Shared Services – taking account of the emotional perspective

On the 22nd November East Lothian Council and Midlothian Council approved the first phase of sharing operational and management support for education and children’s services.

This was the culmination of 12 months work by a huge number of people to address the issues and challenges which emerged in the course of that process.

That work included research into governance, tax, human resources legislation, accountability, service redesign, and a range of other pragmatic issues. Yet if there was one factor which was not covered in sufficient depth it was the emotional response to shared services.

That response can be characterised as a deep personal concern for the future, where the current certainties are replaced by fear and uncertainty. That is not to say that there are any certainties for anyone involved in delivering public services in Scotland, the UK, or Europe for that matter, it’s just that shared services provides a concrete focus upon which people can attribute their fears.

That’s why it’s interesting to reflect upon a recent research report into the perceptions and realities of employees regarding shared services.

The research surveyed the opinions of over 100 UK public sector representatives, from functions spanning HR, payroll, finance, purchasing and IT.

The majority of respondents (72%) were from government and education, with blue light services and health organisations also included.

Organisations generally anticipated more negative impacts than proved to be the case for those who had already implemented shared services.

This negative perception was most significant for areas like job security, where 67% of respondents felt that sharing services would impact negatively. This figure increased significantly for operational employees where 8 in 10 feared for their jobs. In contrast, out of those that had already implemented shared services, over half reported a positive effect on job security (51%) and career development (53%), while the positive effects on skills development (81%) and job satisfaction (74%) were even more convincing.

This research seems to show the tendency for organisations and individuals to overestimate the difficulties of shared services and to underestimate the benefits that can be delivered. Those organisations not sharing anticipated that a shared service would be significantly less positive in areas that are closest to employees’ hearts than those already sharing had experienced.

If there is a lesson from such research for those of us who are embarking, or about to embark on shared services, it is that the emotional perspective is vitally important and that it should be considered throughout the change process. That’s not to say that we should decide whether or not to proceeed with shared services on an emotional whim, but that rather we should recognise and continually address the emotional response it generates.

Schools leading schools

I’ve just returned from the Association of Directors Education Scotland (ADES) annual conference. This year’s theme was “Leaders Advancing Learning” and the conference proved to be one of the best events I’ve ever had the privilege to attend.

The highlight for me was Steve Munby, from the National College of School Leadership. Steve is directly accountable to the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, and as such has no locus within Scotland. Nevertheless, there is much to admire from philosophy and approach adopted by the college – and Steve in particular.

Steve’s central point (at least for me) was around the question of how to improve a school facing challenging circumstances. He identified three possibilities 1. Close and reopen the school 2. Insert a “Hero” Headteacher 3. Build the capacity of the school from within.

Steve pointed out that evidence would suggest that the most effective solution is linked to option 3 but that it needs a particular form of support if that to be achieved.

Taking teachers’s out and putting them on courses – doesn’t work

External “experts” coming into the school – doesn’t work

Expecting leaders within the school to change their practice, when they don’t really know what good leadership looks like – doesn’t work.

Linking such a school in partnership with a successful school – does work. I didn’t quite catch the rate of improvement this approach leads to but it was of a very significant order compared to any other model of school improvement. But what was particularly interesting was that the improvement was also measurable in the supporting school – wow!

What an incentive for developing such an approach in Scotland.

Here’s a lift from their website:

The National Leaders of Education (NLEs) and National Support Schools Programme (NSSs) draws upon the skills and experience of our very best school leaders, as well as their schools, to provide additional leadership capacity to, and raise standards within, schools facing challenging circumstances. The programme is underpinned by the powerful notion of schools leading schools.

The National College oversees the quality assurance of NLEs, provides ongoing support to NLEs and their schools and helps to broker the support of NLEs and their NSSs to maximise the impact of the programme.

Since the first group of NLEs and NSSs were designated in 2006, the programme has gathered momentum quickly and has been one of the most successful levers of sustainable school improvement. Crucially the schools and academies supported by NLEs are improving at a significantly faster rate than other schools nationally, and the results of the schools providing support continue to rise.

The programme also helps to utilise the powerful contributions that NLEs are able to make at a strategic level, to education policy and the future of the school system.

Steve pointed out that the bar is set very high for schools to become National Leaders of Education.

So could such a system work in Scotland? I believe it could but I’ll explore some of the barriers which may have to be overcome in a future post.

