Microfinance: supporting social enterprise for student and community benefit


Option 29 described in the curriculum for excellence senior phase post was described simply as: Establish a microfinance investment fund for student application.

I’ve been asked by a number of people to explain what I meant by this and how it might work.

This option has a number of threads but the starting point is founded upon a perceived need to encourage students to actively create social enterprises which will benefit their communities, and in turn,themselves.

The idea is not new and is rooted in the Grameen Bank  concept, although with more of a focus upon community benefit and personal/group development, rather than tackling poverty. The scheme should certainly tackle some of the symptoms of poverty within communities.


The concept is based upon the establishment of a microfinance fund using donations from local business people and other sources – councils included.  This money would be placed in a trust to which students, or other members of a community, could submit an application for a micro loan which would allow them to establish and develop their social enterprise. The only stipulation – aside from the viability of the plan – would be that the proposal must have a direct benefit to their local community.

An example we have been developing relates to an Elders Buddy Scheme. Let’s say that a student (or students) at the school applies to the fund for an interest free loan to set up the buddy scheme, which will involve families or individuals paying a minimal fee for a young person to spend 5 hours week making an evening home visit to an elderly person. The social entrepreneur/s, would use the loan – to a maximum £1000 – to pay for advertising, information materials, recruitment, training, disclosure fees, and other costs.

The microfinance fund would seek to provide additional support through a business /community mentor and a further network of relevant contacts  and fellow social entrepreneurs.

Areas of possible community benefit include; early years and child care; elderly care; youth programmes; disability support; and environment.

Obviously there are numerous working details missing from this description but in order to keep this post brief and to the point I’ll focus upon the benefits to the indviduals and the community they inhabit, and the possible problems.

Here’s a list of possible benefits:

  1. Young people are introduced to the world of work and enterprise in a real and meaningful manner.
  2. Communituties would benefit from the services provided.
  3. Experience in developing and running a social enterprise would be highly regarded on applications for employment or further/higher education.
  4. Young people develop real experience in financial management.
  5. It gives meaning to other academic studies as they become contextualised in a world of work and social duty.
  6. If  recognised as part of a young person’s senior phase curriculum it would enhance and  deepen that experience.
  7. It would promote comunity engagement and awareness of young people with/about their community.
  8. It woukd raise the positive profile of young people in their communities.
  9. Encourages young people to take the next step into running businesses for themselves.
  10. Promotes and entrepreneurial spirit in a community/school.

And possible problems:

  1. Loans are not repaid
  2. Enterprises collapse as young people leave their communities for further study or employment
  3. Services to vulnerable groups are not sustained
  4. Existing services with full time employees are placed at risk due to competition.
  5. Schools do not recognise the value of the scheme and only allow high achieving students to particpate or do not facilitate time  for involvement.
  6. The scheme does not offer sufficient support in the initial stages
  7. The bureaucracy of the application process is too off putting and complex.
  8. Funding is too short term.
  9. Insufficient number of financial backers.
  10. Works only in areas of high net worth and not in communites which might really benefit.

Comments and suggestions welcome.

Further reading:

What can social finance learn from microfinance

Social innovation

Peer to peer microfinance for young people

Youth enterprise

Microcredit for young entrepreneurs

A sense of ceremony

I attended a beautiful Mass at St Mary’s Roman Catholic Primary School this morning. The event was held to celebrate the closure of the school building before it is demolished to make way for the new school which will be built over the next 15 months.

I’m neither Catholic nor religious but I was very taken by the ceremony and sense of community which was engendered this morning.

It made me think that we don’t pay enough attention to ceremony in our modern lives – I certainly haven’t read anything about the role of ceremony in any recent management books I’ve come across. Nor is there a performance indicator which measures the effective use of ceremony. Nevertheless, I think there is something about us as a species which likes the comfort and rhythm of a well conducted ceremonial occasion. It certainly acts to bind people together in an act of common purpose – a feature of life which is all too conspicuous by its absence.

Aspiring to be “good” – would this provide space for improvement?

Amongst a number of  other duties the Standards in Scottish Schools Act 2000 sets out two key responsibilities for Scottish Local Authorities in respect to school education, namely Raising Standards and Reviewing School Performance.

Yet I was wondering if it’s time to reconsider these duties in light of the impact – or otherwise – that Local Authorities have had upon schools in their charge? As a headteacher, and in my ten years a member of school senior management teams in a variety of schools,  I would have to question what impact Local Authorities had upon raising standards in the school and whether or not the School Review process made a positive contribution to the raising of said standards. I want to make it clear that I am not denigrating in any way the efforts and support given to schools by Local Authority colleagues but that the very assumption that an external force can drive improvement within a school is perhaps founded upon a false premise.

