Reflections On: Accountability Systems

Maria, our CEO reflects on how we can move towards a better accountability system as part of our new Reflections On series.

Moving the dial in accountability

As we start this new term in January 2024, there is increasing talk about our system of accountability and its fitness for purpose. We know that the current accountability regime has become high-stakes but the tragic death of Ruth Perry and the role of Ofsted has been a salutary reminder of the pressures that our leaders are facing. And whilst most people would agree that it is important for schools to continue to be held accountable it is becoming increasingly clear that the current system needs to be more transparent, well-rounded, and less high-stakes.

Recently there have been a number of research reports about accountability that are well worth a read and increasingly, with a new HMCI, there feels like there might be a change afoot. The challenge for the sector is that any change in our accountability system may have other unintended consequence – no school accountability system is perfect – but we must seek the one that supports our ambition that every child and young person can achieve and thrive.

“Effective approaches to accountability may involve a move in emphasis towards ‘professional accountability’ systems and collaborative, less hierarchical approaches where ‘teachers are accountable not so much to administrative authorities but primarily to their fellow teachers and school principals.”

Andreas Schleicher, OECD

Honest, robust, enquiry-based self-evaluation

One of the main components of one of the recommendations in the Beyond Ofsted report is moving schools to a model of self-evaluation with validation by a School Improvement Partner (SIP).

We know that robust self-evaluation is an invaluable tool in a cycle of long-term school improvement. There are a myriad of models, however. And for too long, self-evaluation in schools has been undertaken for a third party, normally Ofsted, using their criteria and with the associated high stakes.

At its best, though, school self-evaluation should support schools in shining a light on their own practice, to support a self-sustaining approach to school improvement and this needs to be facilitated by a greater emphasis on schools’ own professional accountability rather than that of external forces. The whole school community – learners, teachers, support staff, governors, parents and the local community – need to contribute to the process.

Surrey Inclusion Framework

One of our greatest challenges in Surrey, as we have reflected on before, is the disparity between outcomes for our underserved learners and other learners. Any self-evaluation process must therefore also incentivise schools to be ambitious and inclusive, include a focus on our underserved learners and capture the real story of the school.

Over the past year we have developed a Surrey Inclusion Framework which is easily accessed through the Evaluate My School (EMS) platform. The purpose of the Surrey Inclusion Framework is founded in curiosity and a desire to capture the story of the school, to understand our practice and to improve the overall quality of the experience of our children in every setting. Because this form of self-assessment is based on a need for the school to know itself well and a desire to hold itself to account, it is more likely to be robust and honest.

Currently about 100 schools across Surrey are using the Surrey Inclusion Framework on EMS. We have been using it as part of our national work on accountability in addition to the Supporting Continuous Improvement in Inclusion programme. We are currently finalising a guide to using it alongside a number of school case-studies.

How to use the Framework and Evaluate My School

The Framework and Evaluate My School are available from SAfE for no cost to a school or to a MAT – the framework can be used both at school or MAT level. Schools can use all of the framework or choose to adapt or amend and use parts of it.

All schools can access and use this framework regardless of whether they are part of the associated Supporting Continuous Improvement in Inclusion programme. Watch a short introductory video here and drop us an email to get your log in.

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