In an attempt to improve efficiency, effectiveness, and general performance, most countries in the wrold have experimented with public sector reforms that include, for example, decentralisation (Verger and Curran, 2014). To improve the quality of education many systems are now expecting schools to monitor and improve the quality of what they deliver themselves (Faddar, et al., 2017). While school principals are still designated as the formal leaders of schools, other organisational members and stakeholders are coming to play a significant role in influencing school decisions (Ni et al., 2018). According to Hooge et al. (2012), parents and students are the primary stakeholders in education and in the drive to raise standards there is now a greater emphasis placed on involving them in evaluation, decision-making, planning, and improvement processes. As Gordon and Seashore Louis (2009) point out, local democracy means that key stakeholders have both the right and the responsibility to be involved in critical school improvement efforts.
However, while stakeholder voice is often championed as being an empowering process conducive to school improvement, the literature on parent and student voice is not uniformly positive (Anderson and Minke, 2007). There are, as Brazer and Keller (2006) have pointed out, some weak assumptions embedded in the leadership and decision-making literature in relation to stakeholder involvement. Given the contemporary pressures that schools face, it is important to acknowledge that schools are significantly limited in their capacity to enact such transformative voice initiatives (Pearce and Wood, 2016). Thus, the purpose of this paper is to investigate varying perspectives on the limitations of and practical realities of stakeholder voice in education and from this, to describe the conditions necessary for stakeholder voice to be more usefully accepted and subsequently applied in schools.
The enactment of stakeholder voice not only involves changing fundamental norms, values and practices for teachers (Beattie 2012), but it also involves a reconceptualisation of clearly established conceptions of quality and the shift towards other conceptions. In an age where information about school and student performance has become more freely available, parents and other stakeholders have been becoming more demanding about educational quality (Honingh et al. 2018). However, as Doherty (2008, p.256) argues, ‘quality’, like ‘beauty’ is subjective and ‘a matter of personal judgement’. Most parents or guardians want to send their children to a school where the quality of education is good, but ‘What meanings are attached to the judgement, and what differing forms do meanings take when pronounced by a politician, a journalist, an inspector, a pupil, a researcher, or a parent recommending their child’s school to a neighbour?’ (MacBeath and McGlynn, 2002, p.1). According to Watty (2003, p.217), deconstructing the abstract concept of quality helps to reveal its dimensions and helps us to ‘better understand how different stakeholders think about quality’. Thus, the framework used in this paper is based on Harvey and Green’s (1993) discrete but overlapping conceptions of quality as they apply to education (e.g. quality as exceptional, quality as perfection, quality as fitness for purpose, quality as value added, and quality as transformational).
As a starting point, the paper deconstructs the often-contradictory concepts of quality in education and how these concepts have managed to influence conceived notions of quality and the development of evaluation frameworks that exist. Leading on from this, the paper provides a review of research relating to the limitations of student and parent voice in education. Finally, the paper concludes with a discussion on factors relating to the conditions necessary for stakeholder voice in schools.
Document analysis was used as the research method for this paper. This method serves varying purposes that include providing background information and historical understandings (Bowen, 2009), and ‘tracking change and development and verification of findings from other sources’ (Bowen, 2009 p.30). Atkinson and Coffey (2009) also state that ‘we have to approach documents for what they are and what they are used to accomplish’ (Atkinson and Coffey, 2009 p.79). This study included an analysis of documents on varying concepts of quality as well as research relating to stakeholder voice in Europe and elsewhere. Inclusion of documents was limited to peer-reviewed literature that has been published since the 1990’s. To triangulate results and to form an overall interpretation of the study, official government policies and publications produced by international organisations were included. In the first stage, the authors’ prior knowledge of the field was used to select documents. Then, a set of key terms were identified as being appropriate and relevant terms to search databases for. The original search for literature in the databases resulted in the collation of approximately 200 articles. Thematic analysis was then used to identify patterns (Bowen, 2009) emerging in the literature. A data extraction form was then used to code the documents. This involved producing a summary outline that detailed the purpose, method, conclusion and key themes in each document in our sample. This process of analysis allowed us to form an overall interpretation of the study.
This paper will highlight the limitations and the practical realities of stakeholder voice in education. While there are of course benefits to involving stakeholders in school decision-making, we will accentuate the implementation difficulties that are often overlooked. Furthermore, this paper will promote the conditions necessary for cordial stakeholder voice in schools and suggest how schools should embrace stakeholder voice and accommodate stakeholder involvement with minimum drawbacks. Not only will our research make a new contribution of knowledge and add to the literature base for academics, but it will also be of interest and use to organisations around Europe that are interested in school improvement, participatory evaluation, dialogic evaluation, student/learner voice and parent voice, children's rights education, critical perspectives of inclusion and exclusion in education, power and empowerment in education environments, and leadership for learning. In our country, Ireland, for example, our research will be of interest to organisations such as the Department of Education and Skills, the Teaching Council, the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals, the Irish Second-Level Students' Union, and to the National Parents Council.
Anderson, K. J., & Minke, K. M. (2007). Parent involvement in education: Toward an understanding of parents' decision making. The Journal of Educational Research, 100(5), 311-323. Atkinson, PA & Coffey, A. (2011). Analysing Documentary Realities. In: Silverman D (eds), Qualitative Research - 3rd edition, United Kingdom: Sage Publications Ltd, 77 – 93. Beattie, H. (2012). Amplifying student voice: The missing link in school transformation. Management in Education, 26(3), 158-160. Bowen, G. A. (2009). Document analysis as a qualitative research method. Qualitative Research Journal, 9(2), 27-40. Brazer, S. D., & Keller, L. R. (2006). A conceptual framework for multiple stakeholder educational decision making. International Journal of Education Policy and Leadership, 1(3). 1-14. Doherty, G. (2008). On quality in education. Quality Assurance in Education, 16(3), 255- 265. Faddar, J., Vanhoof, J., & De Maeyer, S. (2017). School self-evaluation instruments and cognitive validity. Do items capture what they intend to? School effectiveness and school improvement, 28(4), 608-628. Gordon, M. F., & Seahshore Louis, K. (2009). Linking parent and community involvement with student achievement: Comparing principal and teacher perceptions of stakeholder influence. American Journal of Education, 116(1), 1-31. Harvey, L. and Green, D. (1993). Defining quality. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 18, 8-35. Honingh, M., Ruiter, M., & Thiel, S. V. (2018). Are school boards and educational quality related? Results of an international literature review. Educational Review, 1-16. Hooge, E., T. Burns and H. Wilkoszewski (2012), Looking Beyond the Numbers: Stakeholders and Multiple School Accountability. OECD Education Working Papers, No. 85. Paris: OECD Publishing. MacBeath, J., & McGlynn, A. (2002). Self-evaluation: what's in it for schools? London: Routledge Falmer. Ni, Y., Yan, R., & Pounder, D. (2018). Collective leadership: Principals’ decision influence and the supportive or inhibiting decision influence of other stakeholders. Educational Administration Quarterly, 54(2), 216-248. Pearce, T. C., & Wood, B. E. (2016). Education for transformation: an evaluative framework to guide student voice work in schools. Critical Studies in Education, 1-18. Verger, A., & Curran, M. (2014). New public management as a global education policy: its adoption and re-contextualization in a Southern European setting. Critical Studies in Education, 55(3), 253-271. Watty, K. (2003). When will academics learn about quality? Quality in Higher Education, 9(3), 213-221.
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