Lastly, in response to one of my questions, Steve identified the importance of the Parent body, in England they are governors, but I think it can translate to our Parent Councils in Scotland where they are supported by the local authority to promote local accountability. This links back to recent evidence from the OECD which clearly shows that improved student performance directly correlates with increased levels of school autonomy with associated public accountability.

Such evidence suggests that our direction of travel towards Community Partnership Schools is, at the very least, on the right lines.

Headteacher Pay: England Vs Scotland

Given today’s Scotland Vs England world cup rugby fixture (we’ll not refer to the result) I thought it might be of interest to try to compare headteacher pay between the two countries.

The English pay scales are set out in  Pay and Conditions for Teachers in England Wales and I’ll use this document as the basis for what follows.

In this example I will  use a secondary school of 900 students, split equally into six year groups of 150 students..

The English system is based upon the concept of pupil units.

For example a student in Key Stage 3 – equivalent to S1 – S2 (12-14 yrs) – is worth 9 units; a student in Key Stage 4  (14-16 yrs)  is worth 11 units; and a student in Key Stage 5 (16-18 yrs) is worth 13 units.

Using the 150 students in each year group this translates into 9,900 units.

The units are then compared to a school group table – for the sake of this exercise I’m only going to refer to the scales for schools outwith the London area.

The scales are:

Group                             Pay range

1  -  up to 1000            £42,379 – £56,950

2  – up to 2,200            £44,525  – £61,288

3 – up to 3,500             £48,024 – £65,953

4  – up to 5,000            £51,614 – £70,991

5  – up to 7,500            £56,950 – £78,298

6   – up to 11,000         £61,288  – £86,365

7  – up to 17,000          £65,963 – £95,213

8  – beyond 17,000       £75,725 – £105,097

In our example, the headteacher of a school of 900 students would be paid – at the top end – and most of them seem to be at that level £86,365, whereas in Scotland the pay is a maximum £66,000 for an identical school.

The final level of a headteachers’ pay is determined by the Governing Body (i.e. parents) within the scales set out above – although there is some leeway for awarding additional discretionary payments.

There are addditional scales of pay for headteachers of “special schools” but for the sake of simplicity I’ve ignored them in this comparision.

Conclusion:

There does not seem to be a significant difference between the level of pay for basic grade teachers in England and Scotland but there are very significant differences in the pay of headteachers - particularly at secondary level. English headteachers would appear to be  paid between 20 – 30% more than their Scottish counterparts.

The key differences in terms of expectation is that the English school governing body can set performance targets that they expect the headteacher to achieve, and the fact that English Headteachers have a greater range of devolved responsibilities than their Scottish counterparts.

Educational Leadership and social media

I first started using social media in 1997 when I was part of an online community which provided great support to me when I was engaged in a school transformation process.

Since that time I’ve continued to use social media networks, more particularly a blog as a secondary school head teacher, a learning log as head education and then director, and most recently a twitter account.

I think I’ve only come to realise how important such engagement is to me in my leadership role in the last few months.

Last year I decided to take time out from social media. So from the 10th May 2010 – 10th May 2011 I didn’t write or post to my own or any other network.

My reasons for stopping included the fact that a number of my colleagues in schools didn’t appreciate the manner in which I explored ideas in public without having first shared the ideas with them. Out of respect for them and to see how it might affect my work I decided to take the year out.

So what did I find out?

Perhaps the most surprising consequence was that I found my day to day work to be much harder and all consuming – I hesitate to use the word stressful. Looking back I think it was because my mind was completely drawn into operational matters.

The other element which was missing was the opportunity to reflect upon my work – to be able to try to make sense of my world and to be able to share and check that meaning out with others.

Another simple difference was the opportunity to learn from others. This has recently become even more apparent as twitter has opened up a completely new world of links and perspectives on the world of education.

On reflection my year out was a year without learning. I did my job, I solved problems, I led the service, but I didn’t learn – and without learning we are not professionals.

So at a recent meeting with colleagues I made it clear that I was going to recommence my learning log and redefined my reasons for doing so, which are to:

- scan the educational and children’s services horizon;
- research and examine international policy and practice;
- generate, explore and develop ideas for school and service improvement;
- collect and manage knowledge relevant to service development;
- consider how we can better integrate education and services to support children and young people from pre-birth to 18;
– engage in a transparent and accessible manner with colleagues and service users;
- promote and model the leadership behaviours and values  of our service; and
- take time to critically reflect upon issues of topical interest.

