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The real measure of success

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Well, it has been another record year for GCSE pass rates the 23rd straight year in a row!

When the decision was taken to merge O Level and CSE systems in 1986, few could have predicted that such consistently high results would follow.

At the time of launch the project objectives were clear: remove years of inequality in the education system, improve clarity around qualifications for prospective employees and most importantly of all, improve standards among the countrys disenfranchised youth.

However, 23 years on, there is a sneaking suspicion is that the desired outcomes are falling someway short. Supporters promote ever increasing standards of achievement, critics claim the exams are getting easier.

The project management story of the success, or otherwise, of GCSEs is in the changing external pressures brought to bear on a project of this magnitude and future state-of-the-nation importance.

A glimpse of the kinds of external pressures exerted on high-profile projects was revealed in the 2010 Arras Benchmark Report. In it, project managers reported that senior management do not always like hearing the truth when things go wrong.

Comments include: "I advised that the project would fail within days of taking over. My words were ignored by my manager.

"(I) came in late and identified some of the problems. I was not given the opportunity to see through to resolution.

This, I suspect, is the key reason for the apparent success of the GCSE initiative. In the 24 years since its inception, the stakeholders surrounding the project have interpreted its outputs to suit their own needs, prejudices and agendas. Whats more, we are using the same metric (results) to measure something that is significantly different to what it was when it started out.

Results are one thing, but perhaps we need to consider other measures of benefit, for example, employer satisfaction with new graduates.

However, as any good project manager knows, measurable improvements perceived as an advantage by one or more stakeholders is always cause for celebration. One of those stakeholders, of course, is the candidate, and their efforts and sense of achievement shouldnt be discounted.


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