THE David Young Community Academy, a secondary school in Seacroft, east Leeds, should be a source of pride and inspiration for everyone in Yorkshire. In an area with high levels of deprivation, local schools have long struggled to get their pupils through GCSEs.
In 2003, less than four per cent of students in the area achieved grades A* to C in five GCSEs including English and Maths. Yet since 2003, the David Young Community Academy has improved the percentage of children achieving five grades A*-C at GCSE, including English and Maths, tenfold to 50 per cent.
Last year, children from Seacroft achieved places at their first choice of university for the first time. The last school inspection in 2009 praised its “outstanding leadership” and “good and improving” education.
The results speak for themselves – but how has this been achieved? The key is what policymakers call human capital.
The leadership of the school has focused on the thing that affects education outcomes most; namely, the workforce. By managing staff like they do in businesses – from cleaners to the headteacher – the staff have become more efficient and happier, and the life chances of the pupils have been transformed.
Regular reviews assess performance. The best teachers support those who are lagging and share what works. As the head, Ros McMullen, says, this has had a profound effect on how staff are monitored and developed: “Staff find it easier to improve and address their weaknesses, since there is clarity about exactly what those are and what needs to improve.”
If culture can be defined as “what we do around here”, then the culture here is a rigorous pursuit of excellence.
For many, the Government’s austerity programme is scary. People worry that cuts to public budgets will mean worse schools for their children, poorer quality hospitals for their parents and less safe communities for their families and neighbours.
The good news is that this doesn’t have to be the case. For in fact, it’s not the size of your budget that counts; it’s what you do with it. Across the country, trailblazing headteachers, chief constables and hospital bosses have been rethinking what they are doing to achieve dramatically better results within the same types of budgets they have always had, and some are actually delivering more with less.
If growth slows and the public finances continue to deteriorate, we’ll need to reform public services even faster, learning from the pioneers.
So the first lesson – from the David Young academy – is that great leaders need freedom to innovate.
The second lesson is that the private sector has a lot to give.
At Doncaster Prison, the local director, John Biggin, cut the annual cost of each prison place by over £2,500 in just two years. Yet despite these considerable savings, Doncaster delivers some of the best rehabilitation in the country. Over 92 per cent of prisoners are released to suitable accommodation, while 23 per cent – double the national target – are released into employment or training.
In the words of one report, Doncaster is “leading the way” in the Government’s “rehabilitation revolution”. Doncaster prison is run by the for-profit company, Serco.
Last year it was re-awarded the contract to run the prison for a further 15 years, this time on a payment-by-results basis to achieve even better value for money for taxpayers.
The third lesson is that we can learn from other industries that have undergone great change.
University Hospitals Birmingham is a pioneer in the elimination of errors because it has applied technology from BMW to everything the hospital does. They developed a sophisticated IT system which runs every decision made by clinicians through an “error filter”, which screens the decision made, automatically records it, and either confirms the order, warns the clinician of the potential error, requires the clinician to take responsibility for the order, or stops the order.
Medication errors have been cut by two thirds, preventing up to 450 individual errors a day and saving a remarkable 100 lives a year. “We need a system that rewards success and penalises failure,” says Julie Moore, the hospital’s CEO.
Change is hard, but change brings opportunities as well as pain. The David Young Community Academy, Doncaster Prison and University Hospitals Birmingham do not just show what is possible, they offer a roadmap to improvement.
Reform has been travelling around the world to find high-quality, low- cost public services and we have published a new website which sets out 35 examples of more for less. It is true that austerity is the new normal, but sometimes reform needs an imperative. If ministers and public service leaders around the country can be open to the possibilities, then we can dare to hope that better, cheaper services will be achieved everywhere in the coming years.
The original article was published here.