23 SES 07 A, Policy Making and Issues of School Autonomy and Control
This paper takes it point of departure in the international and national policy concept of quality and, with Sweden as a case, reports on the national and local implications of different interpretations. The aim is to investigate whether the tensions identified in the national policy texts also have an impact on the education that takes shape at local level, with a focus on local politicians, civil servants, school leaders and teachers. The specific research question is: How can the local doing of education be understood in relation to international and national quality policy rhetoric, and how does this affect teachers’ autonomy to realise nationally formulated goals?
The study is theoretically inspired by educational research that stresses the need to understand policy as a continuous process of ‘doing’, which includes interactions at and between different levels and actors (Bergh 2010; Biesta & Tedder 2007; Braun, Maguire & Ball 2010; Englund, Forsberg & Sundberg 2012). In order to analyse whether and how the national quality rhetoric affects local actors doing of education, two sets of theoretical concepts are combined. Inspired by Reinhart Koselleck (2002) and conceptual history, the study makes use of horizon of expectation and space of experience and, with inspiration from Alan Cribb and Sharon Gewirtz (2007), autonomy and control.
The international significance is motivated by that the development that is taking place around the quality concept in Swedish education is not limited to a single concept or a specific context. Rather, it reflects a wider social transformation that is occurring in education, in many other sectors in Sweden and in other countries, both in Europe and in other parts of the world (cf. Grek & Lawn 2009). For example, from England Stephen Ball (2003, 216) notes that: ‘One key aspect of the current educational reform movement may be seen as struggles over the control of the field of judgement and its values’. However, besides reports of the many similarities at international and national policy levels it is also pointed out that the formal curricula and their associated pedagogical practices remain largely under-researched as elements in the governing of education (Sivesind, van den Akker and Rosenmund 2012). There is thus a need to acquire more knowledge about how international policy is shaped in relation to national and local educational contexts.
In Sweden, the political rhetoric has changed from the 1990s’ emphasis on decentralisation and local participation in goal setting to an emphasis on quality, equivalence and goal attainment. This is also reflected in the way that national authoritative actors have used the quality concept since its introduction in 1997 (Bergh 2010). Certain understandings, long associated with education, have namely been challenged and partly marginalised by expectations highlighting quality systems, juridical regulations and relating to international policy needs. Despite this changed rhetoric, and the fact that extensive educational reforms have been carried out over the last decade, the government states that the educational assignment is still formulated in the same way as it was in the early 1990s (Bill 2008/09:87). Against this background, a central starting point for the paper is that in the interpretation of the educational assignment tensions could arise between the goals and values formulated in national curricula documents and other aspects of the governing of education, such as the dominating policy rhetoric and structural changes in the educational system as a whole.
The approach taken in this paper has been chosen because it contributes knowledge about whether and how the linguistic force from authoritative actors at national and local levels and the different structures frame and control teachers’ autonomy over the educational practices that prevail in school.
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