14 SES 02 B, Partnership-building among Schools and Communities
For some time, England has been relatively radical in applying neoliberal theory and marketised approaches to education (Mortimore, 2014), represented most clearly by its encouragement of school autonomy and competition (Earley & Greany, 2017). For some, this has resulted in an unprecedented fragmentation of the school landscape and a loosening of the connection between schools and their local communities and accountability systems (Lubienski, 2014; Jopling & Hadfield, 2015; Simkins et al, 2018). This paper approaches England as an extreme case of what Sahlberg (2014) has termed the standardising, accountability-led global education reform movement. It examines the challenges involved in attempting to build collaboration and implement change in a partnership of schools in such a context during a period of rapid national change in school structures, curriculum and assessment. The partnership was located in a relatively isolated coastal part of North East England with significant areas of disadvantage and comprised 17 schools in a three tier system of first and middle schools preparing children for a single high school. Based on research with schools and the local community, the paper explores the difficulties of building consensus for cultural change in schools when neoliberal education policy’s emphasis on competition and performativity impede such coalition-building (Ball, 2000; Mansell, 2016).
The research questions guiding the research were:
- What were the challenges which schools faced in attempting to build partnership among schools and communities and improve young people’s experience of education?
- To what extent were they able to overcome these challenges?
- What are the implications for policy and practice in other contexts, localities and countries?
The qualitative data was analysed thematically using a theoretical framework derived from new social movement theory (Klandermans, 2004; Torres, 2011; Hadfield & Jopling, 2012), research into effective school to school collaboration (Ainscow, 2015; Rincón-Gallardo & Fullan, 2016) and studies of situated disadvantage (Raffo, 2011; Kerr et al, 2014; Crossley, 2017) to examine how the lived experiences and aspirations of adults and children in the area’s schools were affected by the impetus for change and the pressures of neoliberal policy change. Efforts will be made to draw out the implications of the research for other contexts and education systems.
The research adopted an interpretative approach, using individual and group semi-structured interviews with 10 headteachers, 5 deputy headteachers, 35 teachers and teaching assistants, 8 governors and 14 parents from the partnership’s schools, supplemented by a qualitative questionnaire survey of 22 local stakeholders. Performance data and inspection reports for all the schools in the area were also analysed. The interview schedules used were broadly participatory in design (Bergold & Thomas, 2012), using relatively open questions about participants’, and where appropriate their children’s, experiences of schools in the area in order to build with them a series of possible future scenarios for schools and school partnership in the area. These scenarios were then tested in a series of small focus groups with school staff, governors and parents. Data collected were analysed using the theoretical frameworks outlined above and findings were validated with a steering group of teachers and governors drawn from the partnership’s constituent schools.
The research found that, despite government rhetoric, neoliberal policy impedes the development of effective cross-phase partnership due to uneven power relationships among schools and the inability of such policy to take local contexts into account. The singularity of the schools’ geographical location and three-tier structure threw this into sharp focus, although the paper will draw out the implications for schools in other countries, contexts and systems characterised by elements of neoliberal policy. Furthermore, neoliberal initiatives introduced in England in recent years such as academisation and increased school autonomy have distorted priorities and promoted distrust in relatively disadvantaged communities. This is turn has made it more difficult for schools to engage communities as partners, further entrenching neglect and disadvantage.
Ainscow, M (2015) Towards Self-Improving School Systems. Lessons from a city challenge. London: Routledge. Ball, S. (2000) Performativities and fabrications in the education economy: Towards the performative society, Australian Educational Researcher, 27, 2, 1-23. Bergold, J. and Thomas, S. (2012) Participatory research methods: a methodological approach in motion, Historical Social Research 37,4, 191-222. Crossley, S. (2017) In Their Place: The Imagined Geographies of Poverty. London: Pluto. Earley, P. and Greany. T. (eds.) (2017) School Leadership and Education System Reform. London: Bloomsbury Hadfield, M. and Jopling, M. (2012) How might better network theories support school leadership research? School Leadership & Management, 32,2, 109-121. Jopling, M. and Hadfield, M. (2015) From fragmentation to multiplexity: Decentralisation, localism and support for school collaboration in England and Wales, Journal of Educational Research Online, 7,1, 47-65. Kerr, K., Dyson, A. and Raffo, C. (2014) Education, Disadvantage and Place: Making the local matter. Bristol: Policy Press. Klandermans, B. 2004. The demand and supply of participation: Social-psychological correlates of participation in social movements, in Snow, D.A., Soule, S.A. and Kriesi, J. (eds.) The Blackwell companion to social movements, Oxford: Blackwell, 360-379. Lubienski, C. (2014). Re-making the middle: Disintermediation in international context. Educational Management Administration and Leadership, 42(3), 423–440. Mansell, W. (2016) Academies: Autonomy, Accountability, Quality and Evidence. York: Cambridge Primary Review Trust. Mortimore, P. (2014) Education under Siege: Why There is a Better Alternative. Bristol: Policy Press. Raffo, C. (2011) Barker's ecology of disadvantage and educational equity: issues of redistribution and recognition, Journal of Educational Administration and History, 43,4, 325-343. Rincón-Gallardo, S. and Fullan, M. (2016) Essential features of effective networks in education, Journal of Professional Capital and Community, 1,1, 5-22. Sahlberg, P (2014) Finnish Lessons 2.0: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland? Second Edition.New York: Teachers College Press. Simkins, T., Coldron, J., Crawford, M. and Maxwell, B. (2018) Emerging schooling landscapes in England: How primary system leaders are responding to new school groupings, Education Management Administration and Leadership, 1-18. Torres, C.A. (2011) Dancing on the deck of the Titanic? Adult education, the nation-state and new social movements, International Review of Education 57, 39–55.
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