Look at how schools enrich learning and develop “independence, spirit of enquiry and practical skills" as well as exam success, says new report

Janet Downs's picture
“…the vision for the student experience includes high expectations for examination success, but it should also acknowledge the ways in which education enriches learning and develops students’ independence, spirit of enquiry and practical skills.”

So ends the introduction to a selection of essays published by the Wellcome Institute. The report, entitled “Effects from Accountabilities”, contains contributions from, among others, Andreas Schleicher of the OECD, and considers the effect of accountability systems on education.

The report’s introduction makes these points:

1 “The weight of accountability seems to bear particularly heavy here [in England].”

2 This emphasis can cause “collateral damage” as schools adopt a “formulaic approach”, teaching to test and playing “safe”.

3 There is a question round whether accountability needs to rely as heavily as it now does on test results.

4 Governing bodies have an essential role in making sure that schools provide a “rich all-round experience as well as acceptable test results”.

A “broad and rich” pupil experience includes:

1 “Inspired teaching;

2 Excellent careers guidance;

3 A range of extra-curricular activities;

4 A secure environment to foster pupils; self confidence.”

The report offers these thoughts:

1 Should there be a more “nuanced range of indicators” on the Ofsted dashboard?

2 Should Ofsted rely less on performance statistics and more on observation?

This report, which follows last week’s report from Oxford academics which said an exam system should motivate pupils not demoralise them, reflects OECD concerns about negative effects of the excessive emphasis on raw test results in England. The Academies Commission found that league tables stifle innovation but the consultation* document for secondary school accountability has six sections about exam results, data and benchmarks but only one with a perfunctory mention of “wider achievement”. This section puts off any decision about how to recognise this “wider achievement” – it says it will look at the possibility of exploring “further ways of recognising schools that offer a wide range of opportunities.”

But that should be considered now, not as an afterthought.  It looks as if the "excessive emphasis" of exam results is to be enhanced.

Summaries of the essays in the report will be published shortly.

1  OECD's Andreas Schleicher's essay is summarised in the faq above under School Performance: What are the key factors of a school accountability system?  The OECD lists ten.

2  Joan Sjøvoll, Head of Framellgate School, Durham, writes about how a limited range of accountability measures can skew what is taught.  Her essay is summarised on this thread.

3  A summary of Sir Mike Tomlinson's essay is in faq above under School Performance: Is Ofsted friend or foe?  How did an ex-Chief Inspector of Schools answer this question in 2013?  A longer summary is here.


*consultation finished on 1 May 2013.  It is no longer available on the DfE website.

Updated 2 May 2013

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