School Accountability in England: Past, Present and Future

This review focuses on accountability in school-based education in England. Drawing on the work of West, Mattei and Roberts (2011) it outlines the dominant forms of accountability in England, namely ‘market’ and ‘hierarchical’ accountability, and explains how both forms make extensive use of examination data as the mechanism through which schools are held to account. It goes on to explore the historical and policy context that led to these forms of accountability becoming dominant, outlining the pervasive influence of ‘new public management’. Both national and international evidence suggests that publishing examination data publically can have a positive impact on test scores, although there is less evidence to suggest that competition between schools is a driver of school improvement. The effectiveness of accountability measures is contingent upon the measures’ statistical properties: existing evidence reviewed suggests there are a number of issues that need to be addressed. Consequences of the accountability system from the perspective of an awarding organisation are then considered, focusing on issues of early entry and strategic marking. The final section examines the impact of the dominant forms of accountability and suggests ways that the negative consequences of high stakes accountability might be ameliorated while still maintaining the positive impacts. This will involve reforming the particular metrics used in relation to test scores but also taking a broader perspective on accountability, reflecting the diversity of activities for which schools are responsible.

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