School leaders’ union NAHT and the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) have each published new studies into the school accountability system in England
Both reports delve into the twenty-five-year history of performance tables and school inspection and examine current debate about their future; their publication coincided in order to provide objective evidence for policy-makers.
The reviews both look at accountability as a mechanism for holding educational institutions to account for the delivery of high-quality education, however, they also recognise that such systems can have negative outcomes too. In both reports the effectiveness of accountability systems ar assessed, their effectiveness noted and conclusions drawn.
NFER’s literature review, What Impact Does Accountability Have on Curriculum, Standards and Engagement in Education?, identifies and evaluates research evidence on the impact of different types of accountability systems.
Carole Willis, chief executive of the NFER, said:
“Overall, our review demonstrates that there are pros and cons in all accountability systems, including those in high performing countries. Different elements of accountability need to complement each other to minimise unintended consequences, and consideration given to how professional accountability can play a greater role in school improvement.
“Transparent information on school and pupil performance can be used to improve education and to provide information to parents and the wider public. But, as NAHT’s report demonstrates, it is essential that there is a level playing field where performance is judged fairly, and there is a focus on doing what is right for all pupils to succeed”.
Nick Brook, NAHT’s deputy general secretary and the chair of the association’s Commission on Accountability, will say:
“The way in which schools are being held to account is, on balance, doing more harm than good. NAHT’s Accountability Commission is intended to be a constructive contribution, to start a debate that is urgently needed on the future of school accountability.
“It cannot be right that teachers and leaders are put off working in schools in challenging areas because they simply do not believe that the inspection system will treat them fairly for doing so. Fear of accountability has fundamentally changed how many leaders lead their schools, created workload and encouraged defensive behaviours, that are more to do with being ‘inspection ready’ than improving the learning of pupils. The recommendations outlined in this report would reduce and eradicate many of the negative impacts associated with current arrangements and help raise educational standards further across all schools.”
Andreas Schleicher, director for the Directorate of Education and Skills at the OECD, contributed to NAHT’s report and said:
“These reports identify the importance of strengthening lateral accountability in the English system. This is a feature of many of the highest performing international jurisdictions, where accountability is vested at a more local level and reputational metrics mean that great teachers are attracted to the toughest schools.
“In such systems teachers themselves are often their severest critics – a managed transition away from a top-down system based on compliance and intervention, to one where the profession takes much greater ownership and responsibility for the quality of the curriculum and pupils’ learning is potentially transformative.”
Alison Peacock, CEO of the Chartered College of Teaching and a member of the Commission:
“I am fortunate in my role to have the opportunity to see the great work of our teachers first hand. However, with the immense pressures they face, if we are to ensure pupils receive the best education, teaching expertise needs to run through the DNA of every single school.
Changing the educational landscape to one of intelligent accountability borne out of peer review and collegiality requires system leadership from within the profession. That is why the Chartered College of Teaching’s new Leadership Development Advisory Group is so important to highlight evidence about the most effective ways to lead learning within schools.
This is the opportunity to put in place something which will benefit the whole of the teaching profession. It’s time for school leaders to make clear that our own expectations exceed those of any government or external inspection system. To be a professional is to be accountable to those we teach and to those we work with.”