Party for Education Standards

Filed under: Education,Process,Standards — lenand @ 12:14 pm
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Business Data Architecture

This is the new Business Data Architecture from the Education, Skills and Children’s Services (ESCS) system, published by the Information Standards Board (ISB). It is more than a year since Quarkside reported better relations with the Systems Interoperability Framework (SIF) parallel standards. The good news is that there have been changes as a result of better communications. It appears to show a better understanding of the  processes that operate within schools.

It may only seem to be a small change from ‘Stakeholder’ to ‘Party’.  But it make more practical sense.  Most people in school administration do not consider themselves as stakeholders, whereas they all like a party.  It must have been a brave change, owing to the enormous number of places the word had to be replaced in the Standard, which has now grown to 246 pages.

Give them a round of applause for perseverance over the years.






SIF and DfE kiss and make up

Filed under: Education,Politics,Standards — lenand @ 9:36 am
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The spat between the Systems Interoperability Framework (SIF) Association and the Department for Education started last August with a flawed consultant’s report to DfE.  The riposte from the SIF Association showed concern about “the numerous inaccuracies in the published review” was sent in September. There was no satisfactory response by the time of the November SIF Conference.

The demise of Becta can’t have assisted the proceedings, but it has taken another four months to get any public form of rapprochement.

“The DfE acknowledges and values the work done by the SIF community and others in the UK. The DfE will continue to support the work of the SIF Association by sharing knowledge and advice through the Technical Support Service for the Information Standards Board (ISB), the Department’s Chief Information Officer Group and the Data and Statistics Division.”

The ISB now seems to be the Government’s hub of activity in this area.  They have done some sterling work on a model for all sectors of education.  It means migrating to a shared vocabulary – all good standards stuff.  So the SIF Association have returned the compliment:

“The SIF Association recognises and values the work that has been done by DfE and the ISB in producing a Business Data Architecture model suitable for use across the ESCS. The Association also accepts the long term vision and direction of the Business Data Architecture and has committed itself to work alongside the ISB in the development of new data items.”

Whether it all leads to greater efficiency in education administration, only time will tell whether it is a marriage made in heaven.


Broadband bags half a billion. Market failure

Filed under: Assets,Education,Local Government,Standards — lenand @ 11:53 am
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DCMS have taken over from BIS, for delivery of “the best superfast broadband network in Europe by 2015”.  Or so were told the Local Government Delivery Council at a meeting in London recently.  They have a budget of £530 million to oil the market machinery.  It’s supposed to be new money – but in practice it is a TV licence fee top slice, which we are paying anyway.  More maudlin repeats are the true cost.

Apparently we are megabits behind Europe already, judging from comments from the audience reaction.

  • We are ten times the cost of some countries
  • Neither BT, nor anybody else in the market, is going to supply fibre to the home.   This is essential in some definitions of superfast”.
  • Fixed lines are not the only problem.  Local authorities need much broader reach of Wimax to deliver savings from the mobile work force.

The main publicity is about reaching the final third of the population without broadband, who are deemed to be non-profitable to the private sector suppliers.  Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) have been set up to catalyse the market and ‘de-risk’ final third.  BDUK are seek EU funding and hope to extract more from Local Government.  Market failure means public subsidy has to prop up uneconomic networks.  The carrot is the chance for local authorities to bid for some of the central funding.  But one wonders which services have to disappear to release the additional matched funding.

Fortunately, there are some opportunities for using existing public sector network services.  Is the final third more reachable by using police, health and schools network?  The answer is, YES.

The ‘best in Europe’?   Quarkside thinks, NO.  Just read Eurim’s learned “Making Broadband Investment Markets Work – Draft Paper” .


Pasc 8: Standards, standards, standards

The eighth of the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) 12 questions, asks:

8. What infrastructure, data or other assets does government need to own, or to control directly, in order to make effective use of IT?

Ownership of processors, data stores and communication networks is not a major issue. They are commodity products and most are not core government assets. They should be procured and operated at the lowest cost to the public purse. If a Government Cloud is trusted, secure and economical, then it should be used.

Control of data is a core custodianship function and must not be relinquished. Data is best regarded as a triumvirate of Operational, Reference and Derived data. Public services may use any or all of these.

