From education to employment

Making the case: How improving management will deliver better education results

Anthony Painter

Anthony Painter discusses the overlooked research on quality management’s impact in public services and highlights their collaboration with the Social Market Foundation to provide evidence-based assessments on the benefits of professional management.

As a country, it is time for the UK to dial down the denigration of highly-skilled managers when it comes to running our vital public services, not least in our education provision. Instead of political point scoring at the expense of quality training for leaders across the public sector, it is perhaps time to focus on an objective, evidence-based assessment of what professional management can achieve in delivering high-quality services for all of our benefit.

At the Chartered Management Institute (CMI), a desire to deliver that evidence is behind our decision to partner with the cross-party think tank, the Social Market Foundation (SMF).  The limited available research on the value of quality management in public services is woefully ignored in the public debate, and our aim with this project is to inform ‘what works’, and support policymakers and public service providers to make informed decisions about how good management can deliver the goal that all of us involved with the education sector are ultimately looking for – better outcomes.

We are not oblivious to the possible pitfalls of a project that aims to advance this element of public debate. There may well be resistance from public sector employees who fear what a concerted plan to introduce more highly trained managers might mean for their own job security.  This project will seek to not only address those concerns, but also ensure that the benefits of investing in better management practices are better understood, not least by all those working in the system day in and day out.

The SMF’s initial briefing into this work highlights that countries with well-trained public sector managers tend to have better public services, and that investing in the development of management skills can lead to improved healthcare and education outcomes. For instance, managers with high-level management qualifications in health have been shown to deliver lower mortality and infection rates, and shorter waiting times for treatment. Similarly, higher proportions of managers to staff have been linked to better patient outcomes and lower infection rates.

The SMF’s briefing found that specifically when it comes to education, efforts to boost leadership and management across the system have fallen victim to political whim, despite clear evidence from studies in both the UK and across seven other countries (Sweden, Canada, the US, Germany, Brazil and India) that it is an investment that drives performance level at both school and college level. Perhaps not surprisingly, the management capability of the headteacher was found to be an essential ingredient for success, along with adequate pay, recruiting and retaining quality staff and setting targets and monitoring performance. At CMI, we don’t see highly capable management and leadership as coming at the expense of teacher or tutor well-being but rather in support of it – critically so.

The current state of public sector management is concerning, with productivity growing by just 4% between 1997 and 2018, compared to a 27% increase across the wider economy in that time. Acute demand pressures and fiscal constraints mean that addressing that productivity lag and sourcing innovative solutions must include a non-partisan and clear-eyed view of the value of better managers and leaders.

To ignore the emerging evidence, to which this project will further contribute, is to risk another decade lost to unproductive and time-consuming arguments and resistance to change just as our health, education and other vital public services are most in need of the guiding hands and proven value of skilled leadership.

By Anthony Painter, Director of Policy & External Affairs, Chartered Management Institute

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