For the reality is often that the standards in a school are directly related to the quality of leadership and commitment from staff in that same school. However, by giving responsibility for raising standards to the Local Authority it creates an expectation – from all – that the authority can make an impact from an external position.  This is turn gives rise to what I’ve previously described as the “Dae Sumthin”  mentality where Local Authority managers are under pressure to be seen to be taking action – even if this action doesn’t necessarily result in any observable consequence.  The important thing is that action is taken. 

In a similar fashion Authorities have gone to considerable trouble to create a range of means of “Reviewing School Performance”  . These mechanisms have taken many different forms all with the intention that we can “know our schools”.

What I want to question is the assumption that there is a direct causal relationship between how well we know our schools and how well we can raise standards? ( in the case the “we” are those outwith the school).

It would be my contention that the responsibility – and much more importantly the capacity – to raise standards lies with those who work in a school.  That was always my belief as a headteacher, a principal teacher, or even as a teacher and I’ve seen nothing in the last five years as an educational administrator to change that opinion. I’m not saying here that all of our efforts in Local Authorities are wasted but that there is an unintended consequence of our adherence to the notion that the more we do from “outside” the school the better things will be “within” the school.

So if the responsibility for raising standards should lie with the school does that mean that the Authority can abdicate from it’s responsibilities for school education?  I would argue that the quality of school education should still lie with the Local Authority – yet the responsibility to raise standards should lie with the school.  Now if this seems like “having one’s cake and eating it” I can understand how such an assertion might appear peculiar.  Yet what I have in mind is much more of a commissioning approach, whereby the Authority commissions the school to deliver education on its behalf.  Just as Children’s Services currently commissions a charity to deliver an aspect of its service, the overall responsibility still lies with the  commissioning body. It is the role of the commissioner to ensure that those who are commissioned are delivering the service to the agreed standards – it is not the commissioner’s responsibility to raise standards, simply to ensure that the standards set out in the agreement is achieved.

This actually chimes with something which Pasi Sahlberg said recently at a  conference when describing the success that is Finnish Education. For Pasi said that in Finland to be “good”  is “good enough”.  They do not aspire to excellence as a system but focus on ensuring that everyone is at least “good enough”.  I know this seems to lack the aspiration of our Journey to Excellence – but I actually think that this provides exactly  the kind of space in which teachers and schools can flourish. 

So in such an environment what should happen to the Authority’s responsibility to “Review School Performance”? Perhaps the clue lies with the last couple of sentences in that particular section of the Act when it describes how where the Authority concludes that following a review that where:

” the school is not performing satisfactorily they shall take such steps as appear to them to be requisite to remedy the matter.”

It’s here that I would want to refer to the model of practice which is emerging from many directions, namely Risk Assessment.  What I’m wondering is whether or not a Risk Assessment approach might provide schools with much more space to innovate and develop local solutions to raising standards?  Would it be possible for an Authority to assess the “Risk” relating to the quality of education provided by a school.  Rather than stating that a school’s performance is somewhere on the six point scale we instead provide a simple statement to parents and others that the risk that the school is not providing a “good” education is low, medium or high.  Schools would aspire to be in the “low” risk category.   I would reckon that only around 5% of schools would fall into the high risk category and that the Authorities’ resources could be targetted on those same schools – with others being given ever more freedom to innovate and create local solotions without external interference.

Campaign against budget cuts in Scottish education

Net Local Authority Revenue Expenditure by Service (%)

The Educational Institute of Scotland is running a campaign against any budget cuts in Scottish Education.

A march was held in Glasgow today at which thousands of teachers, parents and lecturers joined to protest against any education budget reductions under the banner “why must our children pay?”

As a teacher and passionate advocate for education I understand and support the sentiment and motivation behind the campaign but I can’t quite see how it’s going to be possible to ring fence any single service within the Scottish public service environment – for all that it might make my job a lot easier.

No less a person than Sir John Elvidge ,  Scotland’s senior civil servant, speaking at an event on the 29th January, warned that public service spending in Scotland is likely to be reduced by 10 per cent in real terms in three years time and 20 per cent in seven years compared to current levels. He went on to say:

“I think one of the hardest questions that faces us all as managers is how will the trend of real terms reductions last. 

 I think, without getting into political territory, it’s difficult to identify the point of certainty at which one says: ‘Ah, yes, it will      definitely have turned round by then.’ And all I’d say is, that if one looks beyond four years, at that rate of annual real terms reduction and taking into account compounding, it doesn’t take very long to get to 20 per cent instead of 10 per cent.”

