I’ve been struggling for a while to articulate my feelings about the measures and metrics we use to hold ourselves accountable in education and then the other day I came across a book called ‘The 12 week year’ by Michael Lennington in which he talks about Accountability.
In the book he explains that Accountability is ultimately ownership. It is a character trait, a life stance, a willingness to own actions and results, regardless of the circumstances. And this got me thinking about accountability in the education sense. All to often we use accountability as a stick to beat people with rather than something to build motivation. We set performance management target to ‘hold’ people accountable rather than asking them how they want to make a difference in their school and fuel their passion for education, thus sacrificing ownership.
This took me back to a conversation I was having in a meeting a while ago. We were looking at our fixed term exclusion figures and being told they were higher than some other schools. Now the figures were what the person leading on behaviour was being held accountable for but the statement was nuts. We’d just introduced a new behaviour policy and quite frankly should have been proud that we were upholding it and changing the culture of the school and he was, as was I. But we were being told to look at the numbers.
What became apparent to me was that actually if you’d ask him, me or anyone else in leadership for that matter what we wanted to be accountable for was the culture in the classrooms, we wanted a calm working environment for our kids and staff and we were getting it, it was just that THIS metric didn’t measure what we were working towards. Of course we didn’t want to exclude students and we had evidence to show that we tried to avoid it as much as possible by providing a range of support before we took this step, but we could not allow these students to run a riot. So we didn’t. Yet being held accountable to some figure that didn’t represent what we were working towards made it look like we had something to ‘fix.’
Luckily we were, as stated earlier in the definition of accountability, willing to stand by our actions, rather than be beaten over the head with a number.
Sam Strickland often talks about this in his talks and it was reassuring to hear him reaffirm it at ResearchEd a few years ago. He spoke about the need to maintain behaviour, be accountable for the culture, the figures this produces are a result but the real thing we are accountable for is the learning culture in the school. Let’s not get the two mixed up.