Christine Gilberts think piece on accountability in a system with autonomous schools

Key is school led accountability in a self-improving system Comment

Research suggests a link between positive outcomes and school autonomy but only if combined with sufficient accountability (OECD, 2010; 2011). Drawing on evidence from 22 evaluations in 11 countries, the World Bank (2011) highlights the importance of the following for better pupil outcomes

: — information to strengthen the ability of students and their parents to hold providers accountable for results — schools’ autonomy to make decisions and control resources — teacher accountability for results

The role of local authorities in the increasingly autonomous landscape is unclear (we have previously looked at arguments over the need for a middle tier-see also Robert Hills report for RSA). Christine Gilbert in  this  new think piece  asks  the key question-  how should the current accountability system evolve to support a more autonomous and self-improving system?

Gilbert says know that, in any system, it is the difference in teachers – most particularly the quality of their teaching and the relationships with their pupils – that makes most difference to children’s learning. Teachers themselves have to be at the centre of a self-improving system. They have to own it and drive it. Recent research (Isos, 2012) also indicates there is no single strategic response from local authorities to a more autonomous system. It is likely that a range of models will begin to emerge with a sharper focus on the local authority as a commissioner, shaping and raising aspirations for learning and education. Gilbert argues that it is time to re-balance the current framework by giving greater emphasis to school-led accountability that is rooted in moral purpose and professionalism.

This will require:

a shift in mind-set and culture so that accountability is professionally owned rather than being seen as externally imposed — a greater emphasis on formative accountability as an essential complement to summative accountability — capturing the benefits more fully of within-school and across-school collaboration, in particular peer review, for challenging and developing the work of teachers and the learning of students — realising the value of governance more effectively within and across schools — new approaches to inspection in support of a self-improving system — exploring the changing role of local authorities as champions for children and commissioners of services for them — using school-led excellence networks to develop capacity and ensure support for all who need it.

The secretary of state has made clear his commitment to a self-improving system and to creating the conditions to enable this to become established. Many school leaders have shown they are willing and able to develop a culture and practice of reflection and enquiry within and beyond their schools that underpins self-improvement. No school has all the answers and the very best schools are eager to do better still. When all schools are challenging each other and using that challenge as a support for better practice, accountability will be seen as a positive and practical tool to raise aspirations and accelerate improvement.

One is reminded of  Andreas Schleicher’s viewpoint. Schleicher, the   chief education adviser  to the OECD, reflecting on his experience of  different education systems,  said ”  Modern education is about enabling professional autonomy within a collaborative culture”


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