Designing a robust accountability system

Pupils from the Teach for Nigeria programme outside their school building.

Credit: GEM Report/Teach for Nigeria

Designing a robust accountability system

Clear accountability mechanisms should be in place to meet global common commitments to inclusive, equitable and high-quality education and lifelong learning for all. This report has shown the whole array of approaches, ranging from countries where the concept of accountability is unknown, and violations of the right to education go unchallenged, to countries where accountability has become an end in itself instead of a means to improve education.

Accountability in education starts with governments, which bear the primary duty to ensure the right to education. Every country in the world has ratified at least one international treaty illustrating its commitment to the right to education. However, in only 55% of countries is the right to education justiciable, meaning that there are laws allowing citizens to legally challenge failures in the education system. Civil society organizations and the international community should lobby for the right to education, including for making the right justiciable in national legal frameworks.

Of course, laws are only powerful if they are implemented. Effective accountability requires governments to build stronger systems to enforce the laws. This report therefore lays out the following recommendations to help governments – but also other actors with a stake in education – to design and implement robust accountability systems.


Governments need to create space for meaningful and representative engagement to build trust and a shared understanding of respective responsibilities with all education actors – all government tiers and departments, legislative and judicial authorities, autonomous institutions, schools, teachers, parents, students, civil society, teachers’ unions, the private sector and international organizations. Steps in that direction would include:

  1. Providing formal space for meaningful dialogue among multiple stakeholders, especially those sitting outside government.
  2. Strengthening the role of legislatures’ education committees by introducing regular review processes and building the capacity of their members.
  3. Publishing an annual education monitoring report that presents actions taken and the results to which they have contributed, across all levels of education, for the benefit of the public.

2. Governments should develop credible education sector plans and transparent budgets with clear lines of responsibility and truly independent auditing mechanisms. Fundamentally, government actors cannot be held accountable if there is no clarity on what they are accountable for. Budget document transparency can help clarify where and when funding is released, providing information necessary for critical review,
especially in the legislature.

3. Governments should develop credible and efficient regulations and monitoring mechanisms and adhere to followup actions and sanctions when standards are not met. These should cover providers of both public and private education and ancillary services. Processes, such as registration and accreditation or bidding and contracting, should be clear and transparent. But regulations should also address equity and quality aspects of education.

4. Governments should design school and teacher accountability mechanisms that are supportive and formative, and avoid punitive mechanisms, especially the types based on narrow performance measures. Using student test scores to sanction schools or evaluate teachers can promote an unhealthy competitionbased environment, narrow the curriculum, encourage teaching to the test, demotivate teachers and disadvantage weaker students, all of which undermine overall education quality and student learning.

5. Governments need to allow for a democratic voice, protect media freedom to scrutinize education and set up independent institutions for citizens to voice complaints. Free and fair elections increase citizen trust in the government and electoral competition can make incumbents more responsive to citizen demands. The media can provide a valuable source of easily comprehensible information, particularly for population groups that have limited access to it. Ombudsman offices can provide an important outlet for citizen complaints, as long as political incentives are aligned with the need to respond to these grievances.