Bullying by numbers – its roots in neoliberalism

Reclaiming Schools

by Terry Wrigley, Visiting Professor, Northumbria University

There is relentless pressure to raise standards – or rather scores – and it’s driving thousands of teachers to quit. The insatiable demands amount to bullying – bullying by numbers, reinforced by a punitive (and numbers-obsessed) inspection regime.

This oppressive use of statistical comparisons is one consequence of neoliberalism and its reduction of all human activity to economic calculations.

boy with apple

Everything is measured by numbers, and what can’t easily be counted (creativity, kindness) just doesn’t matter. The upper secondary curriculum for individual students is often influenced by considerations of statistical advantage to the school rather than student needs. At the other end of the age range, the new Baseline Assessment reduces the complex and uneven development of four-year-olds to a single score.

Numbers appear neutral and therefore authoritative: they present to us as simply an unbiased reflection of the real world, untainted by…

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