Media Briefings

THE BENEFITS OF A WELL-RUN SCHOOL: Cross-country evidence of the link between management practices and pupil achievement

  • Published Date: May 2015

Better school management is associated with better pupil achievement, according to research by Professor Nicholas Bloom and colleagues. Their study, which is published in the May 2015 issue of the Economic Journal, also finds that the quality of school management is related to the leadership traits of head teachers – and that management practices have a greater effect on pupil outcomes than the effects of class size, competition or teaching quality.

The researchers analyse data on the quality of management practices of nearly 1,800 schools across eight countries – the UK, Sweden, Canada, the United States, Germany, Italy, Brazil and India. They create a school management index of 1 to 5, which provides a comparable measure of the level of adoption of basic management practices across schools – operations management, performance monitoring, target setting and talent management. Among the findings:

· Practices vary significantly across countries but everywhere they are strongly linked to pupil outcomes. A one-point increase in the management index is associated with an increase in school performance of approximately 15%.

· The UK, Sweden, Canada and the United States are at the top of the ranking, closely followed by Germany, while Italy, Brazil and India lie at the bottom.

· The size of the effect of management quality is three to four times larger than the effect of competition and teacher quality; and over ten times larger than the effect of a measured input such as class size on pupil achievement.

· Ownership is a key factor associated with differences in management practices. In particular, autonomous state schools (organisations that are publicly funded but governed by school-specific regulations) have higher scores on the management index relative to regular state schools and private schools.

· Head teachers in autonomous state schools are more likely to have developed and communicated a long-term strategy for the school and to feel accountable for the delivery of pupils’ outcomes.

More…

Over the past few years, a growing body of evidence has revealed major disparities in the quality of education across and within countries. Researchers associated with the Centre for Economic Performance (CEP) at the London School of Economics have been investigating differences in managerial and organisational practices across schools and the extent to which these differences may influence educational outcomes.

Overall, they find robust evidence that practices vary significantly across countries and are strongly linked to pupil outcomes. Their base their analysis on a unique dataset measuring the quality of management practices of nearly 1,800 schools across eight countries.

The management survey methodology uses double-blind interviews to collect data on schools’ use of operations management, performance monitoring, target setting and talent management in their day-to-day activities. From these interviews, the researchers create a school management index of 1 to 5, which provides a comparable measure of the level of adoption of these basic practices across schools.

These data make it possible to document a number of new stylised facts. First, the adoption of basic managerial practices in schools offering education to 15-year-olds is fairly limited: the average management score across all countries is 2.43. This represents a considerably lower level of adoption of many of the managerial processes included in the index than in manufacturing (where the average management score is 3.01 in firms of between 50 and 5,000 employees).

Second, in the school management index, the UK, Sweden, Canada and the United States are at the top of the ranking, closely followed by Germany, while Italy, Brazil and India lie at the bottom. The differences in management across countries are on average more salient in education than they are in other sectors: 55% of the variance in the school management index can be attributed to variations across countries, compared with 13% in manufacturing and 42% in healthcare across the same set of countries.

This finding suggests that differences in the institutional environment may have important effects on the way that schools are managed. Countries where there is a more prevalent use of monitoring and benchmarking of school performance data, more delegation of personnel decisions to head teachers or principals, and more opportunities to choose between state and private schools are characterised by higher levels of management.

Third, looking at schools within countries, an increase in the average management index is associated with an increase in pupil achievement across all the countries surveyed. Moving from a school in the bottom quarter of the management index distribution to a school in the top quarter, which is approximately one point in the management index, is associated with an increase in school performance of approximately 15%.

In view of the larger body of research on the effects of educational inputs on pupil achievement, the researchers find that the size of the effect of management quality is three to four times larger than the effect of competition and teacher quality; and over ten times larger than the effect for a measured input such as class size on pupil achievement.

Although the cross-sectional nature of the data does not allow an investigation of the direction of causality behind this correlation, the result confirms that the management index is a meaningful tool to explore disparities in the quality of education across and within countries.

Fourth, there are large disparities in the quality of management adopted by schools both within countries and within regions in countries. Ownership is a key factor associated with differences in management practices.

In particular, autonomous state schools (that is, organisations that are publicly funded but governed by school-specific regulations) have higher scores on the management index relative to regular state schools (which are publicly funded and managed according to region-wide guidelines) and private schools. Autonomous state schools include ‘escolas de referência’ in Brazil, separate schools in Canada, private aided schools in India, freeskolas in Sweden, the UK’s academies, foundation schools and voluntary aided schools, and charter and magnet schools in the United States.

Fifth, the difference between autonomous state schools compared with regular state schools does not seem to reflect observable differences in the composition of the pupil body, school and regional characteristics or basic demographics of principals, such as their tenure and gender. In contrast, the quality of school management appears to be related to ‘soft’ leadership traits of the principals.

In particular, principals in autonomous state schools are more likely to have developed and communicated a long-term strategy for the school and to feel accountable for the delivery of pupils’ outcomes relative to the principals of regular state schools. Taking these basic leadership traits into account more than halves the managerial gap between regular state schools and autonomous state schools.

ENDS

Notes for editors: ‘Does Management Matter in Schools?’ by Nicholas Bloom, Renata Lemos, Raffaella Sadun and John Van Reenen is published in the May 2015 issue of the Economic Journal.

Nicholas Bloom is at Stanford University. Renata Lemos is at CEP. Raffaella Sadun is at Harvard Business School. John Van Reenen is director of CEP.

For further information: contact Romesh Vaitilingam on +44 7768 661095+44 7768 661095 (email: romesh@vaitilingam.com); or Nicholas Bloom via email: nbloom@stanford.edu