannot be prior to it. 'I' exists only as a member of the 'You and I'. The self only exists in the communion of selves.

(Macmurray, Interpreting the Universe)

Furthermore, there are two fundamentally different, but related and interdependent, modes of encounter with other persons that define our being in the world. These are what Macmurray calls 'functional' relations and 'personal' relations, and it is in developing our understanding of the proper nexus between the two that Macmurray provides his account of human interrelatedness and fulfilment.

Macmurray on the functional and the personal

Macmurray suggests that 'functional' or instrumental relations are typical of those encounters that help us to get things done in order to achieve our purposes. Indeed, functional relations are defined by those purposes. When I buy a train ticket to travel to the seaside my relationship with the person that sells me the ticket has solely to do with an exchange of money and a subsequent right to travel from A to B on the train. We do not reveal our deeper fears and aspirations to each other. In contrast, 'personal' relations exist in order to help us be and become ourselves in and through our relations with others and part of that becoming involves our mutual preparedness to be open and honest with each other about all aspects of our being. In these kinds of relationships, as for example in friendship, we do of course do things together. However, these joint activities or encounters do not define the relationship; they are expressive of it. Going by train to the seaside is not the purpose of our friendship; the day out is an expression of our care for and delight in each other.

For Macmurray the interdependence of the functional and the personal is both inevitable and desirable. The functional provides the concrete, instrumental means by which the personal expresses itself. If I care for you that care achieves practical expression as much through the rudimentary provision of daily necessities as it does through special acts of kindness. Community, another frequently cited example of a personal rather than a functional mode of human relation, expresses itself, or in Macmurray's words, 'gets hands and feet' through the practical arrangements we enter into to express our shared humanity and the creativity of our differences. Just as the personal needs the functional to realise itself in action, so too the functional needs some element of the personal to achieve its purposes. Except in very extreme cases which require us to act as if we were machines or adopt a role which overrides the kind of personal engagement we have been alluding to, human beings' engagement in functional activity trades on their understanding that wider human purposes validate and animate their conduct, how they go about getting things done.

Beyond balance: towards a personalist dialectic

What is distinctive and of considerable significance in John Macmurray's work is not just his insistence on the interdependence of the functional and the personal but the particular answer he gives to the nature of that interdependence. For Macmurray, whilst the personal is through the functional – concern, care, delight become real in action through practical expression – crucially the functional is for the sake of the personal. Thus, economic activity (the functional) is only legitimate insofar as it helps us to lead more fulfilled lives (the personal); politics and the fight for social justice (the functional) are the servants of communal flourishing (the personal). Within systems of compulsory public education, schooling (the functional) is for the sake of education (the personal); within schools themselves, administrative, management and other organisational arrangements (the functional) are for the sake of a vibrant and creative community (the personal). What is crucial to remember here is that each depends upon the other; their relationship is reciprocal and any attempt to obliterate one or the other or deny their distinctiveness and integrity is bound eventually to fail. In Macmurray's words,

They are opposites, with a tension between them. They are inseparable and limit one another. They are essential to one another and form a unity. Any attempt to fuse them or absorb one into the other will fail because they are opposites. Any attempt to separate them will fail because they limit one another. Any effort to run them parallel with one another without relating them will break down because they form an essential unity.

(Macmurray, Persons and Functions)

I find Macmurray's distinctions and his person-centred anthropology both inspiring and helpful. There are, however, a number of points that are understated or implicit in his writing that I think are worth pursuing more overtly. In my work with schools and in my attempts to think through how things might get better and more fulfilling for all concerned I have extended aspects of his thinking and developed my own typology which is intended to make it possible to take forward our work in ways which are more faithful to our educational intentions than current models allow.

Extending Macmurray: the unity of ends and means

What Macmurray found so objectionable at the beginning of the 20th century, namely the suffocating legacy of Victorian conformism in which our 'station and its duties' confined our humanity and condoned the presumptions of privilege within the boundaries of role and regulation, remained an issue throughout that century and remains an issue for us today. Whilst the deference of duty and acceptance of one's allotted place in a fixed social hierarchy was blown to pieces in the trenches of the First World War, the stratification of our lives and our desires in the interests of the powerful and the privileged persists, albeit through the disciplines of the market and governmentality, rather than through the heavy, all-too-visible hand of church, school and state.

