28 SES 09 B, Educational Inequalities and Europeanization
In the context of the Portuguese reality, the primacy given to the results took over the educational agenda in a segmented and hybrid manner: without abandoning the democratising aims inherent to the construction of the schooling project, the production of excellence is added as a new priority when driving the public systems of education, making them hostages of goals, performativity indices and positions and hierarchies dictated by rankings. The senses of democratisation change emphasis, with inclusion and equity emerging as new benchmarks for equal opportunities of access and success, now at the service of the school "quality" and effectiveness (Derouet, 2010). The cult of performativity is driven by several policy measures, apparently in mismatch, but converging at the level of the global effects.
The majority of studies on the issue of school excellence is inscribed in three main streams of research: (i) in the theories of social and cultural reproduction, which favour the students’ class conditions and their school trajectories; ii) the movement of effective schools, developed in the USA in the 1970s and with strong impact throughout the world (Brookover et al., 1979; Rutter et al., 1979); (iii) and in a more meaningful way, in the approaches around the school effect and the establishment effect researched in depth by French authors (Dubet, Cousin & Guillemet, 1989, Cousin, 1998; Bressoux, 1994). Many of these approaches focused on the identification of causal relations among a limited set of variables (social, organisational, pedagogical) and the construction of successful school paths, leaving in the shadow the multidimensional, holistic and contextualised nature of the phenomenon. While in the first case, the families’ economic and cultural variables were central dimensions to understand the (re)production of the success trajectories, a trend developed with strong expression in the French and Brazilian contexts (Lahire, 1995; Ferrand, Imbert & Marry, 1999; Almeida & Nogueira, 2002; Brandão & Lelis, 2003; Nogueira, 2004), in the second and third cases, the importance of the organisational factors were explored (climate, culture, leadership, pedagogical organisation) in the generation of different types of results, be they academic (success), professional (the pedagogical performance of teachers), organisational (school management) or cultural (school identity).
Taking this context as reference, this paper aims to discuss the expansion of the academic excellence phenomenon in the Portuguese public school from three scales: the education regulation policies (mega-macro); the school effect and the management and leadership dimensions (meso); and the school and non-school paths from the students’ perspective (micro). Based on a multiscale look, the main focus lies on the identification of the factors that contribute to the construction of school excellence. In the mega-macro plan, emphasis is placed on the current guidelines of the neoliberal inspired political agenda, which has been pressuring the educational systems to incorporate logics of meritocratic regulation, based on the production of results of excellence. Against this ideology of transnational reach, permanently reinforced by the multiplication of international comparison devices, the education systems react reflexively to these dynamics, adopting mechanisms of hetero and self-regulation increasingly focused on producing measurable results, and sustained by standardised evaluation mechanisms (Afonso, 1998). From the meso-analytic point of view, school organisation resurges with a new central role, since it represents the actual context where the teaching and learning processes take place, either as the area to combat social inequality and of opportunity for social mobility through successful school paths, or as a context of affirmation of the new middle class’ competitive advantages.
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