I’m obliged to Jim Benson (@ourfounder) for tweeting the clip below which features the management genius of Dr W.E. Deming. I am also grateful to Andy Raymer, who is the Head Teacher at one of my favourite schools (Matthew Moss High School, in Rochdale, UK), for his application of Deming’s principles to education, and specifically schooling. It was Andy who insisted that I look to Deming’s philosophy and see its applicability to systems of schooling.
Ignore the fact that the video was recorded in 1984 – it’s as relevant now, in the world of business management, as it was then. Ignore the fact that it’s aimed at business too. All you have to do is translate its message into a schooling context, and you have an encapsulation of the reasons why we seem unable to transform schooling.
The clip lasts 15 minutes, and Deming has an idiosyncratic style, but I’d urge you to watch at least the first 12 minutes or so, because it’s an devastating critique of why we can’t fix some long-standing management problems – in business and in education.
His 5 deadly diseases are:
1. Lack of constancy of purpose – in education, we are plagued, at a macro level, by not having a clear purpose for schooling.His lack of long-term definition (‘what’s the point of school?’) and short-term thinking (how successive government ministers need immediate results) could not be more applicable to schooling.
2. Emphasis on short-term profits – I love his ‘shipping stuff out, no matter what’, and ‘creative accounting’. Isn’t this what we do with our obsession with standardised test metrics? For ‘worship of the quarterly dividend’, read ‘worship of the standardised test results’.Teaching to the test is one, relatively mild, form of creative accounting, though we have seen more blatant cooking of the books in some American school districts recently, due to the severe pressure of ‘school turnaround’. As Deming says, this is devastating to long-term planning, to the long-term improvement of quality of experience. But, so long as education stays within politics, and so long as the term of government is around 4-5 years, the push for short-term profits is all we’re going to get.
3. Annual rating of performance – ‘Pay for merit; sounds great, unfortunately it can’t be done’. When so many countries are introducing pay by results for teachers, you wish they’d look at this section especially. ‘The merit system encourages short-term performance. It annihilates planning, it annihilates teamwork. You don’t get ahead by being equal, you get ahead by getting ahead’ His identification of fear and bitterness as the inevitable consequences of performance related pay and annual appraisal, is reflected in the increased demoralisation of teachers in countries which are introducing payment by results.
4. Mobility of management – We’ve seen that the average lifespan of a teacher in the UK and US is about 5 years. In the UK we struggle to fill senior leadership posts and Head Teachers like Andy Raymer (who has been at Matthew Moss High School for more than 20 years) are becoming a rarity. I wonder what Deming would make of the UK phenomenon of the ‘super head’, who is lauded by government, and brought in to provide a quick fix to ‘broken’ schools, before moving on to their next conquest?
5. Use of visible figures only – The is perhaps the biggest indictment . Replace the ‘multiplying effect of a happy/unhappy customer’ with a happy/unhappy student, and we’re at the heart of the biggest distortion in our current school system. We judge a school only by a narrow, and wholly inappropriate set of metrics. Whenever I talk to a group of students, I always ask who many of them would attend school if it weren’t compulsory. The average positive response is about 30%. What business could survive if 2/3rds of the customers were only there because they had to be? But schools don’t measure things like engagement, or satisfaction with schooling, partly because they don’t want to know the results, partly because they don’t know how to, and partly because there’s no reward for a good performance.
Bear in mind that W. E. Deming’s influence upon Japanese businesses has enabled companies like Toyota to survive the car recall crisis of 2009, to become the No 1 car maker in the world by 2011. Long-term quality ahead of short-term profits.
After watching the video, I tried to think of schools, or school systems, which were as far from, and as close to, the Deming philosophy. The US and UK systems seem to be riddled with the 5 deadly diseases. The ones least infected? Why, Finland of course.