What Impact Does Accountability Have On Education?

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How can we improve school accountability in England?

One of the most fascinating opportunities of late, has been playing a small part in the Accountability Commission group for NAHT; to develop a new vision for the future of school accountability.

During the Accountability Commission group, the group heard from the National Foundation for Educational Research. It was a fascinating and an excellent piece of work. Their research suggests that there is another way ahead for the English education system.

Accountability Research

In the UK, as in many other countries, schools are held accountable for their ability to provide high-quality education that leads to strong educational outcomes. To support discussions about accountability system reforms, NFER produced a rapid literature review on the impact of accountability on curriculum, standards and engagement. The NFER asked the following question: What Impact Does Accountability Have On Curriculum, Standards and Engagement In Education?

As a result, which countries are performing better in education, but have less public accountability?

Accountability Educaiton

National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), September 2018 (page 35)

If Canada, Finland & Singapore do not have school inspection feature in external evaluation (I) and these countries perform better than England in PISA tests; cited as places to visit, we must question OfSTED’s future within the English system.

Here is the evidence that England’s education system can do things differently; it’s just a matter of the Department for Education and OfSTED wanting, or not? In my opinion, I don’t think they do … and for the next 5 or 10 years, it’s going to be more of “better the devil you know.”

This is a much easier choice for politicians to deal with – something that is familiar rather than to deal with something that we do not know or perhaps might be worse.

Key Findings

  1. All 13 countries carry out some form of jurisdiction-wide assessment … but it is only in six countries (including England and Wales) that the assessments are used to hold schools accountable for attainment and progress.
  2. All 13 countries carry out statutory external evaluation… Of these, nine (including England and Wales) include inspection.


  • Where performance is a measure, schools prioritise parts of the curriculum over others (‘teaching to the test’).
  • Where systems focus on “borderline” measures, targeted teaching limit pupils’ experience of the curriculum.
  • International benchmarking affects curriculum policy.


  • Systems of accountability should feature clear responsibilities and aligned objectives at all levels
  • Accountability should have a transparent performance assessment criteria.
  • Measures of accountability can increase or decrease the achievement gap; it is all in the application.


  • Teacher education can support teachers’ engagement with assessment data to inform classroom teaching and learning.
  • The extent to which pupils’ experiences of assessments, such as test anxiety, specifically relate to accountability is unclear.
  • Placing undue emphasis on the performance of some groups at the expense of others may lessen pupil engagement.


You can download the full research paper and read the full details. The research strategy is on page 35.

How can we improve the education system in England? Read the NAHT’s nine recommendations to the Department for Education. Our politicans enjoy quoting evidence – why not share the above graphic with your MP?

N.b. The NFER reviewed a small body of the best available evidence on the accountability systems in Australia (New South Wales), England, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore and Wales. NFER focused on evidence relating to primary education. The literature offers useful insights, though there was a lack of data and robust, quantitative evidence.

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