Tagged: Services to People

Measuring the Impact of Education Reform: Developing an appropriate performance framework


I recently wrote an article which explored the concept of measuring education reform by developing an appropriate performance framework to analyse outcomes. Originally, I intended to write this in two parts, but instead I have integrated both sections into a single paper.

An education system which is flexible, responsive and adaptable  during economic recovery is desirable – and we must be able to test this, challenge it and support continuous improvement across all of its component parts.

Although measuring performance within individual services, schools and agencies is important, there is an argument to mark progress across the entire portfolio of integrated services at key stages of a young person’s life.

Given this, any performance framework must underpin a statistical infrastructure that can provide quality information that supports cross-policy development, performance measurement and analysis, and appropriate monitoring at both local and national level.

You can download the full paper here.

Encouraging Positive Behaviour

Young people are important to us. Forget the moral and ethical reasons; that’s a whole other article in itself. They are important to our communities and to our social infrastructure, to family and most importantly to our economy. There is evidence that those young people living in socially deprived areas do not have equal, positive outcomes in life. Lifestyles usually vary quite radically from community to community and even more so from country to country, where the parameters of acceptable behaviour can be different, as can the consequences.

Many societies consider smoking, violence, drug and alcohol abuse, smoking and early patterns of sexual behaviours as a catalyst for serious problems which can lead to youth offending and a lack of reasonable behaviour. Anti-social behaviour, both within and out with schools is now common place, the barrier between the two less obvious as external issues become apparent within the school environment; bullying, substance misuse, truancy, low attainment, lack of achievement and devaluing of learning and teaching.

These behaviours, more so in adolescent and adult years, are costly to society. These fiscal costs are demonstrated in our health care, justice and law enforcement services and there is growing pressure to reform education; culture, structure and process as a means of dealing with these issues.

Research indicates that early intervention to reduce these risk factors may prevent a whole range of problems. For some societies, these are new problems and they may require new approaches to prevent them. Fortunately, evidence suggests that interventions, particularly interventions that occur when children are young, that address risk factors for these behaviors can reduce the chances that children will develop these serious problems as they reach adolescence. Indeed, in Scotland we know that investing in the Early Years will increase the chances that a young person will leave school and enter a positive and sustained destination; that is employment, higher or further education or training.

 Schools have a role to play here, in working across a multi-agency partnership to deliver joined up services which support young people. Getting It Right For Every Child and Every Child Matters are classic examples. Here, I have provided a summary of approaches to encourage positive behavior. The list is not exhaustive and each component deserves an article in its own right.

 Start prevention early – prevention efforts should start with pre-natal care and continue throughout the school years (broadly 3 – 18). In Scotland, this starts during pregnancy and continues through NHS and social services, the Broad General Education and the Senior Phase Curriculum.

Positive consequences matter – this can increase desirable behaviors. Using restorative practices (or restorative justice) can place the ‘offender’ into the shoes of the ‘victim’ and there is evidence that this works. Likewise, consequences can come in many forms: positive attention, praise, privileges, access to desirable activities, prizes and money all act as positive consequences.

Effective negative consequences matter – clear and immediate sanctions can reduce problem behaviors; Teachers should communicate classroom rules clearly so children understand which behaviors will result in negative consequences. Examples include short, private reprimands that label the problem behavior clearly; brief loss of privileges; or brief isolation from an activity the child enjoys. Avoid negative consequences that have the potential to harm the child either physically or psychologically (e.g. insulting children publicly).

Build skills through practice – create opportunities for children and young people to observe and practice interpersonal as well as academic skills. Teachers and parents should act in ways that show children how to handle problems well. Children imitate the behavior of those who are important to them. Teach young children interpersonal skills for handling conflict non-violently and co-operating with others. Children can also benefit from learning cognitive skills for recognizing problem situations, stopping to think rather than responding impulsively, generating ways of solving problems, and evaluating the consequences of different solutions.

Monitor a child’s behavior – know where children and young people are, what they are doing and with whom, and provide appropriate supervision. Encourage parents and carers to ask where their children are, what they are doing and with whom using a non-interrogatory manner. These questions are especially important during the teenage years, when youth become more independent and spend more time away from home. Avoid creating unsupervised groups of children with behavior problems. Children may learn problem behavior from each other and encourage each other to behave inappropriately. When these groups exist, monitor them closely to prevent youths from encouraging problem behavior in their peers.

