The Independent View: Incentives matter in our education system

Incentives matter in our education system. The right ones encourage our schools and teachers to deliver the very best education the system has to offer.

Yet in the run up to the general election, politicians would have us think otherwise. Rather than creating the incentives for excellence to spread, they seek to drive performance from the centre. Cross-party support for a new college of teaching illustrates this shift in rhetoric, with politicians trying to magic more high quality teachers without thinking about the underlying incentives. The so-called “Cinderella” teaching profession really has found its fairy godmother.

The academy school programme is all about incentives. By freeing schools from local authority control and management, the aim is to allow innovation to drive better education for pupils.

Yet better incentives are needed if academies are to drive large scale transformation across the country. According to a survey of academy schools Reform published last year, many academies are inhibited from using their freedom to innovate. Two thirds of the 654 academies surveyed had yet to make changes to the curriculum, staff terms and conditions or the school day, despite having the freedom to do so.

One reason for schools’ lack of innovation is that they do not have the necessary scale or governance structures. Large school chains provide an answer to this problem. According to research that Reform published today, authored by the global education consultancy firm Parthenon-EY, large chains of schools can improve pupil outcomes by standardising what works across individual schools.

Rather than relying on Ofsted to intervene once schools start “failing”, chains offer “proactive, supportive and developmental” management that facilitates continuous improvement. And rather than relying on volunteer governors that lack the time and skills to hold head teachers to account, school chains offer a smaller, more expert “corporate centre”, with considerable experience in school management.

School chains also offer benefits that follow from delivering economies of scale. The research estimates that standalone schools could save between 5 and 8 per cent of their budget by joining a chain, enabling reinvestment in the systems and processes that deliver better teaching.

Yet despite the benefits that large chains can bring, the overwhelming majority of academies (84 per cent) are either standalone schools or belong to a group of 10 schools or less. Only 7 per cent are in a group of over 30 schools. This leaves schools without the structures in which to achieve a “generalised or sustained level of innovation, or spread best practice”.

One reason for this is that the incentives for joining a chain are not structured in a way that encourages schools to join together. Schools within high performing chains continue to be inspected by Ofsted with the same frequency and intensity as standalone schools. In addition, academy chains do not have access to capital budgets which would enable them to reinvest in their schools.

The report recommends increasing the incentives for schools to join chains by changing the Ofsted inspection framework and delegating capital expenditure to the chain. By giving school chains more autonomy to develop and spread best practice across their individual schools, the authors suggest that more schools would join together.

The next government should consider these recommendations in order to drive high performance across the school system. Focussing on these incentives is more worthwhile than attempting transformation from the centre.

The Independent View‘ is a slot on Lib Dem Voice which allows those from beyond the party to contribute to debates we believe are of interest to LDV’s readers. Please email [email protected] if you are interested in contributing.

* Amy Finch is a researcher at the independent, non-party think tank Reform.

Read more by or more about , or .
This entry was posted in Op-eds and The Independent View.
Advert

32 Comments

  • Have you asked teachers what incentives they would like to improve education?

  • “Incentives matter in our education system. The right ones encourage our schools and teachers to deliver the very best education the system has to offer.”

    Is there even a single shred of evidence that this is true? Incentives of all forms encourage people to (a) game those incentives and (b) concentrate on maximising the metric measured rather than adopting a more general approach. Unless you have a job where the only target is to make more widgets or something equally trivially measured incentives do more harm than good.

  • But the reducto ad absurdum of that is you never measure anything, in which case scrap exams. Scrap school.

  • Alex Sabine 27th Mar '15 - 8:18pm

    Jack:  What you are describing is a particular problem with centrally imposed targets, of the kind that New Labour relied heavily on to begin with before their more intelligent reformers grasped their limitations. Although such targets may succeed in their declared objective (say reducing waiting lists), they also tend to create perverse incentives and have unintended consequences.

    This is a particular danger when the targets seek to micro-manage how desired outcomes should be achieved, rather than merely holding providers (schools, hospitals, NHS trusts etc) responsible for the outcomes themselves while allowing them to find their own ways of achieving them.

    This drawback of targets does not tell us that incentives don’t matter. Quite the opposite. It demonstrates precisely that incentives are powerful, as Amy argues. They exist whether targets are imposed or not, whether services are provided by public monopolies or not, whether schools are controlled by LEAs or not: the incentives will be different in each scenario, but the idea that they can be disregarded is simply naive.

