Countering the ‘perverse’ effects of externally imposed accountability: a story of five primary schools

Year: 2015

Author: Keddie, Amanda

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper explores matters of accountability and school collaboration from the perspective of six leaders in five primary schools located in an outer London borough. Interview data from a broader study that sought to identify and theorise socially just practice in several culturally diverse schools in England are drawn on to examine firstly, the ‘perverse’ effects of current externally driven accountability demands and, secondly, the ways in which the leaders attempted to counteract these effects through professional collaboration. Key theoretical concepts in relation to matters of performativity and intelligent/unintelligent accountability are utilised in making sense of the data. The paper draws attention to the anxieties these leaders associate with current regimes of performativity and, in particular, the accountability demands of Ofsted (Office for Standards in Education). Such demands and their ‘perverse’ (or anti-educational) effects are theorised as unintelligent forms of accountability. More intelligent forms of accountability are explored through the practices of collaboration set up by the group. The analysis strengthens the argument for supporting school-to-school collaboration that fosters forms of intelligent accountability based on respect for individual school autonomy, professional learning and collective responsibility for student performance. England’s increasingly autonomised education environment with the reform agenda of academisation positions primary schools as vulnerable to the punitive sanctions of audit and accountability. The paper argues that amid this environment primary schools need to be supported to strengthen their existing practices of intelligent accountability – to counter not only the perverse effects of current external accountabilities but also the more restrictive modes of academisation that threaten their autonomy.