By Christine Gilbert, Visiting Professor, UCL Institute of Education, and LocalED Adviser, Pilot 3, Simon Rea, Director, Isos Partnership. Posted 13th May 2022.
It is hard to imagine any sustained debate about education reform in which the word ‘accountability’ would not be used. Usually, it is interpreted negatively as unhelpful pressure on schools and teachers. This is because it is generally associated with public accountability: results, league tables and inspection. But accountability in its truest sense is much broader and more important than that.
A system of professional accountability operating at the level of the individual teacher, the individual school and across networks of schools can provide a source of professional aspiration and improve teachers’ knowledge, skills and practice. As such, it deserves championing as an essential element of any school system. This LocalED project (Pilot 3) seeks to reclaim accountability so teachers see it as a welcome and even energising support for their practice and development.
We want to work with a number of local areas to pilot approaches to developing an accountability system that is rigorous but less ‘high stakes’ than the current model. This should operate at the level of the individual teacher, the individual school and across networks of schools but should also be considered a key part of the national system. It should support professionalism in schools, teacher development and school improvement so that children are better supported in their learning. Pilot 3 will develop a vision of what stronger professional accountability looks like in action.
The intention is to use the on-going learning from the pilots to consider how parts of the current accountability system could evolve to provide better support for, and validation of, a system of professional accountability. In developing work in this pilot, we intend to draw on learning from relevant international jurisdictions.
What are we seeking to achieve with this project?
Working with the pilot leads in each local area involved, we want to achieve a shift in mindset and culture that enables teachers to feel greater ownership of accountability so it is seen as professionally owned, rather than being externally imposed. There will, of course, be an emphasis on both the individual teacher and the school but also on engaging other teachers, pupils, parents and the community to support accountability.
We want to explore how to pilot different approaches to school accountability. The best schools know themselves well so strong internal evaluation is an essential professional discipline which gives a secure foundation on which schools and local areas can build. The process of review and evaluation should involve others within the school community and beyond.
We want to see children and young people engaged as well as teachers and parents. We hope to see interaction and collaboration across local schools that is motivating and professionally inspiring. The leaders from the pilot areas have already shown interest in the development of processes such as self-evaluation, collaborative practice, peer review or collaborative enquiry, and appraisal too has already been mentioned in meetings.
We might want to think too about the potential of an annual school report card, which could provide fuller and richer information to parents beyond test results and inspection reports. We want to understand how these approaches might support teachers and schools to develop, provide excellent information for parents, and enable the local area to understand common needs and priorities. This is likely to involve the use of a broad range of interesting data, evidence and observation to support organisational improvement, particularly in relation to teaching and learning.
During the course of the pilot, we will ensure we capture the benefits and difficulties of within-school and across-school collaboration. We intend exploring different approaches to peer learning, for developing the work of teachers and the learning of pupils.
A particular interest will be on piloting approaches that might be credibly scaled up across a wider number of schools. There is considerable interest in developing our current external model of accountability to give a greater focus on improvement. As the pilot develops, we might explore how external accountability could be used as a support for stronger internal or professional accountability, as it is in some other countries.
What are we going to do next?
We will be working closely with the leaders of the four local partnerships who were selected for the pilot:
- Ealing Learning Partnership
- Learn Sheffield
- Milton Keynes Education Partnership
- Schools Alliance for Excellence in Surrey
These are different in size and approach but similar too as each is a school-led partnership with deep roots in moral purpose and a commitment to all children in the local area. They have pride in their local community and gain strength from it. In varying degrees, the schools in these partnerships share accountability for all the children in local schools. Each of the four partnerships is expecting to work collaboratively with schools in their area to support their development as well as with each other.
We have met with all four partnerships and enjoyed initial conversations not only about what they hope to achieve from their involvement but also what they bring to the initiative. They are all keen to learn from each other but are ambitious to go further. As the pilot progresses, we want to learn from international experiences too.
As the pilot makes progress, we plan to respond to the current interest in professional accountability by opening up some of our roundtables and conferences to wider communities of interest.
As the pilot gets underway, we will share updates and learning from this pilot. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
The first workshops were held with Pilot Leads for Pilot 3 on April 29th 2022.