Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Improving Schools to the Best of Our Accountability

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Improving Schools to the Best of Our Accountability

Article excerpt

Barely a day goes by without someone calling for the abolition of Ofsted, or of Sats, but fewer of us do the opposite: I want to argue for more focus on testing and inspection. For every child who passes through our schools, this is their one chance. We have a duty to get it right - not to mention accounting for the public expense. And while it's tempting to imagine a wonderful world in which none of these things exist, we need to make the most of the system we've got.

But I do think accountability is a bit back to front, particularly in primary where too much emphasis is placed on teacher judgement. Too many seem to think that criticising teacher assessment means mistrusting teachers when, in fact, it is for their benefit that I think we ought to scrap statutory teacher assessment.

The problem with our accountability system is that it's too reliant on soft inputs leading to hard outcomes. Those who argue for more teacher input into assessment put staff in the difficult position of having to balance their honesty and accuracy about an individual pupil with the school's need to meet thresholds and floor standards. The pressure means some feel forced to corrupt their own assessment judgements to satisfy the demands of a headteacher - their employer.

The flaw here is in the use of the outcomes. We still invest too much in the numbers on the page when it comes to school accountability. Unfortunately, this means that the temptation to massage those numbers becomes ever greater. Teachers and school leaders feel they have some control over the inputs, whereas they have none when it comes to outputs. Floor standard percentages are set in stone (aside from the bits that the ministers get to fiddle) and woe betide those who fall below them.

But surely we can be more intelligent than that? The easiest way would be to flip the system completely. …

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