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Archives for March 2011

Marking teachers

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Martin Rosenbaum | 08:45 UK time, Tuesday, 15 March 2011

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How good are you at your job? Does your boss know? If your boss is the British public - in other words, if you're a public sector worker - do they know?

The transparency agenda of this government and its predecessor has recently opened up a lot more information about the details of public spending. Some of this has been about the salaries and expenses of identifiable individuals, with more promised for the future.

But to assess value for money, cost is only half the equation - the other half is achievement. Plenty of data about targets and indicators for public services has been issued over the past few years - but much less about specific staff. Freedom of information requests have only occasionally (such as for heart surgeons) produced records about the performance of individuals.

These thoughts occurred to me after I came across a project in the Los Angeles Times, which rated the success of 6,000 of the city's teachers by name. This was actually published last August, but I only became aware of it last month when it won the top award at the conference of the US National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting.

The teachers' results were based on the "value-added" progress made by their pupils from year to year in standardised English and maths tests. The LA Times included a list of the 100 teachers who scored best according to this system, although it doesn't seem to have publicised the lowest performers in the same way.

Of course not all those covered by this analysis are happy, and this kind of methodology for measuring teacher effectiveness has been criticised by some.

Now other newspapers in different parts of the US have tried to get the same information. A judge in New York has ruled that the interests of parents and taxpayers should outweigh the privacy rights of public employees.

It's very unlikely that the same kind of data about the performance records of individual teachers would be released in the UK, even if the information existed in that form. As well as the privacy concerns, questions would be raised about how well one numerical measure could encapsulate an individual's achievements. But the LA Times didn't find it easy to obtain the material either.

When I told Jason Felch, one of the leading reporters on the story, that there would be enormous resistance to the publication of such data here, he replied:

"'Enormous resistance' is a fair description of what we faced".

Is that resistance justified?

The 'cunning plan' for policing student protests

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Martin Rosenbaum | 12:50 UK time, Friday, 11 March 2011

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As the BBC has reported this morning, a Metropolitan Police senior officer preparing for the student protests against tuition fees last December had what he considered a "cunning plan".

Police officers stand in Parliament Square

Whether Baldrick would have done a better job than the Police then did of protecting the car carrying the heir to the throne and his wife is not known. But given what happened, it has proved to be a very unfortunate choice of comedic reference.

The cunning plan developed by the Police consisted of "flexibility", according to the internal briefing paper received by the BBC through a freedom of information request.

If you want to read the entire document, it's here [264KB PDF]. A small word of warning: you may feel disturbed if you have a sensitive disposition when it comes to spelling errors, grammatical mistakes and strange jargon (officers are warned to avoid negative photo opportunities such as drinking coffee while "embussed").

Our FOI application also obtained the Police tactical plan [664KB PDF] for the first student demonstration on 10 November, which resulted in extensive damage to the building housing the Conservative party headquarters.

This plan shows how the Police apparently failed to consider any possibility that the Tory offices could become a target for demonstrators, even though they knew the protest route would go past that building. The Police instead focused on protecting the Palace of Westminster and government buildings such as the Department for Education.

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