Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Ministries' service plans deal with past failures by moving the goalposts

The Liberal government’s ministry service plans are supposed to provide accountable. They set out key goals, plans to reach them and - importantly - ways to measure or success of failure.

But since 2001, the measurements have been getting fewer. And when the government fails, it simply changes the targets.

Take the education ministry service plan, released along with the budget.

The performance measurements include the percentage of aboriginal students graduating from high school within six years of starting Grade 8.

Back in the 2008 plan, the ministry claimed it had measures and budgets in place to make real progress on the dismal educational success rate of First Nations students. The rate was 53 per cent in the previous year, the ministry said. But rise each year, to 63 per cent by 2010/11.

This year’s plan says the rate was 53.7 per cent in 2011/12. The goal now is 58 per cent by 2014/15.

That’s pretty disastrous failure to achieve the goals set out in the ministry’s own plan.

Or consider another important measure, the percentage of students starting kindergarten “developmentally ready” to learn. That’s a measure of their health and social, mental and emtotional development - a litmus test, if you like, of our success as a society in raising kids.

In the 2008 plan, the ministry reported 70.4 per cent of children entering kindergarten were ready to learn (down from 72.1 per cent in 2004). The plan, citing StrongStart centres and other measures, said that would improve to 75 per cent by 2010/11.

But the current plan reveals that only 69.1 per cent of students entering kindergarten were ready to learn last year - things actually worsened instead of improving. The plan still projects an improvement to 75 per cent. But now it will take until 2014.

Over in the children and families ministry, the service plan includes a performance measurement based on the percentage of children in the government’s continuing care who are at the right grade level for their age.

The percentage was 78.8 per cent last year; the plan calls for it to increase to 80.5 per cent by 2014/15.

But the 2009 plan set the level the previous year at 78.7 per cent. By 2011 it was to rise to 83 per cent.

So the plan failed. There was no measurable progress. And the goals have been cut back, rather than delivering on the commitment to make the lives of kids in care better.

It’s to be expected, and even welcomed, that ministries miss some goals. If they didn’t, that would be a sign that they weren’t setting challenging targets.

But it shouldn’t be acceptable just to move the goalposts any time there is a failure in achieving targets that the government itself identified as critical.

And all the service plans deserve a lot more scrutiny from public and media.


Ian said...

Check out the past four AG Service Plans. The "measures" bounce around so much you'd think you were in the Ikea ball room. The only logic is: we cut funding so lets change the goals.

By the way I'm loving the posts on the new life.

Sharon Gregson said...

You've illuminated these sad statistics so well Paul thank you. And your final comment that "all the service plans deserve a lot more scrutiny from public and media" is so true. Tax cuts have not achieved the success for children, families or communities that we've long been promised by the Liberals in Victoria - or by the Conservatives in Ottawa.