What we can learn from big businesses

A large part of the national debate these days is focused on education, and specifically on increasing student performance, retaining teachers and curtailing higher number of absentees and dropouts. Only recently, the department of education in the UK pledged to invest £1.3 bn in teacher recruitment despite the recent PISA results and OECD findings making an example of the US and other countries, demonstrating that spending more on education doesn’t necessarily mean an increase in student achievement. Part of the issue is that the education sector has expanded dramatically over recent years, leading governments around the world to view education as a prime source of revenue. Additionally, the international race for better student assessment scores has led to fierce educational competition, both on a national and international level. In a fast-evolving landscape, can educational institutes look to top businesses to keep their heads above water? The trend is certainly on the rise in higher education, where more and more institutes are hiring corporate consultants to formulate successful business strategies. Could schools be next? To help you decide, we’ve selected the top three business strategies that could benefit schools.

 

Find your mission

Enter the hedgehog concept. First proposed by Jim Collins in his book Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t, the hedgehog concept provides a step-by-step guide for institutions to identify their mission and then capitalise on it.

 

The idea is that the hedgehog might only really do one thing, but it does so exceptionally well: it excels at defence. No matter what the fox might do to catch the hedgehog, it simply cannot succeed and will always end up with some sharp spines in its face. The hedgehog’s simple strategy is what works best for it. Similar to this, an organisation is able to identify their mission by understanding what they do best or what works best for them, and then playing on those strengths. For example, if a school already enjoys a good reputation for science education, then that school’s mission would be to design programmes and activities that build on and celebrate that reputation. It can strengthen its science programme by forming valuable partnerships with EdTech companies and participating in science fairs and competitions on a national level. It can also provide extensive, updated training to its teachers so that they are kept aware of current developments in science teaching and potential tie-ups with leading institutions, offering students the chance to attend placements or career talks in the STEM field.

 

Embracing outliers

An outlier is defined as someone or something that is situated away from the main system, but in Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, he uses the word to define individuals with expertise, who have achieved such extraordinary success that they have come to define their own category of accomplishment – think Bill Gates, Steve Jobs or Robert Oppenheimer. So, how do we apply Gladwell’s concept to school education? Our version of embracing the outlier is aimed specifically at schools catering for unconventional student populations or facing certain challenges. The idea is to find the educational need in the community and address it. This requires good planning, organisation and the recruitment of appropriate staff in order to support this.

 

For example, Crays Hill primary school in Essex faces a unique challenge, in which all but two of its students belong to travelling families. Yet despite the various issues the school faces – the constantly changing student numbers, negative bias from the neighbouring community, finding staff that is willing to work with these challenges – the school has been praised by Ofsted for providing a “good quality of education”.

 

Blue ocean strategy

In Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant, authors W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne divide the market into two parts: red ocean and blue ocean. Existing markets form the red ocean, on account of everyone competing for a chunk of market share and bloodying the waters in the process. The blue ocean, on the other hand, is calm and clear because it represents markets that are either undiscovered or reconstructed – Cirque du Soleil is probably the best-known example of a blue ocean strategy, in which the circus concept was reconstructed to create an entirely new, successful market. But can this strategy be implemented in education? Well, it already has – through programs like the Granny Cloud, which connects voluntary educators around the world by Skype to children in remote places, where education isn’t always possible. For schools, a blue ocean would lie in areas that have not been properly explored before. Schools need to think about what they offer and how that offering differentiates them from the herd. It’s also a question of understanding and fulfilling needs in education that aren’t being met. A good example of this would be offering courses like advanced coding, or by offering technological workshops, where students are encouraged to build and design their own inventions. Schools could also promote study abroad programmes and organise unique internships through strategic tie-ups with institutions . But it’s not just about meeting student needs – addressing teacher needs, too, can be a way forward to an excellent education: provide teachers with quality educational resources (especially digital resources) lesson planning exercises and professional development courses.

 

There are many other business strategies schools can adapt to their specific needs once they have identified their mission. At its heart, business management is all about understanding the market, organisation and consumers – a valuable approach for any organisation that’s looking to better itself. Schools are no different. Addressing institution goals can help give teachers a better idea of the direction in which they are leading their students. Taking the time to address staff needs alongside student needs gives schools a better chance of a high success rate – not just in battling teacher recruitment issues, but also in addressing chronic absenteeism and dropout rates amongst students.

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