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

Paul Willcocks blog

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 emotional 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….

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.