Parents and Children as Customers – an outward facing public service


You know that niggling feeling that you get when you’ve got an idea bubbling just underneath the surface and can’t quite express it – then again perhaps you don’t but it’s one with which I’m often afflicted.  It’s like that for me at the moment with this business of parents and children as customers.  I just can’t help feeling it would make such a difference to the quality of the service we provide – yet at the same time the very word customer sets up such a huge obstacle – no matter how you might try to redefine it as a concept in the 21st century.

I’ve played around with  suggesting that “customer” should be a metaphor for how we should treat parents and children – but this hits the same deep rooted problem of traditional perceptions of the relationship between provider and customer.

My niggle was rekindled yesterday when listening to Anna – a sixth year student from a school in the Scottish Highlands. She was very positive about most of her school experiences – but the recurring theme was how things could be so much better of the teachers and the school tried to look at the school experience through her eyes, and the eyes of her fellow students. To paraphrase what she was saying – and this is, of course, my interpretation – “school isn’t designed for her or her peers, but one where their needs are secondary to the interests of the school”. Yet when I asked a question to headteacher, who was also on the panel, if he was comfortable with the idea of children as customers he immediately replied that he wasn’t, to be quickly supported by Anna herself.

So that was it for me – here was someone pushing for a service which was directed towards her needs – a customer focussed service – but  for whom the very word customer put her off. So no more talk of customers – but what are the alternatives?

Guineapigmum likes the idea of partners – and I think a good school should be characterised by a partnership between teachers, parents and children – but it still doesn’t capture for me the idea of being “customer” (oops) facing. In other words it’s possible to enter into a partnership where you are primarily interested in fulfilling your own needs – and that by working in partnership with others we gain mutual benefit.  However, should schools only enter into partnership with parents and children to gain something for themselves? What if a parent doesn’t want to be a partner – do we treat them differently? What if a six year old child doesn’t want to be a partner – do we give up on them and wait until they do? 

As I’ve mentioned more than once on this Log my own father was a doctor.  He served his patients – their needs predominated.  He sacrificed his own needs to serve the needs of his community.  Sure he worked with his patients and they loved him for it – but it wasn’t a partnership.  I suppose the word here is “duty” – a duty to serve those who needed his services. They didn’t have a “duty” to work with him. 

For me it’s all to do with which way you are facing.  Do we start facing towards our own needs (inwards)? – or do we start facing towards those whom we serve (outwards)?

So that’s it – simple really!  We need to be an outward facing service where we seek to provide the highest quality service possible to those whom we serve – parents and their children (not customers) – and if that means that some of our own needs and wants have to be sacrificed to that end then so be it.

3 thoughts on “Parents and Children as Customers – an outward facing public service

  1. That’s sounding like you’ve sorted out the semantics! I wholeheartedly agree that service and duty are the key to this with a very specific mind set which looks outwards. That’s not easy though… and at times we also have to remember that the sacrificing of personal needs to do this is something which everyone is at a different stage of. For many the work life balance that is required can become impossible to maintain to serve at that level. I think there’s a fundamental question here about how we “sell” the teaching profession to those entering it. When did you last hear someone describe it as a vocation? There’s been a loss here I think over years of how we percieve the privilege of the job we undertake.
    Here’s a little link Don about where I work.

  2. Andrea

    Thanks – I totally agree with the concept of vocation. However, I still think it’s possible to have a very outward facing service without it impinging upon our life outside work. It’s a state of mind which needs to underpin everything you do – not something that switches on and off in response to “How Good is Our School?”.

    It’s so very easy for all of us to face “inwards” – in fact I’d suggest that it’s the natural state. That’s not to say that we don’t need to care for each other or the staff whom we might lead – but just that we are there to serve others, not ourselves – which is how it sometimes seems to children and parents. I can’t stop that pupil’s words from ringing in my head “by teachers, for teachers”.

    What a place we could create if every pupil in a school was to say – “they look at things through our eyes, and make it better” – sounds a bit like your school!

  3. While at University as a mature student. I was acutely aware of the University’s marketing drive to be seen as corporate and business structured. However sadly it seemed to forget that the students were the customers/client and often failed to deliver the corporate ideal. It seemed to us as students,the timetables were built around Lecturers and Professor’s research needs and conferences with the lectures were secondary. We often had several lectures cancelled in a row as a result as a lecturers opportunity to attend a research forum or conference. Anyway my point being that educators and staff have personal needs and I agree that the balance is difficult to achieve. I guess it’s a capability – capacity dilemma in the above case. I think we have to be careful not to promise( i.e. portray the impression that we consider our parents and pupils as the only customers) what we may not be able to deliver. Yes we need to look outwards but not forget that the barriers to success lie within.

    As for the semantics/metaphors -Perhaps we are all consumers (parents, teachers, support staff, pupils..)in the education arena or marketplace as opposed to customers? and like product manufacturers we need more market research(internal + external) to develop our product of education.

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