Schools benefit pupils. And education benefits society. It’s a public as well as a private good. It’s important, therefore, schools are accountable to their stakeholders: governments, the public, parents and pupils.
The OECD found accountability* can be measured in three possible ways: the market, legal framework and performance. About performance, the OECD said:
‘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.’
But the needs of students and their families are ill-served by the data-driven accountability system operating in England.
In 2011, the OECD warned there was too much emphasis on exam results in England
and this risked negative consequences.
Since then the focus on grades has worsened and this is having a negative impact on children and young people.
That’s the conclusion of NUT-commissioned research
into accountability measures in England.
The research uncovered worrying concerns
1A feeling Ofsted is no longer supportive but ‘punitive’.
2Threatened schools minutely scrutinize teachers’ work, insist on uniformity of practice and obsess about data collection.
3Narrowing of the curriculum with creative subjects and investigative work suffering.
4Teaching to the test and ‘gaming’ (OECD**).
5No recognition that the main influence on children’s lives is what happens outside school. Schools alone can’t reduce the attainment gap but are held accountable for it.
6While the pupil premium increases attention on disadvantaged children, other children, such as special needs pupils, have less attention.
7Excessive and inappropriate testing leads to shallow learning and doesn’t build firm foundations for future learning.
8Using Key Stage 2 results to decide GCSE targets is ‘deeply problematic’. Tests in English and maths don’t reveal potential in other subjects. And the tests don’t show real understanding.
9The accountability regime increases teacher workload and stress.
10This pressure has a negative impact on teacher/pupil relations.
11High stakes testing increases anxiety among children and young people.
12Pupils see school’s main purpose is to get them through exams.
13Universities and employers feel other important skills are neglected (OECD**).
14These accountability measures have a disproportionately negative effect on disadvantaged pupils (OECD**) and those with special needs.
15High stakes testing encourages some schools to deter applications from pupils likely to reduce test scores (OECD**).
Kevin Courtney, Deputy General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, the largest teachers’ union, said:
'Schools feel enormous pressure to placate the whims of Government and Ofsted. Teachers at the sharp end are saying this loud and clear: "If it isn’t relevant to a test then it is not seen as a priority." The whole culture of a school has become geared towards meeting Government targets and Ofsted expectations. As this report shows, schools are on the verge of becoming "exam factories"’.
Lucie Russell, Director of Campaigns at Young Minds, said:
“Many of the young people Young Minds works with say that they feel completely defined by their grades and that this is very detrimental to their wellbeing and self-esteem. We have to question the role of schools in relation to developing well rounded, confident young people, and there is a growing movement of high profile people, including the current Director of the CBI, who are saying that education cannot just be about learning academic subjects.
Education in England risks becoming reduced to only that which can be tested. Ex Education Secretary Michael Gove once said if it can’t be externally-assessed, it’s play. But life, never mind just education, would be diminished without play. And the worth of people is not just measured by test results.
Follow the discussion on Twitter #examfactories from 11.15am today.
Sky Press Preview discussed the report last night. One of the guests was a doctor who said she has seen unprecedented numbers of young people coming to her surgery suffering from test-related stress. The other guest, a parent of two young people who’ve just taken GCSEs and A Levels, said the girls were both ‘diligent’ but stress levels were through the roof. Both were concerned the Government was preparing to heap on yet more pressure. This cannot be good for our young people.
*See faq above How are schools held accountable in OECD member countries?
**These were negative impacts the OECD warned could be the consequences of the ‘extensive focus on grades’.