    The problems with targets tell us that we need to find better and subtler tools, less clumsy and more ‘organic’ means of aligning producer and consumer interests, not that we can pretend that incentives wouldn’t exist if only the dreaded Thatcherites and Blairites and Orange Bookers hadn’t invented them…

  • I suggest that assertion that Academies have been’ freed from Local Authority control and management’ is an example that if nonsense is repeated often enough it becomes accepted as fact. Schools were freed from LA management & control by the Local Management of schools legislation 20 years ago. Please provide specific current examples of both! My 24 years’ experience of LA so called interference has been monitoring of schools performance (on behalf of the local people who send their kids there) and supporting school improvement where necessary preferably before an OFSTED inspection prescribes interference. Just for the record there is no international evidence that competition produces improved school performance. Improved performance is achieved by cooperation between professionals: it’s what Teachers are and advocates of unqualified teachers should be compelled to use unqualified dentists.

  • Helen Tedcastle 28th Mar '15 - 12:08pm

    What a depressing article: No consideration given of local governance or the undermining of democratic structures and a drift to the centre; dismissal of locally accountable governors in favour of centrally-appointed ‘experts;’ an assertion that academy chains are inspected as frequently as LEA schools when Ofsted itself has flagged up to the DfE that these schools are escaping scrutiny of their finances and curriculum.

    I am surprised that the writer of the article does not pay homage to the late-lamented instigator of all this ‘innovation’ in the education sector – Michael Gove. Perhaps this is because he was removed by Cameron as a massive vote-loser for the Tories.

    Reform regards itself as non-party political. I think we can safely claim that this think-tank is firmly right of centre.

  • Will Jackson 28th Mar '15 - 2:02pm

    I agree with Helen, this is very depressing stuff. I’d hazard a guess that the writer has no experience whatsoever of education, other than having been a pupil and then a student. If we want this country to be led by anything other than a ruthless, self-serving and self-perpetuating elite, something drastic must be done about the so-called independent schools. Baker, Woodhead and Gove have pulled the guts out of the state system all in the name of Mammon and to further the cause of anachronistic and repressive Toryism . In the end, we all lose out when education fails.

  • Stephen Hesketh 28th Mar '15 - 5:52pm

    I also agree with Helen.

    LDV should strongly reconsider its policy of describing organisations as “Independent” simply on the basis of them not being Lib Dem or other party political. “An alternative view” might be fairer.

    Reform clearly has a right of centre bias, not as bad liberal vision but right of centre all the same.

  • There is something vaguely Orwellian about this piece….
    The author is Amy Finch who is “..a researcher at the independent, non-party think tank Reform. ”
    So is this article written by Amy in her personal capacity, or is it a thinly disguised sponsored puff for the policies of the Reform ‘think tank? she works for’

    If you want to know where these ideas are really coming from, then follow the money……. Reform publish a list of donors on their website and it includes the likes of KPMG, Deloittes, McKinsey, Capita etc. What do these (and several others listed) have in common? Well they all have a lot to gain financially from the continued privatisation of public services! No doubt they’d all be there to help Academy Schools form ‘chains’ (for a substantial fee of course) and change the nasty Ofsted regime that shows that so many of them perform no better than those still controlled by democratically elected Local Authorities.

  • Will Jackson 29th Mar '15 - 1:54pm

    I smell a very large and ugly rat. “He is on the Advisory Council of Reform.” Who is he? Chris Woodhead. Nothing more to say, is there?

  • Matthew Huntbach 29th Mar '15 - 7:40pm

    Amy Finch

    The academy school programme is all about incentives. By freeing schools from local authority control and management, the aim is to allow innovation to drive better education for pupils.

    What control? I spent 12 years on the Education Committee of the London Borough where I was a councillor, and in that time never had any control over what goes on in its schools.

  • Matthew Huntbach 29th Mar '15 - 7:44pm

    Amy Finch

    One reason for schools’ lack of innovation is that they do not have the necessary scale or governance structures. Large school chains provide an answer to this problem. According to research that Reform published today, authored by the global education consultancy firm Parthenon-EY, large chains of schools can improve pupil outcomes by standardising what works across individual schools.

    Right, so first you say the problem is that schools have too much outside control, these interfering local authorities telling them what to do. Then you say the problem is that they don’t have enough outside control, and what is needed is interfering “chain” authorities telling them what to do.

    This seems to be just another “Public Sector Bad, Private Sector good, baaaah, Big Brother told me that and I love Big Brother” article.

  • Helen Tedcastle 30th Mar '15 - 11:03am

    The ‘global consultancy’ firm that the article writer lauds is interested in the ‘education market’.

    Reference this news-speak from their website:

    ‘ Parthenon-EY will be strongly positioned in the marketplace to serve as a global strategic advisor. It will work with companies to develop investment strategies across the capital lifecycle, helping them determine when and where to invest and assess the viability of potential targets to achieve strategic objectives around growth and portfolio management.’

    In fact this group not only interest themselves in the education market (their words) but private equity aswell.

    So Ms.Finch’s ‘incentives’ in the education sector really mean market incentives to enable facilitators (teachers) to help the consumers (pupils) to access their potentiality via academy chains.

