The RSA is delighted to support today's launch of a new Open Public Services Network (OPSN) report on ‘Making sense of school league tables’, which uses publicly available data to assess the quality of teaching in UK schools. A roundtable event to mark the report launch is taking place on Monday 9th September at the Guardian.
OPSN grew out of work by the 2020 Public Services Commission, which looked at the long-term pressures and opportunities facing public services in an era of austerity and social and demographic change. Some of what we found was daunting. The challenges facing public services are stark, not just because there will be less money but also because of the pressure of rising demand. By 2030, an additional six per cent of GDP will have to be spent on public services simply to meet the social costs of an ageing society and maintain existing cross-party social commitments.
But there also grounds for optimism. Citizens have a growing expectation of control over their lives and the services they use. Through our Commission and our subsequent work on RSA 2020 Public Services, we have been developing an approach to public service reform based on what we call social productivity. The focus is on unlocking the potential of citizen and social resource through improving the quality of the relationship between people and their services. In an environment in which money is short and demands are growing, mobilising a wider range of social capacity to create more productive individual and community relationships will be critically important.
For that potential to be fulfilled, we need to see a change process with at least two distinct steps. Step one is the provision of better data, which can empower citizens through greater accountability, a clearer voice and more informed choice. Online technologies and open data are key facilitators for this.
Encouragingly, change on this front is happening at an impressive pace. Already, the public can see in more detail than ever before where its money is going, what is being done with it and – though this is considerably more difficult – what is being achieved with it. Information from good data enables the public, individually and collectively, to scrutinise provision, challenging it to be more efficient, effective and responsive.
In some cases, open data will not only amplify citizens’ voices, but drive their choices. Where they can do so, they will access or exit services partly on the basis of the information they receive.
Schools, more than most public services, have been at the frontline of publicly accessible performance information for many years, and are acutely aware of its benefits and pitfalls. Some of these pitfalls have related to the crudity of the data set before the public. Schools are complex institutions, charged with achieving a myriad of social and educational aims in dramatically different contexts.
OPSN’s new report on school league tables, its first major publication, includes new analysis using information sourced from the Department of Education to make it accessible to parents, carers, teachers and school governors. The report offers a way of re-configuring complex data so that it can be genuinely useful to parents and other community members in terms of accountability, voice and choice. It describes a fresh approach to data presentation that draws on a large number of data sources to produce an accessible, rigorous and meaningful picture of school performance.
OPSN has demonstrated that the first step in transforming public services through better data is well under way. It is a necessary preparation for an even more fundamental second step. We need to move from information for accountability to information for social collaboration. This is something the Commission, and now its legacy body in RSA’s Action and Research Centre, terms information for social productivity.
The challenge for the future is to use data from services in a way that engages the public in a process of shared design and delivery, creating better outcomes not just for themselves, but for the wider public good. How could individuals respond to data on school exclusions in order to co-design more effective behaviour management policies? How could information on performance be shared regularly with the local businesses and cultural institutions capable of enriching the curriculum? How could parents use real-time pupil progress data to become more involved in their children’s education?
This report is a welcome step towards answering these questions. We look forward to the next steps for OPSN.
Ben Lucas is Chair of Public Services at the RSA and Principal Partner of RSA 2020 Public Services. Joe Hallgarten is Director of Education at the RSA.
A launch event held in partnership with the Guardian will take place on Monday 9th September. Click here for additional information.