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“What Gets Measured Gets Done”: Headteachers’ Responses to the English Secondary School

  • Deborah Wilson
  • Bronwyn Croxson
  • Adele Atkinson

    ()

English secondary schools operate within a performance management system, which includes league tables reporting school performance across a number of indicators. This paper reports the results of an interview-based study, showing that head teachers care about their school’s place in the league tables, and that they believe this system affects behaviour. The effects they identify include some unintended consequences, not necessarily related to improved overall school performance, including focusing on borderline students who can boost a pivotal indicator: the number of students gaining five A*-Cs at GCSE. This behaviour reflects, in part, the dual role played by headteachers: they are both educationalists (serving the interests of all pupils); and school marketers, concerned with promoting the school to existing and prospective parents. The behaviour is also consistent with economic theory, which predicts a focus on that which is measured, potentially at the expense of that which is important, in sectors characterised by incomplete measurement, by multiple stakeholders and containing workers with diverse objectives. We conclude that, given that performance indicators do affect behaviour, it is important to minimise unintended consequences, and we suggest the use of value-added indicators of student performance.

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File URL: http://www.bris.ac.uk/Depts/CMPO/workingpapers/wp107.pdf
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Paper provided by Department of Economics, University of Bristol, UK in its series The Centre for Market and Public Organisation with number 04/107.

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Length: 21 pages
Date of creation: Aug 2004
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:bri:cmpowp:04/107
Contact details of provider: Postal: 2 Priory Road, Bristol, BS8 1TX
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Web page: http://www.bris.ac.uk/cmpo/
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  1. David N. Figlio & Lawrence S. Getzler, 2002. "Accountability , Ability and Disability: Gaming the System," NBER Working Papers 9307, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Ladd, Helen F., 1996. "The Dallas School Accountability and Incentive Program: An Evaluation of Its Impacts on Student Outcomes," Working Papers 96-18, Duke University, Department of Economics.
  3. Thomas J. Kane & Douglas O. Staiger, 2002. "The Promise and Pitfalls of Using Imprecise School Accountability Measures," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 16(4), pages 91-114, Fall.
  4. repec:rus:hseeco:122160 is not listed on IDEAS
  5. Andy Wiggins, 2002. "Dysfunctional Effects of League Tables: A Comparison Between English and Scottish Primary Schools," Public Money & Management, Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, vol. 22(1), pages 43-48, 01.
  6. Deborah Wilson, 2004. "Which Ranking? The Impact of a 'Value-Added' Measure of Secondary School Performance," Public Money & Management, Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, vol. 24(1), pages 37-45, 01.
  7. Daniel M. Koretz, 2002. "Limitations in the Use of Achievement Tests as Measures of Educators' Productivity," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 37(4), pages 752-777.
  8. Carol Propper & Deborah Wilson, 2003. "The Use and Usefulness of Performance Measures in the Public Sector," Oxford Review of Economic Policy, Oxford University Press, vol. 19(2), pages 250-267, Summer.
  9. Simon Burgess & Carol Propper & Deborah Wilson, 2002. "Does Performance Monitoring Work? A Review of the Evidence from the UK Public Sector, Excluding Health Care," The Centre for Market and Public Organisation 02/049, Department of Economics, University of Bristol, UK.
  10. Brian A. Jacob, 2002. "Accountability, Incentives and Behavior: The Impact of High-Stakes Testing in the Chicago Public Schools," NBER Working Papers 8968, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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