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date: 01 December 2020

Accountabilities in Schools and School Systemslocked

  • Bob Lingard, Bob LingardThe University of Queensland
  • Sam SellarSam SellarManchester Metropolitan University
  •  and Steven LewisSteven LewisDeakin University

Summary

This article surveys developments in educational accountabilities over the last three decades. In this time, accountability in schools and schooling systems across Anglo-American nations has undergone considerable change, including a move away from bureaucratic approaches that endorsed teacher professionalism. Educational accountabilities have evolved with the restructuring of the state through new public management and the emergence of network governance. Accountability can be understood in two senses: (1) being held to account; and (2) giving an account. Within the post-bureaucratic state, the former sense has become dominant in the work of schools, principals, and teachers, and has affected curriculum, pedagogy, and student learning. For instance, schooling systems in Anglo-American nations have introduced standardized testing to hold schools and teachers to account. Comparative performance data are now made publicly available through websites and the creation of league tables of school performance. These processes are central to the creation of markets in schooling, where comparative test data are deemed necessary to enable parental choice of schools and, in turn, to raise standards. This top-down, performative mode of accountability also moves the field of judgment away from teachers and the profession. There are now emergent attempts to reconstitute more democratic and educative modes of accountability, which are multilateral and multidirectional in character, and which seek to limit the negative effects of top-down data-driven accountability. These approaches reassert trust in the teaching profession and reconstitute parents and communities as democratic participants in schooling. We argue that accountability is a pharmakon that requires balancing of mechanisms for holding educators to account and opportunities for educators to give accounts of their work. The article reviews relevant literature to provide a brief history of accountability in schooling, with particular emphasis on Anglo-American contexts. Drawing on the work of Ranson, we examine four types of existing educational accountabilities before concluding with a discussion of three alternative approaches.

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