Accountability for improvement and the emerging school led system

The landscape of education in England has been transformed over the last five years.

It was about then that I sat in a small back office with the now Chair of the Education Select Committee, Neil Carmichael MP. We were in his constituency office, then in Stroud, late one gloomy Friday evening when Neil introduced me for the first time to the then Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove MP.
We had a very interesting and thought provoking conversation about the move to a school led system and in particular the challenges faced by primary schools in the emerging academy landscape of autonomy with accountability.

We considered seven key questions:
1. What would an effective accountability framework for academies and trusts in the emerging landscape look like?
2. What would accountability to parents and governing boards – in easy to navigate formats – look like?
3. How can we portray holistic performance, trajectory, risk and mitigation in a simple and powerful way?
4. How can we do that for one school and how do we do that across a complex network of schools?
5. What would appropriate structures of leadership and governance be?
6. What could / should growth look like and what tools would we require to manage change and growth – and avoid failure?
7. How will we identify needs and procure appropriate and approved services?

Let’s consider the first of those questions.

It is s a key part of the government’s plan to give schools a central role in raising standards by developing a self-improving and sustainable school-led system. There is a complex relationship between attainment, autonomy, collaboration and accountability.

Accountability stems from the Latin accomptare (“to account”), a prefixed form of computare (“to calculate”), which is derived from putare (“to reckon”). Although the word itself does not appear in English until its use in thirteenth-century Norman England, account-giving has roots in record-keeping activities related to governance and money lending systems first developed in Ancient Israel, Babylon, Egypt, Greece, and later, Rome. In this sense accountability is concerned with the past – settling up accounts.

Greg Bustin, in his wonderful book “Accountability” writes that for him, “accountability has its foundations in the past but the emphasis is on the future: Doing what you said you would do within the time frame you agreed to do it.”

For me accountability is about improving performance – collectively. By performance I mean the holistic performance of organisations and individuals within those organisations.

The White Paper – Educational Excellence Everywhere – describes the need for “fair, stretching accountability, ambitious for every child” that focuses on the progress of all pupils. Multi-academy trust accountability through performance tables will very much be overseen by the Regional Schools Commissioners’ Head teacher boards that will hold trusts to account. As performance relates to pupil progress and attainment in such a model and not holistic pupil or organisational performance, accountability in this model is about a focus on pupil outcomes.

Sir David Carter, National Schools Commissioner refers to accountability in “Characteristics of successful multi-academy trusts” where he describes “leading” MATs as those where there is a clear path of accountability that enables “discussions” to take place from the Trust Board Chair to the CEO, the Trust Board Chair to Chair(s) of any local governing bodies, the CEO to Principals and Principals to their team members that improves standards.

We can only further enhance access, achievement and aspiration for children and young people by considering holistic competencies as indicators of holistic performance. We will only further enhance the success of an autonomous school led system if we consider the interdependency of organisational competencies and portray them in such a way as to enhance holistic performance, account for improvement and mitigate the risk of failure. This involves a greater analysis than one that focuses on pupil outcomes or standards and a business model that is broader and more balanced than one predicated on the number of students in the organisation.

For me accountability is:
The obligation and the ability of an individual or an organisation to account for its activities, accept responsibility for them and disclose the impact of those activities in a transparent manner.

Take a closer look at your MAT or alliance. Does your learning community account for its activities, accept responsibility for them and disclose the impact of those activities in a transparent and easy to navigate manner?

iEd learning communities do. They have effective accountability frameworks providing clear quality assurance systems to improve consistency and holistic performance. They have a common understanding of what outstanding holistic performance is and a clear commitment to accountability for improvement.

Find out more about “Accountability for Improvement” at