Taking Elvidge’s figure of 10% (which will be closer to 12% with the compounding effect) I thought it might be useful to explore the impact on public services in Scotland.

The most recent figures we have available for Scottish education expenditure relate to the financial year 2007-2008.  In that year the revenue expenditure was £4.7 billion.  Using this figure , although it’s likely to be much closer to £5 billion in the current year, a 10% reduction would equate to £470 million.  The logic must be that if this sum is not to be picked up by education then it must be passed onto some other Scottish public service.  So who would be best placed to pay this bill?

The Scottish Health service had expenditure of £8.9 billion in 2006/2007.  Their share of the 10% savings would be £890 million – so perhaps they have their fair share of the challenge and the focus should lie elsewhere?

So how about the cost of running the Scottish Government?  The 2010/2011 draft budget for running the core administration of the government is £258.3 million – which is dwarfed by the £470 million three-year saving which would be required of education.

Of course Scottish education (apart from further and higher education) is funded though Local Authorities – there must be significant opportunities for the burden to lie with other Local Authority Services? 

Education’s average share of the total revenue expenditure for Local Authorities in 2007-2008 was 42.6% . The table shown above describes how education and and social work – which includes child protection and community care – takes that proportion up to 65%. Then add police, fire and emergency planning and you’re up to nearly 80%.  Throw in roads and transport, economic development and environmental services and the total is well beyond 90%.

The reality is that Local Authorities cannot meet a 10% saving from its net revenue expenditure of £11.1 billion, i.e. £1.11 billion, from the remainder of those services which might not be deemed as sacrosanct as some of those listed previously.

Perhaps John Elvidge gets close to the truth when he suggested:

“This is going to be an enormous challenge for any system – and it tells us that the right thing for all public sector managers to be doing at the moment is to err on the side of pessimism in their forecasts, and radicalism in their thinking.” (my emboldened type)

For me it’s this latter trait which will require all involved in education to adopt if we are to safely navigate these difficult waters over the next few years.

I’ll leave the last words with John Elvidge:

“I think the shape of delivery of at least some public services is going to look completely different. I wish I knew which ones they were and which ones will look different, but it’s obvious that we can’t simply continue to run the models that we run for delivery of various public services,”

Incorporation of Scotland’s Colleges: A Scottish example of local automomy and accountability in action

John McCann, Director of Next Practice at Scotland’s Colleges, has kindly provided me with a piece on the development of Scotland’s Colleges from their Incorporation in 1993 when they gained their own autonomy. 


I will be returning to this on numerous occasions over the next few months.




Any reasonable commentator on the lifelong learning landscape in Scotland would conclude that colleges are in a good place. The most recent (2009) HMIe Report on Improving Scottish Education concluded that there were no systemic weaknesses in the sector and anticipated colleges being at the forefront of contemporary education challenges. Further, and while these things are always transitory, there has been significant political goodwill recently reflecting college reputation for responsiveness to changing contexts.

 There are a number of factors which have contributed to this position – strategic leadership, flexible curriculum arrangements, staff development, funding drivers, …. However, the significant structural element has been the ability of colleges, as autonomous institutions, to act with agility in addressing changing circumstances.

 Formally, colleges became incorporated institutions in 1993 when they moved from local authority control and the modern college movement begun. It required legislative action with momentum generated by a combination of political will, a particular vision for public services and educational rationale. While the legislative procedure was accelerated, it was seen as the next stage in a process.

 Political Context

 The political context throughout the 80s was one of significant reform of public services with encouragement of private sector thinking to public service provision. Some public services were ‘privatised’ while all were required to be customer focused and to reflect this in the quality of service delivered and the accountability mechanisms developed. Competition became the driver for efficiency gains and quality improvement. The prevailing thinking was that of a shift away from central control towards provision of local services to provide local solutions which met local needs and had local accountability.

 A further political driver was that of the unpopular ‘poll tax’. This was introduced in line with the prevailing political philosophy and never attained acceptance as a fair way of contributing to the costs of public services. One tactic was to take services out of local authority responsibility and, in so doing, remove an expenditure burden providing an opportunity to reduce local taxation. The political judgement was of a more favourable perspective on poll tax.

 Finally, there was significant activity in reforming the university sector. As part of the ‘liberating’ ethos, the binary divide was removed with a large number of institutions becoming universities. The regulating body for degree awards was abolished and the country turned away from an elitist approach to higher education to one of widening access in line with other developing countries. Access to education and, from that, provision of a highly qualified workforce, was seen to be critical to success in the new context of knowledge economies and emerging demands of globalisation.

