23 SES 11 C, School Inspection Policies and Practices
School inspection represents a key instrument in many European countries to ensure educational quality. While some countries such as England, France and the Netherlands have a long tradition of school inspectorates, other countries, e.g. Sweden and Austria have more recently introduced devices to monitor schools. This paper reports on findings from the EU-project Impact of school inspection on teaching and learning (ISI-TL) which involves eight countries. It aims to develop a typology of school inspections and our search for relevant categories follows three steps. First, it aims to capture essential features of different inspection systems. In doing this we distinguish effective elements of school inspections from less effective or counterproductive elements which will allow us to distinguish between different types of systems. Second, this typology of school inspection arrangements is further developed by our examination of the overall school governing system and the interplay with other instruments and accompanying accountability measures in the different national contexts. Third, we compare school leaders’ perceptions of school inspections across countries and the extent to which different arrangements lead to school improvement. Fourth, based on this we compare and discuss underlying assumptions and different functions of school inspections in order to come up with a typology. These assumptions and functions, we argue, are essential in order to understand how monitoring, feedback and expectations connect with school improvement initiatives.
In this paper, school inspection is defined as a governing instrument or device which is used by educational authorities to achieve certain ends (cf. Vedung, 1998). According to Lascoumes and Le Gales (2007), viewing school governing processes through the concrete instruments in use has several advantages. First, it implies a stronger emphasis on the concrete procedures established to attain objectives which makes it possible to study school governing processes in a more material form. Second, it takes into account that such instruments “organize specific social relations between the state and those it is addressed to” (Lascoumes & Le Gales, 2007, p. 4). By this we acknowledge that every instrument constitutes a “condensed form of knowledge”, as it pertains to social control and the means of exercising it (Lascoumes & Le Gales, 2007, p. 3). This is particularly useful in a complex education context, characterised by governing processes and interaction among multiple actors. Third, such a definition takes into account the fact that the effects the instruments produce depend on the aims and purposes ascribed to them. This means that instruments are not neutral devices or methods put into a system to accomplish aims. They carry with them meanings and representations, often referred to as the instruments’ underlying assumptions, which depend on how the instruments are perceived and responded to by key actors such as educational authorities, administrators, principals and teachers. Fourth, because of the instruments’ underlying assumptions, instruments such as school inspection might produce effects independent of the aims and purposes ascribed to them. This means that they are capable of structuring their effect on school improvement according to their own logic.
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