Murder this production

4th June 2004 at 01:00
How productive do you feel? Peppered with paperwork, trussed up in targets, can you still stagger from one class to the next and deliver a top-grade, differentiated lesson time after time, improving continuously, of course, until retirement wrenches you from your beloved classrooms and delivers you to the great educational knackers yard, where exhausted teachers, managers, support staff and even a few learning and skills council officers lie around watching soaps? Odd though, there aren't too many inspectors there.

Just Woodhead.

I ask this question only because the Government, or Tony Blair as we must learn to call it, has decided that public services, including education, are not productive enough. And this, you ungrateful wretches, is despite his pouring millions of your own money back into your services. Why, even schools and colleges in the outer ring of Mongolia are more productive. Not to mention Uzbekistan, where they can churn out Sats results and AS modules at a real rate of knots, apparently. And on horseback, too. How many of you gallop to work every day and trot between lessons? Exactly, so what do you expect Tony to think?

I hope you won't think this presumptuous of me, but I have written on your behalf to Mr Blair, in a polite, perhaps almost sycophantic tone, to seek clarification on his definition of productivity.

In the health service it is pretty obvious. In a 20-bed ward, say, 40 different patients must occupy each bed each week for at least 95 per cent of the available time. This, apparently, has led to a redefinition of nursing care in some hospitals, as nurses are encouraged to despatch patients who have outstayed their welcome and probably weren't going to get better anyway, at least not quickly enough.

Where this practice, known as Maximum Use of Resource, Demand-led Emergency Response, or just plain M.U.R.D.E.R., has been properly embedded, the productivity rate has shot up. In some areas, apparently, the practice has been so successful that there is now a shortage of sick people, and nurses are having to be deployed on illness creation schemes to maintain productivity. The scheme is to be extended to doctors, soon, and Tony Blair has decided that the Hippocratic oath, rather like Clause 4 of the Labour Party constitution, is now an outmoded ideal, representing a block on real progress to productivity, and is to be abandoned.

So it is clear what is meant in the health service by increased productivity. What, however does it mean for us in colleges?

Well, I visited the college archives to find out what was going on 14 years ago, just before incorporation. I dug out the Captain's Log, Stardate 1992.

There wasn't a single action plan completed in the entire year. Not one faculty had completed a self-assessment report. The local education authority had produced the further education strategic plan and the college hadn't seen an inspector since a random HMI fell off his bicycle outside the college gates and had to have his ego bandaged in the medical room.

So look at the productivity gain there. In the past year alone the college has produced more action plans for more organisations than my cat has had hot dinners. We self-assess obsessively and don't always like what we see in the mirror. We welcome one set of inspectors through the front gate as we usher the last lot out the back.

The development planning process is a Forth Bridge sort of exercise and the quality processes in total keep whole communities of Norwegian lumberjacks in beer and pickled herrings. Will that do as a litany of productivity or do we have to be tiresome and drag in something about students, too?

Well, this is where the problems start. Would productivity involve teachers teaching more classes, because short of running two at once its hard to see how we can increase the load further without solving the health service's lack of ill people crisis.

Does it mean teaching more students at all levels? Been there, done that and widened participation in the process. Does it mean more for less money? Ask the land-based industry colleges what has happened to their average level of funding in the past few years and be prepared for some agricultural language. Does it mean higher levels of achievement per head of student? Ask Ofsted. For a value-for-money rate of only pound;100,000 per college inspection they'll show you improving success rates. You get the drift. Name any possible measure and we can show that we have improved productivity.

So what does Tony want? You suspect this is a man who is impressed with the productivity of the army because it has fought more wars under this Government than under any other since 1945. On the other hand, it has been no more successful at preventing foreign invasion than any since 1066.

So we do need clarity on the areas where we are expected to produce more.

Otherwise we might just turn our attention to doing our jobs, which would be thoroughly counter-productive.

Graham Jones is principal of Sutton Coldfield college

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