The personal is as subservient to the functional as it has ever been. On the one hand, social and political movements which overtly sought to reverse this relation (communism, socialism and anarchism) either betrayed those aspirations, were sidelined by the imperatives of neo-liberalism or have yet to gain a significant platform in the popular imagination. On the other hand, the increasingly voracious appetite of that global market presides over the destruction of communities and the destabilization of national economies whilst the post-modern individualism of the 'self-constructed' consumer is shaped by the deeper collective interests of trans-national corporate ambition.

I have begun to augment and extend Macmurray's line of thinking and argue that not only is the functional for the sake of the personal and the personal achieved through the functional, but the influence of the personal on the functional can transform it. Ends and means must be inextricably linked; the means should themselves be transformed by the ends by which they are inspired and towards which they are aiming. The functional ways in which we work together in schools to achieve personal, communal and educational ends should be transformed by the moral and interpersonal character of what we are trying to do.

Organisational and communal orientation of schools

My four-fold typology comprises schools as 'impersonal organisations', as 'affective communities', as 'high performance learning organisations' and as 'person-centred learning communities'. (see Figure 1).

Schools as Impersonal Organisations

Schools as Affective Communities

Schools as High Performance Learning Organisations

Schools as Person-centered Learning Communities

The Functional Marginalises the Personal

The Personal Marginalises the Functional

The Personal is Used for the Sake of the Functional

The Functional is for the Sake of/ Expressive of the Personal

Mechanistic Organisation

Affective Community

Learning Organisation

Learning Community

Community is Unimportant /Destructive of Organisational Purposes

Community has few Organisational Consequences or Requirements

Community is a Useful Tool to Achieve Organisational Purposes

Organisation Exists to Promote Community




Morally and Instrumentally Successful

Figure 1: Organisational and communal orientation of schools

The impersonal organisation

The first two orientations, namely the 'impersonal' and the 'affective', take diametrically opposite stances on the relation between the functional and the personal. The impersonal standpoint is that the functional marginalises the personal, which it sees as largely irrelevant and counter-productive of the core purpose of the school. It results in a predominantly mechanistic organisation that is primarily concerned with efficiency. It would typically be dominated by role relations and procedures.

Management tends to be valued more highly than leadership. It clearly separates roles and persons and is guided more insistently by the former than the latter. Evidence from social science research and the contemporary development of a reliable evidence base of 'what works' is seen as a first and often overridingly important source of justification and guide to development. The organisational architecture of the school favours departments or teams focusing unremittingly on what are seen as the core instructional/teaching purposes of schooling. Professional learning is seen as the responsibility of individuals within the context of collective necessity. Formal, named, continuing professional development (CPD) illustrates a concern for enhancing delivery with maximum efficiency.

The affective community

In contrast, the affective standpoint valorises the personal at the expense of the functional. It is animated by an inclusive, restorative impulse rather than by the sifting, sorting and segregating predilections of efficiency. Its intense concern with the individual needs of young people results in little time or patience for the functional or organisational arrangements needed to translate the warmth and deeply held emotional commitments into practical realities that help young people learn in a variety of ways.

Leadership is valued more highly than management. The emphasis is typically on maternal/paternalistic relationships in which the experience and wisdom of the senior partners in the organisation dominate the culture and provide the often tacit parameters within which daily work is done and decisions are arrived at. Meetings and the paraphernalia of memos, forms and data are largely, and preferably, absent. Organisational structures tend to rely on the pattern and expectation of custom and practice, often of a benignly hierarchical kind. Its holistic predilections encourage face to face arrangements, continuity of relationships and a respect for interconnection and interdependence. CPD is typically workplace oriented, often linked to mentoring or collegial forms of engagement and invariably driven by personal interest or communal initiative.

Naming the new totalitarianism

The two orientations particularly relevant to this article concern the school as a high performance learning organisation and the school as a person-centred learning community. Both share a commitment to young people's achievement, but take very different stances towards how that achievement is conceived and how it is best realised.

Emotional labour and its alternatives: countering the discourses of deceit

At first glance these two modes seem very similar and it is that apparent similarity, or at least the sometimes extreme difficulty in telling the two apart, that suggests there may be important underlying issues to address. In essence we are talking about one mode which says 'have a nice day' as part of a human relations mantra and another mode which is genuinely welcoming and engaging of us; one mode which uses extra time for tutorials to jack up test scores and another that places personal encounter through dialogue at the very heart of its daily educational processes and intentions; one in which the new sanctioning of creativity and personalisation is primarily the servant of the same narrow standards agenda and another in which creativity and the engagement with young people as persons is the harbinger of a much richer, more demanding fulfillment of education for and in a democratic society. They are worlds apart; their felt realties are utterly at odds with each other.

