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Utilising Control in Arresting Declining School Performance

Question: The examination performance of your private secondary school has been declining for the past few years.  Discuss the controlling process to make it a high quality institution.

Private secondary schools are defined as independent schools which are not administered by the government, state or federal level and have the right to select their own student.  It is funded by charging their students with tuition fees.  The fees are usually high but however because of its performance, parents with better income choose to send their children to private schools rather than government schools.  In this case we will visit Sekolah ABC a private secondary school established in 1991.

For the past few years the numbers of students who scored above 5 As for Penilaian Menengah Rendah (PMR) and 5 As for Sijil Peperiksaan Malaysia (SPM) has declined and the average grades for all subject has also dropped.

Control is one of the four basic managements functions namely planning, organizing, control and influencing.  Control is defined as making something happen the way it was planned to happen (Certo & Certo, 2006).  Planning and control is said to be the Siamese twins of management.  This is because without planning control ability and process is impaired.  Planning and control is inseparable because planning set the organisational objectives and controls exerts measures and ensure that the organisational objectives are achieved as per plan.  Murphy Law states that anything wrong will go wrong.  A well operated system does not mean it does not have any flaws. This put high alarm on managers to ensure that measurement of performance and corrective action is done continuously to ensure its continuous performance.

Controlling is defined as the process which is required to be executed in order for control to be effective.  The control process involves carefully collecting information about a system, process, person, or group of people in order to make necessary decisions. According to EFL Breach, Control is checking current performance against pre-determined standards contained in the plans, with a view to ensure adequate progress and satisfactory performance.

Managers set up control systems that consist of four key steps.  Further explanation follows:

Establish standards to measure performance.  Managers are required to define specific goal to be achieved.  Performing above the standards will be excellent and below standard will be poor.  Achieving the standard will be categorized as good.  The examination performance of Sekolah ABC has been declining for the past few years.  A private secondary school performance is measured by its examination result.  The number of ‘A’s achieved by its student during the critical examination of PMR and SPM reflects highly on the school’s academic achievement.  Its average grade attained by its student is also a form of measurement.  A standard of continuous improvement is required to facilitate continuous improvement and to overtake other competitors.  The target set for the first year is to improve a minimum of 10% from the previous year’s performance.

Measure actual performance.  Many organisations have formal reports, monthly, quarterly and annual reports to indicate the current performance measurement that management will review regularly.  These measurements should be inter-related with the standard set as target.  Sekolah ABC will measure its standard by the examination performance of its students measuring a number of ‘A’s achieved and the average grades acquired.  A key performance indicator (KPI) will also need to be setup to measure these performances.  For the year, Sekolah ABC performance for PMR is 20% above 5 ‘A’s and for SPM is 16% above 5 ‘A’s and the average grade is B- and at 64 points.

Compare performance with the standards.  This step involves comparing the actual performance to the standards that has already been setup.  With statistical figure and a quantifiable measurement this can be easily compared.  The current performance requires and additional 10% of improvement for Sekolah ABC to achieve the standard for the year. This will be carried forward for the next year as Sekolah ABC policy for continuous improvement in academic excellence.

Take corrective actions.  When performance has a variation from the standard, management must decide what changes need to be implemented.  In education system that is examination centric, the score and grades will be the determining factors of the student’s and the school’s performance.  In order for Sekolah ABC to improve, there are corrective actions need to be taken which Sekolah ABC seems to be lacking at which is discipline, teacher’s qualification, the class size, structure of the homework and the selection of student in every year’s intake.

Discipline is a critical set of value in a person which is important for a student.  If a student is discipline, he will follow a set of conduct outlines by the school or the regulation in his surrounding.  Sekolah ABC needs to step up on disciplining the students as part of their education philosophy.  Sekolah ABC should introduce a set of punishment for minor infringement such as withdrawal of priviliges, community service or detention in school.  Students are also encouraged to speak up in classes but in a polite manner and relationship between students and teachers will need to be nurtured to improve the environment of education in Sekolah ABC.

Teacher’s qualification and quality plays a pivotal role in the performance of the teacher.  Previously Sekolah ABC even hires SPM leavers with teaching experience.  These teachers however could not cope and provide to the quality requirement.  For a private secondary school teachers should have a minimum degree in education or degree in technical or science matters depending on the subject taught.  Continuous training and teacher’s improvement will also now be one of Sekolah ABC organisational objectives.

Teacher are encouraged to further study and includes attending Ministry of Education sanctioned Degree or Master’s courses.  Having the correct qualified teacher is important as noted by Henry Brooks Adams “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”  Teacher quality can be improved with experience and self development program initiated by Sekolah ABC.  A journal by Jennifer Buckingham, 2004 on Class Size and Teacher Quality explained that the teacher’s quality plays a significant pivotal role in academic excellence of the students and even the interaction level of the students and plays a major role of the student’s growth academically and even personal life development.

