How are schools held accountable in OECD member countries?

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In education, schools are accountable to a number of stakeholder groups including national and local governments, parents, pupils and the public for the quality of education they provide. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) published information about how schools are held accountable in its 34 member countries. For some unknown reason, the OECD sometimes gives figures out of 35, sometimes 31.

Accountability is measured in three main ways:

Performance accountability

Performance accountability focuses on outcomes not on processes. The OECD has warned there is too much emphasis in England on raw exam results. “Fair and effective measures of performance accountability take into account the needs of the students and the families they serve and the resources available to serve them,” the OECD said.

National examinations* are used by 23 out of 35 OECD member countries at the end of upper secondary school (18+). National assessment*, which informs teaching, is more common at lower secondary level and primary schools in OECD countries. However, England, Northern Ireland and Wales are unique in having a large number of high-stakes national examinations at the end of lower secondary (16+).

Regulatory accountability

This is the legal framework which governs how schools operate. The most common regulation is one which expects schools to provide information about pupil characteristics to authorities. Other “compliance” regulations govern such things as safety, curriculum, facilities and grounds, and teacher qualifications. In England, the Government allows academies to opt-out of rules governing teacher qualifications, the quality of school food and the National Curriculum. And planning laws are being relaxed for free schools to make it easier for them to find premises. Whether the premises would really be suitable for school pupils will be up to parents to decide.

School inspections are part of the regulatory framework. The areas covered by inspections were: compliance with the regulations described above, quality of teaching and pupil performance. 24 out of 31 OECD member countries had inspections at lower-secondary level.

School self-evaluation is required by 21 out of 32 OECD member countries. Self-evaluation is cheaper than full inspections and results can be judged in the light of local circumstances. The main disadvantage is that it is less credible to outside audiences.

Market accountability

This is based on the idea that when parents have “choice” then schools will improve in order to attract parents. However, the evidence linking market forces and educational outcomes is “fragmented and inconclusive”**.

The OECD said that there were five factors which were needed to make any market mechanism in education work. These were:

1 A range of school options. (This may work in a city, but it’s unclear how different types of school could be provided in less-populated areas).

2 Accurate information given to parents about schools.

3 Limited powers for schools to select or screen pupils.

4 Financial incentives, in the form of vouchers, scholarships, tuition tax credits or allowing parents to top up fees.

5 A funding mechanism whereby money followed the pupil.

*See faq What are the examination and assessment systems in OECD countries? for more information about exams and assessment systems in OECD member countries.

**See faqs Do market forces in education increase achievement and efficiency? and What does a January 2013 review of evidence say about market intervention in education in Sweden and Chile? for more information.

Note: GCSEs are not used in Scotland. Scotland is in the process of reforming its exam system so fewer subjects are taken at 16+. For details see here.