Revolution needed! The 6 inch problem…

Life Coaching

So I’m joining the world of Blogging! And here’s my first post…

I’m reading ‘The Second Curve’ by Charles Handy at the moment. He makes a great point quoting something called the ‘MacNamara Fallacy’ that we tend to measure what can easily be measured which leads us to disregard what cannot be easily measured. Or, worse, presuming that what cannot be easily measured isn’t really important or doesn’t exist.

In the context of education or indeed any ‘people industry’ this is very apt!. What can we easily measure in schools? Exam results. And so this is what we measure.Which leads to the 6 inch problem: that one simplistic measure is often used or manipulated to overstate or understate the truth!

It’s very difficult to measure the impact of a good teacher’s smile and nurture of their tutees each morning; difficult to measure the significance of the extra two minutes at the end of a lesson when a personal word with a student lifts their day and realigns their trajectory; difficult to measure the impact of the one-to-one with the student counsellor; the inspirational assembly which sparked an idea or a dream or a new way of thinking; the motivational significance and sense of belonging generated by being part of an after school club or team….  And because these things are difficult to measure, generally speaking we don’t attempt to measure them and therefore don’t place much value on them.  They lie at the periphery of school life rather than at its core.

One thing is fairly certain I think – that the fixation with judging schools and their students on such narrow data severely impoverishes their education. There is little impetus amongst school leaders that I have met to put any significant investment of either time or money into the kind of initiatives that can lead to excellent outcomes for students personally, emotionally, morally, and socially. Education around so called ‘soft skills’ (like employability, EQ, communication, social skills, relationships, finance etc) yet which, in my view, have arguably more potential to impact students’ future success in life than the ‘hard’ skills of academic prowess.

The problem is of course that, quite understandably, there needs to be accountability but as long as we use one bland academic measure for this all of the skills that make a great teacher and all the initiatives and provisions that make a great school will stay sidelined at the periphery. I find myself frustrated that schools so often still draw a false dichotomy between academic progress on the one hand and personal development, wellbeing and character education on the other. When in actual fact well-rounded, mentally well, motivated students will necessarily also achieve more academically.  In my experience schools are not putting due time, resources and innovation into preparing young people to lead successful lives.

We could borrow the Triple Bottom Line Accounting model here (see John Elkington) from the world of business. Businesses have been slowly waking up to the realisation that success cannot be adequately measured using one ‘bottom line’ only: that of financial profit. Rather a good business needs to measure and show progress in its impact on people (the consumer, employees and public): a People Account and on the environment: a Planet Account. Three Bottom Lines not just one. And increasingly businesses are realising that a corporate socially responsible approach that addresses all of these factors actually makes for financial success too.

How about devising some NEW measures that sit side by side as in the Triple Bottom Line model? I have no doubt that there are schools out there doing this.  How about, as well as an Academic measure, a Character measure, an Employability measure, and a Life-readiness measure?  Other suggestions?

William Bruce Cameron (Sociologist) said, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.