The Dog’s Bollocks

Truth is like a dog’s bollocks – pretty obvious if you care to look.

The cost of rampant reporting mechansims

Despite last minute posturing from both sides, the Victorian Government seems poised to strike a deal with teachers over pay and conditions. The teachers’ trump card at this time is to sabotage the upcoming National testing for literacy and numeracy standards. It is timely therefore to read John Hirt’s op-ed in The Age Ideas for achieving the goals that we agree on wherein he proposes three stategies to reach commonly agreed goals:

  • Reduce accountability in the public provision of professional services
  • Increase class sizes in schools
  • Teach a different Asian language in the schools of each capital city

The first recommendation is something I have pondered for some time. Hirst hits the nail on the head.

Doctors, nurses, teachers, academics and scientists are mostly committed to their work. They have a shared understanding of what good practice entails. Their dedication and training produces this; they have no need of mission statements to tell them what they must do or what their institution should achieve.

Increasingly, governments have imposed new tests of accountability on these people as if they were all lazy or bored or corrupt. They do this with the aim of producing better services. However, frequently what is needed for better services is more money. Instead of providing this, governments decide to better manage the funds already allocated. This involves more reporting and paperwork and more administrative staff to produce and manage it. The effect, if there is no increase in funding, is actually to decrease the amount of money going to provide the services. More time and effort goes into administration. Nurses have to decide whether they will attend to their paperwork or to their patients and their patients are in danger of losing out.

Now extra grants of public money are being made not to support services but so that institutions can install the new reporting mechanisms.

In Tony Blair’s years as prime minister of Britain there was a huge increase (47%) in the amount of money going to health services, but once this disappeared into the administration of health there was only a 17% increase in the money spent on the front line, that is attending and curing patients.

Increasing surveillance reduces morale of dedicated people.

The campaign for performance pay for teachers and endless demands for accountability standards is a cynical exercise by politicians to demoralise and diminish the status of teaching by which they hope to convince the electorate that the problem with education lies with the teachers, not the diminishing funds being spent on it. In this mission they are aided and abetted by economists pathologically opposed to any kind of increase in public expenditure unless it directed at private profit for consultants and outsourced service providers. It’s all a sleight of hand.

While further reduction in class sizes may bring diminishing educational returns there is little evidence to suggest that Hirst’s plan to double class sizes wouldn’t have negative consequences – not the least of which would be individual stress levels of both students and teachers. You could do it by plugging the students into immersive digital learning environments a la Second Life but that would cost a fortune. Most school buildings have been designed for 24 students per classroom so there are also significant infrastructure constraints.

While there is also little doubt that our economy and national security would be enhanced by the increased teaching of foreign languages, Hirst’s recommendation for teaching specific languages in specific location is rather whimsical. It ignores the diversity of our cities and the propensity of individuals to have preferences and proclivities for particular languages.

But as for the costly and ineffectual growth in administrative reporting processes in education, health and public science Hirst is spot on. A waste of time and money and of no benefit to anyone other than Business Management School graduates.

Filed under: Economics, Education, Politics, ,

The Dog’s Bollocks

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