Delivering Educational Outcomes & Portfolio Parity


For those of you following my series on Service Synergy, I have (finally) managed to put aside some time to write a post on Delivering Outcomes. I’m currently sitting on a train, travelling from Alloa to Glasgow, so I estimate that I’ll have about 35 minutes before the train gets so busy that I’ll be forced to put my laptop away. Delivering Outcomes follows articles on Living Within Our Means and Enabling and Empowering People. I’ll also include within this post, mention of Portfolio Parity. I’d originally intended to write a separate piece on this, but given that it cuts across public value and the ability to deliver on outcomes, it’s probably best placed here.

First, let’s place this article into context with economic background, as this tends (rightly or wrongly) to be one of the drivers behind service planning. Scotland is experiencing a recession, narrowly avoiding a double dip. Youth unemployment now reaches more than 77, 000 young people aged between 16 and 24. To the economy, despite a record £80 million worth of Christmas sales in the stores this weekend, there is a large decline in output and public debt is often substituted for private debt; creating an unsustainable landscape of delivery and prompting necessary change.

Public services will need to evolve through innovation or they will cease to function.

Increases to the cost of living and significant budget cuts to both central and local government indicate that without intelligent approaches to portfolio management, it’s very likely that strategic vision will not be implemented and that frontline service delivery will be affected. Indeed, this is already being felt within schools and other learning settings.

It’s important for education leaders and those managing local government to be aware of the world around them, identifying and acknowledging likely pressure points across the learning infrastructure. By this, I mean education inclusive and beyond school; Community Learning and Development, colleges, universities, employers, third sector and so forth. I recently blogged about Public Value and there is an element of that here.

People expect certain things from Education, Social Services, Housing and Health; their ambitions and objectives need to be joined up.

This needs to realise policy alignment as only through parity will there be less duplication, clever use of resources and better ways of delivery. The case here is not to increase the amount of work one is asked to do, but to do it differently in the first place. Job specifications and post remits now need to be re-written. Teachers do not teach a subject, they teach children and young people and it is here where the focus must now sit. I’ll blog more about the future role of teachers and the teaching profession in the New Year.

There must be a series of mechanisms which anticipate how pressure will affect the aggregate of resources and in turn, how these can best be deployed to ensure that all children and young people are involved in their own learning and are becoming successful learners, confident individuals, effective contributors and responsible citizens. By this, I refer to the need to understand what drives and influences learning and teaching within your own context. In order to deliver an outcome, resources and effort need to be targeted where they will have the most impact and provide the greatest benefit. Once agreed, the priorities need to be task managed, the public manager needs to lead through a series of implementation milestones and the authorisation zone needs to be clear and transparent.

When an objective has been identified and resources have been deployed under direction there is always an outcome, regardless of what was expected. From the outset, there needs to be a classification of what is desired, what is not and what scenario would be satisfactory. This can be flexible and expectations could change as implementation moves forward. I don’t want to get too involved in discussing data, but it really is essential to standardize indicators across the different factors, which will help in the identification of potential portfolio parity, as well as in monitoring and evaluating the success of the outcome.

For example, teenage pregnancy, anti-social behavior, nonattendance at school and low self-esteem all makes data collection challenging, as many of these factors are measured by different sectors: health, criminal justice, education or social work. Contributions from all these sectors are required and this is underpinned by Getting It Right For Every Child.

A classic example of parity driven by the need to join up policy to deliver better outcomes for children and young people. Curriculum for Excellence demands this, and so must we.

An evidence base is required during the mapping process, which begins once the desired outcome has been discussed and the priorities for action have been agreed. Here’s a basic timeline. In reality, they are far more complex but you’ll get the idea.

Cycle starts: Client/Service Need Identified – Desired Outcome Discussed – Priorities for Action Agreed – Implementation of Action – Evaluation of Outcome: Cycle Ends (or does it?)

One would not expect monitoring of performance to start during the stage of evaluation. It is more appropriate to start this whilst identifying the client need and a cycle of reflection and continuous improvement would begin. While there is some anecdotal evidence on the barriers to the uptake of services, evidence on why young people engage (or fail to engage) needs improving if it is to inform effective service delivery. Schools are the main site for offering the right support and provision for young people and agencies should work closely with them to develop effective means to target hard-to-reach groups, particularly those excluded from education or with Additional Support Needs. Good information on vulnerable young people needs to be gathered, recorded and shared by schools and other partners in order to inform the right support and the right learning provision for the individual.

At the highest level, outcomes are driven by delivery, which is produced by policy and is this is created by strategy and vision. The outcomes are normally (but not exclusively) portrayed as a series of objectives and activities. A plan is required and the important components will include:

  • The desired outcome and evidence to be used to judge whether it has been achieved
  • Evidence of the starting point
  • Available resources
  • Constraints and obstacles
  • Intermediate objectives which help to define the activity
  • Key milestones and staging points
  • Measures of effectiveness and efficiency
  • The baseline (or trend) for comparison

 I’m going to return to my teaching roots now and give you some homework. Regardless of where you work (indeed this model applies to any situation which requires improving), I want you to identify a need (this could be for an individual or a collective) and work through a strategic implementation plan to produce a desired outcome. Be ambitious (but realistic) and remember to include short term wins as this adds momentum.

My article on Enabling and Empowering People may help here.

You don’t need to write a 400 page document – keep it simple but retain enough detail to record your intent and your progress. Once you’ve completed the cycle and produced an output, decide if it was the desired outcome, an adverse outcome or something in between. I’d be interested to see what you chose and how it played out – please do comment on this post or email your findings to me and I’ll upload them to my blog.

By popular demand, I’ll integrate all the articles on Service Synergy into a streamlined .pdf and upload it to the web within the next week or so.

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Academic Staff University of Glasgow and Author of Science Fiction

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Posted in Curriculum Design, Learning & Teaching

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