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Command and control and accountability agendas and the impact on all learners

If, like me, you believe that personal, professional and school development is dependent on a culture and ethos that recognises, supports this, and which is built on trust, where does this leave us in a prevalent culture that is focused on comand, control and accountability agendas? 

We need to be encouraging and supporting our teachers to innovate and be continually examining and developing their practice. I spoke with a couple of teachers recently who were saying to me that they were desperate to innovate and try new things, but the culture within their schools was working against them in this. They described a school leadership style which was very directive, kept adding to their workload as new directives came from outside the school, and which was looking for the same characteristics of practice in every teacher. Does this sound familiar? I was hoping such cultures were diminishing and disappearing, but I'm afraid they may be on the rise again as school leaders themselves face a barrage of command, control and accountability agendas from Academy Boards. Ofsted, HMIE, quangos, local authorities, local and national politicians, and all supported by a media who are predominately right-wing in outlook. Such a culture, supported by high-stakes testing and league tables, can lead to many school leaders adopting the very same approaches in their own establishments, and therefore exactly the same can  appear in classrooms. Such cultures promote tick-box approaches to school development and what Mark Priestly has described as 'performability' defined as 'a pressure to perform in particular ways, most notably in terms defined and measured by external factors.' 

Do we ever stop to consider what such cultures promote in our learners? I don't thing such cultures will help us develop what Carol Dweck has called 'Growth Mindsets'. They are more likely to promote the exact opposite, as they see teachers and school leaders demonstrating the very 'Fixed Mindsets' that we should be striving to move away from. Such cultures are unlikely to promote innovative practice or thinking by anyone. They lead to data-driven approaches of the worst kind and teaching-to-the-test approaches that are the anathema of free thinking and innovation. Is that really what we want for our learners, schools and education systems? I think not. We all need to utilise data to inform our actions and to help us validate the success of otherwise of our actions. To do that we need to engage intelligently and critically with data and not just use it for our interests or agendas, which it is possible to do with all data. I have seen the same data being used to justify completely opposing courses of action. One of first steps when using data should be to examine its accuracy and validity for the purpose to which it is being applied. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you standardised testing!

We are and need to be held to account. Schools and education are funded, mostly, from public funds, and it is right that we should account for how we use those funds for maximum impact for all our learners. However, there is real danger when accountability measures begin to dominate and drive our actions. All teachers, schools and their leaders should embrace their responsibilities as public servants, but also as professionals and their professional knowledge base. We should be prepared to argue, and present research and evidence, for our actions, and be able to defend our practice against the uninformed, misinformed or dogma of others. If all we focus on is controlling, commanding and holding to account those within the system we promote a culture of fear, low morale and poorer outcomes for our learners. A disservice to them and the communities in which we live and work.

To raise attainment and address equity gaps we need a system that encourages people to think and give of their best. The highest performing education systems across the world have high degrees of trust in, and respect for, the teaching profession. Whilst they still have accountability agendas they are not as high-profile or directive as many we experience. Many who have had such an approach are now looking to change what they do, either because they have been shown to clearly fail, or because they recognise such an approach is now no longer fit for purpose. I suppose this is all about balance, and for many of our schools, teachers and systems, I don't feel we have the balance right. The people who suffer the most when the balance is wrong are our learners, pupils and teachers!


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