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.

Example:

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

Overcoming curriculum inertia: a zero based approach

Arguably the most difficult stage to implement significant curricular change is in the senior phase of secondary education.

The “high stakes” nature of the upper secondary school assessment system combines with other factors, such as self interest, fear of change, rigid staffing and timetabling models, and avoidance of potential conflict to create a state of “curriculum inertia” which is incredibly difficult to shift.

There is no blame to be attached to this inertia. It is a natural consequence of a system which has laid down sedimentary layers of practice, structures and expectations one upon the other, from one generation to the next – regardless of changes to examination arrangements.

In my recent post on senior phase options I listed a number of possibilities, which, if combined, could radically change the way in which we meet the needs of senior students. Yet regardless of how good these ideas might be, curricular inertia will make it incredibly difficult to see any more than a few translated into practice and certainly not enough to reach a tipping point in favour of the needs of the student – as opposed to the needs of the system.

The orthodox approach to senior phase curriculum planning has been to adopt an incremental approach where tweaks are made from one year to the next but which in reality result in minimal and cyclical change.

An alternative approach to be considered is borrowed from the world of financial budgeting – Zero based budgeting:

“Zero-based budgeting is an approach to planning and decision-making which reverses the working process of traditional budgeting. In traditional incremental budgeting, departmental managers justify only variances versus past years, based on the assumption that the “baseline” is automatically approved. By contrast, in zero-based budgeting, every line item of the budget must be approved, rather than only changes.[1] During the review process, no reference is made to the previous level of expenditure. Zero-based budgeting requires the budget request be re-evaluated thoroughly, starting from the zero-based”
Wikipedia

Zero based curriculum planning adopts similar a similar philosophy i.e.schools start the planning process from scratch based around the needs of students and build from that point, with no reference to what was done before.

Of course, this would be an enormous change for schools and the reality is that we ARE limited by the staffing profiles which have evolved to suit our existing curricular models, even if they don’t facilitate the needs of young people.

Nevertheless, I reckon that by adopting at least some elements of zero based curriculum planning we can begin to envisage a model of delivery which is very different from what we have today. It is only by describing that vision that we can begin to plan a coherent change strategy to translate that into practice.

Curriculum for Excellence – senior phase options

The Curriculum for Excellence senior phase. The Senior Phase can be characterised as that which takes place in the final stages of compulsory education and beyond, normally around age 15 to 18.

The following options have been generated in East Lothian for consideration by senior managers, staff, students, parents, elected members, and other interested parties such as universities, employers and colleges of further education.

Over the next few months we will be consulting with the above groups to help us develop a policy document which will set out the broad direction of travel we intend to take in relation to the senior phase.

We would be interested in people’s top ten selection from the following 41 options.

I’ll be exploring some of these options in more depth over the next few weeks.

OPTIONS FOR THE SENIOR PHASE

 

Option 1. Students must be involved in the design of the senior phase curriculum/programme of studies.

Option 2. Evening lessons or distance learning must be available for some subjects

Option 3. All East Lothian students must have access to the Scottish Baccalaureate.

Option 4. All students in a school’s senior phase should be regarded as a single group and timetabled accordingly.

Option 5. students should be able to integrate day-time employment, work experience, internships, etc, with their studies.

Option 6. East Lothian students should be able to access Advanced Higher courses on offer at any East Lothian school.

Option 7. Students should be exposed to some large lecture group presentations – to reflect what they will experience in HE.

Option 8. Students need only be present for classes – reflecting HE and FE practice

Option 9. Local employers must be invited to be involved in the design of the senior phase curriculum/programme of studies.

Option 10. Students should have a free choice of subjects from the full range, with no subject column restrictions.

Option 11. Students should have the opportunity to spend at least one day a week at FE or Queen Margaret University.

Option 12. Schools should publish the individual SQCF points total of the top 30% of each year group in the senior phase

Option 13. Every student in the senior phase should have an annual 30 minute appointment with a health counsellor.

Option 14. All teaching should take place in 2 hour sessions.

Option 15. Some students should be sponsored by local companies – particularly looked after or accommodated.

Option 16. Register classes or year group tutor groups should be replaced by intergenerational groupings in the senior phase

Option 17. Peer group assessment system should be introduced to complement reporting and assessment . see http://www.numyspace.co.uk/~unn_evdw3/skills/2010/papers/group2.pdf

Option 18. All students should have opportunity to take part in an annual outdoor expedition

Option 19. The 13th year of school should be treated as a transition year to employment, further, or higher education.

Option 20. Parenting classes and active engagement with early years groups should be compulsory for all students.

