Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Change management and the half cohort

When I heard the 'local solutions for local issues' chant last year, a siren went off in my head saying here comes another case of pushing responsibility down the line. The half cohort has been mismanaged thus far and schools now have to find 'innovative solutions' to maintain student levels and thus staffing levels.

Knowledge management is a key aspect in any organisation. If we let an ill thought out decision and implementation (like the half cohort) damage our long term ability to provide a service, this is a very poor management decision. Yet this is what we are faced with. When smaller numbers come in next year, schools face losing FTE. With a loss of FTE comes a loss in capability to deliver and retain content and a loss of knowledge of how to manage our students.

Innovative solutions typically means something experimental cobbled together with a low chance of success, with little forethought. This is because true innovative solutions requires a lot of work prior to implementation - after all, if it was easy everyone would be doing it already and it would not be innovative.

Once we have identified possible solutions we than have to consider how that change will occur. Managing change requires patience, skill and understanding on part of the participants. Change is a technical problem - not a people problem as too often people see it.

Steps in change management are:
a) determining the need for change
b) determining the obstacles to change
c) implementing change
d) evaluating change
(Human Resource Management, R.J. Stone, 2002)

In this case a driver for change is that we need to reduce FTE in 2010 and preserve school capability post the half cohort with fewer staff to share the load. Potentially the reverse issue happens in 2011 as the students held back in 2010 will appear in 2011. Using that knowledge (on face value) change may not be required as although retaining staff is more expensive than letting staff go, schools face the issue in 2011 of trying to restaff. A second driver for change is to re-instate job security. Whilst this issue is over the head of staff, good staff are more likely to consider opportunities elsewhere in case the job axe reaches them.

We then reach the second test, 'how to implement change'. Schools are now looking at where the 'fat' can be trimmed. Timetabling in this aspect is one of the biggest concerns. If a teacher leaves/retires/is let go organically another teacher of similar ability is rarely available on staff that fits the timetable to teach the topic (and if they do, they leave another similar hole elsewhere on the timetable). As restaffing is not an option, the solution here is usually a teacher teaching out of area or an 'innovative solution' to be used such as using leftover capability of various teachers to share a class, multi-age grouping (MAG - eg. grouping yr8/9 classes together) or integrated classrooms (eg. combined English/S&E classes).

The third test is the biggest concern where innovative solutions are bandied about. There is no doubt in my mind that given time and money, any solution can be made to work. My concern is that neither time nor money are available for such. For example, integrated classrooms may take up to five years to get right with dedicated staff committed to the project - one out of the box cannot work as student content and contextual entry points are different at each school. Furthermore staff that can create and plan these engaging projects are few and far between. Leftover capacity is nearly always a poor option. MAG streamed classes require a lot of skill to teach and have issues attached related to differences in work ethic and have the tendency to be taught to the middle (or bottom). MAG unstreamed classes exacerbate developmental, context ual and content issues thus requiring even more from the teacher than streamed classes. If we consider that the main issue resolves itself after 5 years we need to again ask whether these solutions warrant the change requirements for implementation.

The fourth test is the big one. If we are truly contemplating change we need to evaluate current performace before change has occurred, such that we can check later that the change has been positive. It is this step that shows good management from poor management. Pre-defined outcomes need to be set if we are to avoid 'crisis management' and move to structured 'change management'. NAPLAN is not the answer (though it can be one measurable) as it only measures what can be assessed in a snapshot test. It does not take into account staffing issues, affective requirements and behavioural response. More so it does not predict or respond to the potential success or damage to students in upper school (as is seen in some poorly managed middle school programmes). To realise the perils of over reliance on NAPLAN take a look at year 8 NAPLAN results and map them to senior school students. Ask yourself what happened to the block of students that did well in year 8 but were lost by year 10.

Furthermore if we instigate change 'from the hip' it makes it much more difficult to learn from our mistakes. If we know what we have done poorly, we can then do it differently in the future. This need to reflect is the key to success and to my mind, when this occurs, it is true 'change'. Something we need to consider more when defining future success.


  1. Success is relative it depends on every person but to top it all you got a great article here!

  2. Hmm.. I'll have to think on that, I think I understand your point.. Maybe the degree of relativity can be managed by clearly defining what is attempted to be achieved and by setting written goals and expectations. That way it is easier to create consensus on what constitutes success.

  3. There are many factors to consider in getting hold of success . Consider the following developmental factors: what should the change entail, what and who will be impacted by the change, how fast should the change occur, what are the costs of change, how the success of the change will be measured, etc. Developmental factors are all important for success. But none is more critical than personal change factors.


Hi, thanks for leaving a comment.. it's good to hear what people think!