Intelligent Accountability: Creating the conditions for teachers to thrive

I have never been so excited while reading a teaching book!

For the first time, I felt like I wasn’t alone – that someone else ‘got it’. I started teaching in 2010. From what I can gather this was pretty much around the ‘peak bullsh*t’ phase in teacher training where the emphasis was on writing thousand-word lesson plans and incorporating a bunch of untested and unverified pseudoscience concepts into the classroom.

It was and still is, maddening. Nothing makes a teacher's blood boil more than those memories of having expertly written lesson plans – but nothing to teach with as the kids came piling through the door. If only some of that time you’d spent writing up fictional lesson plans had been spent gathering, creating and sequencing resources for your students – they might actually learn something – and taxpayers' money – and the lives of teachers wouldn’t have been wasted on such a gross scale.

Grumble over.

Go to for the video and presentation to go with this review of David Didau’s excellent book. It is essentially my bible from now on. I might have it framed in my room and I’ll just point to it whenever SLT come in with another absurd request that will harm the student’s learning. If and when I am in their shoes – I’ll not make the same mistakes, regardless of whatever pressures they might feel they’re under to force mistake upon mistake on their staff.

Below are my highlighted notes from the Kindle edition. At about 3% of the book, this should be fairly legit and doesn’t go against any copyright. But as I say, go to the video for more grumbling 😊

Notes and highlights for

Intelligent Accountability: Creating the conditions for teachers to thrive

Didau, David


Highlight (yellow) - Page 9 · Location 128

Instead of doing a few things well , we do a little bit of everything poorly .

Highlight (yellow) - Page 12 · Location 177

explain the research findings which show that , on the whole , people prefer fair inequality to unfair equality .

Chapter 1: Why we need to embrace ignorance and learn to love uncertainty

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truth is that no one person can ever know enough to effectively run a school . The knowledge you need will be distributed among everyone who works within your school , and there will be pockets of expertise in every department and year team . If you restrict your collective knowledge to only those in senior leadership positions , your decisions will always be less intelligent than they could have been had you tapped the collective knowledge of the entire school community .

Highlight (yellow) - Page 19 · Location 320

On the whole , we prefer our leaders to be wrong rather than unsure . We punish those who admit ignorance and are much happier when they’re decisive , confident … and mistaken .

Chapter 4: Accountability

Highlight (yellow) - Page 90 · Location 1966

Teachers – and school leaders – do need to be held to account for their decisions , but it’s also true that both teachers and school leaders need the freedom to experiment and innovate if they are to be their best . We can combine the best of both of these extremes by holding teachers and school leaders to account for what they have said they will do instead of checking they are complying with what some else thinks is right .

Highlight (yellow) - Page 92 · Location 1994

Figure 4.4 . Poor accountability

Highlight (pink) - Page 92 · Location 1997

Astonishingly , as a profession we have no idea whether there might be a ‘ best way ’ to mark or even if marking is worth the time and effort . 102 In many ways , educational research is in the same parlous state as medieval medicine .

Highlight (yellow) - Page 93 · Location 2009

Highlight (blue) - Page 95 · Location 2030

Accountability processes can lead to unsustainable workload burdens that make it harder for teachers to be effective . If we are not held accountable for our behaviour , we are less likely to behave morally . Poor accountability processes result in teachers trying to look their best rather than trying to be their best . We are prone to thinking in false dichotomies . Instead of looking for weak compromises between competing extremes , we should be working out if polarised positions can be held in creative tension . Using the process of thesis , antithesis and synthesis can help us to make better decisions and arrive at stronger conclusions .

Highlight (blue) - Page 95 · Location 2037

Intelligent accountability makes teachers accountable for the trust we place in them . Accountability is intelligent if : Teachers know how they will be held accountable before judgements are made . The views of the people holding teachers to account are unknown . Teachers believe that those holding them to account are well informed and interested in accuracy .