    There is no way I will love Big Brother.

  • Helen Tedcastle 30th Mar ’15 – 11:03am

    ” …So Ms.Finch’s ‘incentives’ in the education sector really mean market incentives to enable facilitators (teachers) to help the consumers (pupils) to access their potentiality via academy chains.”

    My original comment on this thread disappeared into The Memory Hole.

    But I would like to echo Helen when she says —
    “…There is no way I will love Big Brother.”

    I am expecting a knock on the door by The Thought Police any time now but will continue to use the English language to talk  about teachers, schools, pupils and students.    

    I will continue to consider education to be more important than financial opportunities for large corporations and their lobbyists. 

    I will continue to resist the encroaches of those free-market giants who know the price of all school assets but fail to spot the value of teachers and other human beings working for our children, in schools.

  • Stephen Hesketh 30th Mar '15 - 12:45pm

    Helen Tedcastle30th Mar ’15 – 11:03am
    “In fact this group not only interest themselves in the education market (their words) but private equity as well.”

    Hmm – so we might reasonably assume their views are not entirely altruistic, impartial nor independent on this matter.

  • Helen Tedcastle 30th Mar '15 - 1:43pm

    Stephen Hesketh
    ‘… we might reasonably assume their views are not entirely altruistic, impartial nor independent on this matter.’

    Indeed.

  • Will Jackson “uess that the writer has no experience whatsoever of education, other than having been a pupil and then a student. ”

    Unlike the educational establishment you avoid the trap of conflating the two and are to be applauded for that.

  • Helen Tedcastle 30th Mar '15 - 8:01pm

    Amy Finch

    ‘ Helen, I think I have already answered the question about independence. However your articulation of my argument is spot on:

    “So Ms.Finch’s ‘incentives’ in the education sector really mean market incentives to enable facilitators (teachers) to help the consumers (pupils) to access their potentiality via academy chains.”

    Yes, that it exactly what I am saying.’

    Thank you for your honesty in informing the Liberal Democrats who peruse this site that indeed the aim of incentives to improve ‘measurable outcomes’ in the education is the good old free market.

    I wonder whether you have worked in the education sector. If you had may be you would come to see children not as consumers but as human beings. Further, you might just come to see teaching colleagues not as input specialists facilitating an outcome conducive to a higher position on the measurable league table but as valuable, hard-working and caring professionals.

    The trouble with education these days is that it is driven by right-wing think tanks in London staffed by graduates straight out of university who have not set foot in an actual school or met real pupils. What looks good on a sheet full of statistics does not always translate to flesh and blood, differently- abled children.

    One day I hope that the child who spots the emperor is wearing no clothes, is listened to.

  • Helen Tedcastle 30th Mar '15 - 8:06pm

    John Tilley

    Spot on.

  • Amy Finch, I won’t ask you to make a political contribution, but could you confirm if you have asked teachers what incentives they would like to improve outcomes? If so, could you link to what they have said?

  • So, Amy, you didn’t actually ask teachers, the very people who would be expected to deliver your proposals and have most experience of the efficacy and efficiency of education policy, what they thought of them?

    May I ask, why not?

  • Will Jackson 1st Apr '15 - 12:38pm

    Amy Finch – cash from “edu-business” is what you and your ilk are about. If there was no promise of big bucks, neither you or any of your colleagues would bother putting in the time and effort to shape government policy. In your world, neither the teachers nor the children matter one jot. Follow the money!

    There is no doubt that you are connected with the so-called Centre for Market Reform of Education.

    I quote from the “The Centre for Market Reform of Education” website : “Its purpose is to explore the benefits of a more diverse, competitive and entrepreneurial education sector and the feasibility of market-led solutions to public policy issues.”

    I rest my case.

  • Will Jackson 1st Apr '15 - 12:44pm

    Amy Finch ” Strictly non-party think tank.” Really? Your argument is that of a Tory free marketeer. And Reform member Woodhead has flirted with UKIP. I have been around a long time, refuse to fall for that.

  • Will Jackson 1st Apr '15 - 3:57pm

    Tabman: People like Amy Finch don’t help young people develop. Your argument is the tired old “producer interest” Tory dig. I’m not part of any “educational establishment” and never will be.

  • Will Jackson. I was giving you a compliment and stating you’re NOT part of the educational establishment.

    School pupils are often called “students” these days and usually by those in the educational establishment. They’re not. Children at school are pupils. Students are in Higher Education.

  • Will Jackson 2nd Apr '15 - 11:59pm

    Tabman – my apologies.

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

If you are a member of the party, you can have the Lib Dem Logo appear next to your comments to show this. You must be registered for our forum and can then login on this public site with the same username and password.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

*
*
Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?

Advert



Recent Comments

    No recent comment found.