by Stacey Dingwall
At the end of last year, we looked at the state of the Scottish education system following the publication of some disappointing Pisa results for the country. In this blog, we focus on some of the issues recently highlighted within the English education system, and how the system compares to that of Singapore – a system that is frequently identified as a model for other countries.
Pisa (Programme for International Student Assessment)
Although there was no significant change in England’s absolute score in the 2015 OECD survey of maths, science and reading, or in the country’s performance relative to other countries, England’s rankings did not experience the same decline seen in Scotland and Wales. While Scotland’s scores across all three areas were the lowest they had recorded in any other Pisa survey, pupils in England performed slightly above the OECD average in reading for the first time.
After a similar stagnation in scores were achieved in the previous Pisa survey, the Minister of Schools for England, Nick Gibb, promised reforms and funding in order to ensure that the country was able to better compete with the top performing countries. The 2015 results show that East Asian countries including Singapore continue to dominate the rankings, and are continuing to make advances.
The success of Singapore’s education system has been attributed to its investment in its teachers. All of the country’s teachers are trained at its National Institute of Education and are selected from the top 5% of graduates. Teachers are required to commit to the profession for at least three years and are mentored by ‘master teachers’ at the start of their careers.
As we highlighted on the blog recently, the House of Commons Education Committee raised concerns about teacher training and recruitment in England in the report of their inquiry. The evidence the Committee received suggested that the government is failing to take “adequate” action to tackle what is described as “significant” teacher shortages in England. The report highlights data that more than 10% of teachers leave the profession after a year.
Teacher workload was also highlighted as a significant issue, and the Education Policy Institute gave evidence to the Committee that 60% of respondents to a survey they carried out identified it as a “key barrier” to accessing continuing professional development. EPI analysis also found that teachers in England average four days of CPD per year, compared to 12 in Singapore. Teacher CPD was identified as important for not only professionalism during the inquiry, but also for pupil outcomes.
The schools landscape
The quality of the teaching workforce in England is not the only area in which concerns have been raised over the impact on pupils. The education system in England is a complex one, and has become even more so in recent years with academies, free schools and the reintroduction of grammar schools. Government policy has not been consistent: the Education Bill and the academisation of all schools in England were both abandoned shortly after their announcement.
Last week’s Budget included the announcement of a one-off payment of £320m for 140 new free schools to be created, in addition to the 500 already pledged before 2020. However, there’s still no evidence that significant improvements at the primary level are associated with academy status, and differences at GCSE level between converter academies and other similar maintained schools are not statistically significant. At the end of last year, the EPI found that grammar school pupils’ higher GCSE attainment is not actually a result of better grammar school performance, but can actually be attributed to the high prior attainment and demographic of pupils at selective schools.
The EPI concluded that grammar schools are more likely to widen the attainment gap for disadvantaged pupils. It was further reported earlier this month by the Sutton Trust that a policy of ‘social selection’ is being operated in admissions to the best performing schools.
Research from the NFER has indicated that parents are confused about academies, and the different types that exist. A preference for schools to be accountable to local education authorities was also indicated, which conflicts with the government’s focus on expanding academies/free schools.
Singapore operates a centralised schools system, which is integrated and characterised by a prescribed national curriculum. English academies are not required to follow the national curriculum.
Funding for schools
Despite the Budget announcement, recent news in the education world has been dominated by claims from schools that they are underfunded. As we noted in a blog from last year, when the government announced its plans for total academisation, cuts of £600m to the Education Services Grant awarded to local authorities were also planned. Even though the policy has been abandoned, the cuts have not been reversed.
Analysis for the National Union of Teachers (NUT) found that under the government’s new ‘fair funding’ formula, 98% of schools would see cuts by 2020. Responding to the consultation on the formula, representatives from over a dozen Conservative-led councils said that they were “extremely concerned” over what they see as inadequate levels of funding.
At last week’s Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) conference, headteachers told education secretary Justine Greening that current funding levels have resulted in them having to cut some subjects and support services, and increase class sizes. The day before the conference, the heads of over 1,000 schools in England wrote to parents and MPs to report the same issues.
