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 School Improvement:  Costs
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The total cost of better schools:

COST = Prevention + Inspection + Rework + Failure + Waste + Stress


The focus in this aspect of achieving quality is: 

  • To prevent failure:  planning processes & training to get it right first time & every time 

  • To reduce the need for inspection to check that it worked

  • To minimise rework

  • To eliminate waste & loss due to failure

  • To reduce stress by making it easier to do well


Prevention in schools includes all aspects of planning, preparation, resourcing, scheduling, as well as enlisting the support of parents and particularly the active participation the students themselves. Prevention answers two key questions:

  • What must go right

  • What could go wrong


Responses to these questions at each step of the process:

  • increase efficiency and effectiveness 

  • reduce costs of inspection and rework


Freely available information, a matching culture, purposes, vision, values and an understanding of processes (how things happen) as a basis for shared responsibility are keys to ensuring all participants are able to contribute to prevention of their own failure and the failure of others. 

Information makes people responsible in ways that  roles and rules never can.

Inspection relates to supervision, testing, marking work, evaluation, reporting, and so on. Inspection can be helpful if it provides information to those who can act on the information. Providing information to society on 'school performance' is unlikely to be of value. The inspection requirements of Quality Assurance are adding directly and significantly to the total cost of education. As students become older, inspection increases as a proportion of the cost of their education.
    (Note* Inspection may confirm value but inspection does not add value, except when the supplier attaches a warranty on the basis of his inspections. Alternatively the supplier could have simply made a better product or service.) 


Rework increases costs and hence alters the cost:benefit ratio of education. Rework in schools is largely associated with the cost of  reteaching those students who have not learnt at their first opportunity and with teaching students what they already know. Attempting to teach students things for which they are not ready is a common cause of the need for rework.


Learning by individual students is the central performance item. The students themselves have the greatest capacity to improve their performance, hence the critical information is the information they receive. If they can generate or acquire information about their learning achievements then so much the better!! 

Failure and Waste
As it says on the door of a colleague's office. "If you think education is expensive just consider the cost of ignorance". 

There is more to do than could possibly be done. Failure at one stage introduces greater variation for staff and students at a subsequent stage and therefore reduces what might otherwise be possible.  Failure of children to learn and thrive should be seen as a personal crisis. Most schools are much more orderly and supportive than the world in general. While other factors impact on the lives of individuals failure in school is a strong indicator of subsequent failure.


Implication: economical quality is achieved by:

  • investing in preventing rework and failure 
  • saving on inspection and rework by reducing the need for them, and
  • releasing resources by making it easier to do well and have fun


Action: Change from problem solving to improving processes. This will lead to improved quality and less rework and thus release resources for other important purposes.


Warning: Cost cutting is usually more apparent than real. In reality there is 

  • a cost in meeting a need 
  • a cost in not meeting a need


On the other hand cost savings can be real when rework and waste are reduced. Similarly some organisational culture and managerial systems can reduce costs by reducing the need for supervision and inspection. This means having a clear focus on improvement rather than change.


Cost cutting is not the same as cost saving. Education typically comprises a range of services that to a greater or lesser extent are intended to meet the needs of learners. When there is 'cost cutting' in education the most likely outcome is that services will be lost and the cost will been transferred to those most in need of the service. If the service is not lost the cost is simply transferred to those providing the service as extra work. Costs may also be added to other parts of our community such as:

  • reteaching, retraining and remedial programs (families pay for tutoring)
  • additional social services in the community
  • additional police services in the wider community
  • reduced outcomes from the education system due to increased disruption to other programs 
  • additional staff costs due to stress leave ...


The alternative is to 

  1. Establish the resources that can be made available to the service
  2. Reduce waste and rework (PDSA)
  3. Invest in prevention (Deming)
  4. Attend to constraints to maximise throughput (Goldratt)
  5. When 'cost cutting' seems to have been achieved check:
    • what the implications are, and for whom,
    • where the costs have gone to
    • what the present costs actually are in total