£7bn 363 colleges 4.2m learners 263,257 staff

Don’t Panic – Opportunities in the Age of Austerity

We may have overspent by £175 billion or so this year, so that austerity looks like the order of the day until that deficit is reduced, but “Don’t Panic” is the policy-savvy theme of “Opportunities in the Age of Austerity”. Each contributor looked at one area of public spending to identify opportunities for reducing the deficit that would not damage progressive aims, rather than coming up with a ‘top ten’ list of spending cuts.

Paul Lawrence heads up the national KPMG FE Unit, and contributed “Further Education – making smart cuts and improving efficiency”. Every couple of years, I come across something which acts as a road map for the future, and I think in this I have found the outline of where we are heading.

His view is that “smart cuts” will result from

  • attitude and behavioural changes
  • efficiency gains
  • reorganisations and partnerships

and that they will catalyse better practice.

On reorganisations and partnerships, he starts from the premise [or is it a consensus?] that there are too many small colleges. In the context of savings, small colleges can’t, and he proposes that merger should be seen as a pro-active and positive business arrangement rather than a rescue package. And “modern mergers” encompass a range of formal collaborative partnerships and sub-branding – one existing model would be HE in FE, where University HE provision runs as a separate brand under the FE college umbrella.

If attitudes change so that mediocre and under-performance are not acceptable because they cannot be subsidised, colleges should be allowed to fail [ ie “recover quickly or not at all”].
On this, FE is some way behind the schools sector, where it seems to be a commonplace that schools close, often to be re-opened as a new institution.

“There is scope to make the most efficiency gains from the most inefficient providers” is another of his messages which piles on the pressure.

In all, considerable head of steam building up for fewer colleges, and for life getting very tough for any college which is considered to be struggling, in terms of Ofsted quality, financial outturn, funding performance and learner numbers. Only the best will be favoured, and can survive confidently.

Now = 350 colleges, just coming to the end of a good period of capital and revenue funding.

Soon = probable that about 100 sixth form colleges will return to the schools / local authority / academy sector, so 250 colleges to remain.
My figures would be 250 @ £20m = £5 bn funding, and they would be expected to save 10-20% through efficiencies = £0.5 – 1 bn. Not a big amount when compared to a £175bn deficit, but every little helps.
Then squeeze more out, through tighter targeting of competitive funding, then re-organising 1 in 4 colleges down to 200 or so, to save on back office functions and spread efficient practice.

Clunk Click for the trip ahead! It looks like it’s going to be an exhilarating but bumpy ride.

The Institute for Public Policy Research “Opportunities in the Age of Austerity”
Chapter 8 pages 35 – 37: Paul Lawrence “Further education – making smart cuts and improving efficiency”

Available to download from http://www.ippr.org.uk/publicationsandreports/ or from my Share Box here on the sidebar


January 6, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

SMART goals for smart course teams

Of course goals should be SMART, but they should work because they mean something to people in course teams, not because they fit together logically in a grid, like a Sudoku puzzle.

The problem is that SMART is always in the future – and goals should live in the present, alongside the people who are working them.

We are now in 2010, with an age of austerity almost upon us. With efficiency savings and funding reductions of 15% or so coming, we need to free up the creativity of course teams to tackle their issues. We shouldn’t be shoehorning them into long term logical planning – they need to keep going with what they are do well.  And that isn’t a licence for doing nothing – if they haven’t done anything much in reality about student retention, or achievement, or improving their own teaching or whatever, then somebody else’s SMART goal – inside or outside the college – will be to say “Sorry it’s too late to do anything about it now”. They would be a burden on their colleagues that can no longer be afforded.

We need teams to live in the present tense with SMART goals.
Not what they will do by July 2010, but what they are doing now. No procrastination , no starting after half term, but goals which are about now – today, this week, by Friday.
The present tense comes up with solutions – we will do this, and that, and change this – and keeps on coming up with solutions.

But a SMART future is somewhere far away , and comes up with a never ending cycle of imagined problems and imagined solutions. Fine for filling grids with things that might happen, but little else. Future SMART goals = Frustration because the goals vanish like clouds the nearer we get to them. They are the middle class ideal of deferred happiness, we are not worthy until we get to our respectable and approved destination.

In the present, real SMART goals give attainable achievement and constant feedback, and stimulate creativity and innovation. This a working class approach – feeling what is going to be good now, and going for it. Getting more of what you want now – one student putting in assignments on time, another not kicking off for a week, using one of Geoff Petty’s teaching ideas or YouTube in the lab – all build a SMART goal. Smart should be Sudden flashes of inspiration; Motivation, Any innovation; Risk; Trying things that work elsewhere.

So no great 12 month SMART Grand Plan for course teams – but being clear on the feedback on what we are doing now, and for the next month; and when we decide what the next steps are.

And if you want to keep the paperwork going – make the SMART goals a retrospective summary. That’s normally what happens anyway.

January 5, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Data Reviews need to be ORID

I’m disappointed that I missed out on Course Team Reviews this year because I am keen to see them done better.
More efficiently= squandering less precious time and motivation
More effectively = fewer formulaic, trite reviews or fire and forget action plans

I’ll do it better by using the “focussed conversation” strategy.
It is nothing new, dating from 2000 [Brian Stanfield, The Art of Focused Conversation: 100 Ways to Access Group Wisdom in the Workplace] but it excites me as a way of getting teams involved.

Once people are involved things start to happen, but the problem is always The Forms.
I want to cut The Forms to four questions which guide the team through four stages of thinking

O Objective statements from the data – with no interpretation – just factual statements.
What factual statements can we make about the course based on the data?

R Reflections on those facts, and how they make them feel, as individuals or a group.
What encouraged and discouraged us, and how do we feel about this?

I Interpretation what does the data, and their response to it, tell them?
What does the data tell us, what is there to celebrate, what doesn’t it tell us and what else might we want to know?

D Decisions on what they should do next.
What should and can we do having considered the data? What are the next steps?

The team have a conversation – facilitated at first – and record what the data means to them.

Pushing it a bit, I’ll encourage filling in the ORID form on-line [ a Google Docs template and database is already set up, albeit with one typo] but however the team provide their response, that is secondary to the very direct way in which they are asked to respond to the data.

The framework is all about them and their student data, not that of the quality manager, or their management team, or Ofsted, but is grounded in their own experience and circumstances.
The approach reinforces that they are valued and trusted to take stock of their position and move forward in ways which make sense to them and to their teaching environment.

And next, I want to revamp those grids of SMART action plans

January 4, 2010 Posted by | course team | , , , , | Leave a comment