23 SES 06 C, Accountability in Schools
This paper reports on work with educational leaders in the United Kingdom that is exploring new approaches to educational leadership and accountability in a Multi-Academy Trust (MAT) and a Teaching Schools Alliance (TSA). Over the last three decades, accountability in schools and school systems across Anglo-American nations has shifted from bureaucratic approaches based on teacher professionalism to performative modes of accountability (Ranson 2003). For example, standardised testing and comparisons of performance have become a common mechanism for governing schools and holding educators to account. As Ozga (2009) has argued, data have now become central to the governance of schools and associated accountability mechanisms and in recent years there has been substantial developments in the infrastructures that embed data-driven accountability into school systems (Anagnastopoulos et al. 2013; Sellar 2015).
However, there are now emergent attempts to develop more dialogic and democratic modes of accountability (e.g. Michener & Ritter, 2017) that reduce the negative effects of top-down data-driven accountability and widen the public debate about what counts in schools and how it ought to be counted. The concept and practice of accountability can be understood in at least two senses: 1) a hierarchical sense of being held to account by an external power and; 2) a relational sense of taking responsibility for giving an account of one’s actions (Moncrieffe 2011). We argue that data-driven accountability is a pharmakon, both a poison and a cure (Derrida 1981), that can have positive or negative effects depending on the balance between these two modes of accountability, as well as the context, the kinds of data that are collected and the cultures that are established in relation to the analysis and use of data.
In this paper we draw from philosophical perspectives on accountability as responsibility, experienced through the means of ‘plural speech’ (Blanchot 1993). These perspectives provide the conceptual framework for a research methodology where conversation is not designed to meet a consensus but is instead intended to expand or open the institutional space where processes of ethical self-formation involving concern for the other and care of the self are possible and observable (Foucault 1997; Clarke 2009). We apply this framework to two empirical case studies of educational leaders who are working to develop more democratic leadership and accountability cultures in a Multi-Academy Trust (MAT) and a Teaching Schools Alliance (TSA). The paper provides a response to the question of how we can re-invent educational accountability in an era of datafication without subordinating teacher professional knowledge.
Schools' data are drawn from two school groups, one a Multi-Academy Trust (MAT) of 12 schools (10 primary schools, pupils 5-11 years and 2 high schools, pupils 11-18 years); and the other a Teaching Schools Alliance (TSA) of 9 schools (1 of these being a high school and the rest primary schools). Schools were situated in the South, and Midlands of England. Data were collected during the period September 2016 to date and for the purposes of this paper we draw on focus group reflections of the work undertaken during this period. The TSA have been working on a research driven agenda for a period of 3.5 years and the MAT for a period of 1.5 years. Work reported on reflects an alliance between academic staff and school-based teachers to explore the freedoms and possibilities for innovative working practices within a wider environment of educational constraint. We consider the extent to which engaging in conversational research activity enables teachers to focus on creative ideas as opposed to only orientating their work around improving test scores. Focus groups were utilised to allow for a conversation to develop between participants (Sparkes & Smith 2014) in this case on the subject of engaging in research activity. Thus, these focussed conversations captured what Saldaña, (2011: 75) articulates as "the perspectives of the people we wish to study". Moreover, teachers were encouraged to move beyond description to explain their perspectives and understandings of the topics raised (Creswell, 2013). We have therefore focussed on teacher's responses to the ideas of undertaking research (their hopes and fears); their expectations and developing understandings as they gain deeper knowledge of the research process; and to what extent this related to their leadership capacity and capabilities within their schools. We worked first separately and then together to draw out thematic categories from these data developing the analysis where texts were read and re-read to facilitate the power of the participants voices whilst targeting "specific problems in specific substantive areas" (Charmaz 2006: 250). From an ethical perspective, permissions were sought to utilise these data for writing purposes and seminars based on this article were presented to teachers for their comments.
Today's teachers and school leaders typically work in contexts where the demands of data-driven forms of accountability prevent any in-depth engagement with the ethical and political dimensions of education, despite the fact that these are likely to have been among the factors influencing their decision to enter the profession. Such professional alienation is only likely to be exacerbated by the platitudes promoted by policy makers as the solutions to the challenges facing school systems - for instance notions of 'evidence-based' or 'best' practices, which are presumed to be transposable across wildly differing contexts. Against this background, the current paper showcases examples of educational leaders engaging with research as a form of agentive democratic participation that enables them to draw on and reanimate their professional knowledge and expertise through the pursuit of questions and issues that 'matter', i.e. that have material implications and consequences, within their contexts. Our findings suggest that this engagement with/in research on the part of educational leaders is particularly valuable in a context that has seen the rise of notions of leadership based on technical expertise and rational consensus with a consequent diminishment of education to matters of effectiveness and efficiency. We argue that research-engagement offers a means of reanimating the ethical and political dimensions of education, where ethics is understood as a concern for how we ought to inhabit our subjectivity and live our lives together and where politics involves negotiating the collective institutions and practices that are most likely to enable intra- and inter-subjective flourishing grounded in social justice. We view this as a route to developing new, enriched and enhanced forms of educational accountability that are situated, dialogic and relational rather than merely generic, monologic and hierarchical.
Anagnostopoulos, D., Rutledge, S. & Jacobsen, J. (2013) The infrastructure of accountability: Data use and the transformation of the American education. Cambridge, MA.: Harvard University Press. Blanchot, M. (1993) The infinite conversation. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Charmaz, K. (2006) Constructing grounded theory: a practical guide through qualitative analysis. London: SAGE Clarke, M. (2009) The ethico-politics of teacher identity. Educational Philosophy & Theory, 41(2), 185-200. Creswell, J. (2013) Research Design: qualitative, quantitative and mixed methods approaches London: SAGE Derrida, J. (1981) Plato's Pharmacy. In J. Derrida, Dissemination. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 63-171. Foucault, M. (1997) The ethics of the concern for self as a practice of freedom. In P. Rabinow (Ed.), Ethics, subjectivity and truth: Essential works of Foucault 1954-1984 (Vol. 1). New York: The New Press. Michener, G., & Ritter, G. (2017). Comparing resistance to open data performance measurement: Public education in Brazil and the UK. Public Administration, 95(1), 4-21 Moncrieffe, J. (2011) Relational accountability: Complexities of structural injustice. London: Zed Books. Ozga, J. (2009) Governing education through data in England: From regulation to self-evaluation. Journal of Education Policy, 24(2), 149-162. Ranson, S. (2003) Public accountability in the age of neo-liberal governance. Journal of Education Policy, 18(5), 459-480. doi:10.1080/0268093032000124848 Saldaña, J. (2011) Fundamentals of qualitative research: understanding qualitative research. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Sellar, S. (2015) Data infrastructure: A review of expanding accountability systems and large-scale assessments in education. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 36(5), 765-777. doi:10.1080/01596306.2014.931117 Sparkes, A. and Smith, B. (2014) Qualitative Research Methods in Sport, Exercise and Health: form process to product Oxon: Routledge.
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