The government insists that funding for schools is higher than ever before, at £40bn for 2016-17 and rising to £42bn in 2019-20 to take account of rising pupil numbers. However, Labour argue that as the budget does not provide for funding per pupil to increase in line with inflation, it actually represents a real-terms reduction in the funds spent for every pupil. In December, the National Audit Office published a report which said that as the government was only offering flat cash funding per pupil over the next five years, “Schools have not experienced this level of reduction in spending power since the mid-1990s”.
The latest data from the World Bank indicates that Singapore allocated a lower percentage of its GDP in 2012 than the UK: 3.3% vs 5.6%.
In an article published just before the Budget, Theresa May published an article which spoke of her government’s ambition to “make Britain the world’s greatest meritocracy”. Meritocracy is a key policy of the Singapore education system, and is identified as one of the main reasons for the system’s success. With evidence continuing to point towards disadvantaged pupils being denied the opportunities of their peers, and schools declaring that they don’t have enough funding to provide vital services, it’s clear that there is still some way to go before this ambition can begin to be realised.
Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in public and social policy are interesting our research team. If you found this article interesting, you may also like to read our other education articles.
We’ve almost reached the turn of the year, a good moment to pause and reflect on what the Knowledge Exchange has been blogging about in 2015.
We’ve covered a wide range of subject areas, from education to the arts, health to housing. With over 160 blog posts since January, there’s too much to fully consider in this short review, but some of our featured blog posts are worth revisiting.
A global view of digital government
Throughout the year, Steven McGinty has been taking readers on a world tour of technology, reporting on the application by and impact of digital technologies on governments at home and abroad.
In January, Steven looked at the potential and pitfalls of data sharing and linking up UK government databases. Later in the year, he highlighted public sector tech trends, including using technology to open up government and improve democracy. And Steven has also reported on digital government developments in Estonia, Norway and Singapore.
The Knowledge Exchange started life as The Planning Exchange, and we still maintain a strong interest in planning issues.
In May, Morwen Johnson highlighted the increasing interest in contemporary strategic planning as a delivery solution to complex problems. Morwen noted that an RTPI policy paper had advocated a strengthening of strategic planning to secure greater co-operation with respect to development and to facilitate city regions.
In September, Rebecca Jackson reported from the annual Scottish Planning and Environmental Law conference in Edinburgh, which covered the theme of “the changing landscape of planning”.
Rebecca joined the Knowledge Exchange in August 2015 and immediately hit the ground blogging. She’s been out and about reporting from events and covering topics as diverse as co-production in the criminal system, child neglect, wellbeing and resilience, and citizenship and identity.
Learning to work, working to learn
Rebecca also reported from the Scottish Learning Festival, and during the year our blog has featured a number of other posts on education, skills, training and employment.
In July, Heather Cameron looked at the continuing challenge of enabling young people from disadvantaged areas to access higher education.
Stacey Dingwall described the issues raised in a report from the UK Commission for Education and Skills, which suggested that young people are facing a ‘postcode lottery’ when searching for work experience. And in September, Stacey highlighted our Knowledge Exchange briefing which focused on the crucial importance of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) skills in the UK.
Stacey’s post was also a useful reminder that, as well as blogging, we also gather evidence, data and research to produce briefings on key topics, such as change management, green infrastructure and new approaches to housing later in life.
Save the day
Throughout the year, we’ve tried to observe significant days in the calendar by blogging on related topics.
- To mark International Women’s Day, Donna Gardiner wrote about the barriers facing female entrepreneurs
- On the International Day of Older Persons, I blogged about the economic opportunities of ageing
- On World Food Day, I highlighted the problem of food waste, and what’s being done to tackle it
We also blogged on three selected themes in 2015: cities; elections; and evidence-based policies:
- In March Rebecca Riley considered the role of cities in the knowledge economy, while in April Morwen reported from a conference looking at smart cities in a critical light.
