Use this URL to cite or link to this record in EThOS:
Title: Primary headteachers : perceptions on standards, accountability and school context
Author: Burnitt, Michael Thomas
ISNI:       0000 0004 5993 8749
Awarding Body: University of Manchester
Current Institution: University of Manchester
Date of Award: 2016
Availability of Full Text:
Access from EThOS:
Access from Institution:
The continuing improvement in standards and the associated direct school accountability has been at the forefront of school policy since the introduction of the Education Reform Act of 1988. Its introduction brought both top down curriculum control and the opening up of primary schools in England to neo-liberal market reforms. To facilitate direct market competition and raise standards, measures of performance were introduced, in the form of annually published national assessments (SATs) and from 1992 inspection by Ofsted (Office for Standards in Education). These measures took on board the status of High Stakes Testing (HST), since their outcomes directly impacted upon the professional lives of all those working within primary schools. Prior to 1988, central government had started to address underachievement, for example, Better Schools (DfES 1985), but now, for the first time, individual schools and their leaders were to be directly responsible for the achievement, or otherwise, of their pupils through the publication of attainment data and regular inspection reports. The notion of performativity (Ball 2003) was introduced into English primary schools, where performance measures and judgements (HST) were used as a means of top-down regulation and policy enforcement. This study investigates current primary school headteachers’ perceptions of their own professional accountability. It further explores the continuing focus on standards and the constant pressures and conflicts heads currently face in terms of maximising pupil attainment outcomes. The fieldwork was carried out within thirty four state funded primary schools across the North of England. A questionnaire was used to survey headteachers’ current perceptions; this data located heads on to a conceptual framework (Figure 5.5). Heads are located into one of four positions regarding their perceptions of the Standards Driven Agenda (SDA) and HST. Heads from each of the positions were then interviewed, which formed the prime data collection tool. The research further examines the inter-relationship between socio-economic context and HST outcomes, addressing the question of the equality of the application of identical floor targets for all primary schools, regardless of circumstance. Schools falling within areas of high and low deprivation were identified, using the income deprivation affecting children index (IDACI); each area’s headteachers’ perceptions were then compared and contrasted, in order to identify any effects of context. Ranson’s (2003) typology and Ball’s (2003) conceptualisation of accountabilities were developed in order to explore the identified trend of heads resisting what they view as a ‘data dictatorship’, and seeking to reinstate a previous age of professionalism. A clear plea for a change was evident with a call for a shift away from the current focus on standards in English and maths to the adoption of a more balanced and creative curriculum, where both the academic and social needs of the children are being met. The desire to return to Grace’s (1995) notion of the cult of the ‘headmaster tradition’, with the reinstatement of higher levels of professional autonomy and trust, was evident within many of the participating heads, along with a strong sense of moral guardian and leadership. All heads are aware of the need to be accountable for the tax payers’ money used to fund their schools, accepting the need for accountability measures. However, both sets of heads acknowledge that when a school’s effectiveness is solely measured by means of HST, it fails to be a level playing field. Factors such as parental support and education, housing and income were all identified as significant contributing factors in pupil attainment, resulting in heads reporting that these factors were not taken into account when the performance of their school was judged. The study contributes to the knowledge of how serving heads balance the needs of their children, parents and staff, whilst ensuring that they continue to improve standards, as defined by successive governmental policy and thus meet the requirements of HST.
Supervisor: Woods, Charlotte ; Gunter, Helen Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ed.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Headteachers ; accountability ; High Stakes Testing ; standards ; performativity ; context