23 SES 11 B, Post-Critical Policy Scholarship? Deliberations around Ontological and Epistemological Politics
This paper contributes to our understanding of how new managerial and performative discourses are played out in a secondary school context in Sweden. The consequences of numerous educational reforms during the last 20 years include a surge of new independent schools and increased segregation between students due to individual school choice. Following international trends, a yearly national municipal school ranking is published, drawing much attention both in the media and on the policy level, intensifying pressure for results at the municipal level. Drawing on a case study conducted during one school year in a bottom-ranked Swedish secondary school, the results show how policy enactment takes place through teachers’ grappling with the consequences of the new managerial discourse and how these impose on the welfarist/democratic discourses. Even though the directives that are passed down the delivery chain may be more or less imperative, the policy enactments may still retain elements of the welfarist/democratic discourse. The results also introduce examples of how absent presences and present presences are produced in the practice of schooling. The present presences were publication of results, raising merit scores and grading pressure, and the absent presences were the role of the media in the self-image of schools, increased workload for teachers, the misuse of statistical data and demoralization and determination. A shift has taken place in which schools move from compensation to competition. This entails a change of emphasis from the best of the student to the best of the school, objectives that are sometimes in tension – a tension that teachers are left to contend with. Teachers grappling with the intention to serve the best interests of the students and the best interests of the school at the same time often encounter a personal cost, such as working against one’s professional judgement and the resulting intensification and overload of work, especially as these are absent presences within a managerial discourse aiming at standardization and efficiency. The practices of promoting student well-being and democratic influence are viewed by teachers as ends in themselves and as preconditions for student attainment. At the management level, these practices are viewed as hindering the very same attainment. This is an example of how practices at school level become absent presences at the management level.
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