The underlying question which remains for me is if such a discipline can make such a difference to me, in my role as an educational leader, then how might it benefit colleagues in similar roles – and I would include teachers in this?

Of course, the normal response to such a query comes in one (or more)of three forms:

A) I don’t have time
B) I’m not into technology
c) I don’t see the point

The bottom line here is that the decision must always lie with the individual but ironically one of the safety valves that could make a difference to an over-worked and stressed profession is to begin to develop a routine which includes a moment of public reflection.

I’ll leave the last words to a paraphrase from John Dewey, which I use as my strap line for this learning log:

“we learn from our experience…..if we reflect upon our experience.”

Wanted: Thought Leaders

A thought leader is a futurist or person who is recognized for innovative ideas and demonstrates the confidence to promote or share those ideas as actionable distilled insights.  The term was coined in 1994, by Joel Kurtzman, editor-in-chief of the magazine, Strategy & Business. The term was used to designate interview subjects for that magazine who had contributed new thoughts to business.

 Among the first “thought leaders,” were British management thinker, Charles Handy, who advanced the idea of a “portfolio worker” and the “Shamrock Organization”, Stanford economist Paul Romer, Mitsubishi president, Minoru Makihara, and University of Michigan strategist, C.K. Prahalad, author of a number of well known works in corporate strategy including “The Core Competence of the Corporation” (Harvard Business Review, May-June, 1990); and his co-author, Gary Hamel, a professor at the London Business School. And at the turn of the millennium Chris Harris in his trend leading insight book Hyperinnovation.

 The first treatise to begin the address a rapidly interconnecting, growing, technologically innovative world. Since that time, the term has spread from business to other disciplines and has come to mean someone who enlivens old processes with new ideas. As a result, there are thought leaders in the sciences, humanities and even in government. (Wikipedia)

Apply within.

First Steps Into Leadership: Speaking up for Scottish Education

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Kirsty Robertson, Staff Development Officer for East Lothian Council Education Service, Speaks up for Scottish Education as she describes the innovative First Steps into Leadership programme which she and colleagues have developed over the last two years.

The Innerwick Experience: “A Space to Grow”

 

A couple of months ago I joined my colleagues on the Leadership Team of East Lothian Council on a weekend course entitled “The Innerwick Experience”. The Leadership Team is made up of: all Heads of Service, e.g. Head of Education, Head of ICT and Finance, etc; the four Directors – Finance; Planning; Community Services; and Education and Children’s Services (me); and Alan Blackie – the Chief Executive.

Back in October 2007 East Lothian Council received a negative Best Value Report:

Accounts Commission deputy chair Isabelle Low said: “East Lothian Council has so far made limited progress in establishing Best Value for its local population, which is of particular concern considering its advantages. And its lack of openness and lack of leadership have not served it well.

Since that time there have been huge changes in the Council, and the Leadership Team have been working on developing a more positive culture which is focused upon the needs of the population of East Lothian. I wrote about our first meeting back in July of last year when  we considered the kind of culture we would aspire to in East Lothian.

Building upon the work started by Alex McCrorie, our team, led by Alan Blackie have been gradually developing our capacity to work together – as opposed to the silos which were a characteristic of the past.  A key step in that journey was our “Challenge for Change”conference held in April that was exceptionally well received and which began to develop a sense of belonging to a worthwhile organisation that could make difference to people’s lives. I don’t think anyone would claim that we are anything but at the beginning of that road – especially with the impact of Single Status, and the associated feelings of being under-valued; the challenge of meeting efficiency savings; and the fact that our customers haven’t yet been able to see a difference.

Having only created the Leadership Team in July last year and with only one meeting a month the “team” dimension was fairly limted - and so it was that we decided earlier this year to organise an event which would allow us to build our capacity to operate as a real team where we knew, valued, trusted and supported each other – but most importantly improved the way in which we led our colleagues and delivered our services.

We made a conscious decision to devise and deliver the course from within our own resources – some similar management team building courses can cost up to £4000 per person. We used the Innerwick Field Study Centre (£10 per night per person) and aside from the contribution of two drama coaches the programme was delivered by East Lothian staff. 

