Educational accountability is everywhere. From learning walks to lesson plans, performance management, Ofsted requirements, teacher standards, progress 8 and now with KS5 reforms on the horizon, teachers and schools are no longer in the spotlight but instead under the microscope!
There is no doubt that accountability is useful, it can promote productivity, increase teaching standards and ultimately help to ensure that all students reach their full educational potential. However, in a profession that has a conflicting obligation to its students and its governance, too much accountability can be unproductive. Creating well-rounded, happy and healthy individuals is not created by teaching them to within an inch of their sanity, where every second in the classroom is dedicated to making and demonstrating progress and working at 100%. This persistent pressure from the top is damaging to both students and teachers’ mental health and well-being.
The mental health of teachers and students are at serious risk in this pressurised educational climate. Research published in January this year found that more than half of students believed they would end up being a failure if they did not get good exam grades. The charity YoungMinds said the UK was sitting on a “mental health time bomb” and that action is needed by the Government, schools and parents to help young people cope with the pressures of modern life.
Similarly, a relentless inspection regime and culture of target-setting is also damaging teachers’ mental health, with many reporting stress and exhaustion. The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) conducted a survey in March this year in which it reported more than half (55%) of those questioned by the ATL say work pressures are having a detrimental effect on their mental wellbeing, while almost 4 in 10 have noticed a rise in mental health problems among colleagues over the past 2 years. Of those teachers who felt their job had damaged their mental health, many reported experiencing stress (80%), exhaustion (69%), disturbed sleep patterns (66%), anxiety (57%) and headaches (47%).
It would appear that their is a lack of faith in the professional judgement of teachers and schools. The vast majority of teachers wake up in the morning wanting to do the best by their students and their school, but they are being inhibited in this quest by the incredible workload, data and reporting commitments and micromanagement. It would also appear that teachers have taken the brunt of the accountability for student progress and attainment, but this is not a sole venture, both the pupil and the parents/carers need to be invested in education, alongside teachers.
Are teachers really able to teach effectively and creatively within this highly pressurised educational environment, with ‘accountability’ ready and waiting to point out any shortfall in lesson structure, organisation, behaviour management, or lack of student progress?
As educators, we must be cautious not to take the joy and excitement out of learning through the rigorous and ruthless accountability measures imposed on teachers and schools, that focus too heavily on pupil progress and attainment, rather than a holistic and balanced view of education.