01 SES 11 A, Leadership of and for Learning: Professional Learning as Critical Enquiry to Further School Improvement and Inclusive Practice
Across Europe (and beyond), there are significant challenges facing educational systems. The OECD’s ‘Trends Shaping Education’ Spotlight Paper series outlines a range of imperatives facing educational systems across the world – changing demographics; issues relating to the environment and health and wellbeing; changes to social behaviours and norms; issues relating to equality, equity and inclusion (for example, the migrant crisis); and challenges posed by technological advances (for example, social media) (see http://www.oecd.org/education/ceri/trends-shaping-education.htm) and the current crisis caused by the Global Covid pandemic. Globalisation, promoted through organisations with global reach and channelled through a neo-liberal agenda of marketisation, competition and the commodification of public services, has had a profound impact on educational policy, leading to a convergence in educational policy-making worldwide (D'Agnese, 2018; Sellar & Lingard, 2018). Within this paradigm, reductionist understandings of education prevail (Ball, 2003; Bates, 2013; Coffield, 2012; D'Agnese, 2018): ‘Education is identified with learning, learning with assessment, assessment with PISA’s tests’ (D’Agnese, 2018, p. 4). Teachers are conceived as technicists ‘delivering’ a restricted and often prescribed (and proscribed) curriculum, leading to an erosion of educational quality (Bates, 2013). At a time when education systems are driven by ‘big data’ and by a ‘what works’ agenda, it would appear counter-intuitive to argue against this mantra.
This symposium forwards an alternative perspective on routes to school improvement. It draws on perspectives from England, The Republic of Ireland, Scotland and Wales and research conducted across Europe and beyond to argue for more organic understandings of school improvement, rooted in capacity building. The strength of a school lies in its collective capacity – ‘in the joint interactions of school leaders, followers, and aspects of their situation’ (Spillane, 2016, p.3) - and in the opportunities which it provides for leadership to be exercised at all levels (Forde, McMahon, & Dickson, 2011; Mowat & McMahon, 2018) through a distributive approach (MacBeath & Dempster, 2009). This is achieved through developing the professional capital (Hargreaves & Fullan, 2012), agency, capabilities, understanding and knowledge of teachers at all stages of their career. This can be achieved through creating a culture within the school which promotes distributive leadership and opportunities for teachers to exercise leadership in ways which are appropriate for them and commensurate with their experience and roles within the school. With regard to this specific symposium, the vehicle through which this is achieved is professional (collaborative) critical enquiry with academics working in partnership with Learning Communities and schools, enabling teachers to engage in enquiry as professional learning, identifying and addressing a problem specific to their own individual context, in the process building capacity within the school and fostering school improvement.
There is no one model of teacher critical enquiry which can be held to pertain across all situations and contexts. Cochran-Smith and Lytle’s (2009) take on ‘inquiry as stance’, whereby inquiry becomes a part of a teacher’s professional identity embedded within professional practice, and the curriculum as a whole becomes potentially subject to inquiry and professional scrutiny has been highly influential. As such, practitioner enquiry can be seen as part of a broader movement towards equity and social change. Likewise, Wall and Hall (2019) argue that there is no ‘one approach’ towards practitioner enquiry: enquiries can vary in scope from minor adjustments to practice through to larger-scale projects, and can vary widely in terms of the data gathering methodologies used.
This symposium draws on a range of different approaches towards critical enquiry, in the process examining the affordances and constraints in bringing about school improvement through this means, taking account of cultural and situational aspects of practice within the context of European education systems.
Ball, S. J. (2003). The teacher's soul and the terrors of performativity. Journal of Education Policy, 18(2), 215-228. Bates, A. (2013). Transcending systems thinking in education reform: implications for policy-makers and school leaders. Journal of Education Policy, 28(1), 38-54. Cochran-Smith, M., & Lytle, S. (2009). Inquiry as stance. New York: Teachers College Press. Coffield, F. (2012). Why the McKinsey reports will not improve school systems. Journal of Education Policy, 27(1), 131-149. doi: 10.1080/02680939.2011.623243 D'Agnese, V. (2018). Reclaiming Education in the Age of PISA: Challenging OECD's Educational Order London: Routledge. Forde, C., McMahon, M., & Dickson, B. (2011). Leadership Development in Scotland: after Donaldson. Scottish Educational Review, 43(2), 55-69. Hargreaves, A., & Fullan, M. (2012). Professional Capital: Transforming Teaching in Every School. London: Routledge. Mowat, J. G., & McMahon, M. (2018). Interrogating the concept of ‘leadership at all levels’: a Scottish perspective. Professional Development in Education, 45(2), 173-189. doi: 10.1080/19415257.2018.1511452 Sellar, S., & Lingard, B. (2018). International large-scale assessments, affective worlds and policy impacts in education. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 31(5), 367-381. doi: 10.1080/09518398.2018.1449982 Spillane, J. P. (2006). Distributed Leadership. San Fransisco: Jossey-Bass. Wall, K., & Hall, E. (2019). Research methods for understanding professional learning. London: Bloomsbury.
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