Class size plays a role in the relationship, focus and the quality of teaching environment.  If a class is too big, this will be more difficult to achieve.  Sekolah ABC need minimize its class size from the previous 35 students to a maximum of 25 students.  This will ensure more focus from the teacher to the students is obtained.  Teacher will have difficulties in teaching big classes and students will get less focus if the class size is too big.  Positive outcomes were found for small classes where the small classes have superior academic outcomes (Center of School Assessment, 1986; Chase, Mueller & Walden)

Homework is previously in the hands of the teachers and there is no set of rules to follow.  Homework that is given to the students need to be in a structured manner and is related to the course and syllabus and also encourages the students to have a self learning.  If the homework is given in an interactive and attractive manner, the likelihood of the student doing the homework without the feeling of exerted pressure in meeting the deadline will be less and the result will increase dramatically.  A homework that is issued without added value will prove only as burdensome to the students and the students might choose to ignore it.

Selection of students is pivotal in a private secondary school.  The number of applicants for Sekolah ABC for first year intake is more than 500 every year as opposed to the existing seats of 140.  A good selection of students by having an aptitude test and selecting Ujian Penilaian Sekolah Rendah (UPSR) performers will be a good indication that the student will continue to excel.  Previously Sekolah ABC do not have any aptitude test but only depends on the UPSR result which at sometimes might not reflect the actual capability of the student at the point of intake.

This proposed corrective measure is among the steps Sekolah ABC can take to ensure a continuous improvement in Sekolah ABC examination performance and improving the quality of its students.

An organisation such as Sekolah ABC which needs to improve on its quality standards need to have three types of management control which is pre-control, concurrent control and feedback control.

Pre-control as its name is a control before the work is being performed.  This is also known as feed-forward control and steering control.  Plainly put, a pre-control is a set of rules placed and aim at eliminating predicted problems.  As explained before Sekolah ABC needs to have a more stringent set of rules in selecting its first batch of students.  An aptitude test will be very helpful in order for the teachers to be able to select the most potential from the big pool of applicants.  Sekolah ABC also needs to employ qualified and experience teachers which can assist Sekolah ABC to produce better examination results.

Concurrent control takes place as the work is being performed.  This involves regulating the ongoing activities and ensures that they conform to organisational standards.  This control is designed to ensure that employee work activities that produce results. Sekolah ABC has various methods of measuring the student performance from first year intake until their final SPM examination.  Homework and assignments are given for every subject following the course guide.  There are monthly examination, middle of the year and final examination.  Each of this assignment and examination will serve as a benchmark where the teacher could assess the student’s performance.

There is a syllabus for each course, which states the goals for the course. In addition, there are grading criteria for each course too and which the teachers will use as target and benchmark for the student’s development.  Remedial classes will be held for weak students and under performers and also for the teachers.  Among other controls which Sekolah ABC will exert to improve the quality is by having personal guidance by counselors setup by Sekolah ABC to assist problematic students.  This will improve the psychological being of the students and assist student to study better.  Regular assignments will also be hand out with proper explanation and follow up by the teachers.  By doing the assignment the students will refer to the syllabus and the course guide and will unconsciously trigger the students to study.

A learning environment that is conducive are also important in order for the teachers to ensure that the best of quality teaching is given to the students.  This also includes upgrades of infrastructures at the labs and the school library.  More books coverage to be increased by the schools to cater more extra readings for the students.

As Sir Richard Steele correctly quote “Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.” Parents program are also setup to get feedback from the parents and the students will also be encouraged to give feedback to the school with regards to anything from the teacher’s teaching skills to the infrastructure issues such as a non working toilet.  Extra curricular activities will also be improved to attract students feel at home effort and nurture the student cohesiveness and self development.

Feedback control or post control is a control that reflects on past performance of the organisation.  In order to exercise this control management needs to look at the history of the organisation over a period of time.  There are times however that post control is the only viable control.  Sekolah ABC using the KPI will have a good benchmark to monitor the student’s performance.  As the students move from first year to second year and so on, a graphical and statistical formal report of the students can be generated.  With this the student weak points can be identified and using remedial classes, counselors and also motivational programs this will improve the post control.

Having outlined all of the controlling process and the types of control how do Sekolah ABC ensure that the controlling will be successful?

Sekolah ABC needs to ensure that the correct organisational activities are being focused on.  The standard set is in achieving better examination result, thus good structured assignment, homeworks and exam should be the focus and also the improving of teaching and quality of education in Sekolah ABC to be priority number one. The corrective actions that have been outlined must be done in a timely correct manner.  If the corrective action is not promptly the action which is to be corrected might have aggravated into a bigger problem or the remedial actions cease to be valid. Communication is equally important to ensure the success of controls.  In short, for control to be successful all participants, teachers, students, parents and the management must have the understanding and working knowledge of how the control process operates.

After the implementation of the controlling process for a year, Sekolah ABC performance has risen for PMR to 32% above 5 ‘A’s and for SPM is 28% above 5 ‘A’s and the average grade is B and at 69 points.

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