Hugh Whelchel (2012) in Four Principles of Biblical Stewardship writes about stewardship using the principles: ownership, responsibility, accountability and reward. He starts with ownership and sets in motion a train of thought.
To misquote an African proverb, “I did not inherit this school from my predecessor but have loaned it from my successor”. If we see the school we lead or the classroom in which we teach, including all those within it, as being on loan to us rather than a possession our perspective changes significantly. Firstly, we are acting on behalf of another or a greater purpose. We are called to be responsible; to take care of that precious gift which is fleetingly under our daily leadership and management.
“Owners have rights; stewards have responsibilities.”
Rightly we are held accountable for that which is in our care. We will be called to give an account of our stewardship. Did staff/pupils make progress in their learning? Were they safe, secure and valued? Were resources well used? Our rewards are monetary (a salary) and the satisfaction of a job well done; a sense of fulfilment in the development, thriving and flourishing of others.
“Take even more care of the education of the young people entrusted to you than if they were the children of a king.”
St. John Baptiste De La Salle
As my CEO role evolves I see the stewardship more clearly. Being nearer the end than the start of my career may be helping me focus. From day one of the new role it was made clear that I was accountable, as the Accounting Officer, for the public money we receive each year. I also believe I’m accountable for the standards, and by implication the Teaching, Assessment & Learning, and ensuring pupils are safeguarded and cared for. The accountability, the associated responsibilities and workload are in reality extensively distributed but ultimately the overall buck stops with me and fellow directors.
Too Much Accountability Spoils the Climate
Being held accountable is reasonable and appropriate but the manner in which we currently do so, in England, is damaging, destructive and excessive. At the end of last term myself and the Chair of the Board attended two separate meetings, one with the Diocese and the other at the RSC’s Offices, to give an account of the Trust’s work. Both meetings were professional and pleasant; overall things went relatively well last year so maybe no surprise. Let’s hope for similar in the future. This term we are due three separate Ofsted Inspections, one for each academy, and a separate Denominational Inspection at St. Mary’s.
The belief seems to be that more accountability is better. Sadly, MacGregor X & Y thinking prevails, carrot and stick, with the belief that people will perform better if fearful of being beaten up or if there is the potential for some extrinsic reward. In a school this turns the culture toxic and the same is true of our system. Recruitment targets are missed as people perceive other professions as more rewarding; teachers are leaving in the early, mid and late stage of their career, well before they should, and Headteachers become defined, their future determined, by a single Ofsted grade. Working in the most challenging and disadvantaged communities is seen as a career gamble; often the stakes are too high for many current or prospective leaders.
Rather than asking where have all the teachers and school leaders gone, we may want to ask why? Stewardship works at an individual level but also a system level. As Lucy Crehan (2016) suggests in Clever Lands we need to think of accountability more as answerability and responsibility than culpability and liability. Without a rethink the stewards in the classroom and staff room may just become too few.
In my final year of headship (2015), the focus of Ofsted was clearly accountability under the ‘responsibility, liability, culpability’ model and felt more akin to an interrogation driven by a desire to prove me, governors and the senior leaders wrong – whatever our claims of success and progress, and irrespective of local conditions (previous inspection outcomes and progress towards targets; unfilled posts; changes in nature of the PRU population; lack of baseline data from feeder schools/authorities to build rates of progress ‘pictures’; etc, etc). The reality was simply irrelevant. Despite guarantees there were no PIB type assumptions, there were assumptions. Despite being told there was no influencing connection between each of the inspection areas, there were and they were applied frequently. Despite progress against all targets from the last inspection, they were never celebrated. We dipped from ‘Good’ to ‘RI’ and the impact was felt across the school, parents, local authority, partners and most importantly the kids.
The subsequent visit of HMI was characterised by a completely different mindset. All the factors were considered, every success was celebrated, targets were refined not used to beat us, no assumptions were made, staffing was brought into the equation alongside our huge effort to recruit the ‘right’ people. Overall, it felt supportive and acknowledging of tremendous passion, commitment and well directed efforts. As a result, I left my ‘baby’ a lot happier that local circumstances (which can change in a heartbeat for a PRU) had been fully considered and the impact on our trajectory towards overall improvement given complete and honest reflection.
As you so rightly say, the toxicity and the ripple effect of this ‘carrot and stick’ serves no purpose in improving the school or the system. It simply assumes we do what we do for the badge not for our children and their families. In short, it misses the whole point because our reward is not extrinsic, it is intrinsic – better opportunities for our children, better future for society. The school and its students and parents/carers come first, everything else is on loan.
Thanks for adding this extensive comment. Many Heads, governors, senior leaders and teachers will recognise both of the different stories you tell. The whole process is and probably always will be dependent on the inspectors who walk through the door. Regards Stephen