Chapter 9: Accountability
There were conflicting views around current accountability arrangements.
There was no consensus as to how to the current system could be improved. Ideas provided were diverse.
There was overall agreement, however, that paperwork should be reduced and some questioned the need for two bodies conducting inspections with regard to early learning.
Respondents were asked how the accountability arrangements for education could be improved.
On the whole, both organisations and individuals had polarised views on how well current accountability arrangements were working. One respondent's perceived systemic strength was often another's systemic failing. Analysis of responses revealed a balance of positive and negative comments around current accountability arrangements.
Looking first at the positive mentions, it was felt that current accountability arrangements were sufficient and that no more layers were needed. Of those that provided positive comments, organisations and individuals alike thought there was a clear line of accountability that was well understood. Individuals cautioned against changing accountability arrangements for fear of creating opacity within the system. Many individuals who felt positively about accountability arrangements attributed the strength of these to local or "democratic" accountability. Of those that felt this, most thought this stemmed from the unique position of local authorities, who respondents saw as both directly accountable to the electorate and a connector to national policy. Concerns were raised within this group about the prospect of either greater autonomy for schools and parents, or greater centralisation.
On the negative side, general criticisms revolved around:
- the time spent evidencing accountability and the strenuous bureaucratic arrangements around it;
- a requirement for two different inspection bodies, particularly in respect to early years provision;
- a conflict of interest when policy and advice was being delivered by the same body which was responsible for its quality assurance.
Of those who felt negatively about current accountability arrangements, some individuals felt that current arrangements allowed complete unaccountability to exist in the system. Strong negative comments towards local authority accountability were doled out in equal measure to positive ones. For those who felt there was a lack of accountability, the majority stated that this was due to the ability to 'pass the buck' between national government, local authorities and other agencies, with no one claiming responsibility. Individuals expressed a specific frustration at a lack of accountability regarding additional support needs, with a few individual mentions of no one being answerable to the complaints of parents.
Many individuals that mentioned accountability in a negative light felt that there was a problem of 'over-accountability', as one person put it. An unhelpful culture of blame was mentioned multiple times, with the brunt of this felt by teachers. Part of this problem was attributed to accountability, at present, being equivalent to attainment and inspection. Individuals believed this to be an inadequate way of measuring the success of schools, and thought the inspection system needed to change.
Furthermore, there was a palpable concern from organisations as to what it would mean for accountability arrangements if greater powers were given to schools and teachers. Further clarity was requested by respondents around expected levels of accountability and transparency at a school and a regional level.
Respondents to the consultation provided a wide range of possible solutions to improve the current system. No single idea came through particularly strongly across the responses provided, with most getting one or two mentions. Additionally, there were many examples of conflicting ideas. Some examples are provided below:
- One organisation suggested that accountability should recognise individuality and that perhaps a more traditional route is not the best option for learners;
- Another organisation desired standardisation in accountability across the board, with clear guidelines and scores;
- One organisation, and a few individuals, asked for more regular inspections and no notice for all HMIE inspections, described by one individual as "on the spot" inspections;
- Many organisations and some individuals felt that current arrangements should be streamlined ( i.e. minimised) and that more trust should be placed in professionals;
- Another respondent asked to avoid league tables so as to minimise competition between schools and teachers. Some respondents suggested that league tables and school accounts should be produced and published to offer greater transparency;
- A few individuals wanted to see greater parental accountability and engagement in their children's education.
All organisations agree, however, that paperwork should be reduced and some questioned the need for two different bodies to conduct the early years inspections.
Email: Daniel Waddell
Phone: 0300 244 4000 – Central Enquiry Unit
The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House