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Process Improvement in Education




Project timeframe




About the Project

This project was an internship which set out to investigate the implementation of Lean Six Sigma process improvement techniques in secondary education. Application of these techniques has proved highly successful originally in the manufacturing sector and then in the service sector. Even though there is some evidence of utilising these process improvements techniques in higher education, there is very limited research available of application within the secondary education system.

The investigation was divided into two distinct work streams. Initially the objective was to assess the process within the system and identify which of the tools and techniques commonly associated with Lean and Six Sigma management techniques were already in practice. Following on from this investigation, the second work stream looked at understanding the scope of employing these techniques and the benefits it brought to the system.

The main focus of this investigation was to allow for quality education by reducing the time and effort spent on non-value-added educational wastes i.e. activities which do not directly relate to pupil development. Moreover, with tighter financial constraints being imposed on UK state schools handling of the cost/price relations, time and quality of education provided assumes greater importance.


The study took place over a four-week period in the third quarter of 2010. It was undertaken by four core members with the support and knowledge sharing of various industry experts and academics. The two schools selected for the study are of a comparable size and serving a similar community although one school is an all-girls school and the other mixed. The Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) had awarded both schools a Grade 2-Good with respect to overall effectiveness and its capacity for sustained improvements in a recent inspection report.

School A has 1063 secondary school pupils plus 182 sixth form pupils. Although it serves an inner catchment area there are a significant number of students who travel from outside the catchment area. School B has 1288 secondary school pupils and 179 sixth form pupils situated in the western suburbs of Coventry and drawing students from all areas of the city.

Pilot meetings were held with heads of both schools to agree on the area of focus of the study. Previously a national assessment framework had assessed secondary school children; this was abolished in UK in 2009. As a result, schools are having to determine and formalise their own grade assessment and tracking system for their pupils based on reports provided by the Fischer Family Trust. Incidently, heads of both schools identified the process of tracking academic progress as a priority. Semi-structured interviews were used to capture rich data from key members of staff from both schools, including the head teacher, deputy head, various front line teachers, SIMS manager, head of year 11. Example of the questions used to invetigate the process were,