Option 21. Students should have access to previous achievement data for each course of study, prior to subject choice.

Option 22. Some teachers should be ascribed to solely teach the senior phase in any one year.

Option 23. 10% of the courses offered by a school should be drawn from the HN qualifications catalogue http://t.co/piLOGif

Option 24. Senior Students (S4 – S6) will be “matriculated” into the EL Learning Campus including all schools, FE + QMU

Option 25. All students will be assisted to set up their own bank account with regular sessions on financial management.

Option 26. Schools should be able to present information on the delivery/running costs for each senior phase subject.

Option 27. Every class to have a “mentor link” – a person from the community who has/had related employment in that area.

Option 28. All students to experience one day in an old people’s home; an early years class, and a complex needs

Option 29. Establish a micro investment fund for student application – something like this – http://t.co/Nlwl3GH

Option 30. Organise EL student conferences for subject interest groups to encourage networking and intellectual curiosity.

Option 31. EL should enable up to 10 students per school to study abroad for their final year on an international exchange.

Option 32. Some teachers in East Lothian to be dedicated to working with senior phase students across a number of schools

Option 33. East Lothian to establish strategic senior phase partnerships with education districts in other countries

Option 34. Support students to set up a Facebook page for every senior phase course of study. Tie up with twitter accounts.

Option 35. Support/encourage students to create on-line tutorials for fellow students across all schools.

Option 36. Replace paper textbooks with downloadable textbooks – http://t.co/8nswuZZ

Option 37. No parent/teacher meetings in senior phase – replace with student/teacher review meetings – parents can shadow.

Option 38. Additional support for parents/carers of looked after children about home learning, next steps, and leaving home.

Option 39. Students to be made aware of the delivery costs for each of their courses of study, and total sum for entire year

Option 40. Wednesday afternoons given over to sporting, cultural, recreational, interest activities for staff and students.

Option 41. Students to rate each course of study on completion e.g. on-line support, teaching, learner involvement, interest

Inclusion: an adult agenda?

This year I’m going to be visiting schools in East Lothian on a drop-in basis whenever a gap appears in my diary. And so it was today I managed to fit a 30 minute visit to school while travelling between two meetings.

I loved that the head teacher was walking along the corridor with her shoes off. Of course she was a bit shame faced but I’ve always liked the combination between informality and educational rigour. As I visited the classes I was hugely impressed by the quality of work I witnessed and the positive relationships between the teachers and the young people.

Anyway, enough of this, for the point of this article is connected to something the head teacher told me about how they support  children with autism in the school. At the end of last term the school had arranged with their educational psychologist to work with each of the classes who had such a child as a member. In a number of sessions – some which had the child present and some which didn’t – the educational psychologist described what it was like to have such needs, explained the behaviour, and talked about how to accommodate and respond to their classmates on the autistic spectrum. Apparently the children have been wonderful and it has contributed to creating an environment where all children belong to the school community and engage in worthwhile learning.

This description triggered a memory from last year where I led six separate workshops with secondary school students. Under the Right Blether banner we listened to 180 young people about their experiences in East Lothian schools and communities. Their responses were overwhelmingly positive, but there was one recurring theme which got me thinking.

The theme, which came up in every one of the workshops, could be characterised by the phrase “It’s not fair”. The focus of that concern was the feeling that some of their peers were treated advantageously to themselves. The young people they were referring to were those who were typically badly behaved, disruptive, disengaged, and generally not interested in education. Yet the apparent reward such young people got from the school were opportunities, chances, tolerance and recognition that were not available to the typically diligent and well behaved student who was not given such leeway – hence the recurring refrain “It’s not fair”.

This is the parallel I’d like to draw with what I heard about last week. Schools nowadays go to great lengths to try to engage with the hard to reach. So often we know that many – if not all – of such young people come from disrupted backgrounds: backgrounds where drink, drugs, neglect and violence can be ever-present; backgrounds where love, clean clothes, regular meals, and stable relationships are unknown. Yet when we – the school – try to understand and compensate for such experiences through out-of-school opportunities, second chances, and additional support we are accused by the majority of our students of being “unfair”. Yet these are same young people, who, if shown a video of neglect, starvation, violence, abuse, or the effects of poverty on children in developing countries, would happily engage in fundraising activities.

So why is it that they can’t see the “unfairness” of the life experiences of the troubled boy in their class who is always the first to be sent to the depute head teacher? Perhaps the answer lies in what I saw happening in the primary school I visited last week. For they are tapping into the natural sense of justice which every child has – but which can only be triggered if they are helped to understand and empathise with what it’s like to have such needs – or experience such a life.

