23 SES 06 A, Education Governance
The education sector in many global contexts today is characterised by privatisation and marketisation, choice and competition (Sahlberg, 2015). This is also true of Sweden, which Milner (2018, p. 189) argues makes up one of the “most highly marketized school systems in the world”. In Sweden, the school choice reforms, beginning in the 1990s, created the opportunity for private actors to own and operate schools. For teachers, this has meant changing contexts of employment, through changes to governance structures and a re-distribution of financial responsibility, with the national government devolving school funding to each of the 290 municipalities. Each municipality decides how much to allocate to education, including in relation to the funding of non-public schools. Municipalities bring approximately two thirds of total funding, with the remaining third coming from the national government. Despite the public funding of these new, non-public schools, however, these schools can also be for profit, reflecting the creation of a particularly extreme form of education quasi-market (c.f. Lundström & Rönnberg, 2015).
These changing governance structures have also meant changes to teacher employment processes, with teachers going from being employed by the state to being employed by the local municipality, or indeed a non-public employer. These reforms constitute a clear structural change to the teacher labour market, and, as we will argue, contribute to the differentiation of working conditions both across and within municipalities. In this presentation, we therefore show how place of work impacts on conditions for work, and demonstrate how the labour market for teachers in Sweden today is indeed characterised by differentiation. Policy reforms have created unequal and complex effects on the ground, as they are interpreted, translated and enacted in relation to a range of situated, professional, material and external contexts (Ball, Maguire & Braun, 2012).
These contexts include geographic location (Brock, 2016). While previous work has explored changes to teachers’ working conditions related to governance change in Sweden (e.g. Parding & Lundström, 2011), in this presentation we also seek to employ a spatially-informed frame of reference, to enrich our understanding of how and why teachers describe the conditions surrounding their work in the way that they do. Research on devolutionary policy in Australia, for instance, suggests that geographic location can mediate the nature and experience of such policy shifts for principals and teachers ‘on the ground’ (McGrath-Champ, Stacey, Wilson, Fitzgerald, Rainnie & Parding, 2017). There is therefore a need for “socio-spatial thinking…in…sociological imagination” (Fuller and Löw, 2017, p. 469); drawing upon this lens, we thereby aim to demonstrate the current differences between school workplaces in Sweden, and in doing so to “[take] context seriously” (Ball, Maguire & Braun, 2012, p. 19).
Our research questions are as follows:
- How do teachers describe their workplace, as a place of employment?
- What challenges and opportunities do teachers identify in terms of conditions for work?
- Can any significant differences between sectors be identified, if so what are they? And,
- How can these issues be better understood through the application of a spatially-informed frame of reference?
The data reported on in this presentation are drawn from a purposive selection of eight schools distributed across the three most common market types in Sweden – a smaller regional centre (SRC), a larger local centre (LLC) and a smaller local centre (SLC). Previous research has focused on the most heavily competition-laden areas; in our study we seek to broaden our sample to include a range of common market types, each situated in three separate towns. The SRC, with less than 15 000 inhabitants, is a regional municipality with only one school (a public school). The LLC has more than 40 000 but less than 200 000 inhabitants and contains both public and non-public schools; we selected examples of two public and two non-public schools. Lastly, the smaller local centre has more than 15 000 inhabitants but less than 40 000; here, we recruited two public and one non-public school. At each workplace, we requested interviews with the principal, as well as four teachers; across all sites a total of 8 principals and 30 teachers were interviewed. The interviews were semi-structured (Merriam, 1998) and topics included: the governance and organisation of work, including conditions for professional development; as well as ethics, the market, and factors related to school choice. The interviews lasted approximately one hour, and were audio-recorded before being transcribed verbatim. Analysis of interview data followed the coding steps outlined by Gibbs (2007), moving from descriptive codes to thematic and analytical levels. Field notes were also made to further support our analysis and description of each school.
The analysis of our data indicates that the teachers in our study were situated in highly differentiated workplace contexts. Differences in school facilities, professional development opportunities and school attractiveness indicate that the financial situation of the municipality and/or the employer very much impact on the conditions for work. The organization of work is also affected by governance structures in different contexts, with ‘slower’ bureaucratic processes evident in the larger public schools; on the other hand, it was also suggested that more face to face teaching time can be required in non-public school contexts. Importantly, geographic position is also a factor, with the public school in the SRC, for instance, sometimes seen as the ‘only choice’ for teachers, or alternatively, as a stepping stone for those looking for more attractive and less isolated workplace situations, creating a partially transient teaching population, with impacts for staffing stability and make-up. Through this analysis we show that appreciating the specificities of workplace context is essential in understanding conditions in and under which teachers work. We argue that whilst different conditions in different workplaces would to some extent have always have existed, current governance agendas of devolution and marketisation appear to be exacerbating these effects. These new governance reforms are also mediated in new ways by geographic location, with the factors being essentially interrelated. As such, attention to the specific contexts of teaching work will be particularly important going forward, with little indication that policy directions will shift significantly in the near future.
Ball, S. J., Maguire, M., & Braun, A. (2012). How schools do policy: Policy enactments in secondary schools. London, England: Routledge. Brock, C. (2016). Geography of education: scale, space and location in the study of education. London: Bloomsbury. Fuller, M G & Löw, M (2017). Introduction: An invitation to spatial sociology. Current sociology, 65(4) 469 –491. doi:10.1177/0011392117697461 Gibbs, G. (2007). Analysing qualitative data. Sage: London. Lundström, U & Rönnberg, L (2015). Att styra skolan med marknaden som förebild [To govern schools with the market as a role-model] (p. 141-162). In Lindblad, S & Lundahl, L (Eds.), Utbildning, makt och politik. [Education, power and politics]. Lund: Studentlitteratur. McGrath-Champ, S., Stacey, M., Wilson, R., Fitzgerald, S., Rainnie, A., Parding, K. (2017). Principals' support for teachers' working conditions in devolved school settings: Insights from two Australian States. Educational Management Administration & Leadership (online first). doi: 10.1177/1741143217745879 Merriam, S B (1998). Qualitative research & case study applications in education. Jossey-Bass Publishers: San Francisco. Milner, A (2018). Bridging the divide: examining professional unity and the extended teacher union role in Sweden. Educational Policy, 32(2): 189-210. Parding, K & Lundström, U (2011). Lärares upplevelser av friskolereformen – effekter av marknadiseringen av den svenska gymnasieskolan. [Teachers’ experiences of school choice – impacts of the Swedish school choice reform]. Tidskriften arbetsmarknad och arbetsliv [The journal of labour market and working life], 17 (4), 59-79. Sahlberg, P. (2015) Finnish lessons 2.0: What can the world learn from educational change in Finland? 2nd edition. New York & London: Teachers College Press.
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