It has taken a while to write again, but was impacted today after many conversations with school leaders to write something to consolidate some thinking. I found myself in a conversation with a MAT CEO and NLE discussing the current issues related to finance and the wider education system, as is common these days.
We live in a VUCA time: volatile, uncertain, chaotic and ambiguous, if you hadn’t noticed already. At the end of January Lord Agnew published his School Resource Management Pilot Report (SRMA) talking about the benefits of the efficiency work that he has driven while School System Minister and then, in a cabinet reshuffle, he has moved to the cabinet office. We have yet to see if Baroness Berridge of The Vale of Catmose will continue with the drive. The report was criticised and liked by different camps. Amanda Spielman has garnered criticism because of a recent OFSTED blog suggesting that school leaders would ‘squander’ any additional money if given out in the forthcoming budget. Is this because the word she used was too emotive or because it is simply not true? The SRMA programme continues at a march with the DfE making any new funding initiatives contingent on proof of financial efficiency and compliance with the benchmark measures – all quite understandable, perhaps, within sensible domestic national political use of public finances.
- School resource management adviser (SRMA) pilot evaluation
- Exclusive: ‘Apologise or resign,’ heads tell Spielman
However, I felt my conversation today went to the place that is the real crux of the education system issue. Within the education world, to the educators, the driver is that education is for the good of the learner. What matters is the best we can do for the young of the present to prepare for their futures – this at whatever cost; an altruistic understanding. Within the business world the key is efficiency – the best we can get for the least investment. Achieving the most with the least outlay; the ratio of output to input within any system. The educator and the business leader narratives and purposes are apparently opposed and therein lies a difficulty.
The two bookends: high purpose apparently at odds with efficiency in a period of less abundance. Nationally we now have qualified SRMAs on the one side, with the objective of measuring outcomes (performance measures) against input (finances), and on the other the educators, often NLEs and LLEs (National/Local Leaders of Education), charged by commission to support the educational improvement of institutions within the system that are ‘struggling’; focusing on the success of learners, many of whom have to overcome society’s worst excesses and failings to achieve it.
These two leaders work with different groups of people: the NLE with school education leaders and the SRMAs with School Business Leaders and they often speak completely different languages and even, sadly, often mistrust or at least struggling to understand the other. Too frequently there remains a gap and nothing to join them. The result is some very alarming stories of suggestions made to be more efficient that I will not recite here again, but which help no one to achieve better performance or efficiency in most cases.
The more I work with schools, Trusts and educational focused organisations the more I am convinced that the only way ahead is to develop a more shared narrative for the business and education leaders (also to include governance to be perfectly straight-forward!). A shared understanding of what matters and what makes a difference and the ability to talk these processes through beyond what have become blunt instruments in the form of metrics is crucial. When I discussed the ‘The Magnificent Seven’, the seven metrics used within the ICFP framework, I illustrated that the measures alone do not resolve the educational process. When we consider the methodologies behind ICFP we know that the metrics can, and do, lead to different answers; so wielding a target figure around will often be meaningless to a context-specific issue. What we need is a shared narrative, a way to discuss the complex issues related to setting up and maintaining a successful school within budget and within a whole range of diverse contexts across the country.
SMARTcurriculum® was designed to do exactly this – not the presuppose any structural decision, but to provide a framework for business leaders and educators to work together and achieve what we all want: the best education possible with the resources we have. This means finding opportunities for resources to be used to the best effect within a complex range of decisions. So it’s not about getting rid of teaching assistants, or making the SENCo teach more or removing subjects from the timetable; it’s about seeing how the elements work together to form a narrative that is focused on best outcomes and best opportunities. It is also not simply about the subjects that get the best results – although all of these features matter.
I was asked the other day by a head who had been through the process with us, ‘once I’ve saved this money what can I do with it?’ My response was that saving money was not our main purpose (although in fairness it may have been the reason that the relationship began!). The purpose was to empower the leadership team, business leaders and education leaders, to make informed and evidence-based decisions about how best to resource the curriculum for the goals and needs of the learners they had. They needed to invest in IT resources but could not see how to achieve it. What was achieved was a £350k saving each year for 3 years and sufficient funds to enable specific resources to be funded, as well as a deficit recovered.
What we need is a far more informed conversation between the specialist professionals within the system. Business and education leaders must:
- Develop a shared vocabulary to discuss curriculum development beyond pure metrics, so that we are focused on the same things.
- Engage in a conversation about core purpose and goals to shape the needs and imperatives that are to be resourced and have an understanding of good educational evidence of what is effective.
- Use this shared narrative to empower the decision making processes as resources become all the more accountable and scarce.
- Prove that all three of the above matter in the education of our learners and that vested interests and goal-scoring pecking orders do not matter to the genuine purpose of educating our future society members.
SMARTcurriculum® is designed to give visual representation of this narrative. Measurements and metrics are included as they are required but the formation of the dashboards are simply to open and maintain the conversations about what works, what doesn’t work and what makes a difference.
If you want to know more, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call and arrange a conversation on 0203 701 2854.
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