 The political conditions were right for incorporation of colleges; a number of boxes were ticked and a number of helpful steps had been undertaken on the road. For example, college councils had been formed and, in some authorities, there was significant delegation to individual institutions – schools as well as colleges.

 Educational Context

During the 80s, educational systems had to respond to new demands created by major shifts in the economy. Scotland’s traditional economic base – manufacturing, engineering, shipbuilding, mining – collapsed to be replaced by a service economy. The extent of this shift was such that it has attracted the descriptor ‘revolution’ by some contemporary commentators. A second set of demands was generated by the ubiquity of technology with the ready availability of cheaper, more powerful processors. Business processes were being fundamentally restructured.

In contrast to the pace of change in society, educational systems were ‘measured’ in their response to changes. Inevitably, change was demanded to make the system better suited to modern demands. In schools, the age of the initiative was born. In colleges there was two major changes.

The first was reform of the ‘non-advanced’ qualification structure. It took many forms and subject to perspectives of a multitude of employer bodies. ‘Action Plan’ was designed to bring coherence to the curriculum and to change the delivery paradigm to ‘student centredness’. The National Certificate ‘module’ was born which described provision in terms of the outcomes which learners were to achieve and the standards for certification. The availability of the module as the unit of learning (nominally 40 hours) opened up new possibilities for curriculum design and delivery.

The second change was the devolution to colleges for quality assurance including assessment. The qualifications body owned the qualifications specification and so national standards were preserved. Colleges, who had developed systems and processes to assure assessment methods met required standards, assessed and, subject to verification, awarded credit. These delegated powers opened up new possibilities for flexible delivery.

The change management processes related to Action Plan might be described as power-coercive. Courageous decisions were made that the existing curriculum would cease to exist at a particular point in time to be replaced by new modules. The pace was fierce – part of the change management process – with the whole non-advanced curriculum replaced in a couple of years.

These changes were also introduced for HN ‘units’. By the end of 80s, colleges had a unit-based, flexible curriculum with significant delegated powers. A significant degree of ownership of the curriculum had passed to colleges with the expectation that provision would meet local needs. Colleges were empowered to become the type of responsive institution to meet these new demands.

There was also in the sector, a cohort of managers who had been through significant change and who had led much of it. There was capacity (and appetite) within the sector for greater accountability, responsibility and autonomy. In other countries, particularly the American Community Colleges, and elsewhere in the UK colleges had become or were becoming autonomous. In the UK, central institutions had demonstrated the value of autonomous operation with appropriate mechanisms for accountability. Incorporation was an obvious next step.

 Enabling Incorporation

With the political will in place, the educational rationale sound (and proven in other contexts), processes were put in place for colleges to be removed from local authority control and become autonomous institutions. The break was to be clean and comprehensive – there were no qualifications to autonomy.

Colleges became accountable to their own Boards of Management. Board responsibilities included all matters related to the functioning of the organisation – strategic direction, finance, human resources, property, quality, curriculum,….. Core funding was to be provided from central government based on a transparent formula related to student activity with these arrangements phased in to allow colleges to adjust. (initial allocation was based on historic allocation from local authorities). Central control on curriculum provision (eg approval of HN provision) was removed.

Boards were to be made up of 16 members. Some were prescribed – Principal, Academic Staff member, Support Staff member and student. Not less than half the Board were to be experienced in “industrial, commercial or employment matters or the practice of any profession”. Limitations were placed on local authority influence; explicitly neither an elected nor an appointed member of a local authority could chair the board.

Support available to colleges was considerable and critical with SFEU (as was) playing a very significant role and well supported by government. Support took the form of understanding new responsibilities and new appointments in colleges provided the necessary specialist expertise – the balance of academic/support staff was to change dramatically. Specific support was made available to colleges where necessary and steps were taken to ensure there were no college failures.

An attempt was made to preserve national bargaining. However, given that staff costs represented much of a colleges’ expenditure, national mechanisms broke down to be replaced with local bargaining. There are occasional calls for its restoration.

As might be imagined, colleges exploited incorporation differently. All grew in terms of student numbers – some much faster than others. Each developed their own corporate identity and there were significant competitive pressures around. The quality of management and leadership improved in response to new opportunities and responsibilities and this has been a key aspect of current success.

National policy demands were addressed through funding mechanisms (grant-in-aid conditions, specific funding allocation, strategic development funds) and quality regimes. There is a high degree of awareness within the college community that addressing policy is not only a requirement of funding but also required in order to retain autonomy.

