23 SES 05 E, (Micro-)Politics and Policy-Making in Education
School inspection is a form of external evaluation in many European school systems – with Finland being a notable exception (Webb, Vulliamy, Hakkinen, & Hamalainen, 1998). It is a tool in the context of New Public Management. As such, it is usually intended to provide stakeholders with comparable information about the quality of schools (Broadbent & Laughlin, 1998, p. 415). Although school inspection serves several – sometimes conflicting – functions, the intention that it should contribute to school improvement is often regarded as paramount. Consequently, it comes as no surprise that most research regarding school inspection has concentrated on the impact of inspection and associated school improvement measures (see e.g. Earley, Fidler, & Ouston, 1996). As a result, research efforts have been mainly concerned what happened after an inspection. In comparison, research projects on the actual practices during inspection visits have been few and far between (e.g. Lambrecht, Kotthoff, & Maag Merki, 2008).
The presented research addresses this gap. It looks at judgement and decision making practices by school inspection teams which usually consist of two to three inspectors. It is overwhelmingly common that inspection teams aim to arrive – ideally via a consensus – at joint decisions regarding the rating of inspection criteria. While agreement within a team is a goal, disagreement does occasionally occur and needs to be resolved. After all, inspection teams (are required to) report their findings with a unitary voice. While in law, dissenting opinions of minority judges are made public by certain courts, no such equivalent exists for school inspection teams. This leads to the question of how school inspection teams arrive at team judgements if the inspectors start out from a position of disagreement on an issue.
It is noteworthy, that regulatory documents on the school inspection process tend to lay out prescriptive and procedural elements in some detail but tend to have little or no formal guidance regarding the judgement process. Most inspection regimes have a quality framework that explicates what is considered to be a ‘good school’ or ‘good practice’. Furthermore, documents that specify the data collection part of school inspection are quite common. However, documents that explicitly detail how inspectors are ought to conduct the data analysis and to arrive at judgements about the quality of schools are comparatively rare.
In following assumptions of structuration theory (Giddens, 1984), this research is conceptualised with the premise that inspection regulation structures but does not predetermine the social field of school inspection. From this follows, that even if detailed and prescriptive regulations on how inspectors ought to make their judgements (as well as on how to resolve potential conflicts) would be readily available, the actual judgement practices may differ and are, therefore, worthy of investigation as a phenomenon in their own right.
Therefore, this presentation reports research findings on how school inspectors arrive at shared judgements about the criteria of school quality that as an official template underlies their decision making efforts. The focus will rest in particular on instances of disagreement between inspection team members and how they are resolved. Of further concern are which rhetorical devices inspectors employ to advance the adoption of their preferred judgement outcome. This study therefore contributes to the micropolitics of quality assessment practices. Micropolitical actions are those that further ones interests in interaction with others (cf. Ball, 1987). In the context of this study, advancing ones judgement preference under conditions of disagreement within a team regarding a specific criterion is considered as a form of micropolitical action.
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