My views on the difference between responsibility and accountability have been quite pertinent . I first wrote on this in the TES almost exactly a year ago here and in part restated my views more here As our Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan, defines what a ‘coasting’ school is, exactly who is responsible for the exam results achieved seems very relevant. I’m not going to tackle Morgan’s definition of coasting schools, that’s a whole other issue, but I am very uneasy that it seems to be based almost exclusively on examination success.
Having tweeted a link to my blog on whether cheating is endemic in our schools, I was pleased to see that many others agreed with my sentiment that the only person responsible for exam success is the person sitting the exam.
The blog was not an examination of the issues surrounding accountability and responsibility, but Robert Craigen an Associate Professor of Math, University of Manitobaa did, quite correctly, point out that while I had identified the ‘what’ I had not addressed the ‘to whom’ or the mechanisms for accountability. “I see you address “for what” in the piece. I’m still curious about to whom? Parents EG? By what mechanism? Not assessments?”
Who should hold teachers to account?
The short answer to this is that teachers at various levels should be accountable to a range of people and ‘organisations’.
Classroom teachers will be accountable to their direct line managers for their day to day work, delivering the curriculum through the lessons they teach. Ensuring that they plan their lessons, deliver them, keep up to date with their subject knowledge and with any changes in the curriculum and, of course assess their pupils usually formatively as well as summatively. At key ages they also need to prepare pupils for public examinations . They will be accountable to parents through the dialogue they have with them either at parent evenings, through informal contact at the school gates, or more formal contact via letters and communications to the home.
At a higher level those with curriculum responsibility – that is responsibility for ensuring the curriculum is delivered, will be held accountable by their direct line managers in the senior management team. They will also be classroom teachers and so have the same accountability as already described above.
The senior leaders in a school have a responsibility to effectively run their school, to manage the budget, staff the school etc. Some of these functions are often delegated down (e.g. middle managers handling their own budgets for their areas of responsibility) and overall the Senior Leadership team should be held to account by parents and those organisations/authorities that provide the financial resource for the success of the school as a whole.
Beyond the school who has a say in ‘accountability’
Now things get very messy in my view.
Our system of education in England (I will avoid, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland as their systems vary) is a ‘mash up’ of organisations that ‘run’ schools. Public bodies and private enterprise all have a stake in education and all want their say. From Local Authorities who used to govern all state controlled schools, through to private companies that run private schools as well as Churches, educational trusts (that run academies) and, now, some parent/private groups from football clubs to retailers and the firm that make JCBs that run free schools, technology schools, studio schools etc. Each of these bodies will want to hold teachers to account for the work that they do.
On top of all this we have national central government which, under a cloak of ‘freedom’ for schools is actually imposing strict controls on what children learn from the content of the curriculum to what subjects they should take in the public examinations.
Ultimately schools and their employees will be held to account by the government. Government has a key role here and much as we’d like the government to leave education alone, that is not going to happen. The best we can hope for is that they become the ultimate body that holds the system to account, but does not impose it’s ideological whims on us.
Governments are often here today, gone tomorrow, elected people. They are not necessarily experts in the fields over which they preside. Few secretaries of State for Education have ever worked as a teacher, one key exception was Estelle Morris who was a qualified teacher who did the job for some years. I do not doubt that politicians want education to benefit all children, but they should not impose their own ideologies on something they know nothing about.
I believe in local accountability. Everychild deserves a good school, every child deserves a good teacher. Where we have local accountability I believe things can be better managed and delivered. Knowing the context in which the schools operate, knowing the local situation when it comes to employment, opportunity etc. is vital. Centrally imposed structures that take little heed of local conditions cannot, in my view, meet the demands of the people.
So the next question is HOW do we hold schools to account?
Is it just about examination success or is there more to it than that?
Examination success is one factor for accountability; it is not the only measure of success.
When ‘assessing’ teachers too much is made of ‘lesson observation’. In my work with newly qualified teachers I have seen people destroyed by the ‘one off’ observation or judgement by observation only, forgetting that, in the job of teaching, how good you are is not just how well you perform in a class. We need a holistic view of teachers and teaching. We need to look at the work a teacher does across a range of indicators from how they plan, teach, work as part of a team, reflect, maintain their skills and knowledge base and interact with children, parents and other professionals. All these things to a greater or lesser extent (and others that I have no doubt I’ve missed off this list) determine the success of a teacher.
The same is also true for school success. We need a much more holistic view of what a school does and achieves for all its pupils, not just whether it meets an arbitrary figure of say 60% A* – C in a group of subjects.
Parent’s and children’s views of the school and how successful they think it is are important, so too are the views of other stakeholders such as employers.
At this point, I’ll admit that coming up with a system of accountability that incorporates a holistic view of schools is very daunting, but surely we should at least try? Working out whose view is more/most important is also tricky. Many parents in some areas care little about their local school and probably wouldn’t bother to give a view. Employers want young people with specific skills for their company regardless of how specialised they may be (e.g. JCB is unlikely to rate a local performing arts school that produces talented dancers, singers and actors very highly when what it needs are engineers).
OFSTED, one of our current mechanisms for accountability, is having a very rough time at the moment with confidence in its judgements being quite low for many teachers. But I do believe there is a need for an inspectorate for schools. Again I would rather local inspectorates that understood the contexts etc. that schools operate within rather than teams from all over the country pitching up with no knowledge of the locality, other than having looked at reams faceless data.
This response to the questions of ‘who’ and ‘how’ is really just a knee jerk reaction to the pertinent questions raised by Robert Craigen. My belief is that we must first establish what we mean by responsibility and accountability – something I started to do last year. Once we establish those parameters, then we must move on to answer in full (with better, well-reasoned arguments) the questions of, To whom? and By what mechanism(s)? are teachers/schools accountable.