Why our Free School will be a small school

Schools in England are getting bigger. Department for Education data shows that between 1997 and 2005 the number of schools in England with 1,000 to 1,500 students rose by 35%. Secondary schools with between 1,500 and 2,000 students rose by 124%. In contrast, the number of small secondary schools in England, with fewer than 500 students, fell by 43%.

The conventional arguments used to defend this increase in scale are misleading.

Continue reading Why our Free School will be a small school

We don’t need little changes: why businesses should run Free Schools

 

Schools should be palaces

We don’t just need more and better teachers; we need more and better school models.

It’s in vogue at the moment to say that the way to improve schools is to have better teachers.  I don’t mean to be too dismissive by saying ‘in vogue’; it is more than just the latest, passing education trend.  There is solid evidence to support the assertion that effective classroom teaching is the best tool for addressing the intractable problems of educational disadvantage and underachievement.

The danger, however, of such a focus on teachers and classroom practice is that we ignore the importance of school structure – we ignore those things that create the conditions in which classroom teaching occurs: the size of a school, its assessment practices and data tracking, the number and types of staff and their responsibilities, the methods for informing and engaging parents.

Continue reading We don’t need little changes: why businesses should run Free Schools

Raincoats & bad schools: organisations in the internet age

What kind of organisations will we need in the internet age?

My copy of Nicholas Taleb’s The Black Swan, a book about risk and uncertainty,  was almost destroyed by a freak hurricane (at least it was freaky for a Brit who had then just arrived in the US).  Almost, but not destroyed:  I was able to use it to write my last post which concluded with Taleb’s advice that instead of investing in trying to predict the problems we may face in the future, we should invest in preparedness. Continue reading Raincoats & bad schools: organisations in the internet age

Fat people & billionaires

Before the storm that we neither predicted nor prepared for

I started reading Nicholas Taleb’s The Black Swan in May last year.  I took it to the Delfest music festival where we’d been promised bluegrass and sunshine.  A hurricane tore down the camp and flooded the fields.  The book sank in the swamp, was bravely rescued, and has since dried out.  I started reading it again the other day.

Taleb’s central thesis is that we are much worse at predicting events than we think we are.  In fact we massively overestimate our capacity for prediction. Continue reading Fat people & billionaires

These exponential times

Faster innovation. More churn? But no egalitarian paradise.

1.  A plummeting Coasean floor means we can do more things outside of traditional organizations like businesses.

Here’s a question that I try not to ask in earshot of my bosses.  Instead of employing me on a salary, why don’t my firm put out a tender for every piece of work I deliver?  In an open market, with other people competing to perform broken down chunks of my job, my company could end up paying less.  Reassuringly for me, Ronald Coase explained why in The Nature of the Firm in 1937.  It is because of the additional transaction costs that my firm would incur – in particular of finding a contractor and enforcing a contract for every piece of work I currently undertake. We can describe these kinds of costs as the cost of cooperating.   Companies exist in order to manage these cooperation costs.  They do things like employ managers and pay for HR departments  – and create, for the most part, hierarchical organizational structures – because, for the activities that they’re engaged in, this is a more effective way of directing a workforce than an open market.  But of course this management has a cost, much of it fixed.  Firms exist, therefore, when the costs of employing and directing staff to undertake a particular activity are less than the potential gain from that activity.

But what if those cooperation costs exceed the potential gain of an activity?  Continue reading These exponential times