23 SES 13 B, Governing by Inspection: School Inspecting as Brokering and Mediating Work
This symposium reports on current funded research into Inspection regimes in three nationaleducation systems- Sweden, England and Scotland – which explores the role of inspectors in governing education. The research so far has investigated how inspectors in Europe share, communicate and build knowledge and influence across national boundaries, with particular emphasis on how the three countries in the study interact with ‘Europe’ and with each other. This research is taking place at a moment of particular tension in the governing of education in Europe, as most inspectorates appear to struggle between the increased focus on performance monitoring through target-setting, indicators and benchmarks, and the most recent, yet influential, turn to self-evaluation and ‘light touch’ regulation; the latter represents efforts for a ‘softer’ governing touch in order to persuade and co-opt rather than coerce (Lawn 2006).
More specifically, this symposium, rather than focus on inspectors as the sole agents of inspecting work, will attempt to broaden the understanding and exploration of the act of inspection. It will do this by examining inspection as a performance undertaken by a broader range of actors who play a −seemingly peripheral yet crucial- role in making inspecting ‘happen’. The argument that we are developing is that, far from the inspection being a terrifying ‘one-off’ event, inspecting is slowly being transformed as a brokering, mediating and continuous process that involves not only inspectors, but also a range of other actors such as local (‘municipal’), school and governing bodies that are increasingly recruited for their professional skills. Depending on the context, the role of those actors changes; for example, local authorities in Scotland work with the new agency, Education Scotland, in close partnership, whereas inspectors themselves are being trained to be effective ‘teachers’ and learners –indeed, the emphasis is on the creation of ‘peer-learning communities’. In England, the diversity of school structures and incremental growth in school federations is proving particularly challenging for Ofsted. In this case we will examine the school governor as policy mediator and shaper. On the other hand Sweden, where inspection was reintroduced in 2003, appears to be caught somewhere in between what appears as the brokering-controlling, Scottish–English spectrum; the inspectorate in Sweden has adopted a combination of advisory and regulatory functions which tend to be largely dependent on the local context.
Theoretically, in order to make sense of these newly unfolding and diverse developments, we draw on the work of Bengt Jacobsson and his argument about governing moving from audit to meditative mode (2006). More broadly, we also draw on (a) a critical policy sociology approach to understanding governing through inspection in comparative contexts and (b) an interdisciplinary approach to governance understood as linked to the crisis in governability and the emergence of tensions within and between centralised and decentralised administrations.
Jacobsson, B., 2006. “Regulated regulators. Global trends of State Transformation”, in Djelic, M-L. and Sahlin-Andersson, K., eds, Transnational Governance. InstitutionalDynamics of Regulation. Cambridge University Press.
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