It makes me think that “inclusion” has for too long been an adult agenda. We, professionals, politicians, social scientists, public health and criminal justice experts, etc, etc all argue for schools where young people from vulnerable backgrounds are included in our mainstream schools. Yet how often have we taken the time to explain “why” we do this to the other young people in our schools?  Is it any wonder that they consider our actions to be “unfair”.

What if we worked with young people, staff, parents and other supporters of the school to tackle this in a structured and positive manner – which did not stigmatise the individuals concerned? By seeking to involve all members of school community actively in the “inclusion” agenda – but especially the children and young people – we have a chance to create places where all young people feel a common sense of belonging and responsibility for one another.

I’ll leave the last words to a young person I met as part of a Right Blether Workshop held at one of our residential homes:

“No-one knows what it’s like to be me.”

Residential Child Care: Think Local

Let’s start with some numbers: Scotland spends £250 million a year on providing residential care to Looked After children – a rise of 68% in a seven year period. These are children who have been placed in the care of the Local Authority through voluntary arrangements with parents, or have been placed in compulsory care through children’s hearings, a sheriff’s order, or a court ruling. The reasons for placement include care orders, child protection, and offending behaviour.

Around 1600 children and young people are placed in residential care each year. This figure has remained stable over the last seven years, despite the number of children being identified as Looked After increasing from 9 in every 1000 in 1998 rising to 14 in every 1000 in 2009.

Of £250 million total expenditure, which accounts for 30% of  Councils’ Children service budgets, £135 million is spent on providing residential education and secure accommodation, almost all of which is provided by the independent sector, with average weekly costs varying from £800 – £5000 per child, (£41,000- £260,000 a year).

Yet despite this investment we know that the outcomes for children and young people placed in care are incredibly poor, with 1 in 10 experiencing homelessness within two years of leaving care; 25% of our prison population having been in care; 45% of looked after and accommodated children having mental health problems; and half of all such young people failing to achieve a foundation award at either Maths of English.

The challenges facing Local Authorities are twofold: ensuring that they fulfil their statutory corporate parenting responsibilities for Looked After Children, whilst ensuring that they maintain an appropriate balance between quality and cost.

As a Director of Education and Children’s Services I share the corporate parenting responsibilities with elected members and other senior officers.  I would actually extend that responsibility to every employee of the council; and perhaps go even further by extending that to every member of our communities in East Lothian

Nevertheless, from a statutory perspective I have a range of responsibilities for this group of children and young people, namely, to safeguard and promote their welfare; make use of services that would be available to children were they cared for by their parents; promote regular and direct contact between a child and person with parental responsibilities; find out and have regard for the views of the child, his/her parents and any other relevant person when making decisions which might affect them; and finally, take account of a child’s background.

Yet there is one additional responsibility set out in the  Looked After Children (Scotland) Act  2009 – with particular regard to education which is, perhaps, the most difficult to fulfil, it reads: “They should also receive additional help, encouragement and support to address special educational needs or compensate for previous disadvantage and gaps in educational provision.”

 This last line presents both a challenge and a dilemma for someone in my position. Firstly, why haven’t we tackled a person’s disadvantage earlier to ensure that they have had the same opportunities as all other children? And, secondly, why do they have gaps in their educational provision?

 These are not rhetorical questions. These are uncomfortable truths. For the reality is that we have not addressed these questions in anything like a rigorous enough manner.  For we know that inadequate parenting in the first few months of a child’s life has a devastating impact upon their future. We know that that subsequent gaps in children’s development emerge before they commence school. We know that these gaps extend and accelerate once they get into school. We know that Looked After Children are more likely to be excluded. We know that such children will occupy the bottom sets in subjects such as Maths and English. We know that they are more likely to be known to the local police and to be causing problems in their community.

 Yet when the system- not the child – has really failed we send them off to secure accommodation at a cost of a £260,000 a year – the equivalent to employing six teachers for a year.

 I wonder how a group of headteachers might respond to the offer of having an additional quarter of million pounds a year on condition that no child or young person would be sent to secure accommodation from their community? Of course such a scenario would be difficult to manage given that some secure orders can be made by a Children’s Hearing or Court, depending upon the offence or circumstances – but it does provide food for thought.

 The reality is that residential care is a legitimate part of the care continuum we provide to children. However, if we are to fully address our obligation as corporate parents it is not enough to accept that some of these children will inevitably end up in a residential school or secure accommodation.  I wouldn’t accept that for my own children and I don’t think we should accept for those who are placed in our care.

 Children and young people belong to their local communities. They belong to their schools.  We should be doing everything in our power to ensure that Looked After Children stay in their schools and in their communities – and experience a childhood which mirrors the opportunities, love and support which we would expect for our own children. Now no-one said this was going to be easy?