And yet, it is not always clear which frame is dominant, whose purposes are being served, whether we are the victims of those whose interests are quite other than those we would applaud or whether we are part of something which is likely to turn out to be fulfilling and worthy of our support. It is not clear whether personalisation is a seductive rearticulation of corporate insinuation or a genuinely different orientation to what we do and how we might do it.

Recent work suggests that there may be two discernable sub-forms within each mode. In the case of the high performance learning organisation I suggest a manipulative mode and a totalitarian mode, both of which, in their different ways, treat personal forms of human relations as the servant of wider functional ambitions and intentions. In the case of the person-centred learning community I suggest an aspirational mode and an expressive mode, both of which treat functional engagement as the servant of personal relations and communal aspirations.

High performance learning organisation: manipulative mode

Much of the literature on performativity emphasises the extent to which it entails a denial of the personal, how social relationships are emptied out and any sense of caring for each other or for the young people with whom we work is marginalised or eradicated altogether. Thus, Stephen Ball's insistence in the Journal of Education Policy in 2003 that, 'performance has no room for caring' echoes the suggestions by John Smyth and others in their book Teachers' work in a Globalising Economy published in 2000, that the 'primacy of caring relations in work with pupils and colleagues' is now an anachronistic aspiration quite out of kilter with contemporary times.

Much of this rings true to me. Certainly, the activities and worth of the school as a high performance learning organisation are dominated by outcomes, by measured attainment. Its form of unity is collective, rather than personal or communal. The significance of both students and teachers is derivative and rests primarily in their contribution, usually via high stakes testing, to the public performance of the organisation. Stephen Ball was surely right when, referring to teachers, he suggested that 'Increasingly, we choose and judge our actions and they are judged by others on the basis of their contribution to organisational performance, rendered in terms of measurable outputs.' Much the same seems to be true for students. Increasing amounts of field data reveal students complaining that the school is only interested in them because they are the likely bearers of A* grades or, as Stephen Ball so aptly put it in Modern Educational Myths in 1999, 'It is not so much what the school can do for its students, but what the students can do for their school.'

There is, however, something important that is missing from this indicative account of performativity. Part of the power of contemporary performativity rests on its managerial reconstruction through an appearance of care. Insofar as complaints from pupils about their personhood being reduced to an instrumental value are unusual, it is an indicator of the power of high performance learning organisations to ensure compliance through a sophisticated psychology of emotional assent. As either a student or a member of staff in the high performing school your contributions are enhanced through your carefully managed 'ownership' of what others desire for you.

The high performing school is an organisation in which the personal is used for the sake of the functional: community is valued, but primarily for instrumental purposes within the context of the marketplace. (Some) parents and (some key players in) the community are listened to – but only on particular occasions for particular purposes.

High performance learning organisation: totalitarian mode

My own view is that much of what has been described so far sails very closely indeed to the wind of domination. What I am about to describe gets caught up directly in winds that are much stronger, totalitarian winds that beach us on shores that, apparently benignly, deny our identity altogether.

Examples of these developments go well beyond the blurring of personal and professional boundaries. In the advanced phase of high performance learning organisations the threat is not just of a willingly embraced confinement in which the personal is used for the sake of the functional. Rather, the functional and the personal collapse soundlessly into each other. Advancing from its earlier crudities, human resource management now seeks control through the organic absorption of the one into the other.

Beyond the betrayal of the high performance learning organisation

Whether the high performance learning organisation, like capitalism and as a 21st century articulation of it, will continue to renew and reconfigure itself I do not know. But I do care. I care because it is fundamentally corrosive of human flourishing. Performativity is only the latest of many expressions of what is, at best, an exploitative ontology diminishing of our humanity and what is, at worst, a totalitarian/totalizing incorporation of our human being into a project whose purposes are as intentionally opaque as its power is overwhelmingly debilitating. To challenge this tendency it is not enough to name what is fundamentally wrong with contemporary developments. We have to name and repudiate performativity in all its various guises and to construct a sound theoretical alternative that does not rest on the same set of flawed assumptions..

