26 SES 14 B, There's Never Just One Level – Governance Perspectives, Issues of Autonomy and System Boundaries
Many diverse interrelated actors and social structures affect change across system boundaries in education. The boundaries between the levels, and how the levels and actors interact, are important in understanding what is commonly referred to in the literature as the dynamics of educational change (Fullan, 2011; Hargreaves & Shirley, 2012; Malone, 2013; Scott, 2014; Smith, 2007; Thornton, Ocasio, &Lounsbury, 2012). Dynamics of change, according to Kauko, Simola, Varjo, & Kalalahti, (2012), are closely linked to the processes of change and refer to complex social relations and interactions among the actors and across system boundaries of macro, meso, and micro levels. Similarly, Erez and Gati (2004) define these dynamics as they pertain “to the interrelationships among the various levels of culture and the way they impact each other” (p. 587). They also discuss the dynamics in relation to the same macro, meso and micro levels.
Exploring the relation between system boundaries, the metatheory of institutional logic (Thornton et al., 2012) is useful as the theory incorporates neo-institutional theory where macro structure, culture, and agency are presented through a cross-level process explaining how social institutions facilitate or constrain change. Here it will be related to change within upper secondary education in Iceland, by relating it to the institutional framework, which is in the hands of government and the institutional level represented by the universities. Scott (2014) explains how institutions have jurisdiction over several levels by operating, either alone or together, throughout the world or within subunits of organisations. The term institution in this context refers to a number of elements that, in combination with related activities and resources, provide for stability and meaning. Scott details this definition by stating that institutions are complex, long-lasting, and socially constructed by symbolic elements. The symbolic elements are “regulative, normative, and cultural-cognitive” (p. 57). These elements are the three pillars of institutions and will be used to explore the dynamics of change within upper secondary education. The regulative pillar represents the legislative frame and the systems of rules and regulations controlling the organisations. The normative pillar refers to “normative rules that introduce perspective, evaluative, and obligatory dimensions of social life” (p. 64). Professional roles, values, and norms fall, for example, under the normative pillar. Finally, the cultural-cognitive pillar consists of “shared conceptions that constitute the nature of social reality and the frames through which meaning is made” (p. 67)
The aim of the study is to understand the impact two macro actors have on upper secondary education in Iceland. These are the government (mainly Ministry of Education, Science and Culture) and the tertiary system (mainly University of Iceland; Iceland has a unified system). We aim to explore the interaction between these actors and social structures involved, but mainly and effect of their influences when facilitating or constraining change in upper secondary schools. The data we focus on here is derived from interviews with school leaders in upper secondary schools and how they perceive the patterns of influence. The specific research questions explored here are:
- How do upper secondary school leaders perceive the impact from the government and the tertiary system on educational change in the schools they lead and how do the actors interact in facilitating or constraining change?
- What social structures do upper secondary school leaders see promoted by the government and the tertiary system and what impact do they consider these to have in facilitating or constraining change?
The findings are based on interviews from a comprehensive study on nine upper secondary schools in Iceland involving interviews with school leaders, teachers and students and class observations (Óskarsdóttir, 2016). In this paper, we use the interviews with 21 school leaders that we conducted in 2013 and 2014. The schools and the school leaders were selected on the basis of stratified sampling with regard to school types on one hand, and hierarchical structure within the selected schools on the other hand. We used thematic analysis to understand the school leaders’ perception on the interaction between the three principal actors: government, the university level and the upper secondary school level. Thematic analyses offers flexibility according to Braun and Clarke (2006) in relation to a) analyses of conversation and, b) theoretical and epistemological perspective. We used the institutional theories (Scott, 2012; Thornton et al., 2012) to analyse the data. We also critically analysed relevant social structures i.e., public documents such as rules, regulations and other working frameworks which can be seen to affect or control upper secondary education.
The findings show complex patterns of interactions between the three actors, the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture, the university level, and the upper secondary schools as perceived by the school leaders. Both macro actors have both direct and indirect institutionalised control over many important aspects of the upper secondary schools. We argue that the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture gives a double, inconsistent, message of freedom on the one hand and control on the other, both of which relate in various ways to the feasibility of developing a school for all. Similarly, the university level gives contradictory signals. The long-term expansion of the unified tertiary system signals a propensity to serve a widening spectrum of students. However, that does not echo in the messages they send the schools, which narrowly focus on academic standards and the status of certain subjects that clearly have important implications on the school curriculum. This has the consequences that other important subjects, supporting democratic environment in schools and students’ diversity are not valued. The ministry reinforces the regulative pillars of institutions (Scott, 2014), with numerous rules and legislative frames slowing down certain processes of change in the schools. While the university level reinforces the normative pillars of institutions, mainly by emphasising some academic subjects and inclination towards independently set entrance criteria, many of which counter the strive towards inclusion at the upper secondary level. Thus, the university level reinforces solid institutional control when it comes to the status and content of academic subjects. The findings show clearly that the formal role and authority of school leaders and their independence, with reference to issues such as inclusion and social justice more generally is of paramount importance to fully take into account all of the regulative and normative institutional constraints operating.
Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(4), 77–101. Erez, M., & Gati, E. (2004). A dynamic, multi‐level model of culture: from the micro level of the individual to the macro level of a global culture. Applied Psychology, 53(4), 583–598. Fullan, M. (2011). Change leader: Learning to do what matters most. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Hargreaves, A., & Shirley, D. (2012). The global fourth way: The quest for educational excellence. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin. Kauko, J., Simola, H., Varjo, J., & Kalalahti, M. (2012). What could a dynamics perspective contribute to comparative research? In J. Kivirauma, A. Jauhianen, S. P., & K. T. (Eds.), Koulutuksen yhteiskunnallinen ymmärrys. Social perspectives on education. Research in educational sciences (pp. 219–233). Turku: Finnish Educational Research Association. Malone, H. J. (2013). Leading educational change: global issues, challenges, and lessons on whole-system reform. New York: Teachers College Press. Óskarsdóttir, G. G. (2016). Upper secondary school practices in Iceland. Aims and methods. Research project 2012–2018. Retrieved from http://menntavisindastofnun.hi.is/sites/menntavisindastofnun.hi.is/files/starfsh_frhsk_skyrsla_19.2.2016.pdf Scott, W. R. (2014). Institutions and organizations. Ideas, interests and identities (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Smith, L. (2008). The dynamics of change. In L. Smith (Ed.), Schools that change: Evidence-based improvement and effective change leadership (pp. 11–52). Thousand Oaks, CA: Crown Press. Thornton, P. H., Ocasio, W., & Lounsbury, M. (2012). The institutional logics perspective. A new approach to culture, structure, and process. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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