Chapter 5: Equality, fairness and autonomy

Highlight (yellow) - Page 99 · Location 2137

it . Maybe the most useful way to think about this is to contrast equality of opportunity with equality of outcome .

Highlight (blue) - Page 100 · Location 2158

If all teachers were equally experienced , equally hard - working and equally effective then it would make sense to treat all teachers in exactly the same way . Obviously enough , all teachers are different . They are effective at different things . If we try to make all teachers do the same things we will , inevitably , reduce the effectiveness of very many .

Highlight (blue) - Page 104 · Location 2235

Teachers sometimes spend so much time and effort proving what they have done or will do , that there is little space left over to actually do what needs to be done . In the one - size - fits - all approach to staff appraisal , everyone is treated according the lowest common denominator . If some staff don’t mark their books then , in the interests of equality , everyone is scrutinised in the same way . But treating everyone the same isn’t fair . If some colleagues need support , give it to them . If others merit freedom , they should have it . There will be times when it’s right and reasonable to remove freedoms and impose tighter constraints , but when all staff are treated identically everyone is demotivated .

Highlight (yellow) - Page 104 · Location 2250

Performance management is much more likely to result in teachers thriving if it is centred on asking teachers what they want to work on and then , if they have earned the autonomy to be trusted , holding them to account for working on their priorities .

Highlight (yellow) - Page 105 · Location 2260

Purpose is what keeps us going . We need purpose as well as pleasure to feel fulfilled . When performance management targets are imposed on teachers , their professional life becomes a routine of continually being asked to reach for something that is both meaningless and out of reach . If we seek to motivate teachers with a combination of carrots and sticks , teaching is reduced to doing what you’re told , covering your back and explaining why things went wrong . But if teachers feel a sense of purpose in sharing the breadth and beauty of their subjects , they are much more likely to work conscientiously and strive to improve , as well as being less burdened by anxiety . Having a purpose imbues teachers with the desire to improve for its own sake .

Highlight (pink) - Page 119 · Location 2539

Summary of Chapter 5 Although the aims of equality are well intentioned they inevitably result in people being treated unfairly . Treating teachers fairly means giving them the support and freedoms they need to be most effective . The more teachers are trusted , the greater autonomy they ought to be allowed . Autonomy must be earned ; it should be clear to all teachers how it can be earned . Teachers can be loosely categorised according to perceptions about their effort and expertise : high effort and high expertise , low effort and high expertise , high effort and low expertise , low effort and low expertise . There is no sufficiently reliable process to confidently identify the most or least effective teachers : remember that you should cultivate uncertainty and embrace your ignorance . Rights and responsibilities must be balanced ; teachers and school leaders must be subject to same principles of accountability . Consistency can be overrated ; negotiate your non - negotiables . It is more reasonable to make some things non - negotiable than others : anything that requires teachers ’ judgement and expertise is best left negotiable .

Chapter 6: Improving teaching

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The problem with using exam results to judge teachers is that results are achieved by children , not teachers . We have a natural tendency to look for explanations in the stable characteristics of individuals and to underestimate situational variability , which may lead us to over - interpret value - added measures as a property of the teacher .

Highlight (pink) - Page 124 · Location 2696

Clearly , teaching must have some effect on student outcomes but quantifying its impact is extraordinarily difficult , with some estimates suggesting teaching probably only accounts for around 30 % of the variance in such outcome measures .

Highlight (yellow) - Page 128 · Location 2775

Overall , 63 % of judgements will be wrong . 143 We would get a more statistically valid and less biased assessment if we flipped a coin . At least that would be fairer . When lessons are graded , the observer looks for those things she approves of and is critical of anything else , regardless of the impact on students .

Chapter 7: Intelligent leadership

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Intelligent leadership works by creating a high trust surplus culture , holding teachers to account for the good things they’ve said they want to do . If they do what they’ve said and prove themselves trustworthy , we give them more trust . If they don’t do what they say they will , we tighten the accountability cycle .