23 SES 08 A, New Forms of Governance in School Education (Part 1)
Paper Session to be continued in 23 SES 09 A
The OECD (2011) draws on PISA data to illustrate a connection between greater school autonomy and improved student performance. International endorsement and focus on school autonomy as a mechanism for driving up education standards are reflective of its status as a globalised policy discourse. School autonomy has been variously adopted across Europe since the 1980s. The distinct differences in the historical models of education organisation in Europe have shaped how this policy has been taken up. The education systems in Belgium and The Netherlands, for example, have highly developed traditions of school autonomy, while the systems in Spain, France and Italy have been more centralised (see Eurydice, 2007). In this paper, the focus is on matters of school autonomy in England.
The paper locates its analysis within the context of the Academies movement in England. The intention of the Academies Act 2010 is to liberate schools from Local Authority governance and allow them much greater power over matters such as budget, staffing and the curriculum. Over the past few years almost half of all secondary schools in England have voluntarily converted to Academy status. The paper also locates its analysis with the context of school networks or collaboration. Given the demise of the Local Authority and the potential fragmentation and isolation schools are experiencing in the present system, there is much political faith in school networks to support school improvement. As such, coinciding with the proliferation of Academies, the English government has enabled the creation of a myriad of network possibilities for schools with the purpose of generating collective, school-led and school-governed responsibility for improving schools (Ofsted 2010).
This paper is set against the backdrop of these policy discourses. It is mindful of how these discourses are shaped by the ever-increasing accountability demands and narrow standards agenda of the audit culture. The key focus is on the organisation and management of one of England’s top performing academy chains, ‘CONNECT’. New education providers like CONNECT are replacing traditional public sector management and exemplify a new modality of state power (Ball & Junemann, 2012). The paper draws on interview data with the Executive Director of CONNECT and four of CONNECT's Head Teachers. The interviews explore the participants' experiences of being part of an Academy chain and were gathered as part of a broader study around issues of equity and schooling. The key question the study asks is: How is this chain ‘effectively’ governed in the current climate? The paper’s theoretical focus is on the notion of neoliberal responsibilisation as a regulatory mechanism governing the chain. According to Shamir (2008) neoliberal responsibilisation:
…assumes a moral agency which is congruent with the attributed tendencies of economic-rational actors: autonomous, self-determined and self-sustaining subjects … [a]s the choice of options for action is, or so the neo-liberal notion of rationality would have it, the expression of free will on the basis of a self-determined decision, the consequences of the action are borne by the subject alone, who is also solely responsible for them.
The notion of neoliberal responsibilisation is drawn on in the paper to examine firstly, the ways in which Head Teachers describe their work and, secondly, the chain’s expectations of them as CONNECT leaders. The paper’s key aim is to illustrate how such neoliberal responsibilisation is both a crucial and highly troubling element in the work of academy chains as new modalities of state power.
Ball, S. & Junemann, C. 2012. Networks, new governance and education. Bristol: The Policy Press. Office for standards in education (Ofsted) 2010. The London Challenge. Available from: http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/resources/london-challenge. Eurydice, 2007. School autonomy in Europe: Policy and measures, European Commission, Brussels. Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) 2006. Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), author. Shamir, R. 2008. The age of responsibilization: on market embedded morality. Economy and Society 37, no. 1: 1-19.
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