Public Management

How can we make schools accountable for good education?

By Edith Hooge | May 4, 2016 | 2 min read

Schools and school boards have an increasing amount of freedom when defining their own profile, strategy and provision of services. Yet in practice central governments are still held accountable for good education. In the new OECD publication "Governing Education in a Complex World", Prof. Dr. Edith Hooge, connected with the TIAS GovernanceLAB, shows how "multiple accountability" is helping to shift this accountability.

The publication "Governing Education in a Complex World" is a summary of the search for governance models that are effective in the complex education systems of today. The publication brings together research outcomes and insights from various countries with a view to finding an answer to questions like: How can administrative authorities develop governance to balance responsiveness to local diversity with national educational goals? How can we ensure trust, cooperation and communication between the various levels and actors in the system?

Greater freedom for schools

In her contribution, Prof. Dr. Edith Hooge, professor of the chair "Boards and Governance in Education" at the TIAS GovernanceLAB, concentrates on the accountability of local schools and school boards. This is a pressing issue for central governments, she says. "The last three decades have seen the decentralization of policy making and decision making within the education sector in many OECD countries. This assumes various forms: local authorities, school boards and/or schools have greater freedom in formulating strategies, defining goals and decision making in relation to their provision of services, parents enjoy more freedom of choice or teachers and other staff members have more professional autonomy."

In spite of these decentralization processes and the introduction of market mechanisms in education, central governments are still held responsible by the general public and the media for ensuring high quality education. "This has made the accountability of schools and their boards a thorny topic, as well as how to bring this in line with accountability for the working of an education system as a whole."

School performance accountability

In her contribution, she describes the accountability systems in among other places England, the Netherlands and California. Vertical (top-down, hierarchical) and horizontal (lateral, non-hierarchical) accountability systems are most frequent.

Accountability systems for schools' output and performance help central governments to shift accountability closer to the schools and school boards. Hooge: "They are good tools for ensuring that schools comply with the required minimal quality standards, or to steer on output and performance." Useful as they are, these systems also have their limitations. "Eventually, perverse side effects of performance accountability start to dominate, such as "gaming" and "teaching to the test". Moreover, performance-focused accountability is hardly, or not at all, directed at the broader, formative side of education: socialization, general education, social integration and personal development. There is also too little attention for building up local trust and connecting education to the local, regional community."

Multiple approach

So the recent emergence of new forms of accountability that take account of the perceptions of various local and regional stakeholders about good education is interesting. According to Hooge, we can coin these forms "multiple accountability". "This approach complements performance accountability because one looks further than tests and test scores as well as also defining education in pedagogical, professional and democratic terms."

Hooge advises governments to investigate the use of multiple accountability arrangements. "Consider the opportunities: valuable information is collected, which you can use for improving policy which in turn leads to a more solid embedding of education in the local/regional community." In order to avoid an accountability and information "overload", it is advisable to make arrangements with school organizations about the introduction and use of the various accountability mechanisms.

The book "Governing Education in a Complex World" identifies key elements for modern education governance. It secures a sense of direction about open, dynamic and strategic approaches for education governance in today's complex world. The book is available via

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