Becoming an ethical researcher
Becoming an ethical researcher

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Becoming an ethical researcher

1.3 Accountability

This next case study will get you to consider how such accountabilities might affect a setting’s openness to embrace research.

Case study 3.2 Accountability in Canadian schools

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The principal at the time was Bob Maskell. And I was actually teaching right next door over in another inner-city school. And he just came in. And this school had a terrible, tough reputation-- terrible and tough as nails, toughest school in the city. It was just at the time where Fame came out. We're talking mid-'80s. It was a TV show. It was a movie-- all that sort of thing.
And he thought, you know what? If we got things like that, maybe kids would be more engaged, and more included, and inclusive. And so that's what he did. He changed this whole school over. He hired drama teachers who were the best drama teachers. He hired the best dance teachers. He worked like crazy. He got dance studios installed. He sold off old shop equipment, welding equipment. And the arts became the focus.
Everyone's taking the same curricular outcomes. That's a requirement and a given in the system. So now we're talking about what in addition are we providing to children and to students? One of the things that I think that's really important is that children are engaged. They are excited about learning. They're finding their passions. They're having an opportunity to develop those passions. I want teachers to have those same options as well. And so by providing a variety of different kinds of programming options within the system, we find ways to keep parents, and students, and teachers engaged and passionate about what it is that they're doing.
If I stood here and went like this--
In Alberta, those schools have greater autonomy. And parents have more choice. Accountability remains of critical importance at all levels. Students are tested annually across a range of core subjects. And individual teachers are answerable for their results.
Downstairs in the principal's office, they're looking at my results. They're looking at my results after my first unit exam, after a mid-term, all the way up until they have to write their final exam or their diploma course, and then they're looking at it after. How many 'A's did I have? How many 'B's did I have? How many people succeeded, and so on, and so forth. And that goes per semester, two or three times-- I don't know what it is. It depends if you're in the limelight or not. But it's something that we are all accountable for, OK. Why is this person failing? What can you do to make sure this person is not failing anymore?
And school principals are personally accountable to the local superintendent.
I visited classrooms. I wasn't there to assess each teacher's performance. I was assessing the head's performance. And so I would ask the head questions like, what are we going to see in this room? And I did have the data with me, the achievement data for each school and each classroom. And so if I thought the principal was dragging their heels or was not making the effort I thought the children deserved, then I put the heat on them without apology.
In Alberta, the province has been striving to find ways to make schools accountable centrally for their performance, while allowing each school the autonomy to develop innovative and creative learning and teaching methods. The balance they have found is now working and is producing greater student engagement in their learning. But how this balance will play out in other countries will vary and will depend on each country's economic, social, cultural, and political circumstances.
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Watch the 3 minute 39 second video talking about accountability within Canadian schools in Alberta, focusing on the Victoria School in Edmonton.

You will hear how leaders are acutely aware of their accountability to the public, including parents, which national authorities monitor through inspections focused on the headteacher. Teachers talk about how senior leaders then expect individual teachers to be accountable for the performance of their students. However, while they monitor attainment through student grades achieved, it is the engagement of staff and students that is considered most vital in driving up standards. Such pressures on employees and organisational leaders can be easily applied to other work settings.

Activity 2 Setting accountabilities affecting researcher accountabilities

Timing: Allow approximately 40 minutes

Part A

Imagine you are a researcher intending to research this Canadian school to examine the experiences of the lower-attaining students.

Identify the concerns and expectations you think the following stakeholders might raise if they were to receive your request, bearing in mind their own accountabilities and interests as leaders associated with the school.

  • a.the school headteacher
  • b.a school class teacher
  • c.parents of children at the school
  • d.the regional inspector

What might you need to promise each of the above as you negotiate your plans to research this topic in their school?

Which, if any, tensions can you anticipate between what the various stakeholders might expect of you?

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Part B

Choose one of the stakeholders (a) to (d). Write a short post on the course forum [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] that summarises two of the promises you would make to them and up to two of the issues they might raise for you, which your research plans might need to accommodate.

Insights can also be gained from these case studies if you think of researchers as leaders, due to holding multiple accountabilities. Leading a research project means the researcher will take on multiple responsibilities and will be required to show academic leadership in managing those responsibilities.

Just as a school needs to offer a quality education to its students, so a researcher needs to produce a study of quality. A study, like a school, will be judged by the wider public as well as those involved directly during and beyond its activity. Like the school leader in this case study, your values and vision for your research should drive your leadership of it, rather than your study being overly affected by the external accountability measures of it. If you think the research needs to develop in particular ways that show integrity to your values, then you should feel you have the autonomy or the ‘academic freedom’ to do so. You will be held accountable, however, and you should expect to defend your decisions and ensure that they are acceptable and approved by those in your research setting. Your research will need to fit in with the internal and external obligations of those in your chosen research setting.


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