The bleeding system

There’s nothing wrong with accountability. I like a good bit of accountability. It keeps everyone honest.

But if it is not operated at the appropriate level it ceases to create accountability and becomes oppressive, in every sense of the word.

I’ll give you an example.

I like my house to be comfortably warm in the winter. I have a central heating system to help me with that. It has a gas boiler. It has a number of radiators spread all around the house. It has a pump to pump the water around the system. It has a thermostat to turn the boiler on when the temperature goes below the level I have set as comfortable.

That’s quite a complex system.

So how do I know it’s working properly?

I could go and check that the pilot light is lit on the boiler and that the pressure gauge is at the right level. I could then go and check each radiator, bleeding each one to ensure they are full. I might then go and look at the pump and check that it is pumping as it should, whilst looking to see that the thermostat goes on and off at the right temperature (I would need to carry a thermometer around with me for that).

I could do all that. I could do it every day to ensure that everything is working well. But what I usually do is ask myself, “Do I feel that the temperature is comfortable?”. On the occasions that I’m not sure I go and check the thermometer on the wall.

Only on the rare occasions that reading is not what I expect it to be do I then go and have a look at any of the other parts of the system. If I was constantly checking every element of the system to make sure it was working then I would probably get so warm I would not need the heating on it the first place.

So why, in schools, when we are trying to be accountable, do we feel the need to constantly, intrusively and oppressively monitor every step of the teaching and learning process?

Someone checks the books are marked (so the books are over-marked to ensure the marking is seen), someone checks the lesson plans (and so the lessons are over-planned so no criticism can be raised), someone checks the homework (so unnecessary homeworks are set creating unnecessary marking), someone observes the lessons (so a lesson that looks good is put on).

Now, I am not saying you should never do any of these things. Doing so can help understand better how the system is working and how it can be improved, like I would very so often check all the parts of my heating system. But it should be done for that purpose and not for accountability.

But Mike, I hear you say, you said you liked a bit of accountability, how are you going to do that?

Simple. Do one thing and do it well. Do it in an organised and efficient way.

Test frequently and consistently. Do this to provide information for the teacher about their students, the heads of department about their teachers, the senior leaders about their departments and the head about their school. If the numbers are what they should be then there is no need to be checking the marking, the homework, the lesson plans or any of the other intermediate processes all the time.

If they are not what they should be then intervene at the appropriate level.

Stop doing things every day that don’t need to be done every day. Think of the time saved. Think of what else you could be doing with that time.

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