Do we need regulation, rule-books and new codes of practice to keep boardroom executives in check? Corporate-governance specialist Elaine Sternberg says not. The keys to getting on-the-ball, responsible management are competition and shareholder empowerment. Her punchy report takes on the regulationists and shows how to achieve good governance without politics.
Showing the practical benefits that education choice has brought in other countries, the authors of this report outline a no-nonsense plan to open UK education up to the same choice and competition that is already improving school standards in the most disadvantaged communities in Europe and the US. The plan aims to improve equality, access and diversity by allowing parents to escape from failing schools, empowering parental choice, and boosting the provision of new non-state community schools.
This paper makes a series of recommendations as to how consumer choice can be introduced into the [education] system. It is predicated on two assertions: first, that empowering the parent (and, thus, the pupil too) is a good thing in itself, leading to higher standards, responsiveness and satisfaction (I dealt with these issues in an earlier ASI report, A Class Act); and secondly, that the independent sector is demonstrably more efficient in its delivery of education.
Britain's education system was radically transformed by the Education Reform Act (1988). The objective of these reforms was to raise educational attainment through the establishment of a quasi-market based on greater parental choice of school and the transfer of control of resources from local education authorities to the schools themselves. Annual School Performance Tables were published in order to help parents make a more informed choice of school. This report asks whether these reforms were actually successful in bringing competitive forces into education, and what the effects have been in terms of efficiency and equity.
Analysis of data from 3000 publicly funded schools provide these answers:
- Parents have sought equality. Schools with a 'good' exam performance relative to their local competitors have taken a bigger share of the market.
- The exam performance of schools is positively related to school size. Small schools are at a disadvantage in terms of exam performance.
- Exam performance has risen as schools feel the effects of competition and try to outdo the achievement of other schools nearby.
- There is some evidence of a widening gap in the social composition of schools, through this is small.
However, factors other than competition may have produced the improvement in exam performance. Government efforts to expand higher education may increase the pressure to 'do well' in GCSEs.There is a growing realisation that in the information age, job prospects are linked to educational performance. And the publication of performance tables, schools may have focused on the headline A* to C grades rather than more diffuse targets.
Since the introduction of market forces has had a positive impact on the exam performance of schools, it seems appropriate to use the market mechanism as a means to deliver further improvements. Attention needs to be focused more directly, however, on improving the performance of pupils from lower-inome groups, since this is where the problem of poor performance mainly lies.
In terms of future policy, an obvious extension of the competition approach is to provide incentives to get the best teachers and the best school management teams into the schools with the worst performance.
An alternative policy is to create incentives for schools with 'good' exam results to take a greater proportion of their pupils from low-income families, allowing them greater resources to offset the disadvantages of their family background. Such a policy would help pupils from low-income families to benefit from peer-group effects on their performance, thereby raising the average level of educational attainment.
Fugitives commonly change their name in the hope of escaping justice. In 2001 The Post Office changed its corporate name to Consignia and adopted a new logo, which appears to depict the view down the barrel of a gun. The wisdom of changing a brand name that has been established since the days of Rowland Hill is unclear, but according to Consignia:
Our new name, Consignia, will support our moves in the wider distribution market and onto the global stage. However, we will continue to serve our U customers through our trusted brands - Royal Mail, Parcelforce Worldwide and Post Office for our network of retail branches.
Two points can be made:
- globally there are no other postal administrations called 'The Post Office'. Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the US Postal Service have all attached their national identities to the word 'post' or 'postal' in their titles so there could have been no confusion on the 'global stage'; and
- by long-established precedent British postal stamps d not include a national designation because they were first in the field. By analogy the UK Post Office could robustly have argued that it was the first organisation in the field named The Post Office and should therefore be known worldwide as such. It is extraordinary that the Post Office's managers abandoned the huge asset of this brand name in favour of one that is meaningless and, to the general public both in the UK and worldwide, unknown.
Within this paper, Sternberg discusses the meaning of corporate governance, the role and responsibility of directors and non-executive directors, and also the role of government action when attempting to run a a successful firm.
Around the world - Sweden, New Zealand, Germany, Netherlands - postal services have been liberalised and the public is getting better services at lower cost. Yet the UK, the pioneer of privatisation in the 1980s, still lumbers along with a state-owned post office that is now losing large amounts of money. Ian Senior says it's time for the Post Office to embrace competition, develop new services, and start making money.