28 SES 07 A, Reshaping Space-Times of Education: Global trends, National responses
European countries are variously influenced by the political doctrine of ‘small government’, and the associated practices of privatisation, contractualism, marketization and regulation via audit. The United Kingdom is an extreme case of the enactment of this governing agenda, with perhaps Sweden following not too far behind. Schooling has arguably been the major crucible for governing experiments - outsourcing a universal social service to a range of providers. Educational sociologists have been active in examining the effects of this experimentation, finding for example that: the middle class have systematically benefited from school ‘choice’ policies (Power, Edwards, Whitty, & Wigfall, 2002); the actions of apparently autonomous teachers and schools are in reality strongly steered (Ball, Maguire, & Braun, 2012); and interlocking commercial and philanthropic networks and consultants have gained considerable power and profits (Ball, 2012; Gunter, 2015).
This paper aims to contribute to this corpus of scholarship through the lens of ‘bad behaviour’. The paper draws on an analysis of a corpus of some 1500 media items, that is, information in the public domain. A sample of headlines shows the nature of the corpus:
- Suspended Academies boss Denise Shepherd investigated” (BBC News 31 May 2016)
- “Academy trust lauded by Cameron in 'serious breaches' of guidelines” (Guardian, 24 March, 2016)
- 17 schools in Edinburgh to close from Monday amid safety fears” (HeraldScotland, 8 April, 2016)
- “Teachers living in an atmosphere of fear due to bullying by headteachers, union warns” (The Independent, 6 April, 2015)
- “Cheating found to be rife in British schools and universities” (The Guardian 15 June, 2015)
- “Headteacher under investigation by DfE over cronyism claims (The Telegraph, 9 May, 2013)
The overall analysis of the corpus shows endemic theft, fraud, bullying, exaggerated marketing and downright untruths, secrecy, mismanagement, cronyism and gaming the system. This paper focuses on one aspect of this bad behaviour, that of financial mismanagement. The paper pursues the question: Why is this bad behaviour happening and what might be done to stop it?
Media clippings were collected from June 2014. Around 1400 are stored on a public Pinterest board; about 100 are not amenable to clipping as they are hard copies of archival material necessary for background. All items have been subject to critical discourse analysis (Fairclough, 2002): the analytic method follows Fairclough’s recommended steps (Fairclough, 1995). The corpus was thematised through content then linguistic textual features were analysed to elaborate the major ‘problem’ under discussion and its apparent causes. This was followed by a wider interrogation of prevailing policy discourses and media responses. Finally, alternative explanations were generated. It is worth noting, on legal advice, only public domain material is used in this study in order to avoid legal action being taken against the researcher. The corpus analysis showed that between 2014 and end 2017, there were very regular media reports of theft and fraud, direction of public money to businesses in which executive staff or trustees have an interest, considerable expense involved in Public Private Funding (PPF) arrangements, exorbitant salaries paid to Chief Executives, asset stripping schools and then abandoning them, and the inequitable distribution of rewards and salaries. Although commercial media largely reported these as isolated events, education journalists argued that there was something systematic and systemic in their production.
Educational journalists document/reveal: (1) lack of public involvement in decision-making. The academisation agenda and the subsequent formation of academy chains has meant that local authorities and school governing bodies no longer have oversight of school spending, decisions are made by a small group of trustees. (2) lack of transparency and poor regulation School expenditure regulations require public probity – due process in procurement, equity in promotion and reward systems and annual publicly available audited financial statements. The Educational Finance Authority has oversight of school financial management and has sanctioned a few schools for mismanagement, and for tardiness in making such information available, or reporting selectively. I argue a third deficit, a lack of public ethics which has produced and reproduced neoliberalist experiments in educational governing. Bad behaviour in ‘autonomous schools’ is legitimated through business rhetoric, practices and values. And the public service in England, traditionally possessed of a disinterest in immediate political ideology and a long-term commitment to public good, is in no position to intervene in these business practices. Westminster is now the most politicised public sector in Europe (Grube & Howard, 2016), and is largely directed to meeting short-term ministerial goals, rather than long-term public good. The research also shows the value of the ‘fourth estate ‘ in neoliberalst regimes - without educational investigative journalism the general public in England would have very little information about financial management, as academy trust meetings are often carried out as commercial in confidence, and minutes redacted. I argue that changing schools' bad behaviour needs more than a focus on structures – decision making and regulation. Until the public sector and schools reclaim the ethics of public stewardship, opportunities for bad behaviour will continue to be taken up, ignored, and dealt with inconsistently and slowly. Is this an English lesson for Europe?
Ball, S. (2012). Global Education Inc: New policy networks and the neoliberal imaginary. London: Routledge. Ball, S., Maguire, M., & Braun, A. (2012). How schools do policy. Policy enactments in secondary schools. London: Routledge. Fairclough, N. (1995). Media discourse. London: Edward Arnold. Fairclough, N. (2002). Critical discourse analysis and the marketization of public discourse: the universities. In M. Toolan (Ed.), Critical discourse analysis: Critical concepts in linguistics, Volume IV (pp. 69-103). London: Routledge. Grube, D., & Howard, C. (2016). Is the Westminster system broken beyond repair? Governance: An International Journal of Policy, Administration and Institutions, 29(4), 467-481. Gunter, H. (2015). Consultants, consultancy and consultocracy in education policymaking in England. Journal of Education Policy, 30(4), 518-539. Power, S., Edwards, T., Whitty, G., & Wigfall, V. (2002). Education and the middle classes. Buckingham: Open University Press.
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