My working week started early with an interview last night on The Westminster Hour. The discussion topic was the impact on public services of the sharp deceleration in spending planned to start in 2010.
As I argued a couple of weeks ago in this blog, it is important for public services managers to use the coming months to prepare for the long period of tightening budgets ahead. The reductions in spending – against a backdrop of increasing demands particularly in key areas such as social care – will not be achieved through painless ‘efficiency savings’.
As an example of a more radical approach to improving public service productivity, I suggested that year 10 and 11 pupils in secondary schools might only be expected to attend lessons for four days a week. The students would spend the other day at home or in the school library using on-line materials to structure their learning. This could free up teachers’ time and mean that class sizes could be maintained even with a rising pupil teacher ratio.
So I was fascinated to read this morning in The Independent about the Kunskapsskolan schools in Sweden. Among their many innovations is a system in which older students work much more independently under the supervision of personal tutors.
My prediction is that by 2020 whole class teaching will have been largely abandoned for the upper years of secondary school (KS4 and 5). So this is a good example of how a public service can be innovative, improve its service and improve productivity. But this kind of change needs to be explored now not in 18 months, by which time every change will be portrayed as driven simply by the need for ‘cuts’.
A return to the past seems implausible. Exhausted as we are, a dash to the future seems unlikely. Nonetheless, however weary, we cannot stay rooted to this moment.