Managing by metric


Somebody sent me a link to a talk by Bill Gates on improving education in schools by monitoring their performance. Here is the link: Bill Gates: Better data mean better schools

“The way I see forward is to use measurement to drive quality,” Gates said.

Really? Most teachers seem to think we over-measure in this country, and that measurement leads to management-by-metric which leads to gaming the system. In other words the school is run so as to provide the best metrics at least cost regardless of the actual needs of the children.

I recently got a consultant appointment at an NHS hospital, but because there wasn’t a slot available in the next four weeks they said they’d call back with an appointment in a few days. This they did and everything is fine. But of course what happened behind the scenes is that they wouldn’t book my appointment in their official system until there was a slot available within four weeks. This allows them to keep their official waiting lists down to four weeks although my appointment was in fact nearly two months after I first called.

They must keep a separate unofficial waiting list somewhere and only transfer patients when the opportunity arises. Twice the work for them and twice the possibility of fuck-ups. And why? Somebody chose a gameable metric to manage them by.

This is OK when it’s me with a minor ailment but I don’t want this sort of culture in my children’s schools.

ps Malcolm has talked about this too: All in the game yo, all in the game

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2 Responses to “Managing by metric”


  1. 1 stevep July 22, 2009 at 13:16

    There was a piece on this in the economist last month http://tinyurl.com/nme97v – charter schools have definitely improved students test scores and could possibly work here ( longer hours, shorter holidays, motivate students etc etc) however there’s also the argument that they self select students based on students having very supportive families and them achieving the best entrance exam scores (so these studenst would likely do well anyway). They’ve got a very high attrition rate for students that have enrolled with scores at the lower end of the scale (regardless of how supportive the family is)

    It’s a tough question, yes I want my kids to do the best they can but at the expense of a two tier education system – Hmmm I’d probably say yes and feel a bit guilty

    • 2 Dominic Sayers July 22, 2009 at 14:22

      I live in Tower Hamlets and some of my local schools have the worst metrics in the country. Are they bad schools? Some are, some aren’t, but they are all working with disadvantaged children so they can’t be expected to compete with selective schools. And by selective I mean not only those with entrance criteria but also those who attract families to move into their catchment area by their conspicuously good results.

      There’s a tendency to teach kids to pass exams and if you’re successful at this then pushy and ambitious parents will move into your catchment area and the exam results will go up still more because of the influence from the home. None of this reflects on how well the children are being educated in the wider sense. And it’s all caused by publishing naked exam results without taking the raw material into account.


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