Limit opportunities for misbehavior – reduce access to situations in which problem behavior is likely to occur. Create clear rules in schools and laws in communities that prohibit supplying or selling tobacco, alcohol, illegal drugs or weapons to children and adolescents. Create clear school policies that state that the school does not permit students to use illegal substances or to engage in aggressive behavior.

Reduce environmental stressors – reduce exposure to negative influences which can act as a trigger for poor behavior. Provide children with opportunities and pro-social skills that allow them some control over their environment, especially during particularly stressful periods in their lives. Examples include opportunities to master new skills (e.g. in sports or the arts), to work with others on creative projects, and academic situations in which they can make choices for themselves.

Limit biological risks – encourage positive behavior and discourage substance misuse through consequence of action. Provide safe environments for children to play and study in. Minimize exposure to harmful substances and other biological risk factors.

Discourage aggression – reducing aggressive behavior can prevent many problems later on.

Create appropriate norms – establishing the normal pattern of behavior through example is essential, this could include strategies for dealing with certain situations. Identify children who have problems with aggressive behavior and make specific plans to reduce their aggression. Look for children who harm others by fighting, hitting, bullying, calling names or excluding peers.

Needless to say, using a single approach is not likely to work. Most of these principles are probably being used in schools already, but where there are particular issues with poor behavior, that acts as an indicator that one of these elements is either missing or needs developing. A number of approaches are useful for reducing aggressive behavior and preventing later problems with delinquency, substance use and risky sexual activity. Many of these involve school programmes and teacher training as important components. Many also involve parents and community efforts to reduce youth problems and increase children’s involvement in positive activities that will improve their skills and competencies. Certainly, other professional services are required to tackle disaffection and related behaviors.

Slides from last year’s National Conference on post-16 learning

In February and March of 2010, Learning and Teaching Scotland hosted a series of conferences with the Scottish Government to support the implementation of 16+ Learning Choices for every young person in the Senior Phase curriculum. Conferences were held in Perth, Edinburgh and Glasgow and attracted over 700 delegates from local authorities, schools, colleges, third sector organisations, voluntary organisations, and other organisations from across Scotland.

As a former practitioner in a secondary school, I presented at one of these conferences and I have attached my presentation for you. These are my own slides and they have no Government or School branding so feel free to use as you wish.

You can read more about the events by following this link: http://tinyurl.com/46a7j7b

Lee Dunn Presentation on school practice

Education & Service Synergy – Curriculum Change for the 21st Century

Following my recent series of articles on Service Synergy, I have produced a more dynamic document which pulls all the chapters together:

  • The need for change
  • Public value and living within our means
  • A 21st century school – culture, structure and process
  • Enabling and empowering people
  • Delivering outcomes and portfolio parity

You can download the document here: Education & Service Synergy and as always, I look forward to your feedback.

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.

Creating Public Value in Education – Nobody Said It Would Be Easy!

I recently attended a session on Public Value and thought that I would write up a brief synopsis of my thoughts on the day. It’s really interesting, though I will admit a challenging area to study. As my brain is wired up somewhat erratically on a Friday afternoon, this may take a second reading to make sense to you.

I have just entered ‘Public Value’ into Google and was gifted with 131,000,000 results in 0.43 seconds, which to me, is a little bit scary.

In the interest of continuing my professional development, I have worked out that reading one of these articles every day will mean that I’ll finish reading them in about 358, 904 years, give or take a decade. Right then… I’d better get started.

What is Public Value? To me, Public Value is about resource optimisation. Adding value beyond statutory duties of a public service and then measuring the impact on the short, medium and long term outcomes of people. It’s not quite as easy as that, value is open to perception and as such demonstrations of Public Value need to lie in evidence of transformation in social conditions. It is the primary function of every public manager to create value for their stakeholders and this can only be achieved through a collective desire to change society for the better. A public manager is someone who is trusted with resources and has control over them. They have a purpose and are accountable to ensure that they act in the public interest in an efficient and effective manner. As the perception of value alters over time, so does the purpose of the public manager and as such there needs to be a constant realignment of activity and task.

Let’s get to some of the specifics and look at how we can create Public Value. Firstly, one needs to examine the social conditions that need to be improved. This is the desired outcome. For example, a better education that supports all children and young people. Through this process, substantive problems are identified, some more obvious than others and as a result there arises specific barriers to overcome. This could be a set of needs which have to be met. If we are to take our example further, this could include; unemployment levels, poverty, disengagement from learning and so forth. The hardest part of this process is to work out what to do next. We could easily spend a few hours concluding on this. I’ll pick one or two obvious ones; individual personalised learning for every child and young person, the right learning provision, the right personal support and the fight financial support.