- Rebecca also highlighted the importance of research and evidence for policy makers in a Knowledge Exchange White Paper, published in March.
- In May, Stacey described her experience as part of the Idox Elections team in helping to deliver the company’s postal vote management system for the UK general election.
The year to come
Much of 2016 is still a calendar of unforeseen events. But some dates have been pencilled into the diary, and may well feature in the Knowledge Exchange blog next year.
Elections will take place on 5 May for the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales, the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Greater London Assembly and for 128 local authorities in England. On the same day, there will be mayoral elections in London, Bristol, Liverpool and Salford and elections for Police and Crime Commissioners in England and Wales.
In the summer, the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro will no doubt generate discussion on the legacy of London 2012.
Among the selected themes we’ll be focusing on in 2016 are cities and digital transformation. Meanwhile, ongoing issues are likely to continue making the news: the struggle facing local authorities to meet increasing demands with fewer resources; further devolution of powers from central government; climate change; health and social care integration; and the affordable housing shortage.
And it’s looking likely that by this time next year the people of the UK will have made their decision on whether to remain in or leave the European Union.
We’ll be scrutinising these and other developments, trying to make sense of them and keeping our readers posted on new research and evidence.
From all of us in the Knowledge Exchange, we wish you a Merry Christmas and a happy, healthy and prosperous 2016.
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By Steven McGinty
“Singapore leads in all dimensions of digital readiness and scores high in economic competitiveness, citizen engagement as well as public sector productivity.”
These are the words of Ng Wee Wei, Managing Director (Health & Public Service) at Accenture, in Singapore. He made this statement on the day Singapore was ranked number one for digital government, in a comparative study carried out by Accenture.
However, this is just one of the many accolades won by Singapore. Other notable successes have included:
- Topping the Waseda University World e-Government Rankings for seven consecutive years;
- Ranking third in the United Nations e-Government Survey 2014;
- Ranking first in the Networked Readiness Index 2015.
In my latest article on digital government around the world, we’ll take a look at how this island city state has become a global leader and what can be learned from their experience.
E-government policy development
In the 1970s the Singapore government realised that they were unable to compete with the larger labour-intensive economies. As a result, they identified ICT as a way of improving economic performance, particularly through increasing labour productivity, making processes leaner and more efficient, and delivering better services to customers.
In 1982, the government launched the Civil Service Computerization Program (CSCP). The programme’s main objective was to enhance public administration through the effective use of ICT. This involved developing new business processes, automating work functions and reducing paperwork for greater internal operational efficiencies. In essence, it provided the foundation for subsequent e-services.
Throughout the 1980s and the 1990s the government started to develop the programme. For instance, the National Information Technology Plan (NITP) was introduced to support cross agency collaboration. This led to the creation of “TradeNet”, an application that enabled exchange of documents between the private sector and various government agencies.
As Singapore entered the new millennium, the e-Government Action Plan (2000-2003) (eGAP 1) was launched. This was the first of what the government now calls the ‘eGov masterplans’. It set out the aim that:
“All government services that can be delivered electronically shall be delivered through electronic means”.
The second e-Government Action Plan (2003-2006) emphasised improving the customer experience, connecting citizens with each other and fostering collaboration between government agencies.
The third, iGov2010 Masterplan (2006-2010), had a strong focus on integrating government services, making sure that processes cut across agencies. In addition, increasing the e-engagement of citizens was also a key objective, particularly in fostering greater bonds within different communities, such as young people.
Most recently, the government introduced the eGov2015 Masterplan (2011-2015), which outlined the vision of collaboration between the government, the private sector and the people through digital technologies. There was also a recognition that the government should act as a platform provider to encourage greater co-creation of new e-services.
Key features of eGov Singapore
Singpass (Singapore Personal Access) was introduced in March 2003 and enables citizens access to government e-services, from over 60 government agencies via a single platform. In total, there are 3.3 million registered users, with transactions increasing from 4.5 million in 2003 to 57 million in 2013. The system provides a high level of security for users, as well as removing the need for agencies to develop and administer their own.