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.

Challenges and Opportunities for the Scottish Physical Education Profession

I was invited to speak at yesterday’s  National Conference on Physical Education in Scotland held at Edinburgh University.

After an initial preamble, where I indulged myself with a few personal reminiscences, I set out what I thought to be the some of the main challenges and opportunities facing the profession.  As I explained at the conference there is a huge challenge to be faced by all of us in education relating to the fallout from the recession and associated reductions in public service budgets.  I will not focus upon these here as I regard that to be an essentially non-productive line of enquiry – as opposed to focusing upon those things that we can change and over which we can actually have some control.

Here they are in no particular order of priority: (please note that  these challenges and opprtunities are not intended to be an exhaustive list)

CHALLENGES:

Protectionism

There is a danger that the profession see the target of 2 hours of high quality physical education as a charter for the profession – as opposed to an entitlement for children and young people.  If we narrow the definition of high quality to be only something which can only be delivered by qualified PE teachers then it unnecessarily limits the huge potential support we can gain from others who have much to offer, e.g. primary class teachers.

Traditionalism:

I was once described as a “radical traditionalist” and was flattered by such an imaginative and oxymoron-ish sobriquet. I believe there is much to be gained from reference to the values and standards which can be characterised as “traditional”.  However, if “traditionalism” is simply used as an excuse to limit children’s experiences to what the teacher feels comfortable with then it becomes a significant barrier to progress.

Complacency:

The concept of 2 hours of high quality physical education is based upon a premise/assumption that children’s lives will be enhanced by exposure to such an experience.  If the profession take such a time allocation for granted  and does not engage in enhancing the quality, then it may be that at some later date – when research evidence possibly suggests that there has been no positive impact upon children’s lives – that some other alternative mechanism for improving the health and well being of children is devised, which may not depend to the same extent upon the profession.

Guidance reliance:

Arguably the  physical education profession has seen Guidance teaching to be a route for progression.   Whether one agrees with this or not there is a strong likelihood that the future of Guidance provision in Scotland will change radically over the next ten years.  If this does happen then many in the profession, who would have previously seen this to be there preferred route ,may have to look elsewhere.

Shallowness:

I’ve written before about the “mile-wide, inch deep” phenomenon. Such an arrangement runs counter to the principle of “deep learning” which underpins curriculum for excellence. 

Exclusive:

Has the profession unwittingly excluded a large number of children by seeing the core programme as being a precursor to the thing that really matters, i.e. the certificated programme?

Risk Averse:

Where are the thinkers, the writers, the innovators in the profession?  If they are out there they are silent!

OPPORTUNITIES

Learning and Teaching

In the 1980’s Physical Education was the one of the leading subject areas when it came to analysis, experimentation and development of teaching and learning approaches. This focus, exemplified by Muska Mosston’s spectrum of teaching styles , enabled PE teachers in Scotland to reflect upon their practice as never before. 

Yet in the last decade the subject area has been remarkably silent as Assessment is for Learning and other associated developments have been mainly located in other subject areas, and the primary sector in particular.

It would seem to that there is a significant opportunity or the Physical Education profession to drive forward practice by engaging and promoting their pedagogy using the wide range of contexts available to them within the subject.  I see no particular obstruction to the profession taking on a leading role in pedagogical development and sharing this expertise with other teachers and subject areas .

Sport and the Community:

Over the next decade the boundary between school and community will become blurred.  As schools possibly become more accountable to their communities the importance of sport and extra-curricular activity will be increased.  There will be an opporunity for forward looking departments to engage much more closely with community sports groups to provide an integrated sport and physical activity programme which meets the needs of the young people and the community.

Leadership and Management:

In previous generations many Physical Education teachers progressed to management positions either due to their organisational abilities, or through their ability to engage positively with young people which often led to management positions in Guidance.

Yet in the new millennium high quality teaching and learning within the Physical Education environment is an excellent  preparation for developing the skills and aptitudes necessary for a successful leader and manager within the wider world of education. If aligned with an intellectual rigour in terms of reflecting upon that practice and an associated capacity to modify one’s practice accordingly then Physical Education teachers should be well placed to make a significant contribution to the leadership of Scottish Education.

3-18:

Physical Education teachers should have a well developed knowledge of the stages of child development and be able to relate that to their practice and the associated curricular programme. By sharing their expertise with primary class teachers and working in close association with primary schools it should be possible for PE to be a principal contributor to the concept of a coherent 3-18 educational experience as articulated within Curriculum for Excellence. This aspect has particular resonance in relation to promoting health and well being as a lifelong habit.

