As educators, isn’t it time we looked at social value for money?

I write this piece not as an expert, but as an advocate for making this world a better place. This blog is divided into three main parts: personal reflections, a few current examples of action for discussion and finally, the what next question.  I begin with a few milestone reflections that help to position my journey to date.

  • First and foremost, I am a teacher by vocation. However, my personal journey and interest has given me a wider perspective on areas associated with social justice and equity, leadership for change and policy development.
  • Back in 2007, I was privileged to work with The Audit Commission on the SEN/AEN Value for Money (VfM) Toolkit. I remember the first meeting well.  I was the newbie on the block.  As I listened to much more learned individuals deliberate on the problem, but little on the solution, something stirred in me. I popped up the confidence to offer a possible solution already available to leaders in schools.  The civil servant in the room immediately knocked my idea down as ridiculous and so I remained silent for the rest of the meeting.  My idea, focused on a participatory process, which clearly added a social dimension to value for money discussions.  By the next meeting, colleagues at The Audit Commission had undertaken some research and the proposal I had put forward was now the leading paradigm for change.  There was one slight exception.  What I had proposed as a participatory process for the good of the community and by the local community, was now a bureaucratic template file that had to be filled in!   This, plus several other experiences, have always spurned my aversion towards review models that are tick list exercises, especially in the field of special educational needs, inclusion and disability.  If there is no underpinning collaborative theory of change – what’s the point?
  • Introduction of the Social Value Act in 2012 and school funding reforms in 2013 provided the platform for me to co-present national briefings on School Funding & Finance. Simultaneously, co-founding a social enterprise to increase community access for special educational needs and disability resources peaked my interest in looking at alternative models.  This is a work in progress, which is now (post SEND reforms implementation) gaining momentum. I recorded some of my earlier thoughts in a Pioneer Post blog in 2013.  The following academic year, I helped co-organise a panel discussion on ‘Do 21st century school offer social value?’  The contributions were passionate and reflected the true diversity of the panel and audience.
  • Around this time, I also wrote to senior officials responsible for the accountability of schools. My question was simply:  how could existing frameworks embrace the Social Value Act (SVA) 2012?  I received a non-committal response.  The revised Common Inspection Framework (CIF) in 2015, didn’t embrace the SVA.  For other reasons, the model and its subsequent revisions in recent years, is an improvement on previous approaches … but also a missed opportunity to embrace SVA.

So where are we today?

Like the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 2015-2030, the Social Value Act requires everyone to play their part. In effect, it is complicated, as it involves several stakeholders … who all hold different views on what matters and what counts as ‘social value’.  The Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 requires public bodies to consider how the services they commission and procure might improve the economic, social and environmental well-being of the area. Commissioners are required to factor social value in at the pre-procurement phase, allowing them to embed social value in the design of the service from the outset.  From a local government perspective, I often cite Croydon local authority as a good example, though there are others on the website. Other case studies from health and social care.

There are multiple ways we can look at this from an education perspective. For example, Dave Boden in the publication Insight (Issue Number 15, April 2018) reflects on demonstrating the impact of personal development of pupils.  Dave Boden is strategic lead at the Grace Academy Trust.  Using a variety of tools and with clarity on the 5Ws and H of measuring impact, Dave argues it is possible to measure impact of the spiritual, moral, social & cultural (SMSC) elements of the curriculum.  I agree!  My Advanced Diploma research thesis in 2002 on the previous National Curriculum and SMSC provides a similar rationale and approach.   Ashoka Changemaker Schools is another great example.  In higher education, many institutions have adopted an approach to considering the social value for students, and of institutions.  However, this isn’t necessarily how impact is currently measured.  This OpEd by Nick Petford might help to clarify a possible vision for the future.  Sir Michael Barber et al (2012 p31) published an Innovation Framework in the essay, “Oceans of Innovation”.  The document is well worth a read.  The key messages chime with a broader perspective of leadership in education and a consideration of wider benefits. For me, leadership has always been about building teams to widen influence and impact.

Innovation Framework

I often hear school leaders talking about the constraints of the current assessment and accountability system.  I find myself often disagreeing.  I do believe there is opportunity for greater autonomy.  However, whether this autonomy is used wisely, nor not, is another matter.  It was encouraging to read in a recent blog by Sean Harford,  about the need for schools/leaders to shift from meaningless data to ‘meaningful assessment of the right things at the right point in the curriculum’.  For sure, there is a debate to be had as to what constitutes ‘meaningful’.  In my mind, I would categorise the social value of learning as meaningful.  Mary Rayner HMI (2016) also clearly stipulated the need for us educators and leaders to ‘measure what we value, not value what we measure’.  What is it you value?  What is it your local community (including pupils, parents and families) value and how do you know?  This brings me, full circle back to the ‘participatory process’ I shared with the Audit Commission back in 2007.  Many settings (cross phase, mainstream, special and independent), still use this method, called a Provision Review to collectively define high-quality teaching and additionality, year on year.  it is cost effective and everyone has a voice.  Please note a Provision Review is not the same as Provision Mapping (which is part of the paperwork approach often put forward).  The strength of a Provision Review lies not just in the process, but in the engagement of all stakeholders, in defining what matters, whilst simultaneously reducing the paperwork!  Social dialogue to define social value.

Call for action

So, what can we do? Below, are just a few questions, which will hopefully act as pointers.  You may have ideas of your own, which I would be interested to hear about.  As an educator and leader:

  • Consider what value you and your organisation add to society, over and above the academic and monetary returns
  • How can you measure this added ‘social value’ and is there a common consensus?
  • How you promote and celebrate added social value?
  • In commissioning and procuring goods and services, how can you/your institution, utilise more efficiently, organisations that clearly define and demonstrate their social value?
  • How is your learning community contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals?  Can you do more?

As I shared, at the onset, I don’t’ have the answers and I’m an advocate, not an expert.  However, I do believe we need the debate and we need to stop missing opportunities.  What I do know is, I want children and young people to grow into confident men and women committed to improving the world, not just for themselves, but others too.  I want children and young people to have an educational experience that is more than just academic.  An experience that develops them as people and leaders, whatever the future holds.  I want individuals (including myself) to think less about the self and more about the other.  None of this will happen, unless we change the paradigm and embrace the importance of social value.  Change does not come without a cost.  However, the gain of a sustainable social value lifestyle, far outweighs the short-term cost.  Are you up for the challenge?  Together let’s be courageous!

Further reading:

Social Value Hub

Buy Social

Case study: Changing Education system | Margret Rasfeld from Germany (Video) – student voice on social value of education


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