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The Case for Accountability

The call we have been waiting for, for almost two years, finally came on Monday morning. Inspection is something that stirs both dread, and a sense of challenge in any school community: dread because every detail of your practice is scrutinised; and challenge, because you need to use the opportunity to showcase everything that your school, and its community is doing to ensure that children are given the best possible opportunities to succeed.

The prospect of coming up short in any area is very daunting indeed, and having the looking glass held up in front of you requires a high level of humility and honesty to improve where improvement needs to be sought.

Accountability is not a popular word in modern society. There appears to be a tendency to shy away from it, and not acknowledging when things have gone wrong and admitting our part in it is something that happens far too often. There is an argument that being held to account is actually really good for us, and can help to improve our mental wellbeing, if we are willing to engage with it honestly and humbly. We grow when we are challenged, and we should embrace these opportunities for positive change.

As parents and teachers, it is vital for us to teach the children in our care right from wrong from the very start, and we should do so consistently, patiently, and with much love. It is a fait accompli that we are all going to get it wrong from time to time, and being held to account when this does happen helps to pave the way for restorative measures to be put in place. Without accountability there is no moving forward, and getting stuck in an unhealthy space when things have gone wrong is not helpful to anybody.

So how do we create a culture of accountability that secures a way forward when we’ve made mistakes?

It begins with the small things, like tidying up when we’re done playing with something, or owing up if we’ve accidentally broken something. If we teach our children that we are all responsible for tidying up when the game is over, and that it’s not the end of the world when an accident happens, it helps to reinforce positive behaviour later on in life. The temptation for us all as parents is often to take a shortcut and just do the tidying up ourselves, as it’s quicker and it keeps the peace; however, this sets a pattern that is very hard to break free from later on.

We also need to teach our children that we are all responsible for what happens in the world around us, and that no action is too small when it comes to making a positive difference. By giving children opportunities to be independent, like making their own beds, or making sure that their PE kit is packed and ready for the next day, teaches them that their efforts do have an impact, and that they can control the success of their day to a large degree. Giving children responsibilities gives them the opportunity to be accountable, and allows them to experience success or failure in a safe environment.

Children should be taught that there are natural consequences when we get things wrong. Losing out on screen time, or being given a few extra chores around the house for a time, are perhaps two ways in which accountability can be taught. They also learn that although the consequences may be unpleasant at the time, they do pass, and that relationships can be restored, or the situation rectified by being proactive. There’s also the old adage of picking one’s battles, and allowing children to learn the hard way from time to time. For example, not taking a coat with you on a cold day, may lead to you being cold later on – a natural consequence. We must, however, teach our children that it is possible to learn from our mistakes, and that we are able to do better next time.

And then, praise. Praise and affirmation is a wonderful way to reinforce behaviour that is good, and decisions that are well made. It’s often easy to overlook it when a child is making the right choices, and just seems to be getting on with it, but it’s noticing the little things that often provide children with a feeling of warmth and pride. We all crave a bit of positive attention from time to time, and praise does not only need to happen when a child achieves something big.

Learning that one is accountable for one’s actions and decision-making can only be a good thing, and understanding that if we are able to own it when things go wrong, we are already half-way there to making it better. And how special it is when we are able to improve in such a way, that there is something to be proud of at the end of the day.

Craig Cuyler
Assistant Deputy Head/Director of Wellbeing
Head of PSHEe/Deputy DSL/ Assistant Housemaster


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