My visits to schools in York, Leeds and Sheffield have shown me that we have created a monster that has a corrosive and destructive affect on schools and distorts how local authorities work and support their schools. I have argued for a long time that we need learning leadership, beautiful systems and intelligent accountability and, in this DEMOS report, James Park argues that the current model of accountability is profoundly toxic and is failing to achieve its stated goal of improving education. It sets out an alternative regime, which would allow all children to achieve their potential, while ensuring the quality of education in schools is of a high standard. The report argues that "the assessment and accountability system is toxic because it gives one voice the power to dominate over the others, terminating the discussion, leaving people feeling bruised because they have not been engaged. It does this because it was designed in response to a breakdown in trust between education professionals, policymakers and the wider public. The core belief of this system is that school leaders, and the teams of people who work with them, cannot be trusted to assess the strengths and weaknesses of their organisations, or to develop strategies for making their schools even
better. This can only be done under the supervision of outsiders. Nor can they be relied on to support their students to make good choices in the subjects they study and the qualifications they acquire. Therefore it is necessary for judgements about school quality to be made unilaterally by an external team of inspectors, for these judgements to be heavily influenced by how well students perform on particular tests in a particular set of ‘core’ subjects, and for the choices made by students to be circumscribed by a government perspective on what they ‘need’. A central assumption of the accountability system we have now is that only an external inspection can reveal a school’s faults and virtues, or identify the best way for it to improve. Without the opportunity to be judged by others, the argument goes, no school would ever face up to its limitations and find a way to correct them. The difficulty with this argument is that a system which places such a high value on the kitemark represented by a ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ Ofsted judgement, and threatens upheaval on those schools that receive a less positive rating, is not one that actively encourages honesty and openness. If honesty is central to a trust-rich school system, the emphasis should be on creating incentives to openness."
James Park argues that "the school accountability system in England has a toxic impact on four key groups of people:
- School leaders, who must focus their attention on achieving targets, rather than ensuring that the young people in their charge receive a fulfilling education. The assumption that these things are always the same as each other is false.
- Teachers are also under pressure to make professional compromises, as the challenge of stimulating powerful learning in children and young people has to be carried forward with one eye on the accountability process.
- Children and young people feel responsible, through their performance in tests, for the judgements that are made about their schools, which can have negative consequences for their opinion of themselves and their potential.
- Policymakers feel the need continuously to tinker with the system in order to avoid its current perverse outcomes and try getting it to achieve the intended goals.
The report sets out two key recommendations:
Recommendation One: Standards without standardisation
The first proposal calls on the government to promote student choice by ceasing to define what qualifications young people should acquire.
The second proposal advocates an alternative to the current method of school inspection, instead recommending a dialogue between all key stakeholders.
If you want to read the full report you can download it free at www.demos.co.uk.