The key to capitalising upon this opportunity will be to look beyond what has traditionally been the limits of responsibility for secondary school Physical Education teachers. 

Deep Learning:

There are huge opportunities for the Physical Education profession to enable young people to experience the joy of “deep learning”. Nevertheless, this will require significant change to the current way in which the curriculum is structured and offered in schools.

Inclusive:

Physical Education could become much more inclusive of it could shift from it’s current focus on preparing young people for the certificated curriculum.  Make it the goal that every child that comes through your door achieves and feels positively about themselves and their relationship with physical activity and sport and you will have much to share with the rest of the educational world.

Innovative:

Take risks with your practice;  imagine and implement; read, research and reflect;  write and engage in dialogue;  stand up and speak out; but above all make good use of the incredible flexibility which is afforded through a Curriculum for Excellence.

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.

The Water Dilemma: Game Theory – is win,win really possible in our modern world?

The challenge presented by the financial situation as set out in my last post should focus the mind of any of us involved in public service.  Nevertheless, the temptation will always be to approach any problem – regardless of how potentially devastating that problem might be – from the point of view of self-interest (and not necessarily enlightened).  Yet the concern must be that without some dramatic change in mindset we face a situation where the entire system defaults.

I’ve always been attracted to the notion of Game Theory and thought it might be useful to try to construct my own “game” to enable us to explore our own unfortunate reality! 

Answers on a postcard.

Lake Punto Morto

Two countries are in conflict over a lake which extends equally on either side of their respective borders.  The lake is the only source of water for each of the countries.  Each of the countries seeks to extract as much water as possible from the reservoir each year so as to prevent the other country from gaining an advantage.

This has never really been a problem as the winter rains have always refilled the lake.  However, over the last two years there have been no winter rains and the lake is dangerously low.  There are no other means of storing significant quantities of water in either of the countries.  The countries do not speak the same language and will not meet under any circumstances

The countries have two options:

1.   Extract as much water as they can, as quickly as they can in the hope that the other country will be destroyed. 

2.   Reduce their own rate of extraction from the lake in the hope that the winter rains will replenish the lake’s water level.

Which option should the countries take?

Postcode Lottery Explored

“It’s a Postcode Lottery” is a recurring term used to highlight any difference in provision of services between one area and another. 

The underlying assumption in all such cases is that this “lottery” is unfair and that services should not be dependent upon the “luck” of where one happens to live, i.e. they should be exactly the same throughout the country.  I’d started to tease this out in a recent article entitled “Uniformity or Diversity” and wanted to explore this concept a little further. 

“Postcode lottery” is, without exception, employed as a disparaging term.  Here are just a few headlines to demonstrate this:

All of the above use the term “postcode lottery” as shorthand for something which is unfair and can only be rectified by a change to situation where provision is identical – regardless of where you live.  But what if you were to take the opposite perspective, i.e. begin to see variation and diversity as a strength – not a weakness?

You see my problem lies with the fact that things are different from one community to another.  Things have never been identical.  Just because things are different doesn’t mean that they have to be worse – just as we mustn’t think that just because things are identical that they must be automatically better.

I’ll exemplify this using two secondary schools in an authority.  They are both allocated an identical amount of money through a formula allocation. The only way the authority could avoid being accused of creating a “postcode lottery” would be to give each school definitive guidance on how every pound was to be spent in each of the schools.  All of the following (and much more) would have to be identical: the curriculum, the times for each subject identical, the quality of teachers, the extra curricular activities, the discipline system, menus for lunches, the subjects to be taught at all levels, pupil support systems, etc, etc.  Any divergence between the two schools would fall into the trap that is a “postcode lottery”.  Of course, some would claim that I’m being too extreme here only to make my point – but I’d argue you can’t have your cake and eat it.  You either accept variation or you don’t!

Variation within postcodes is a reality – it exists and the sooner we realise that the better.  Surely the real challenge is not so much to ensure that things are identical but to ensure that the quality of service provided in every  postcode is of an exceptionally high standard. 

So if variation exists how might we turn it to our advantage?  It’s here that I would return to the theme I’ve been exploring for some time now i.e. community ownership of schools.  For if a community decides that it wants to see its schools diverge from what the schools in the next community are doing – in order to meet its priorities – why shouldn’t it be allowed to do so?

There are more than enough legislative guidelines in place to ensure that the needs of individuals within each community can be protected within such an autonomous system.  The real challenge lies with the funding body who need to find a way to ensure that each community achieves national and local outcomes – but is given the necessary freedom to find its own approach to achieve these outcomes.  That really is the $64,000 lottery prize!