In July 2015, an Enhanced SingPass was introduced. It included improvements such as the option to customise the SingPass ID, mobile-friendly features, and stronger security capabilities. However, the updates proved to be so popular that on their initial release the website was temporarily inaccessible due to high traffic.
data.gov.sg was launched in June 2011 and is Singapore’s first stop portal for publicly available government data, as well as applications developed using government data. The portal has increased to over 8,700 datasets (covering a range of themes, from business and the economy to housing and urban planning), with contributions coming from over 60 government agencies.
The government has introduced schemes such as ideas4apps Challenge and Harnessing Data for Value Creation Call-for-Collaboration (CFC) to encourage the creative use of government data. One example from the portal’s showcase is FixMyStreet, an app which allows citizens to report, view or discuss issues with public facilities, such as litter and broken lifts.
eCitizen was introduced in 1999 and is the first-stop portal for government information and services. When the portal was first introduced it pioneered the concept of cross-agency, citizen-centric government services, where users transact with ‘one government’ (the ability to access several government services via the one website).
In 2013, the eCitizen portal was recognised for “Outstanding Achievement” in the Government category of the Interactive Media Awards. It beat 137 other nominees to the award, which evaluates entries based on: design; content; feature; functionality; usability; and standards compliance. Since the portal’s redesign in 2012, there has been a 65% increase in visitors, with significant improvement in the success rates of searches (up to three times).
What key lessons can countries learn from Singapore?
In the book, National Strategies to Harness Information Technology: Seeking Transformation in Singapore, Finland, the Philippines, and South Africa, Jeannie Chua outlines the key lessons that other countries can take from the Singaporean experience. This includes:
- Stable political leadership
Singapore has had the same political party in charge of its Cabinet since 1959. This high level of political stability is rare, unlikely to occur in most countries and not necessarily desirable for democracy. However, it does highlight the importance of some level of continuity for progressing a digital agenda, whether that’s within the same government or across different government administrations.
- Industry collaboration – getting the private sector to do more
The use of government intervention to create opportunities for the private sector and providing effective working partnerships has been very successful in Singapore. This ‘catalyst’ role has encouraged innovation and supported the creation of a successful ICT industry.
- The willingness to innovate and take risks
Singapore’s willingness to adopt technologies at an early stage has proved to be a success. For instance, the National Library of Singapore adopted RFID (radio-frequency identification) technology, the use of radio waves to automatically identify people or objects, even though it was relatively untested at the time.
Singapore has been successful at creating a strong foundation for e-government and is deserving of all its accolades. The success has been built on a combination of factors including political willingness and economic policies. However, what has also been important is the country’s ability to learn from each stage in its development.
As the country moves forward, key issues such as cybercrime and privacy concerns will have to be addressed. In 2014, there was a security breach involving 1,560 Singpass accounts. A year later, the government introduced a new central government agency for cybersecurity operations. It’s hoped that this central agency will be able to bolster the country’s critical ICT infrastructure.
It’s these measures, and its ability to act swiftly, that will hold Singapore in good stead for the future. This is maybe the real lesson for those looking to emulate Singapore’s e-government success.
Enjoy this article? Read our other recent blogs relating to the digital economy:
- The UK digital economy: how can the government support digital businesses?
- Digital Agenda Norway (DAN): international digital leader but still pushing forward
- e-Estonia: leading the way on digital government
- The Government Digital Service: successes, turmoil, and the focus for the future
- Digital transformation: rethinking the plumbing of government
- The Carnegie Trust and the Wheatley Group: showing us how we can tackle digital exclusion
IDOX Plc announced on 8 October 2015 that it had acquired the UK trading arm of Reading Room Ltd. Reading Room, founded in 1996, is a digital consultancy business with a focus on delivering websites and digital services that enable its customers to make critical shifts into digital business and client engagement. It has an international reputation for its award winning and innovative approaches to strategic consultancy, design, and technical delivery.