For all colleges, a high level of innovation became characteristic of their work. This was necessary given the competitive forces which around and the challenging issues being addressed. There were also internal forces driving innovation as staff became empowered to take forward their own ideas with minimum reference to external bureaucracies.


No-one doubts that the process was a successful reform of an increasingly important public service – it was the right thing to do. Apart for some calls for a return to national bargaining, there is no serious attempt to return to pre-Incorporation times. There remain tensions between national policy and local autonomy; however, these are to be anticipated. Generally, we have found a way by which national policy demands can be quickly implemented with local provision shaped to meet local demands.

The conditions (political, public service, educational) which led to incorporation of colleges remain and, indeed, have become more imperative. These are

  1. The pace of change is such to require responsive, agile institutions continually adapting to new circumstances;
  2. Innovation is best achieved within a dynamic, challenging environment where individuals are unencumbered by unnecessary, distant bureaucracy;
  3. Local solutions work best;
  4. National interests can be served well through enlightened funding and quality levers.




Uniformity or diversity of schooling?


One of the key findings of the OECD report on Quality and Equity of Scottish Education was that our system does not promote innovation and that there is very little diversity of schooling in Scotland. They identified the cause of this rigidity as a lack of autonomy – and what I would describe as an acceptance by all of a “command and control” model of education.  This is captured in a paper from the OECD which described various educational models extant in the world where we seemed to fit within a bureaucratic system of education.

Yet this notion of diversity causes shivers down the back of many in Scottish education who have come to accept the doctrine that there must be “equality of opportunity” in all schools. This is often translated into what is termed an “entitlement model” of education, i.e. what is on offer in one school must be on offer in another.  Any divergence from this orthodoxy is immediately labelled a “postcode lottery”. Now that seems fine to me in relation to some fundamental rights such a health treatment such a cancer care – but not for something as subjective as to what constitutes a quality education.

It interests me that people will call out for equality of opportunity, common entitlement, uniformity, (rigidity) within one local authority – yet in the neighbouring authority there exists another similar system – set in stone – but with it’s own unique differences – albeit at the periphery.

Even a cursory reflection upon the OECD report leads one to conclude the need to promote greater innovation and diversity in our system and that the fundamental levers for change should be an integrated approach to Funding and Governance.

I would argue that any improvement in outcomes for children in Scotland will only come about through providing schools with greater autonomy – and at the same time linking this with greater accountability. The key point to be borne in mind here is that there is a risk that greater autonomy can result in greater inequality. This would certainly be the case if funding was simply handed over to to schools with no regard to how that funding is used to tackle inequalities. I reckon that accountability in Scottish education is primarily motivated by compliance, e.g “we will do it so as not to get slapped”, whereas accountability should really be seen as a formative process, which should shape what we set out to achieve. Such a shift to a formative form of accountability would have to link funding with the achievement of clearly stated outcomes and objectives, without dictating how these outcomes must be achieved – and certainly no reference to the input requirements.

It’s at this point that the question of uniformity or diversity really comes into its own. For if I you gave two schools a common set of outcomes – and then stripped away any obligations as to how these outcomes should be achieved (whilst ensuring that they complied with health and safety and legislative requirements) I’d bet that we would end up with remarkably different schools over a period of time. Of course, one would have to expect that the divergence between the two schools would not happen immediately, the ingrained cultures and expectations would take some to to break down. Yet over a few years we would begin to see the two schools creating their own solutions to similar problems – yet in a way which suited their own context and community.

“But what if a child has to move from one school to another – how will they manage?” – I thought I’d get that in now as it’s the common question which arises about this time anyone attempts to promote a diversity model. I’m afraid such a question just leaves me cold for I’ve seen far too many children from other countries successfully join schools where I’ve been a teacher or manager to see it as an obstacle – what matters is the quality of the school – not the uniformity of the curriculum or the structure of the school.

But how could schools operate without the support and direction of Local Authorities? Surely they don’t have the expertise or sophistication to make the myriad of judgements that are currently made on their behalf? Obviously we couldn’t give control of our schools to our local communities as they couldn’t be trusted in the way we can trust local authorities – could they? And how could schools possibly ensure that they maintained a high quality of education for every child – regardless of ability – surely that can only be achieved through a bureaucratic system which checked that the needs of disadvantaged children?

School Choice, Kiwi-Style

THE NEW ZEALAND EDUCATION REFORMS link  (my highlights in bold)

More than a decade ago, New Zealand faced problems similar to those in Canadian public schools, rapidly expanding costs and declining performance. The Kiwis made bold, across-the-board reforms, with positive results.

