'Harsh' accountability system stops schools from using research evidence, head warns

The pressure for quick results means there is no time for schools to engage with research findings, the Royal Society hears

evidence, research, schools, education endowment foundation, EEF, Kevan Collins, royal society, bridge academy, Chris Brown

The "harsh" accountability system for schools is deterring headteachers from acting on education research, the Royal Society has heard.

Panellists at a lecture about the role of behavioural science in boosting education and social mobility were asked why more schools do not make use of evidence about the most effective approaches.

In response, Chris Brown, principal of the Bridge Academy in East London, said that the risks associated with making changes were too high for some school leaders.

“Accountability on schools is very, very harsh,” he said. “The level of risk that a head might feel they are taking if they are going to change the way that they do things – they may perceive that risk as being really quite high.

“If you have something that has been fundamentally working OK, well enough, for quite a while they are unlikely, I would say, to want to take that risk.”

He added that pressure to turn a school’s results around quickly means that leaders are unable to properly engage with evidence.

He told last month’s event: “If you are going to get it right as a school leader, you need to really engage fully in the evidence – you need to really understand it – and that takes time. There’s just no way out of it.

'Slaves to the accountability framework'

“Something like feedback, you have to get right in your own context, and that means that some of it will go right and some of it will go wrong, and it’s an iterative process. That is a time-consuming process and that will not get you the immediate impact you perhaps need.”

This view was echoed by Sir Kevan Collins, chief executive of the Education Endowment Foundation, a government-backed research fund.

He told Tes: “I do take the argument that the accountability framework can encourage you to look at short-termism based on the progress of, say, two cohorts, in primary school years 5 and 6, rather than looking all the way down the track and asking yourself over the long-term, 'What do we need to do to change the learning experience of this group?'

“You can become a slave to the accountability framework.”

However, he distinguished between implementing certain individual evidence-informed practices such as phonics which “can be done quite quickly”, and “building an evidence-informed culture where you are constantly curious and inquiry focused”, which he said “isn’t necessarily consistent with a school that needs turnaround quickly”.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We trust teachers to innovate and want to see them use evidence-based methods that they know work to inspire their pupils. It is important to have an assessment and accountability system that makes sure schools are delivering for their students."

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