Stories + Views
Is efficiency really the new accountability?
Talking to various politicians and parents and others in recent years about education, I have noticed a worrying shift in attitudes about school accountability. As local authorities are progressively stripped of their power and funding – with barely a squeak let alone a snarl of protest! - and more and more trusts, charities and businesses take over our schools, few seem to be asking or even caring about the bigger questions about democratic scrutiny, checks and balances, and value for money for parents and tax payer.
In fact, it seems that efficiency is the new accountability: as measured by high pass rates, and Oxbridge entrance successes. As one Labour MP said to me, ‘ Parents want results. They don’t care how that is brought about.’ Another, a teacher in a high performing academy , asked me with a genuinely puzzled frown, ‘ But why should it matter how a school is run, if the school is good?’
Add to this, the familiar comments about how some poorly performing local authorities have let their children down; never a reference to the many excellent local authorities who have done such a good job of supporting schools in their area.
No, we now seem in the grip of a new independent school philosophy; minimal transparency and accountability; maximum performance and returns for your investment.
Democracy on the other hand is increasingly presented as this rather cumbersome, messy set of relationships that do not response well to command and control and that largely involves troublesome people whose day to day concerns will only slow down the running of a well oiled machine.
No need to point out the obvious problems this attitude. But I will.
On the most fundamental level, state schools are a public service; so it follows, accountability to the public is crucial.
2. As Rob Morgan’s post about Tamworth on this site shows, the more the private sector take control, the more we see accusations of secrecy, lack of consultation and control freakery within schools. His headline said it all, ‘Community forced to take an academy.’
3. Private is not alway best in education. Local parents and representatives are the ones most likely to understand a community and the needs of a school. Not only is consultation and participation and a role in school scrutiny their right, but it also means a body of collective shared knowledge and expertise is built up and handed from parent to parent/family to family/councillor to councillor in a particular area. Take that away and you make of us all spectators of busy people in expensive suits deciding what is best for our child.
4. What happens when a school starts to falter and decline? Presumably, when a private school fails, parents take their business somewhere else. When an ‘independent state school’ fails, already cut off from the local authority and deserted possibly by a sponsor, who will step in, particularly when the community and elected representatives have been disempowered and shut out for so long?
I am all for outstanding results and outstanding teaching but in the current climate, the argument seems to be, the market is the only mechanism capable of delivering it.
A call to the LSN and affiliated bodies; we need to reinvigorate or quite possibly, revive, the very idea of democracy in relation to our schools.