  • What is your role in this process?
  • What can you tell us of the rest of the process?
  • What other roles do you have?
  • How much of your time does this process take up?
  • Do you find that the output of the process is directly or indirectly useful to you?
  • What frustrations do you have with the process?
A high-level process mapping technique, SIPOC (Supplier, Input, Process Output, Customer) was used to engage discussion between staff and map the current processes. This technique best works when there is participation from involved in delivering the process. The activity was run using a sheet of brown paper on the wall with the headings of a SIPOC diagram and staff were asked to fill in the details on Post-It notes and place them under the appropriate headings. The process was returned to at the end of the activity to flesh out in much greater detail at the heart of the diagram. The initial SIPOC diagrams were sent back to the teachers involved for verifications and amendments made where necessary. Further interviews took place to create a detailed process map and to give explanation behind each process step and related activities. The SIPOC diagrams were used to review the activities as value adding, non-value adding and essential non-value adding. A timeline of events was used to assess which activities took up the most time. The results were compared between the schools to look at what is done differently and why. They were analysed against some of the main building blocks of the lean principles for process improvement such as standardisation, quality and consistency. Findings School A- It was found that there are two different processes involved in tracking a pupil’s academic progress i.e different processs for Key Stage 3 and Key Stage 4. For Key Stage 3 the teacher sets the assessment criteria and appropriate assessments. The results for each pupil are recorded in a standard form which acts as a gap analysis of knowledge on the particular subject. This information is passed to the Deputy Head initially for validation of accuracy and then to formulate predictions. The predictions are input into the schools database by the database manager and a progress report is created which can be accessed by the teachers on the shared network and also allowing the Deputy Head to identify which pupils require additional support. For Key Stage 4 the assessment criteria are determined by the exam boards (e.g. AQA, Edexcel, OCR) which guide the teacher in setting the appropriate assessments. The result is then recorded on a spread sheet created by the database manager. Once the data is obtained an initial progress report is produced. This is used for school parent reports. The Head of Year then imports the initial progress report into a spread sheet (CVA Tracker) to identify which pupils need to be addressed. However it was observed that between five to ten teachers would miss the deadline to input the data by up to a period of two weeks. The database manager spends this time finding and addressing teachers who have still to input data. For three weeks in a year the Deputy Head spends 30% of her working time applying further pressure to teachers who do not respond to the database manager. Also evidence was found where in the database manager would input the data into the system if the teachers found it difficult to access the system. Following on is the Intervention Process were the deputy head spends two weeks outside her teaching hours analysing the key stage 3 progress reports. The head of year 11 analyses the key stage 4 report also requiring two weeks of their time. This allows them to identify which pupils are not progressing towards their predicted targets and the actions that need to be taken to address the needs of these pupils. This information is passed on to the relevant subject teacher who then addresses the pupil. The flow of data for the KS3 is from all the teachers to the deputy head. Effectively the deputy head becomes the bottle neck as information from different sources flow into one person. This may create unbalanced work and a much slower process flow as one person is checking, analysing and predicting the data. The benefit of having a single person carrying out these activities is that it may ensure the accuracy of data is maintained. School B: - A common process was used to track the academic progress of all Key Stages unlike school A. The assessment criteria are determined by the exam boards (AQA, OCR, Edexcel etc.) which guide the teacher in setting the appropriate assessments. The teacher marks assessments and inputs the predicted grade into the database. This activity is done three times every academic year. Two weeks is then spent by the deputy head validating the data. The database creates report 1 which is used to communicate the academic progress of pupils with the parents. The Deputy Head then exports the data into a spread sheet which the teachers have access to. This is a colour coded spread sheet i.e. report 2 which is then used by teachers for intervention process and to report out to local authorities. Pupils needing intervention are identified by report 2 and are initially handled by subject teacher of form tutor. For more complex issues, the school council decides what support package is most suitable for the pupil or group of pupils. It was observed that work is balanced throughout the network of teachers. Teachers are responsible for making predictions and inputting data into SIMS. The accuracy of data is checked by the deputy head after the data is put into SIMS. The teachers have responsibility and own the process. The key process inputs for the academic progress tracking process in both schools were identified as timing of inputting the data into the database and the accuracy of the data. It was observed from both schools that there were severe delays in inputting the data and also the need to have multiple check points to validate the accuracy of the data. 30% of the Deputy Head’s time, outside teaching hours, for three months a year, was spent waiting for the data to be submitted, validating the accuracy of this data and chasing up teachers who haven’t submitted the data. There was no standardisation and this affected the timeliness and accuracy of data. It was observed that there was a difference in data gathering methods between KS3 and KS4 in School A. In addition to this, both schools had the same objective but also used different methods of data collection. In both schools, progress reports for pupil intervention are produced from the collected data. However, these reports differed slightly in structure and are also created and used at different times of the year between the two schools. These reports included general school reports, parent reports and spread sheets for tracking the progress of a pupil. In one of the school the deputy head made use of a well-known Lean technique – Visual Management System. The deputy head had pictures of all his Year 11 pupils up on a wall in his office. Behind him were pictures of pupils predicted to do well and achieve their targets in their GCSE’s. He placed green stickers next to each pupil picture. However to his left in his direct view were pupils who required the most attention. Coloured stickers are used to signify whether the pupil is having trouble with Maths, English, and/or attendance. This allowed him to monitor the pupil’s progress and identify those that needed more help than others In School A and School B the IT skills of the teachers were varied. This had an impact on how effective the teachers were in their use of the database, including the time taken to input data. Teachers with better IT skills found the database easy to use and manipulate which meant they were more likely to input data accurately and on time. Both schools employed database managers and a technical team to help the teachers. However getting this support takes time out of the teacher’s schedule. The schools provide training for the database out of school hours but often teachers do not attend. Techniques emerging from business recognize that a good business is nothing more than a set of lean, well run processes. A process re-designed from the ‘outside in’ based on customer, or in this case pupil/parent, feedback will work far more efficiently than a process re-designed from the ‘inside out’ or from the teachers view. Research Team Research Publications