The philosophical anthropologies that distinguish the high performance learning organisation and the person-centred learning community could not be more stark. As we have just seen, in the 'manipulative mode' of the high performance learning organisation the personal is used for the sake of the functional and in its 'totalitarian mode' the personal and the functional collapse into each other, so that the functional rules through the very bloodstream by means of a managed, apparently joyous self-fulfillment. In direct contrast, within the 'intentional mode' of the person-centred learning community the functional is for the sake of the personal and in its more developed 'expressive mode' the functional is expressive of the personal.

Person-centred learning community: intentional mode

In its intentional, emergent mode the person-centred learning community is guided by its commitment to the functional arrangements and interactions of the school being firmly committed to wider human purposes. Certainly, the functional is genuinely felt to be for the sake of the personal, but, for a whole range of local and circumstantial reasons, the emphasis is on adapting traditional and more familiar arrangements.

The organisational architecture of the school is heavily influenced by the acknowledged values and aspirations that express its distinctive character. Wide-ranging formal and informal arrangements amongst staff and between students and ensure many voices are heard and engaged. Pastoral and academic arrangements are inter-related, and the needs of young people as persons provide the touchstone of aspiration and the arbiter of conflict. CPD is wide ranging in both its processes and its substance. Often collegial, occasionally communal, it is enquiry driven and learning oriented.

Person-centred learning community: expressive mode

In its more fully developed, expressive mode the person-centred learning community is one in which the functional is expressive of the personal, structures and daily practical arrangements having within them distinct traces of person-centred ways of being. Invariably one sees the development of organisational forms that deliberately establish a sense of place, purpose and identity within which emergent, fluid forms of learning are encouraged. Examples are the revival of schools within schools and the involvement of students in decisions about the curriculum. More participatory, less hierarchical forms of engagement and decision-making are developed. Distinctions between pastoral and academic become less clear and ultimately less significant. CPD embraces more explicitly dialogic, even narrative forms of engagement, such as action learning sets and self-managed learning groups, and boundaries between status, role and function are increasingly transgressed through new forms of radical collegiality, as exemplified by the students as researchers movement.

Working towards leadership and management in a person-centred learning community

Before I conclude I want to acknowledge the difficulties posed by certain kinds of left critique and reflect back different kinds of challenge, also from a left-wing perspective, that will help us to move forward positively in the context of already existing, increasingly global forms of 21st century capitalism.

It is quite right to remind us of the fundamental dangers of interpersonal, social and political forms of engagement that deflect attention away from the deeply unjust nature of the world in which we live. But whether we come at this through debates within, for example, political theory or educational philosophy and care theory or via some other pertinent conjunction, my own view is that we must acknowledge the legitimacy of standpoints that underscore the interdependence of fulfilling interpersonal relations, social justice and the nature of the good life. In other words, leadership and management that take social justice seriously have also to take seriously the objective towards which social justice aspires: in Macmurray's words 'All meaningful knowledge is for the sake of action, and all meaningful action for the sake of friendship.' (Macmurray, The Self as Agent )

I offer five points with regard to leadership and management within the context of a person-centred framework. My hope is that they resonate in ways which make their further pursuit engaging, worthwhile and sufficiently disruptive to worry those who defend the legitimacy of the status quo.


Integrity of means and ends.

The first has to do with the necessity of uniting means and ends, with the functional as expressive of the personal. It is both an overarching aspiration and a practical imperative. One of its most important expressions is insistent questioning of the managerial inclinations of contemporary schooling. How do we resist the reduction of rich notions of education as the development of good persons to thin notions of an impoverished, crudely instrumental schooling? How do we develop forms of engagement with colleagues, students, staff, parents and community that are reciprocal, emergent and inclusive? And how do we develop a legitimate discourse of the personal? How do we tell our stories in a language that names what we care for and opposes what is corrosive of our human being? The wasteland of current discourse, blighted by the dishonesty and pseudo-precision of performativity cannot do that work for us. We have to construct a counter discourse together with others who share our values and our aspirations.



Permanent provisionality.

One of the starkest differences between schools operating within high performance rather than person-centred orientations concerns their contrasting timeframes and pressures. Essentially episodic in their rhythm and rationale, market-driven approaches value contract, clarity and closure over the more subtle and enduring person-centred orientations of collegiality, ambiguity and openness. Whilst high performance discourse articulates and enacts the truculent, often spurious, precision of targets and delivery, commitment to person-centred approaches requires a more patient, no less purposeful, no less grounded narrative at the heart of which lie dialogue, collective reflection and the restless necessity of a permanent readiness for change. The challenge for school leadership is to further develop occasions and opportunities in which both the formal and informal rhythms of daily work and the more special rituals of communal encounter include space for students to join in discussion, for staff and students to work together, and for involvement of the wider school community.