  • Operational data is front-line, perhaps with high transaction volumes, eg school attendance or DVLA registration. Nobody would contemplate providing this type of service without IT.
  • Reference data, commonly shared between many systems, is of variable quality, such as addresses. The reason is often that different operational systems have different versions and incompatible formats. Interoperability between systems is impossible without adoption of data standards. The public sector, as a whole, does not have a functioning standards body, or the power to enforce them.
  • Derived data is combined or abstracted from several sources. It is the basis of planning and performance measurement systems. It may reside in data warehouses or complex spreadsheets. Systems may collect data from operational, reference or other derived data sets.

What make it more complex is that the quality not only depends on knowledge of standards, but also the context and timeliness of the source data. Martha Lane Fox seems to understand the need for standards. That’s what Government leadership should control.

By standards, don’t assume the detailed documentation published by BSI or ISO.  Standards can also be the accepted frameworks and governance structures that form best practice.  But somebody independent should assess that they are being followed and avoiding prima donna assertions.  Above all it needs IT functional leadership.

SRP: DfE December deceptive progress reports

Filed under: Education,Governance,Policy,Risk — lenand @ 11:34 pm
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It’s good to see the latest SRP updates and the new web pages for each Department.  The new pages are referenced with a number that purportedly matches to the baseline – so much better.


Just looking at DfE, the baseline in July just published 3 priority areas.  The December DfE update has  6 Priority areas.  When were the extras added?  Where is the change control that justifies the increase in scope?  Not only that, the contents have changed, for example, from:

1.1  Allow all schools to apply for Academy status

1.2  Enable the takeover by an experienced education provider of underperforming schools

1.3   Make it easier for new providers to open new Schools


1.1 Increase the number of Academies

1.2 Introduce new Free Schools

1.3 Introduce new University Technical Colleges

It may be that the new priorities are better – but the programme is transparently out of control by any normal standards of programme management.  It’s no better, or even worse, than the November report where the DfE obscured delays.  Uncontrolled change is a key indicator of risk in a programme.

Is Kristina aware of the importance of what is happening? Are the other departments being equally devious?  Should the PM be told?


PASC 5: Condemn bureaucracy in Education

Filed under: Education,Governance,People,Politics,Process,Technology — lenand @ 9:51 am
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The fifth of the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) 12 questions, asks:

5. What role should IT play in a ‘post-bureaucratic age’?

Unfortunately, IT is correctly associated with bureaucracy by front-line staff. Computerised forms, often laboriously filled in from paper copies, are seen as the problem, not the solution. Data should be captured automatically in the usual line of business. For example, social workers should not be required to file so many written reports. Voice recording, whilst with clients, should be sufficient. Automatic transcription should be routinely performed off-line. Handwriting recognition with smart pens can collect forms data. IT should not add to the workload, it should reduce it. More use should be made of electronic credentials and personal data stores.

There is a huge bureaucratic structure to support data collection in schools and colleges. £billions administrator effort is spent collecting data for records and statistics, diverted from the education budget. Some supplier research on the cost of administration (as a proportion of income) in the college sector is as follows:

  • Administration Expenditure: £1.352 billion
  • Teaching Expenditure:  £4.667 billion
  • No of colleges: 345
  • Max %Admin: 61% [admin/teaching X 100]
  • Min %Admin: 10%
  • Average %Admin: 29%
  • Median %Admin: 29%
  • No with >40%Admin:  49
  • No with <20%Admin:  42

With six times factor between the lowest and highest, there must be room for efficiency gains by effective use of IT. Eliminating duplicate entry and automating links between incompatible systems should be a high priority for the nation.

An even larger set of administration exists in the school sector, for example the recording of children’s attendance at school. There is a huge bureaucratic structure to support it. Schools expend huge amounts of teacher and administrator effort collecting data for statisticians – not just teaching.

Schools in the UK process the information about 9 million children on a daily basis. The total volume is hardly noticed as it is performed in about 27,000 independent, self-contained locations. This is not just by the 400,000 teachers, but also by up to 90,000 administration staff and assistants. A school is typically involved in the operation of 10 different systems with records of attendance, achievements, school meals, libraries, parental addresses etc. Grossing up, there are about operational 250,000 systems. Much of the data is shared, within a school, across schools, up to local authorities and to the Department for Education (DfE). They share childrens’ names, addresses, dates of birth, nationality, parents’ names, qualifications etc.

