Education: Time to consider the customer?

I have recently been listening to Sir Richard Branson’ s audio book, The Virgin Way, and it has got me thinking about a number of things.   In one particular chapter of the book a number of companies were discussed, where each had been highly successful however then went through a period of significant loss.   Sir Richard suggested that these companies lost significant amounts of money due to a mistaken focus on “challenging” financial targets as the key indicator and focal point for performance discussions, at the expense of the overall good of the company and its organisational culture.    Having recently done a study on culture within international schools operating in the UAE, this made me consider possible parallels between the business world and the world of education.   Deal and Peterson (2009) in their book suggested that schools could learn from the business world in terms of developing culture.


In Sir Bransons book the focus on financial targets is identified as an error contributing to losses in the financial results which are being examined.   He suggested that the finances are a bi-product of the business as opposed to its sole aim, indicating that within his organisations the aim is to deliver excellent customer service and to look after the customers first.   He goes on to explain that if he looks after his customers, they will look after him and that positive financial outcomes will be a bi-product of this.

Drawing comparisons between Sir Branson’s comments with regards business and education I would suggest that the financial results examined to assess the success of businesses may be similar in nature to the standardised test results being examined to assess the success of schools.    Within education in recent times there has been a significant amount said and a significant focus put on standardised test scores.  Based on PISA results for example, Finland has been proclaimed by some to be the best education system in the world.

The question is whether education, like the businesses which suffered significant losses, is too focused on these specific standardised measures of educational performance at the expense of the culture of schools or the good of education in general.     Has education lost its focus on why education, schools and teachers exists;  Our purpose?

Now I know the above is very much general in nature and therefore does not apply to all schools or education systems.   My point is that in general I believe we need to step back and relook at what is important and our overall reason for teaching.     We need to look at the cultures of schools rather than standardised test results.    Sir Richard repeatedly discusses the importance of a focus on customer service.    Should we do the same and re-evaluate what we see as most important, maybe showing a little less attention to the standardised test results and a little more to our customers; The students!


Image courtesy of cooldesign at


Author: garyhenderson2014

Gary Henderson is currently the Director of IT in an Independent school in the UK. Prior to this he worked as the Head of Learning Technologies working with public and private schools across the Middle East. This includes leading the planning and development of IT within a number of new schools opening in the UAE. As a trained teacher with over 15 years working in education his experience includes UK state secondary schools, further education and higher education, as well as experience of various international schools teaching various curricula. This has led him to present at a number of educational conferences in the UK and Middle East.

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