Benchmarking for School Improvement: A Practical Guide for Comparing and Improving Effectiveness

Benchmarking for School Improvement: A Practical Guide for Comparing and Improving Effectiveness

Benchmarking for School Improvement: A Practical Guide for Comparing and Improving Effectiveness

Benchmarking for School Improvement: A Practical Guide for Comparing and Improving Effectiveness


Benchmarking is a term used by the DfEE and OFSTED to describe a school's performance against a national or local average. This useful guide helps senior management teams of schools or colleges, to undertake their own benchmarking, with the aim of increasing effectiveness and improvement. Tony Kelly looks at the different types of benchmarking and what should be benchmarked and why. He discusses the possibility of forming a benchmarking partnership with another organisation which is acknowledged to be better performing. He also addresses the process of forming a benchmarking team within a school or college. Practical guidance is provided on techniques such as making an effectiveness comparison, targeting for improvement, and producing target-setting tables and benchmarking comparison charts. The content of the book has been based on extensive research from the UK and overseas. It provides step-by-step advice, photocopiable templates and suggestions for further reading.


Benchmarking is the analysis and comparison of performance across organisations or parts of an organisation, with a view to improvement. Individuals and organisations have always sought to improve their performance by studying what others did-it is good practice and is done all the time in the commercial sector.

There are two types of benchmarking. One relies on a comparison of outcomes against an average statistical attainment; the other on a comparison of critical processes against those in another organisation acknowledged to be more effective. Unfortunately, the term is used rather loosely to describe all manner of comparisons, without much effort being made to distinguish between the two. Unlike the commercial sector, government organisations in education espouse the 'statistical' type and naturally, most schools and colleges have come to think of benchmarking in similar terms.

Schools and colleges have therefore neglected business-type benchmarking, due partly to this lack of promotion and partly to a suspicion that business methods are not easily transferred to an education paradigm. This latter concern is legitimate, of course-some practices are specific to their business context-yet others are transferable. Comparative benchmarking is one such case and this book is an attempt to facilitate its transfer to education from a business setting, where it has a long and distinguished history of initiating and sustaining improvement.

The benchmarking story starts in 1959, when Xerox invented the first plain paper copier. The company became synonymous with photocopying until the mid-1970s, when a number of important patents ran out and Xerox's market share plunged. The company found itself squeezed between Japanese firms operating at the cheap end of the market and IBM at the other. Analysis revealed a large disparity in effectiveness between Xerox's different subsidiary companies and in response, the company developed an internal benchmarking system for its manufacturing, administrative and support processes. Benchmarking became the main agency for a change that eventually saw the company recapture more than one-third of the market it had lost (Zairi, 1996).

The well-publicised success of Xerox, coupled with the modern necessity to focus on process, has added further impetus to benchmarking as a modern quality management tool. In the intervening years, it has revolutionised business culture by focusing on how critical functions are best performed and how effectiveness comes about. It has encouraged change through partnership and has moved the focus away from the organisation itself, towards the customer and the competitor.

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