At this year's Annual Conference, ASCL launched a year-long project on Ethical Leadership in Education - you can read more about the background to this in Carolyn Roberts' article Shared Values in issue 96 of Leader magazine.
This is the sixth in a series of eight blog posts, where Carolyn adds further context to the subject and poses questions relating to this proposed new commission.
What professional risks are attendant upon accountability measures?
Or: Proxies and goals
A new headteacher (alright, it was me) once wrote a cheery email to the Director of Education describing the weather, some incidents on the estate and what we were doing about them, and nice stuff about a new head of maths. I got a pretty dusty reply wanting to know two things only: why I’d talked to the local paper about behaviour and what I intended to do about the precarious state of our Key Stage 3 results.
I was confused. Surely it was obvious? We were rebuilding a community and I was appointing the best teachers I could. The behaviour thing was – to me - a helpful story about what we’d now call a zero tolerance approach to children abusing teachers. I hadn’t twigged that results needed somehow to improve first, that the accountability cart came before the professional planning horse. Neigh.
If I’d had the wit of a pencil I would have immediately turned over the entire teaching week to SATs practice and perhaps done something about the test conditions so I could exert maximum leverage, justify myself and safeguard the school. However, I carried on with the plan of rebuilding every part of the school, especially behaviour and staffing, so results would follow.
Time passed and I moved to a school with better weather, where the results should have calmed a different Director and we were pretty well left alone.
I’ve been lucky. Other headteachers took on intractable jobs and were punished for not doing it quickly enough. Other perhaps savvier heads looked at the problem and put accountability first. That led to an interesting definition of ‘success’.
Accountability is to children, to parents, communities and the citizenry. We educate children in the things that society values, and we look after them while they grow and develop so that they may make a contribution to a better world. These things are tricky to measure, so we have measurements for things that are easy, usually exam results. That’s OK, but when they’re pinned to politicians’ places in history, the metrics can’t bear the weight placed on them.
We should have a way of judging what we value and supporting its development. We should have a way of trusting school leaders and supporting their development and systematic planning for a better service.
We should have a rounded view of education and a way of measuring school success alongside exam results. If we can agree on the desired motivations and behaviours of school leaders, and trust them to get on with the job within an accountability system that’s intelligent enough to measure what we value rather than the other way round, then we’ll really serve our young people.
I’m writing this the day after someone set out to kill our children in Manchester. We have so much to do in school amidst insoluble, intractable problems that no one in the world has fixed. We need to be courageous and honest and admit that focusing on numbers hasn’t made the world a better place. Part of ethical leadership for a better system is really grappling with what we do and why, and making sure the people can trust us to do it right.
In 2018, ASCL would like to be able to propose a Code of Ethics for Education so that together, we’ll be able to talk to the public clearly about the ethics we want to pass on to our young people.
In order to achieve this, we need your help. If you would like to be involved in any way, or if you would like to share your views on this important issue, please email firstname.lastname@example.org