I think all of us had some reservations prior to attending the event, but on reflection the programme was a great success and more than met the outcomes we had set ourselves. I won’t go into the actual detail of the programme but it put us in a variety of situations where we had to rely upon each other, care for each other, make use of each others’ strengths and -most importantly - work together. Throughout it all we kept coming back to how might we work more effectively in the future and change the way in which we currently did things. It was the creativity, courage and honesty which emerged that made it such an exceptionally powerful team experience. 

It all came together when we were asked to try to create a collective metaphor to represent our vision for the kind of service we would like to provide for the people of East Lothian Council. We started off trying to create an arrow, showing a sense of purpose and direction but this was felt to be too focused upon us as opposed to our customers; then we tried a shape which involved supporting people and moving them from one place to another, but this was thought to be too much like a conveyor belt and created a dependency culture; then we struck upon the idea of a doorway, through which people could choose to enter and which led into a space where they were welcomed and supported – we also created high above our heads (and out of sight of users) a network of canes which linked us all together.  As we discussed the idea it reinforced the idea of a single doorway to services, a customer facing organisation, an organisation which was well connected (but where the connections are out of sight), and, lastly, an organisation which welcomed others to join it.  One of the observers commented that she really wanted to go through the doorway and enter the space. This led back to the discussion back in July of last year when one of the possible strap-lines had been “East Lothian: A Space to Grow”. Certainly it seemed to strike a chord with all of us present – a place which enabled people to grow and develop. The idea of giving people space is also a critical concept in creating a healthy public service, i.e. to choose and have a personalised service.

The difference between now and July ’07 is that we now have the bond, the capacity and the shared commitment to actually deliver such a vision.  As is normally the case I’d like to thank all those who worked so hard to put this event together but without any doubt the group which made it the success it was were my colleagues who showed such immense commitment towards each other and who, above all else, showed that they care about delivering a high quality public service to the people of East Lothian.

My last hope that we can consider ways in which we could allow others within the organisation to benefit from such a transformational experience.

TESS Article: Resisting the pressure to “dae sumthin”

Every educational leader, regardless of position, has to wrestle with the powerful temptation to intervene or to meddle in the business of those whom they manage. The logic is fairly simple – “I’m being paid to manage and to be accountable for the work of others – so it’s reasonable that I take action in order to ensure that the desired outcome is achieved.” Maybe it’s something to do with the Scottish work ethic that we feel there’s a need, in the inimitable words of Billy Connolly, to “dae sumthin”.

It’s perhaps one of the most addictive elements of management – “I can fix this” – as the manager learns to solve the problem through direct action. Unfortunately the hidden cost of such behaviour is that it helps to create a dependency culture as everyone comes to know that any problem belongs to the manager – and that the manager will “sort it”.

The ironic consequence of such a relationship is that it leads to dissatisfaction from both sides, i.e. the manager complains that people don’t accept the responsibility which goes with being a professional; and the managed complain that the manager is always interfering with solutions, policies and structures which run directly counter to their ability to do their job.

Yet to challenge such orthodoxy is much more difficult than one might imagine. The pressure to conform to the traditional role of the manager is almost overwhelming. Not to take action, is to be seen to be indecisive, lazy, cowardly, unimaginative or simply not being up to the job. In a similar vein the manager’s own boss has expectations about effective management behaviour and in many cases is expecting the manager to come up with a plan of action that is, most probably proactive, innovative and definitive. It’s this latter adjective which is the most telling in terms of the relationship between the manager and the managed. The definition of the word “definitive” in this sense is “final and unable to be questioned or altered”. In a sense this form of manager’s plan is the Holy Grail, that is something that can be passed on to others and is implemented without question.

Of course, things are never as simple as that for as we know others must carry out the manager’s plan and there exists “many a slip twixt lip and cup”, especially if the “managed” do not fully subscribe to the manager’s solution. It’s into this educational Middle-earth that the manager’s initiatives and centralised plans are launched only to be subverted, modified or ignored. And so it goes on with managers having to conform to their role by taking action, to which they are probably addicted anyway, and the managed expecting the action, criticising if no action is taken, but being free to criticise the action as they have played no part in it’s development.

