The ‘new managerialist’ approach is concerned with producing correct action on a continual and all-consuming basis involving, in the case of education, leaders and managers implementing changes to ‘effectively’ promote the neo-liberal project by repositioning education as a ‘marketable service’ coupled to ‘the glorification of the ‘consumer citizen’ construed as willing, resourced and capable of making market-led choices’ (p.14). Such an approach is in contrast to the notion of education as being, at heart, about ‘caring’ rather than ‘profit’, with a workforce which contains a larger number of females; hence,
Neo-liberalism embeds not only a unique concept of the learner in education, it also maps on a new set of goals to education that do not sit easily with education’s purpose as a key institution in protecting people’s human rights. (p.14)
The leaders interviewed spoke of discourses around ‘control and regulation’ and also that of ‘competitive survival’. Women in particular found it difficult to reconcile the sense of community and caring within education to these new discourses, leading to a sense of isolation and a feeling that they were not being taken seriously as leaders. However, often (though not only) the religious aspect of many schools in Ireland appeared in some ways to counter the neoliberal orientation, challenging the new managerialist project through the complexity introduced by the intersection of the identity of the school and those within the school’s community.
They note that many solutions to gender discrimination in schools are those that do not change the way schools work or challenge the existing power relations which often have led to that discrimination. So whilst it appears that the powerful are listening carefully to the calls from below, the reality is somewhat different. Those positions which are seen by the dominant group as having the greatest power and prestige may be held by fewer women whilst the positions women do hold are either ones with considerably less power and prestige or else once prestigious posts now transformed into less powerful ones, such as the head teacher of a primary school in an academy chain or the secondary school head of department re-titled as a curriculum leader.