And yet, although this cries out for standards, the DfE does not support the only practical way forward provided by the SIF Association.  This is a collaboration between educationalists and all the main suppliers of school administration systems. SIF is designed to provide complete interoperability between disparate systems.  It is an open standard supported by certified commercial software.


Literacy levels damned by Gove

Filed under: Education,Outcomes,People — lenand @ 10:16 am
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Mapping boys’ reading ability by the BBC is eye watering.  It’s all credible evidence that induced Michael Gove, Minister for Education,  to say that “Eleven-year-old illiteracy ‘unacceptable’ “.  There’s more evidence on the impact of poor language after leaving school. Literacy has been one of Rotary’s key projects for many years both at the international level and have published the following data:

  • There is a significant link between poor literacy and anti-social behaviour.
  • Nearly a third of 10 year olds with anti-social behaviour have a specific reading difficulty.
  • These children are more likely to be living in poverty – with 38% eligible for Free School Meals compared to 18% of other children.
  • Many are more likely to be learning English as a second language – 15% as compared to 10%.
  • Poverty is the most influential factor compared to either ethnicity or second language.
  • Within the secondary school, pupils still below the desired minimum reading level at age 14 (a reading age of about 12 years) are 5 times more likely to be excluded from school.
  • They are 4 times more likely to truant.
  • Sixteen year olds with poor reading skills are 4 times more likely not to be entered for any public examination.
  • Poor readers as adults are less likely to be in employment and, where employed, are likely to be in low paid or manual work.
  • 48% of the prison population read poorly.

This is a serious social problem.  It’s time to consider the unthinkable.  Stop trying to kid ourselves that all children are equal.  Yes they need additional teaching, but it has to be at the cost of removing other aspects of schooling.  They need to follow a modified curriculum at infant and primary level.  Literacy first and foremost – not just an hour.

Quarkside previously reported in “UK in 3rd Division for Education”  how Singapore tackled the problem in the 1980s.  Where children were struggling with English, they removed the supplementary subjects until they were more competent.  As a result they have a globally competitive economy.  In the 1920s, school leavers at age 14 were far more accomplished at both reading and writing.  There has not been an evolutionary (in the Darwinian sense) change in the abilities of children.  They are capable of learning their mother tongue.  There are millions more people in India and China learning English more competently than our native speakers.

Let’s re-think, re-train and repair the damage to society.


SRP: DfE delays obscured

Filed under: Education,Governance,Policy,Politics — lenand @ 12:29 pm
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Is DfE playing games with reporting on their Structural Reform Plan?  Just let somebody else compare the DfE Baseline from July with their Progress Reports from October and November.

Here are three Quarks

1. Avoidance of finishing tasks

The baseline plan has 41 Actions and 14 milestones.  One can observe that 22, more than half of the actions have no end date.  How very convenient for bureaucrats: job is done when they start – there were no promises to finish.  Can you imagine this state of affairs in a private sector plan?  No.  It is is a recipe for sucking up resources without control or scrutiny.  There are now 30 actions considered to be started and, presumably, ongoing.  Most of these have don’t even have an end-date.

Can you imagine a teacher starting a unit of the curriculum without some concern about when it is due to finish?  They’d be sacked.

2. Avoiding previous months delays

The October report had 3 missed deadlines.  They were sort of carried forward until November or ‘Autumn’.  They have melted from the list of things ongoing or items due to be completed in November.  When do we expect the White Paper now?

The November report said “the Department did not miss any deadlines”.  Isn’t this a tiny bit misleading because there were 5 milestones due to be completed. What has happened to them?

3. Introducing new Actions

New action seem to have crept in to the things in the To Do list.  This is known as ‘Scope Creep’ in the trade.  It is the first hint in predicting potential disaster. Uncontrolled change is the second most important cause of project failure. For the record, wrong initial scope is the primary cause of failure.  All changes need an impact assessment that is approved by the project sponsor, such as the PM, and made fully visible.

For comparison look at how well SIF introduces changes to the specification for interoperability between systems – and how it has been treated by the DfE.  Professional versus amateur.