Of course, all of this is more easily achieved if we can vindicate the rights of the target ‘audience’. This could be anyone affected by societal change. Let’s stick with children and young people between the ages of 15 and 19 who are vulnerable during episodes of transition from school. What opportunities could be exploited to make this task easier? There are always some, you just need to find them. To act upon the task environment described, public managers are required to have their strategies and policies authorised. This would be done by the person or body to whom the manager formally needs resources to survive and be effective. In Scotland, this would be the local authority, the council or perhaps even the Government. The authorizing environment is a complex arena and could be made up from various funding sources. This needs to be clear on the outset so that everyone knows the chain of accountability. It’s usually this authorisation, when poorly handled, which ends up as a scandal in the local paper.

Assets and capabilities entrusted to the public manager from the authorizer produce an operational capacity. When you hear people talking about expanding their capacity to plan and deliver services, they are more than likely referring to other influences which can inform the desired result. The value chain is the process by which fungible assets like money, labour, ideas etc are deployed to produce a particular result. Fungible is a term which describes something that can be transferred, transformed or exchanged. Any programme or procedure which is designed to tackle the task environment and make change for the better in public service delivery really needs partners and stakeholders. This increases the boundary of operating capacity and ensures collaboration and ownership.

If the public manager is also an adaptive leader who is bold, persistent and understands consequence, they are best placed to provide direction, protection and order in the interests of their clients. When this is realised, the public perceive the service as good value for their money and it is this concept that creates Public Value. When you next express your displeasure at a public service and you feel you’re not getting good value, stop and think about this process. Where did it go wrong and how can it be resolved. Public value is not a linear process but a cycle of reflection and balance. Equilibrium is a difficult thing to achieve, but nobody said it would be easy!

Service Synergy Part 3 – Enabling and Empowering People

On October 11th, I wrote an article on Service Synergy – the first in a series of articles on public service integration. I have since written an article on Living Within Our Means.

First, let me state that I am not an expert on leadership or motivation. I’m simply going to write down my personal thoughts on this topic, based on a theme of change within global education portfolios and curricula. I have used John Kotter’s model in the past and find that it works well. There are loads of examples of such practice and you’ll need to find what works for you.

Indeed, being heavily involved in educational change in Scotland, I can base some of this on experience; I recognise that enabling and empowering people is crucial to effective change management and that being sensitive to this issue is the first step in realising successful innovation in education; culture, structure and process.

To be successful you will need your people to be with you. If they are content with the status quo and do not see then need for change, you’ll have real difficulty making it happen. I guess the first step is to identify the drivers for change and the opportunities that can be exploited to bring about better service delivery. This would include honest discussions which stimulate people, both within the service and also with external partners. It is always helpful to establish a sense of urgency at this stage as I find that it tends to increase productivity.

When people ask, ‘what’s in it for me?’ have an answer prepared or better still, tell them before they ask!

From the initial discussions, it’s really important to identify the key players. Who can lead effective change and who has the good ideas? The team needs to be built around the various personalities required for any good team; innovators, finisher completers and all that. Emotional commitment is essential; if everyone has a vested interest then it’s easier to sell ownership. It’s also important that there is a good mix of people from various levels within the organisation. Collaboration is the name of the game and I’ll come back to this later.

A clear and transparent vision is needed to guide educational change. This needs to be specific and should not be vague. From this, an implementation plan needs to be developed; use the key players identified from the initial discussions to help with this.

Perhaps the most important element, which should happen all the time, is communication and engagement. The expected changes need to be modeled and explored with key stakeholders. Any disaffection needs to be addressed immediately; identify concerns, be open, honest and involve those who challenge your vision or implementation plan. Be ambitious but realistic in what you can achieve.

Don’t worry about making mistakes along the way. If you get something wrong, acknowledge it and adapt your structures and procedures accordingly. Move forward but accept that there will be set-backs. When things go wrong, a good leader looks in the mirror, a poor leader looks at the workforce.

Driving the change and making the vision into reality is probably the most difficult stage in empowering people. Success needs to be acknowledged and rewarded; set-backs need to be supported. If someone is not fully engaged, ask them why and talk to them. Listen and where possible use their ideas. Collaboration gives a real sense of ownership and people are more likely to follow you. Being strategic is about being open to everything that is going on. Make sure that your performance management processes support your objectives. I’m going to blog about Delivering Outcomes within the next few weeks and that article will supplement this series on service synergy.

