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Autonomy vs Accountability

18 Apr

For as long as I can remember, education has been vexed with the twin rivalries of autonomy and accountability. They appear to be in constant strife with each other.   There was a time when the nation accepted that educationists, especially teachers, knew best, and left them to get on with the job of educating our children – i.e. to be autonomous.   However, there were problems.

I           The downside of autonomy

All was not well in “the secret garden”.  This unease was given body during an epic moment when the late Prime Minister Jim Callaghan, in 1976, spoke at Ruskin College, Oxford.  He referred to “legitimate public concern about trendy teaching methods, to “unease felt by parents and others about the new informal methods of teaching, which seem to produce excellent results when they are in well-qualified hands but are much more dubious when they are not”.    In other words, Callaghan wished to introduce a measure of accountability.

His speech sparked off the Great Debate.  Parents were to be given more information and rights.  Ultimately the national curriculum for England and Wales was imposed on schools and central government began to assume considerable educational powers and control on what was taught, including the pedagogy deployed, and how the impact was to measured.

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