Crafting systems for accountability

​Internal accountability

Coherent schools have systems for internal accountability, and this is crucial for the success of the school's literacy and/or numeracy strategy.

External accountability processes that purport to impact positively on the work of schools in fact rely on internal accountability being in place for those external measures to be effective (Elmore, 2010).

Internal accountability is about the alignment of three overlapping elements:

  • individual responsibility
  • collective expectations
  • measures of accountability

Figure 1 provides a visual representation of the three elements of Internal accountability. Three overlapping differently coloured rings titled ‘Responsibility’, ‘Collective Expectation’ and ‘Accountability’ surround a central common space which reads Internal Alignment of Responsibility, Expectations and Accountability.


Responsibility is about the personal values and commitment of individual members of the school community towards each student's literacy and numeracy achievement.

This can be about the quality of the students' work, or the teachers' beliefs about the capacity of the students to do the work. Responsibility is about the individual decisions of the teacher, parent, principal or student.

Collective expectations

Expectations are collective in nature and are about:

  • the shared beliefs and values of teachers
  • the nature of teachers' work as educators
  • teachers beliefs in the students
  • expectations of both teachers and students about what constitutes quality work

It is possible for collective expectations to be held by groups in the school, but it is the role of leaders to lead the development of consistency across the school.


Accountability is about people knowing about what they are accountable for, how they give account for their work and the consequences for not doing so. (Elmore, 2010)

Accountability measures are formal and informal ways people in schools are held to account. This could be through:

  • The professional learning plan process of the whole school (or parts of)
  • Individual staff professional development plans
  • Teams of teachers holding each other to account for the work they are doing

There are many external accountability measures in education today which can help to create a sense of urgency about improvement. These are important opportunities for reflection on:

  • Curriculum
  • Teaching
  • Student outcomes
  • Leadership
  • The general functioning of a school

These external measures get the attention of the school and focus thinking, however real improvement comes from internal accountability.

For coherent internal accountability, schools can process the data and other information that:

  • comes from outside the school
  • reflect on it in a positive way
  • and make decisions about improving teaching and learning practice. 

Coherent systems of internal accountability

There are several key features of effective internal school accountability:

  • The approach to teaching and learning in the school is documented and this documentation is used for teacher orientation, and to inform all aspects of literacy and numeracy in the school
  • Processes exist for students to inform planning in the school  and to provide feedback
  • Teachers in teams examine student work to discuss teaching, assessment, and curriculum development
  • Teachers share their practice by:
    • watching each other in action
    • videoing themselves to review with their colleagues and gain feedback
  • Principals attend professional learning sessions and engage as learners
  • Learning walks inform the literacy and numeracy work in the school
  • Principals discuss the new learning with teams, and observe classrooms to learn about implementation and provide feedback to teachers
  • Principals present the school's literacy and numeracy data to the entire staff for discussion, and lead action in response to the data
  • Literacy and numeracy goals are part of:
    •  Performance and Development Plans
    • Annual Implementation Plans
    • School Strategic Plans

Leadership leading learning

When principals engage with their staff as co-learners in an ongoing process, they demonstrate that:

  • They are lifelong learners
  • Learning is part of being a professional
  • Collaborative searching for knowledge about effective teaching practice is part of being a staff member at the school

By being involved in the learning, principals provide support and guidance on trying new practices – and show staff they are committed to collaborating and exploring new possibilities.

This is a major step towards building collective efficacy and accountability systems that promotes trust at all levels.


Elmore, R. (2010) Leading the instructional core – an interview with Richard Elmore. In Conversation. Vol 11 Issue 3