Use your influence rather than your authority and trust people to do their jobs. They are more likely to approach you for support if there are obstacles and barriers to progress if you can do this consistently.

Identify and select easy changes that make a real difference. Short term wins add momentum to your strategic implementation plan. I have found that some kind of consolidation helps to inform change, regular meetings to review progress and to review activity will help to identify potential improvements. Look for ways to bring in more influential people into your team as this can revitalise engagement.

Finally, share successes and praise those who perform well. Some healthy peer competition drives change and enables the workforce to strive for excellence. Be reflective and review your own learning. Challenge yourself and others where there is slippage. Develop and embed your vision into the culture, structure and process of the service and use communication channels such as the intranet and newsletters to publicise progress. Remember to build in quality assurance and continuous improvement processes as this will help you to sustain change.

Education and Service Synergy Part 2 – Living within Our Means

On October 11th, I wrote an article on Service Synergy – a series of articles on public service integration. This is Part 2, which I’ll call ‘Living Within Our Means’. Although timely with the recent announcement around the comprehensive spending review, there are two other factors which led to my decision to write this article today. These views are my own (see the boring disclaimer on my blog).

I had the pleasure yesterday, to participate in a webinar with colleagues from Argentina. The focus was on building a sound education for every child and young person. This, we all agreed, had to start in the early years and build momentum throughout the learner’s journey. Although I spoke (largely) about Curriculum for Excellence, there was an underlying theme throughout the session, the assurance that we deliver a basic education, a minimum standard before we think about added value. Indeed from my experience, ensuring a consistent education for all those children and young people for whom one is responsible is by no means an easy task. The approach is easy, the outcome can differ radically.

This brings me to my second reason for writing today. Having been plugged into the conversation around a minimum acceptable standard (worthy of an article in its own right), I had a brief but insightful conversation last night on Twitter with Karen (from Dundee) which made me realise that it is extremely difficult to provide a consistent, basic or otherwise, education when there are external factors influencing young people. These drivers, home circumstances, things that happen within the community and the proverbial baggage which is brought into schools is immense.

Reflect for one moment on the last time that you arrived into work having had a bad night’s sleep or had a personal issue which pre-occupied you.

No one is immune, as adults we learn (usually) to control this, but for someone who has not yet developed an emotional intelligence this can have a strong and adverse impact on their ability to integrate with their peers and learn as effectively as they could do. My point is this; if we are to drive self-esteem, self-belief and self-determination in our children and young people, developing a so called ‘responsible confidence’, education cannot go it alone. Other services, The Police, Health, Youth Work, Social Services, Housing, Community Learning and Development all have a role to play. The difficulty lies in our ability to control and coordinate the resources effectively.

With pressing budget cuts across all public services, how can we live within our means but still get value for money?

If I had the answer to that question, I’d be capitalising on my own creativity and I’d be far wealthier than I am. I do believe that the answer sits within Curriculum for Excellence and the broader policies that sit alongside. Getting It Right For Every Child, More Choices More Chances and such like are all catalysts for change. Without addressing the cultural, structural and process issues we will not get value for money.

There must be a role model for sustainability offering extended and integrated services for children, young people and adults.

Personally, I would like to see more funding devolved around schools, where they can act as a hub for the community as a unit supporting lifelong learning. Imagine a world where every school had it’s own Social Worker, Police Officer, Psychologist and Health Care Professional acting on behalf of the children and young people and the wider the community for which it serves. This integrated approach would allow firm and more substantive relationships with families, the rapport conducive to monitoring welfare and outcomes for each individual.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t live in cloud cuckoo land. This comes with a cost attached and it certainly isn’t living within our means. Current governance within local authorities and other public bodies is too complex and is in need of an urgent review. There is so much red tape surrounding various portfolios that I sometime want to climb onto a pedestal and shout ‘let’s just get on with it!’  And of course, there IS the budget thing.

That doesn’t mean however, that we sit back and do nothing. I’m going to explore this concept in more detail through the next three articles that I write; Enabling and Empowering People, Delivering Outcomes and Portfolio Parity.

I know that this is an issue which produces strong emotion and where people often have robust and opposing views. If you feel strongly about the approach that we take to integrated services, I’d urge you to comment on this post and share this article amongst your networks. From within our group of expertise and experience, I expect a solution can be found. Not an ideal, but more likely a compromise.