Could education do a “John Lewis”


During my day off yesterday we visited the John Lewis store in Edinburgh. I was reminded by the sign at the entrance about the joint ownership of the company by the employees.

On our way home I wondered if education could learn anything from the John Lewis example?

The following objective analysis of John Lewis Partnership plc sets out some of key features:

‘John Lewis Partnership plc’, commonly referred to as ‘John Lewis’. In 1995 it had 41,100 partners, 23 department stores, 112 Waitrose supermarkets, a turnover of GBP 2.8 bill and pre-tax profits GBP 150 mill.

John Lewis is a public limited company (PLC) which apparently belongs to its employees as a group. This is collective ownership and employees are referred to as partners.

Management needs to run the enterprise in the interests of all partners ‘past, present and future’. A good employer. Well looked-after employees (partners), contented and well motivated, giving helpful and friendly service. Employees receive each year a share of the profits which is paid out as a cash bonus.

Large and competitive, aiming to provide good service and value for money. In practice applying its slogan ‘Never knowingly undersold’ to the point where partners receive a small reward when they point out that a competitor charges less than John Lewis.

The John Lewis Partnership seems to provide good conditions of employment and reward for partners and provide its customers with quality goods at competitive prices combined with excellent service. It is successful and expanding successfully as a result.”

So what might be the impact upon schools if a sum of money was available to the whole school if an agreed target was reached?

I’d argue that it could have a very positive impact and that the bonus would be shared a standard flat rate across all members of staff? – the average bonus for John Lewis employees is GBP 1,800

People will probably have a few concerns with this idea:

Wouldn’t people become dependent upon a bonus  as opposed to a guaranteed salary- which they might not get if the bonus target is not met?

What if there are some members of the team who are not “pulling their weight” – should they be allowed to benefit from the bonus?

Why a flat rate? – a GBP 1,800 of will represent different %s for people with different salary scales.

These are all legitimate concerns (and there will be many others) but I still think the positive impact of  “shared ownership” of a school and the notion of collective responsibility for its success or failure has some interesting potential.

10 thoughts on “Could education do a “John Lewis”

  1. It’d be nice if a fair performance-related bonus was available to all public service workers – sadly, the media and the public at large have a burning resentment whenever public sector staff receive anything at all, so I’d say the idea has no traction whatsoever…

  2. This is an interesting idea. My initial reaction was, ‘peformance related pay’, bad idea, given that our outcomes are people rather than profits. However, rewarding a whole staff for its contribution to a target in some ways removes the comparison of ‘performance’ to school level and we currently have (much debated) measures of school performance. The ‘devil’ in this idea I suspect would be agreeing appropriate targets for schools. These would possibly be context dependent and perhaps be cause for as much debate between schools as we have about current measures of performance(exam results, attendance, exclusion stats etc) I suppose the other argument would be, why not spend the money on targetted resources in schools to improve things? I look forward to the comments you get on this post!

  3. I think Barry your point is an important one. Our ‘outcomes’ are children not profits.
    What would be the targets that we measure the performance of teacher’s against? Can you measure a child’s happiness at school? Can you measure a child’s imagination sparked by a teacher? The list could be endless.
    As a parent and teacher I hope other’s share my belief that many of the important ‘targets’ in education aren’t measurable.

  4. Lynne

    Do you think, that given enough information, that you could judge where any school might lie on an excellent to unsatisfactory continuum?

  5. An incentive scheme tied to the performance of an individual school could, if not carefully considered, raise performance in a single school at the expense of the performance of the larger system. For example, it could do this by reducing collaboration between schools. From what you say it sounds like John Lewis reward partners on the basis of the whole organisation’s performance.

    When you said “So what might be the impact upon schools if a sum of money was available to the whole school if an agreed target was reached?” I at first assumed the term “whole school” included the students. In this case it didn’t. But they are members – albeit temporarily – of an organisation, including staff and students, which is working towards shared goals. Any target reached by the school will have involved their contribution. Perhaps any bonus scheme would have to allow for that?

  6. The average bonus is stated as 1,800. Having some experience with JL I can guarantee you that the vast majority do not even see anywhere near 1,800. Some of the bosses make millions in bonuses so the average figure looks quite good but in reality the “partner” on the shop floor gets not very much.

  7. Reply to Don
    It would depend on what area’s you were judging the school on. Academic standards, academic improvement or everything aside from the academic . Isn’t this the whole problem with local authority league tables?

  8. Lynne

    Forget league tables and “How Good is Our School” could you as an individual make a reasonably accurate judgment? Or is it impossible to judge whether or not a school is ‘good’?

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  10. When I was a staff tutor working in Glasgow I probably worked in nearly 50 primaries. I thought I could tell within a morning or afternoon visit what the school was like. The question is was my professional judgement always right? I think 9 times out of 10 it probably was. However my judgement was probably based more on an intuitive whole school feeling not something that can necessarily be measured.

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