23 SES 01 B, Policy Borrowing and Policy Learning in Education
PISA is increasingly focusing the minds of national policy-makers. There is a desperate desire for knowledge about how certain countries achieve ‘success’ in these global league tables, with the temptation to indulge in ‘policy borrowing’; an approach that ‘searches the international experience for examples of a unique, transferable “best practice”’ (Raffe, 2011: 1).
Building on previous ECER contributions (Hodgson and Spours, 2010, 2012, 2013a), we will use the distinction between ‘policy borrowing’ and ‘policy learning’ to explore the conditions by which countries can create an evidence-based dialogue on how they are innovating in upper secondary education (USE) within the context of globalisation. By policy learning we are referring to the capacity of policy-makers and practitioners to use international and historical evidence to better understand their own national systems and to identify trends that might affect all systems (Raffe and Spours, 2007).
We use the case of the four countries of the UK (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland), whose USE systems are increasingly diverging, as our illustration. We argue that ‘deep’ policy learning is not simply the responsibility of national governments, but also results from the involvement of education professionals, researchers and key stakeholders, such as employers, teacher unions and professional associations.
The theoretical dimensions used to frame this paper are the distinction and relationship between ‘policy borrowing’ and ‘policy learning’ and how these processes take place within particular national governance systems that may have different characteristics – marketised or public; centralised or devolved (Lundgren, 2002). We also explore the impact of policy learning on the processes of ‘convergence’ and ‘divergence’ between national systems.
The argument for the involvement of a range of stakeholders in processes of knowledge exchange arises from the need for USE systems to be constructed from below as well as from above. This is particularly the case in the fostering of 21st century competences because learners develop these not only through subject disciplines, but also through integrative activities and the utilisation of wider learning opportunities in local communities and workplaces (Sahlberg, 2007; Halasz and Michel, 2011). This suggests that building USE systems with these integrative characteristics arises from both national policies on curriculum, qualifications, institutional arrangements and quality assurance processes and also from particular local governance relationships and knowledge exchanges practices involving a range of stakeholders.
The four countries of the UK have increasingly different sets of curriculum, qualifications, institutional, governance and quality assurance arrangements. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have, since ‘democratic devolution’, continued to build what might be characterised as a consensual ‘social partnership’ approach to reform, whereas England has developed a more marketised and centralised approach to policy-making and implementation (Hodgson et al., 2011).
However, all four countries are dependent on one another in that they broadly share the same economy and there is still considerable interchange in relation to higher education and employment. Despite this, there is little evidence of systematic national policy learning taking place and we argue that this is an opportunity missed. In the light of this, we examine some small-scale examples of how knowledge exchange is beginning to take place, highlight the role of researchers in the process and suggest the parameters within which ‘deep’ policy learning is likely to take place.
The paper thus addresses the following questions:
- What are the key characteristics of ‘policy borrowing’ and how is this exemplified across the four countries of the UK in relation to USE?
- What are the potential conditions for ‘deep’ policy learning that can be identified currently across USE systems in these countries?
- What type of knowledge and practice exchange might support ‘deep’ policy learning?
Coffield, F., S. Edward, I. Finlay, A. Hodgson, R. Steer, and K. Spours (2008) Improving learning, skills and inclusion: The impact of policy on post-compulsory education. London: Routledge/Falmer. Halász, G. and Michel, A. (2011) Key Competences in Europe: interpretation, policy formulation and implementation, European Journal of Education, 46 (3), 289-306. Hodgson, A. and Spours, K. (2010) Three versions of ‘Localism’: Implications for upper secondary education and lifelong learning in the UK. A paper for the European Conference of Education Research, Helsinki, August 2010. Hodgson, A. and Spours, K. (2012) Understanding and supporting school-to-work transitions: an ecological model. A paper for the European Conference of Education Research, Cadiz, September 2012. Hodgson, A. and Spours, K. (2013a) ‘Heavy fog in the Channel: Continent cut off’ - reform of upper secondary education from the perspective of English exceptionalism A paper for the European Conference of Education Research, Istanbul, September 2013. Hodgson, A. and Spours, K. (2013b) Middle attainers and 14–19 progression in England: half-served by New Labour and now overlooked by the Coalition? British Educational Research Journal, DOI: 10.1002/berj.3091. Hodgson, A. and Spours, K. (2013c) An ecological analysis of the dynamics of localities: a 14+ ‘low opportunity progression equilibrium’ in action, Journal of Education and Work, DOI:10.1080/13639080.2013.805187 Hodgson, A., Spours, K. and Waring, M. (2011) (eds) Post-compulsory education and lifelong learning across the United Kingdom: policy, organization and governance. London: IOE Publications. Lundgren, U. (2002) Political governing of the education sector: reflections on change, Studies in Educational Policy and Educational Philosophy E-tidskrift 2002:1: http://forskning.edu.uu.se/upi/SITE_Docs/Doc138.pdf. Pring, R., Hayward, G., Hodgson, A., Johnson, J., Keep, E., Oancea, A., Rees, G., Spours, K. & Wilde, S. (2009) Education for all: the future of education and training for 14-19 year olds. London: Routledge. Raffe, D. (2011) Policy borrowing or policy learning? How (not) to improve education systems, CES Briefing 57, October. Centre for Educational Sociology, University of Edinburgh. Raffe, D. and Spours, K. (eds) (2007) Policy-making and policy learning in 14-19 education. Bedford Way Papers, Institute of Education, University of London. Sahlberg, P. (2007) Secondary Education In OECD Countries Common Challenges, Differing Solutions. Turin: European Training Foundation.
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