So how might we help managers escape from the tyranny of the need to always “dae sumthin” in the face of a perceived problem? Perhaps a starting point might be for local authorities to shift from being action focused, i.e. we will implement, act, do; to becoming outcome focused and supporting and enabling the schools to work out the most appropriate action for themselves.  The reality is that what works well in one school is not necessarily the best solution in another school. Yet the pressure to work out the universal solution and to implement it across an entire council is difficult to resist – particularly for those of us who have been addicted to taking action throughout our careers. That’s not to say that local authorities should never seek to implement an action across all schools but at the very least there should be a loop where we ask ourselves if our preferred course of action empowers or disempowers our colleagues in schools.

Nevertheless, Scottish education does appear to be thirled to the idea of “daen things”.  It would be a brave person who wouldn’t back a highly technical, carefully managed and comprehensive plan to implement a course of action across every school in an authority, against a strategy which placed the decision about what type of action to take in the hands of the individual school.

Delivering a public service

 

It’s that time of year when the consequences of trying to deliver our service within the available budget require difficult decisions to be made.

Maybe I’m just kidding myself but I still believe passionately in the value of education, that teaching and learning is at the core of what we do, and that caring for kids comes first, last and always.  Yet the responsibilities of the job mean that people see me as the person who applies formulae and budget limits without reference to the needs of their particular school. “Surely he can’t care about kids if he’s not going to give us x”.

I received a letter from a teacher this week which kind of encapsulated this when the teacher described how they were going to withdraw from all authority work because of the efficiency savings we are implementing. The argument basically ran along the lines that my integrity must be called into question if I was prepared to implement the required savings. This is a great shame because this particular teacher has a huge amount to offer their colleagues throughout the authority. 

Criticism like this hurts.  We all like to be popular.  Nobody likes to be charicatured as the unbending bureaucrat who will implement policy without reference to people’s feelings or needs.

I try – not always successfully – to rationalise this by telling myself that my key role in such circumstances is to treat people and schools with equity and respect.  We have a duty to the public to deliver a high quality service within the resources available. No one in East Lothian would pat me on the back a year from now if we had an overspend of £3 million. I’ve seen the consequences of such overspends at first hand and believe me – I’d rather suffer the slings and arrows over the managed savings we are implementing this year, than see all the gains we have made in East Lothian education over the last decade decimated by a budget crisis a year from now.

“You never leave the Villa”

 

“You never leave the villa” – so said Andy Thorpe, manager of the Lothian Villa, a residential home for challenging and vulnerable teenagers in East Lothian. I was privileged to visit the “Villa” a couple of weeks ago and I’ve been meaning to write up my experiences since that time.

What Andy means by “You never leave the Villa” is that it becomes part of you and you become part of it.  This chimed for me with the ideas which I came across during my visit to the U.S last year when Norman Kunc talked about belonging . For fostering a sense of belonging in these children is at the very heart of what they do at the Villa – this is demonstrated by the fact that adults, who were in the school years ago, still return to their “home” to speak to staff and keep in touch.

A lot of the work being done in the Villa is based upon the work of Sally Wassell and attachment theory - I’m doing more reading in this area at the moment so won’t go into any detail save to say that I think it forms a rich resource for all of us involved in the care and education of children and young people.

The Villa – in Andy’s words – provides “emotional nutrition” for kids who have often been emotionally malnourished throughout their lives. “They deserve the best” and the Villa sets out to provide it.  I spoke to some of the kids and was blown away by how positive they were about the place and the way that they are treated. Yet don’t get the idea that this is a soft regime – quite the opposite in fact – “We care enough about you not to let you be out of control” is a characteristic which permeates the collective approach. They “love” the kids and “tough love” seems to be something to which the young people readily repond.

I had an interesting chat with Andy about how they deal with extreme behaviour – which can at times be violent.  He explained how they often have different consequences for the same behaviour – this intrigued me as schools so often get trapped by having to be “fair” when dealing with misbehaviour by always matching a certain consequence with a certain from of behaviour – i.e. if a pupil swears at a teacher they must be excluded. Andy explained that their consistency comes through judging the reasons behind the behaviour and that consequence will be consistent for the person. 

It was a humbling experience visiting the Villa and seeing a group of people who are so fully committed to an approach.  Andy is a remarkable leader and has developed a culture where everyone valued and seen as a part of the family – staff and children. So often “Children’s Homes” are associated to negative connotations but I found it an enriching environment which is changing lives for the better.

I recommend a visit!!