As a teacher, I have always been held to account for my performance – from my competency as a PGCE student, to how well my classes performed. As a head of department I was happy to account for how my subjects performed; if we did well we supported others and when we underperformed we were supported. It seemed rational and humane, robust and necessary.
It is right, proper and fitting that school and system leaders are held to account. Heads have always been accountable to students, their parents and the wider community; to their governing bodies and local authorities. For quite some time there has also been Ofsted. I’ll be honest and say I am unsure where inspection begins and accountability ends in this respect; perhaps it is exactly the same thing.
Academisation has added tiers without seemingly taking any away – headteachers can now also have a CEO; a multi academy trust board as well as a governing body. Of course, this depends on each individual academy and their Trust. Regardless, these are accountable to regional school commissioners. In the game of educational accountability we wonder who owns the “accountability lawn”; it is looking increasingly overcrowded.
In the afternoon workshop on accountability at the HTRT Summit, it became clear that alongside considering WHAT and HOW schools are held to account, we also need to clarify WHO it is that we’re accountable to. This has become too muddled, too dense, too conflicted. Key performance indicators should never encourage unethical practice (such as off-rolling or not being inclusive) and should always be the same, regardless of who we’re being held to account by. What is right for Oftsed should be right for RSCs and should also be right for the children and their parents.
There was a strong consensus in our Summit workshop that schools and heads should be held accountable for:
- Proper use of school finances and resources (such as our annual financial audit);
- Safeguarding decoupled from Ofsted as part of an annual audit process. This would help keep more children safe as it becomes continuous and cultural by design;
- Outcomes across a range of different measures; giving a greater insight into a school’s impact: national assessments, but other multifaceted outcomes such as inclusion, NEETS, attendance, engagement, wellbeing, etc.;
- Within this, taking account of contextual factors, designing measures that actually measure what you want to find out about (for example do KS2 SATs and Attainment 8 measure a school’s effectiveness or its intake?) and a genuine and professional acceptance that it is not possible to fully compare “like for like”. A far more nuanced/uncertain approach is essential including to data;
- The curriculum – a wide and varied curriculum that meets the needs of the children and is not excessively steered by E-Bacc and Key Stage 2 SATs;
- Inclusion – such an important measure given that there are perverse rewards for not being inclusive – not wanting SEND students on roll, or only the right sort of SEND;
- The integrity and professional ethics of the leadership team (including the MAT) that considers staff workload, wellbeing, flexible and inclusive working practices, professional development and investment.
This is not a new tick list for Ofsted or Regional Schools Commissioners; it is time to really consider who is best placed to hold schools accountable for each important aspect of their provision. What can be best done locally; what needs a national assessment? What can be best done from a desktop; what needs a regular visit? Pupils, parents, teachers, school leaders (including governors/directors) and national bodies all have different and complementary parts to play.
Returning to where I started; schools should be held to account for their performance – supporting others where they have strengths and when needed receiving support. Cliff edges and high stakes need to become part of the distant dark ages of accountability; a more enlightened approach is required. The key is to create an accountability system that is rational and humane, robust and coherent that systematically requires and directs all towards ethical behaviour.