23 SES 02 C, Inspecting Schools: Policy and Practice
As a part of a wider trend involving increased output control, evaluation and checking, i.e. an emerging “audit society” (Power 1999), questions of how to evaluate and control education systems and their performance are areas of current interest and intense reform in European countries (De Wolf & Janssens 2007). Such issues hold top positions on reform agendas in several nations, and we are witnessing a multitude of different institutional arrangements that are set up in order to control and assess educational performance.
Sweden is no exception in this regard. In 2003, the national inspectorate was reinstalled again by a Social Democratic government, after having been a municipal responsibility for more than a decade. Following the shift in government in 2006 where non-socialist parties took office, political efforts to deepen and strengthen school inspection have been further reinforced. For instance, the institutional framework for educational control has been redesigned, and a new school inspection agency was created. This has also been followed by increased budget allocations to inspection.
Interestingly, there appears to be political consensus when it comes to strengthening the centre by transferring output oriented means of control back to the hands of the state, i.e. to use inspection as an instrument of governing education. Analyses of the political arguments during the two governments indicate that employing school inspection largely is politically and ideologically unchallenged and the overall direction to intensify inspection efforts is thus an issue largely not touched upon and debated (Rönnberg 2008; 2009). At the same time, education is perceived as an increasingly important issue in national elections and the share of voters stating that educational issues has a direct impact on how they cast their vote has raised dramatically during the last decades (Hedberg 2009a; b). National political parties still play a key role in modern democracies and looking at the literature (Håkansson 2005), there are reasons to expect that this would make the education policy field a site of intensified party political struggle. This will, in turn, result in emphasizing differences in order to attract potential voters at the expense of consensus-based decision making.
This paper consists of two parts: Firstly, it unfolds and illustrates the political road resulting in increased educational control by reinstalling and reinforcing inspection during the two governments. Secondly, the paper analyses and discusses the party political implications from these findings, in particular when it comes to the role of party-based conflict versus consensus with a specific focus on national educational policy making. In so doing, the paper wants to raise questions of general interest beyond the studied school inspection case, relating to principal conditions and procedures for politics and policy. The paper draws on an approach to scrutinize policy-makers’ representation of the policy problem that the inspections are directed towards (Bacchi 1999), on new institutionalism in order to grasp political continuity and change (Thelen 2000; 2003), and on majority versus collaborative decision making and the role and behavior of political parties (Lewin 2002; Erlingsson et al 2005).
Bacchi, C. L. (1999). Women, Policy and Politics: The Construction of Policy Problems. London: Sage. De Wolf, I. F. & Janssens, F. J. G. (2007). Effects and side effects of inspections and accountability in education: An overview of empirical studies. Oxford Review of Education, 33 (3), 379-396. Erlingsson, G., Håkansson, A., Johansson, K. M. and Mattson, I (Eds) (2005). Politiska partier. Lund: Studentlitteratur. Hedberg, P. (2009a) Svenska folkets bedömning av skol- och utbildningsfrågor som viktigt samhällsproblem 1987-2008. Göteborg. Göteborgs universitet, SOM-institutet. Hedberg, P. (2009b) Svenska folkets bedömning av skol- och utbildningsfrågor som viktiga frågor för partival i riksdagsvalen 1979 – 2006. Göteborg: Göteborgs universitet, Statsvetenskapliga institutionen. Håkansson, A. (2005). Vad styr partiers agerande? In G. Erlingsson, A. Håkansson, K. M. Johansson och I. Mattson (Eds) Politiska partier (pp 61-107). Lund: Studentlitteratur. Lewin, L. (2002) ”Bråka inte!” Om vår tids demokratisyn. Stockholm: SNS. Power, M. (1999). The Audit Society. Rituals of Verification. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Rönnberg, L. (2008). The re-emerging State. Motives and arguments underlying the reintroduction of Swedish national school inspections. Paper presented at the European Conference on Educational Research, Gothenburg, Sweden, 10-12 September 2008. Rönnberg, L. (2009). Creating an Institutional Framework for Educational Control: The Swedish National Agency for School Inspection. Paper presented at the 37th Annual Congress of the Nordic Educational Research Association (NERA), NW22: Politics of Education and Education Policy Studies, Trondheim, Norway, March 5-7, 2009. Thelen, K. (2000) Timing and Temporality in the Analysis of Institutional Evolution and Change. Studies in American Political Development, 14, 101-108. Thelen, K. (2003). How Institutions Evolve: Insights from Comparative Historical Analysis. In J. Mahoney & D. Rueschemeyer (Eds.), Comparative Historical Analysis in the Social Sciences (pp. 208-241). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
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