London School of Economics and Political Science: Better management practices in further education colleges boost attainment of students from disadvantaged backgrounds

Students get higher grades when they attend educational institutions that are good at managing operations, monitoring performance, target setting, and recruiting and retaining talented teachers and staff. That is the conclusion of the first study to evaluate management practices in UK further education (FE) colleges.

The research – Do Management Practices Matter in Further Education? – published today by the Centre for Vocational Education Research (CVER) at the London School of Economics and Political Science, shows that good management practices matter in general and have a greater impact on low-income students than on their wealthier peers.

Good management practices are positively associated with student outcomes. For example, students in colleges with an average management score of 4.64/5 are two percentage points more likely to achieve a level 3 qualification (e.g. A-levels or BTEC) and two percentage points more likely to go to university than those at a college with a management score of 4.28/5.

For poorer students good management practices are especially important, both because poorer students are over-represented in FE colleges and because better management practices are more strongly associated with their later outcomes (about twice as much as the average student). In a hypothetical scenario where a student moves from a college with relatively poor management practices (i.e. 10th percentile) to one with relatively good practices (i.e. 90th percentile) they would be eight percentage points more likely to achieve a level 3 qualification (closing the educational gap with non-poor students by about half).

“Well-managed FE colleges have the potential to be engines of social mobility,” Sandra McNally, director of CVER and co-author, said. “About half of 16 and 17-year-old students go on to FE and sixth- form colleges after completing Year 11, and the share of students from disadvantaged backgrounds is about twice that in other educational settings.”

The study measured the quality of management in colleges by asking college principals 21 questions about their management practices across college operations, monitoring, target setting and people/talent management – with each scored between 1 and 5, where 5 indicates the college has fully adopted good practice.

The authors stress that good management is correlated with – but not the same as – good leadership.

“Principals do matter, but management practices can be thought of as a type of organisational technology, evolving slowly as particular leaders come and go,” Anna Valero, deputy director of the Programme for Innovation and Diffusion and paper co-author, said.

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