New Zealand’s government had created a massive, unresponsive educational system where parents had little or no influence. The system was failing to meet acceptable achievement levels. There was outright bureaucratic capture, and little or no performance accountability. The system consumed 70 cents of every education dollar, with only 30 cents spent in the classroom. As in Canada, budget figures underestimated these overheads; what were officially described as “administration costs” represented a convenient fiction.

The New Zealand government administered education through a highly bureaucratic structure. The Ministry of Education, the central body that answered to the federal government, made all of the rules and controlled expenditures with prescriptive regulations. It determined the curriculum, how it would be taught, and how performance would be measured. In every region, the ministry established Boards of Education to whom it delegated limited power.

Since reforms were implemented, about 67 cents of each education dollar is now spent in the classroom, more than double the previous amount. Parents play the dominant role in the educational choices for their children. Learning has improved, and classroom size is down.

Education continues to be fully funded by the central government from general income and consumption tax revenues. Every child is still entitled by law to a tax-supported education until completing secondary school. Little else remains the same.


Comprehensive reform in New Zealand reversed the top-down style of governance. All Boards of Education have been eliminated. Boards of Trustees have been established for each school. Parents of the children at that school run for election to boards, which are unpaid positions. The Trustees deliver accountability directly into the hands of the parents. The Board of Trustees makes all spending decisions, and has full responsibility for what happens at their school.

The Board of Trustees writes the Charter for their school, and is bound by and accountable for achieving its goals. The Charter can only be changed after a consultative process with the parents.

The role of the Ministry has been changed to that of the body that passes to the Board of Trustees a block of money determined by a formula based on the number of students at the school. It is also responsible for auditing school performance against its Charter requirements. Reflecting its new role, the Ministry was reduced to about half its former size.

Because education is the most important influence on a child’s future, next to parenting, New Zealanders participated in a significant debate over parental rights regarding education. They decided that parents have an absolute right to choose the school at which their children will be educated. The consequence: good schools with good teachers get more students, less capable schools with less capable teachers get fewer students, which means that less money and fewer teachers are employed at that school.

Private schools may get state funding equivalent to public schools. To do so they must make an application to the Minister of Education to integrate. This process requires them to prove their buildings, grounds and facilities meet code standards. About 15 percent of all schools are private, and to date about 90 percent of these schools have integrated.

Once integrated, private schools have the right to maintain their special character (normally religious education and ethics), though they must teach the core curriculum and be open and actively teaching the students for a prescribed number of days each school year. For this they get identical funding to public schools, including capital funding. They may compete to educate any children. This process started in the 1970’s, and is now non-controversial.

The elimination of bureaucracy freed up large quantities of money, and the national government decided that all of it would remain a part of education spending. This decision allowed major investments in classroom technology, a significant investment in teaching aides and bringing all maintenance projects up to date.


The Third International Mathematics and Science Examination gave international achievement tests to samples of students in multiple countries. Students were tested in the 4th, 8th and 12th grades. The figures below present 1995 mathematics achievement scores for the United States and New Zealand compared to the international average.

Achievement scores are influenced by a variety of factors other than the quality of schools. For instance, New Zealand introduces mathematics and science into the curriculum at later grades than is commonly the case. Although this curriculum severely handicaps the performance of New Zealand’s 4th grade students on international exams, it is ultimately of no real consequence.

The influence of school quality, however, increases as a student spends more time in the school system. Idiosyncratic factors have largely played themselves out by the graduating year. The 12th Grade tests are ultimately more important than earlier ones, reflecting the quality of skills held by students entering college and the workforce.

The 1995 Mathematics TIMSS exams reveal that New Zealand 4th graders start 30 points below the international average, but they quickly catch up, with 8th graders being only 5 points below the international average, and 12th graders scoring 22 points above the international average. Obviously, once mathematics has been introduced, the lessons are learned well in New Zealand.


Ironically, the cautionary lesson to be drawn from the New Zealand experience is to avoid school choice programs that include only public schools. The key problem with the New Zealand program lies in the fact that the government retained ownership over school facilities, and has been reluctant both to spend money expanding popular schools and to close unpopular schools. This is a problem for those who argue for keeping choice within the realm of public schools, not for those advocating full school choice. Such political considerations interfere with the functioning of the education market in New Zealand, but would be less of a problem under a full choice program. Private and charter schools in the North America can and do open, expand and close their doors, free of considerations about government capital support.

