Education leaders call for an end to harsh accountability demands

published 5 March 2015 updated 11 March 2015

Stringent accountability demands imposed on schools, education leaders and teachers by governments harm and undermine professional autonomy and quality education for all, was the key message from EI’s conference on educational leadership held in Amsterdam.

Participants at Education International’s (EI) leadership conference this week in Amsterdam, the Netherlands chronicled how competition, fuelled by standardised assessment, testing and the publication of league tables was putting pressure on schools to focus on what is measured.

From 3-4 March, participants argued that accountability regimes based on testing undermine collaboration, school autonomy and the professional autonomy of school leaders and teachers. They requested EI and its member organisations to continue to challenge this narrow approach to education and accountability.

In view of these issues, Jaap Scheerens, Professor of Educational Organisation and Management, University of Twente, the Netherlands presented the conclusions and recommendations of the European Trade Union Committee (ETUCE), EI’s European Region, and the European Federation of Education Employers (EFEE)’s joint research and peer learning activity on professional autonomy, accountability and efficient leadership. Professor Scheerens also introduced comparative research findings from Malta, the Netherlands and United Kingdom showing varying degrees of professional autonomy. The results also revealed that the current system allows little space for teacher autonomy and innovation due to the high levels of control and top-down policy reforms.

Consolidating EI’s policy on educational leadership

Dennis Sinyolo, EI Senior Coordinator, Education and Employment, presented EI’s draft policy on educational leadership and the policy’s fundamental principle of inclusive and collegial leadership which promotes  teamwork, democratic decision-making processes, dialogue and cooperation .

The participants welcomed EI’s decision to consolidate its policy on educational leadership. They discussed the draft policy, suggested areas for improvement and came up with strategies for implementing the policy after its adoption.

The participants stressed that all school leaders are teachers and should thus be professionally-trained. They should also receive leadership training, continuous professional development and support. The conference also reiterated that organising educational leaders should continue to be a key priority area for EI and all member organisations. Furthermore, the participants urged governments to ensure transparent recruitment systems based on objective criteria for educational leaders.

Speaking at the conference, Ben Hoogenboom, Vice President of EI affiliate in the Netherlands, AOb stressed that he wants to “emphasize the challenge in the education sector to develop a type of leadership that seeks to encourage rather than impose; educational leadership that is oriented to facilitate rather than dictate; leadership that is inclusive rather than aloof; leadership that guides and listens; that invites professional dialogue rather than instructs unilaterally”. Agreeing with Hoogenboom, Joany Krijt, President of CNV-O, another EI affiliate, said that “Lately, I have noticed a trend in the political, educational climate that favours distrust, administrative burdens and a top-down approach...we need to trust the teacher, we need to trust the school leader”.

Teachers must be empowered to exercise leadership

The conference underlined the critical role of teachers as leaders. Jelmer Evers, an author and history teacher from the Netherlands and Sean Slade, Director of Whole Child Programs at ASCD, USA spoke about the need to empower teachers to exercise leadership. Evers talked about the need to ‘flip the system’ (change from top-down to bottom-up approaches) in order to ensure that teachers are involved in education policy-making and leadership. Slade argued that the teacher’s role was not confined to the classroom, but that teachers can use their skills to help others in the school, district, state or national level. The conference participants concurred and agreed to promote teacher leadership at all levels.

In her closing remarks, Odile Cordelier, ETUCE Vice President and National Secretary of SNES-FSU, France, urged the participants and the unions in Europe and globally to promote the principles of the new leadership policy once adopted, noting that it would be an important tool for ETUCE and EI advocacy with national governments, the OECD and other intergovernmental organisations.