Radical collegiality.

It seems to me that the emergence over the last 10 years or so of the student voice movement also has a legitimate claim on the attention of person-centred leadership. In contrast to high performance approaches, the student voice operating in person-centred mode is explicitly and engagingly mutual in its orientation towards widely conceived educational ends that will often include measurable results but are not constituted or constrained by them. It is about students and teachers working and learning together in partnership, rather than one party using the other for often covert ends. Within a person-centred learning community issues of power and hierarchy are at once more transparent and less secure than in other organisational orientations and the place of values is central and explicit rather than peripheral or opaque. The centrality of negotiation, the foregrounding of values and the perpetual willingness to work through their consequences, the explicitly exploratory nature of what is undertaken and the tolerance of ambiguity and unpredictability do a great deal to address issues of hierarchy and power in a recursive, ongoing way.



Narrative, a 'sense of sustainable self' and the emergence of democratic public spaces.

In his book, The corrosion of character: the personal consequences of work in the new capitalism, published in 1998, Richard Sennett asked some important questions, namely 'How can long-term purposes be pursued in a short term society? How can durable social relations be sustained? How can a human being develop a narrative of identity and life history in a society composed of episodes and fragments?' Part of our answer lies in the nurturing of spaces, both formal (e.g. through action learning sets and critical friendship pairings) and informal (e.g. through continuities of relationship and encounter) where teachers can legitimately place the pressure of their daily work within a less fragmented context of mutually supportive engagement, companionship and enquiry.


These sometimes more intimate spaces can be complemented by the development of a wider, more public, more democratic narrative that is richly textured and multivocal and includes young people as agents in the development of their own and each others' futures. What we now require is the emergence of significant occasions when young people, not just adults, lead dialogue with their peers and with staff, where students and staff involved in radical work encourage the school, or sections of it, to begin to engage as equals, as co-enquirers in and co-contributors to understanding how as a community it helps its members to live good lives together.

Problematising leadership. Like Martin Parker, who said in his book Utopia and organisation, published in 2002, 'I do not believe there is only one best way for human beings to do organisation,' and nor do I believe that the usual presumptions of hierarchy are inevitable or desirable. There is, for example, 'no necessary structural reason why the co-ordinators (of any complex organisation) should be given higher status and reward positions within the organisation. Indeed, they could simply be seen as another part of the organisation, no more or less functional or central than other parts.'

The intellectual and practical legacy of leadership and management has within it much we should be wary of. Maybe the best we can do in the meantime to ask hard questions, always unsettled by a permanent provisionality born of lived experience and the felt necessity of care.


If we are to try to understand and deal with the dilemmas and challenges we face then we have to take our intellectual responsibilities a great deal more seriously than the prevailing anti-intellectual, ahistorical culture of the present allows. Our professional and academic failure to address these matters adequately is leading us, albeit unwittingly, down a totalitarian path along which we have already traveled some distance. Far from ushering in a new era of joyous engagement with the creative adventure of learning, personalisation, in at least some of its forms, deepens and extends our malaise. There are already signs that social capital, collaboration, networking and personalisation are becoming the delivery agents of high performance schooling ushering in a new era of increasingly sophisticated, increasingly dubious forms of influence and control. In its most advanced manifestation personalisation is set to become the forerunner of 21st century totalitarianism, promising individual attentiveness and fulfillment at the cost of the very self it seems to so ardently celebrate.

This does not have to be so. Personalisation not only has within it the capacity to counter much that is unjust, unkind and pernicious in our formal education system, it also has the capacity to explore and develop forms of engagement and ways of learning that contribute to a wider and deeper human flourishing than the present currently affords us. What I am arguing for is an approach that takes a considered, explicit view of what it is to be and become a person. In advocating a person-centred approach my hope is that the values and assumptions that underpin it resonate with many of those who work in and with schools. For those holding different values and thus, quite properly, preferring different approaches we will at least be clear about the nature of our disagreements. That is as it should be. What we must avoid at all costs is an exaggerated, shallow commonality or the alienation of mute indifference.


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