The “cautionary tale” for competition models is the fact that some schools will gain students while others will lose them under competition. The authors, however, acknowledge that many of the schools having difficulty under the reforms are the same schools that had trouble under the previous centralized regime. The authors have therefore mistaken a real gain of the reforms for a problem. New Zealand schools esteemed by parents have grown, while unpopular schools have shrunk. What this means is that fewer Kiwi children today attend schools which parents regard as being of relatively low quality than was the case beforethe reforms. This is a victory to be celebrated rather than a failure of the reforms.


Although not without its imperfections, school reform in New Zealand has, as stated earlier, been quite successful, and is supported by a substantial majority of the population. Individual schools have much more control over the style and content of their offerings, and budget decisions reflect the values of educators and parents instead of the needs of politicians, bureaucrats and teachers’ unions.

Post-reform, the proportion of resources dedicated to front-line educating in New Zealand has doubled, while administrative layers have been peeled away. This change in priorities is reflected in New Zealand’s improved ranking in international test scores.

Boston Pilot Schools Network

I came across a very interesting project from Boston, USA, which sets out to give schools more autonomy and accountability.  Known as the Boston Schools Project its has been running since 1994.  The results are impressive and include:

·         Pilot Schools are attractive to Boston families, as evidenced by high waiting lists;
·         Pilot Schools have high holding power, as evidenced by high student attendance and low transfer rates
·         Pilots Schools are safe, as evidenced by low suspension rates
·         Pilot Schools are successful in educating students, as evidenced by low grade retention rates; standardized test scores (in MCAS and Stanford 9) that are comparable or higher than the BPS district averages for most Pilot Schools; and high graduation rates
·         Pilot Schools provide students with expanded life opportunities, as evidenced by high college-going rates.  

I was very interested in what they describe as their Conditions of Autonomy:

Five Pilot School Areas of Autonomy, plus Accountability

1. Staffing: Pilot schools have the freedom to hire and excess their staff in order to create a unified school community. This includes:

Deciding on staffing patterns which best meet the academic, social, and emotional needs of students
Hiring staff that best fit the needs of the school, regardless of their current status (member of the district or not, although every teacher hired becomes a member of the local teachers union)
Excessing staff (into the district pool) that do not fulfill the needs of the school

2. Budget: Pilot schools have a lump sum per pupil budget in which the school has total discretion to spend in the manner that provides the best programs and services to students and their families. This includes:

A lump sum per pupil budget, the sum of which is equal to other BPS schools within that grade span
The district has moved toward itemizing all central office costs, and allows Pilot schools to choose to purchase identified discretionary district services or to not purchase them and include them in the school’s lump sum per pupil budget

3. Curriculum and Assessment: Pilot schools have the freedom to structure their curriculum and assessment practices to best meet students’ learning needs. While acknowledging that all Pilot schools are expected to administer any state- and district-required test, these schools are given the flexibility to best determine the school-based curriculum and assessment practices that will prepare students for state and district assessments. This includes:

Schools are freed from local district curriculum requirements
Graduation requirements are set by the school, not by the district, with an emphasis on competency-based, performance-based assessment.

4. Governance and Policies: Pilot schools have the freedom to create their own governance structure that has increased decision making powers over budget approval, principal selection and firing, and programs and policies, while being mindful of state requirements on school councils. This includes:

The school’s site council takes on increased governing responsibilities, including the following: principal selection, supervision, and firing, with final approval by the superintendent in all cases; budget approval; and setting of school policies

The school has flexibility to be freed from all district policies, and set its own policies that the school community feels will best help students to be successful. This includes policies such as promotion, graduation, attendance, and discipline

5. School Calendar: Pilot schools have the freedom to set longer school days and calendar years for both students and faculty. In particular, research supports a correlation between faculty planning time spent on teaching and learning and increased student achievement. Scheduling which allows for summer and school year faculty planning time contributes to a more unified school community and educational program. This includes:

Increasing planning and professional development time for faculty
Increasing learning time for students
Organizing the school schedule in ways that maximize learning time for students and planning time for faculty (e.g., longer days Monday through Thursday in order to have half-days for students on Fridays, enabling faculty to have a significant planning and professional development block every Friday afternoon).

Accountability: Pilot Schools Network Statement

(Adopted 4/2000) The Pilot Schools believe that having in place a strong system of assessing student progress is vital to creating excellent schools in which all students learn and achieve at high levels. We believe in standards that lead to excellent schools, not standardization. We support the development of network-wide competencies and assessments that, while providing common information on how schools are doing, also allow for and encourage uniqueness in approaches to instruction and assessment among schools. Ultimately, good assessment systems should open doors for all students rather than shut them, and help students graduate with a range of options.