The risk is that the Implementation Unit might have cursorily scanned the DfE report for red lines, found none and assumed that all is well.  A hard nosed programme manager would immediately smell a rat.  Every complex programme has delays: no delays caused me to look deeper.  Quality Assurance reviews on all the other 13 plans are just as likely to reveal similar hidden changes.  We are still in the dark about when tasks are may be completed.

This is not the way to run the country’s strategic reform policy.


UK in 3rd Division for Education

Filed under: Education,Outcomes,Policy — lenand @ 3:00 am
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A McKinsey report shows how to improve school systems.  Their research suggests that common sets of interventions can help systems move from one performance level to the next, without regard to culture, geography, politics, or history.  You will have to register to see the full article – 126 pages.  As they (including Sir Michael Barber) say:

“This report looks closely at 20 school systems from different parts of the world, and from an array of starting points, that have registered significant, sustained, and widespread student outcome gains, and examines why what they have done has succeeded where so many others failed. In undertaking this research, we have sought to understand which elements are specific to the individual system and which are of broader or universal relevance. We believe that what we have discovered will help other systems and educational leaders to replicate this success.”

There are many findings that are significant in the UK context.  Page 21 has a “Universal Scale”  that compares across systems, across countries by expenditure by pupil.  The UK is in a ‘Good’ category , but behind Finland, Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong and Ontario, who are in the ‘Excellent’ and ‘Great’ divisions.

It is not an easy read, but the results have great credibility.  The webcast may give some people a softer introduction and a wider view from round the world.  One eye opener for me is the degree of confidence in Singapore in the use of English as the prime language of tuition, where it is not the national language of any of the multi-racial society.  In 1983, the government mandated that English would be the medium of instruction in all subjects, except the mother tongue. The majority of parents saw English as offering the greatest employment opportunities for their children.  The UK system produces 25% of young people that do not recognise a link between reading and success; people with poor literacy are least likely to be in full-time employment at the age of thirty.

From a point of Quarkside continuity, look at the quality of this report compared to the one commissioned by DfE on SIF. None of McKinsey’s finding could be challenged, they are all based on solid research.  Perhaps Sir Michael Barber should be called back to DfE, he was responsible for the oversight of implementation of the Prime Minister’s priority programs in health, education, transport, policing, the criminal justice system and asylum/immigration.  On the other hand, could we afford the fees?


Education Regression? Return to Victorian methods.

Filed under: Education,Innovation,Politics — lenand @ 7:34 am
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Two recent ‘innovations’ in education both seem rather regressive – at least in time.  Teach First and Tuition Fees.

Innovation 1

My grandmother was a Pupil Teacher in the time of Queen Victoria.  I suppose it was a form of apprenticeship for clever girls who acted as classroom assistants.  They learned on the job, studied at night school, and subsequently became qualified teachers.  At the time I doubt if there were any opportunities in higher education affordable to the majority of families.

What is the innovation a century later?  Clever adults with good motivation and qualifications teach first in classes without any teaching qualifications. They attend training courses and the objective is to become a qualified teacher, on the job.  There is a vast difference in how the programme operates – I am just comparing the principle.  People passing through the scheme will have done far more teaching practice than graduates following traditional Post Graduate Certificates of Education courses.

Innovation 2

My mother was also a clever child.  She obtained good A Levels in the late twenties.  She had the ability to go up to university for a three year degree with some of her classmates, but not the finances.  There were no grants or loans available for fees or living costs (this is hearsay for which I would need corroboration).   The family were able to scratch together enough for a two year teacher training course.  After 1945 it was possible for state grants to fund both tuition and maintenance at a university.  What a fantastic opportunity for academically gifted children!

The innovation (sick) is to turn the clock back to the depression of the thirties.  We are back into an era where wealth in the family is more important than natural ability.  Perhaps we will soon be asking school leavers to stay on and become pupil teachers.

Is it time to rethink of the higher educational policy of the country?  British education is well respected round the world and attract enormous numbers of well funded foreign students, but it risks disenfranchising too many poorer citizens.  It may be stretching a point as a Quarkside topic, but the governance of the UK’s education system may not achieve the outcomes intended.

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