23 SES 03 B, Policies and Practices of Quality Evaluation
School inspection has become a central instrument to monitor the quality of schools in most European countries. While research on the acceptance of school inspection reveals a mixed to a positive picture (Keune, 2014), newspaper articles, for instance, show that this instrument is highly contested and – partly – far from being accepted, but instead perceived as unfair (e.g., “Secret Teacher”, 2015).
According to Struck (2001), the legitimacy of so-called “gatekeeping” judgements, i.e. judgements that involve severe consequences for those being evaluated, is highly dependent on whether these judgements are perceived as fair. This applies, for instance, to pupil assessment in schools, which has a gatekeeping function in terms of the allocation of future educational and life chances (Waldow, 2014). However, it is assumed to also apply to the external evaluation of schools through school inspection, especially when school inspections are high-stakes situations for schools, sometimes even determining if a school survives or not, as it can be the case in England. However, what is actually considered fair in terms of school inspection as a potential gatekeeping mechanism can differ considerably between contexts and between actors‘ perspectives.
This paper reports some preliminary results of a comparative research project, investigating school inspectors’ beliefs about what characterizes fair school inspection in England and Germany. One particular question of interest is in relation to whom inspectors feel the need to be fair. To the inspected school (staff and/or pupils), to parents, to a wider public (e.g., tax payers), or to somebody else? Related to these questions, fundamental tensions become apparent. For example, there is a tension between treating all schools equally, on the one hand, and capturing the individual case on the other hand. While the first approach involves the application of a standardised inspection procedure that allows for comparability between schools, the second one puts an emphasis on recognising the school’s (challenging) circumstances and acknowledging its effort, sacrificing standardisation and comparability to a certain degree. Preliminary results from the study reveal that inspectors do not consider either one or the other approach as right or fair. Rather, their justice beliefs are located on a continuum between the two extremes. This paper aims to present a spectrum of inspectors’ different and sometimes conflicting justice beliefs.
Theoretically, the study is inspired by sensitizing concepts derived from social justice research (Colquitt et al., 2005) as well as research on assessment in education.
Colquitt, J. A., Greenberg, J., & Zapata-Phelan, C. P. (2005). What is organizational justice? A historical overview. In J. Greenberg & J. A. Colquitt (Eds.), Handbook of organizational justice (pp. 3-56). Mahwah, New Jersey, London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Flick, U. (2000). Episodic interviewing. In M. W. Bauer & G. Gaskell (Eds.), Qualitative researching with text, image and sound. A practical handbook (pp. 75-92). London: Sage Publications. Keune, M. S. (2014). Schulinspektion unter besonderer Berücksichtigung externer Zielvereinbarungen. Eine explorative ‚mixed methods‘-Studie am Beispiel der hessischen Schulinspektion. Münster: Monsenstein und Vannerdat. Secret Teacher: Dear Ofsted, please can you send me a copy of the real rules? (2015, January 24). The Guardian, Retrieved January 27, 2015, from http://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/2015/jan/24/secret-teacher-ofsted-rules Steiner-Khamsi, G. (2010). The politics and economics of comparison. Comparative Education Review, 54(3), 323-342. Strauss, A. L., & Corbin, J. M. (1990). Basics of qualitative research: grounded theory procedures and techniques. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications. Struck, O. (2001). Gatekeeping zwischen Individuum, Organisation und Institution: Zur Bedeutung und Analyse von Gatekeeping am Beispiel von Übergängen im Lebensverlauf. In L. Leisering, R. Müller & K. F. Schumann (Eds.), Institutionen und Lebensläufe im Wandel. Institutionelle Regulierungen von Lebensläufen (pp. 29-54). Weinheim, München: Juventa Verlag. Waldow, F. (2014). Conceptions of justice in the examination systems of England, Germany and Sweden: A look at safeguards of fair procedure and possibilities of appeal. Comparative Education Review, 58(2), 322-343.
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