Logic Model – the big picture


This post is one of a series linked to The Logic Model – getting a social return on investement?

I apologise from the outset to any experts in the field of Logic Modelling.  What follows is a very personal interpretation of the process. I recognise that it’s possible to have a multitude of feedback loops and additional stages within the model but having read them I don’t think they necessarily add anything to the basic concept – in fact I think in many ways they only serve to confuse.  To that end I’m going to try to describe the model in simplistic terms in an attempt to try to capture the “big picture”.

Why a Logic Model?

– Because it follows a logical sequence of events and represents a graphic model of a project, initiative, or change process (It must be remembered that this is a model and not reality)

What assumptions underpin Logic Modelling?

– A Logic Model assumes causal relationships, i.e. IF this happens, THEN this happens, e.g. IF I drink a glass of water, THEN I will feel less thirsty. However, we know from experience that that cause and effect are rarely that simple. Nevertheless, by at least trying to clarify and be explicit about our assumed causal connections we can begin to get closer to action which will result in a significant social return.



Do you have to plan in the linear order of the model, i.e. stage 1, stage 2 , stage 3 etc?

 – Surprisingly you don’t have to follow the order it’s possible to start at any stage in the model and work back or forwards within the model to end up with a final plan.

What are the constituent parts of the model?

– The most basic form of Logic Model can be represnted by 3 stages:


This simple model can also be broken down further into 5 stages:


Inputs are the resources you are going to invest in the plan of action, they can include, staff, time, money, equipment, support, materials, capital costs, etc.

Activities are the things you plan or intend to do, e.g. run courses, provide materials, implement a policy

Outputs are those things that you do and to whom, e.g the course was run for so many people over such and such a period of time.

Outcomes are those things that change as a consequence of the activities and outputs, e.g. learning, behaviour, attitudes, motivation, independence, etc.

Impact relates much more to the longer term outcome of the change you have initiated.

What’s different about this and how we currently plan?

In my experience of school and authority planning processes we have focussed – almost exclusively  – on activities and outputs, e.g. (activity) we are going to develop and implement a learning and teaching polic, (output) the policy was implemented.  Tagged onto these core elements came some consideration of the resources required or available and then a stumble around trying to work out “success criteria” – which were often no more than an expanded output e.g. the policy will be implemented.

I think the biggest difference between this traditional approach and the Logic Model is that activities – rather than being the first thing to go down on paper – is often the last.  In some ways this links to something I wrote about recently and our learned reflex to be action oriented – “dae sumthin”

Perhaps the current and future budgetary pressures will require us to make sure that we use what resources we have in the manner which are most likely to succeed?

As I write this I remind myself that whetever else we do in relation to applying the Logic Model, and Social Return on Investment that we don’t fall into the trap of:

 “knowing the price of everything and value of nothing.”

Is it appropriate to expect a social return on investment when considering education?


This post is one of a series linked to The Logic Model – getting a social return on investement?

I’m sure there will be many people who will recoil at the very notion of trying to measure the social return on the investment in education.

The reason for such a strong reaction is difficult to capture here but at its heart lies a deeply held belief that education is not a product nor a service but an inalienable right for every human being. Such lofty ideals lie beyond any crude reductionist attempt to limit it to the relationship between the investment and the return on that investment.  Surely one cannot possibly capture the relationships, the tiny interactions between teacher and learner, between learner and learner. Nor can we possibly measure the outcomes of the hidden curriculum. If such important elements of the educational experience cannot be measured then the danger must exist that we only attend to the things that we can measure and the quality of the educational experience would be all the more limited by that narrowing.

 In many ways I can agree with such sentiments and I think it’s important to keep in mind the last sentence of the preceding paragraph if the Logic Model is to be applied to education. Nevertheless, nations throughout the world, governments, local/district systems and schools make huge financial investments in education – all with a view to making a beneficial impact upon the social fabric of society. 

In Scotland total gross revenue expenditure on education was £4.6 billion in 2006-07 (the last year for which totals were available). 

Is it unreasonable to ask whether or not society is getting a reasonable social return on such a huge investment?

It’s the dichotomy which emerges in the system when considering these two opposing points of view i.e.

Most people would agree that society should expect a return from its investment in education.

When that tacit agreement is translated into an explicit attempt to measure that return it seems to cross the threshold of acceptability.

As I progress through the series of posts in this topic I can begin to tease out some of these issues and – hopefully – some solutions.