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Education policy analysis: from global to local #4

October 5, 2014

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Practices/effects

So, to the micro-level site where the focus of analysis becomes how this policy ensemble plays out in an Independent Public School (IPS).  Here we are to appreciate

The core of democratic professionalism is an emphasis on collaborative, cooperative action between teachers and other educational stakeholders (Sachs, 2001, p. 153).

On the surface, this is our espoused theory (Argyris & Schon, 1974), as disseminated in the school website, and College documentation to stakeholders, thus showcasing the “fabrication of organisation” where promotion overrides information, and schools are seen as increasingly aware of the postmodern need to present themselves (Ball, 1999). Contradictions are inherent in the agency exhibited in our collaborative team work where we function as professionals – actors inside the school and within our classrooms: In particular, within our team we defined broad strategies to achieve “High quality teaching and leadership”.

Review is underway.

Enactment processes include

  • weekly walkthroughs,
  • coaching to plan, reflect and refine our teaching strategies,
  • practices are shared during weekly meetings, and
  • careful consideration paid to build trusting relationships in order to facilitate authentic Performance and Development.

To many team members on reflection, this appeared a transformative cultural shift. In retrospect, especially in light of my newly-developed insights to managerialism, attempting to sustain a learning community “raised difficult and sensitive questions” (Bottery, 2003, p. 187). During the implementation process, for instance, concerns were raised at perceived impact of time constraints, competing demands and the seemingly chaotic nature of change management which renders many of these targets unfeasible, especially when a distracting barrage of demands regularly intrude on available meeting times.

Some staff expressed concern at levels of surveillance. Others attempted to address inherent contradictions in the policy. When evaluating theory-in-action, or practices, performativity was identified as a constraining force on actors who addressed:

  • Whose questions get put on the agenda? (Sachs, 2000);
  • Concerns that “…a culture of low-trust and unhappiness generate crises of teacher morale, recruitment and retention” (Bottery, 2003, p. 188); and
  • How auditing strictures had been implemented “as an agency of organizational change without a measured consideration of benefits and possible dysfunctional effects” (Power, 2000, p. 114).

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Understanding arises from perspective gained during this process since actors, such as myself, are forced to see that

current globalizing forces are profoundly affecting the policies of nation states, and particularly those in education, and producing a situation where educational professional work is both increasingly controlled and increasingly fragmented (Bottery, 2006, p. 95).

In our Humanities team, for example, the Learning Area Operational Plan, drafted last year, was subsequently revised to render goals and targets auditable (Power, 1994). While transparency and accountability were declared as rationales, compliance rather than performance was the key focus. Surveillance in this form is clearly concerned with control as distinct from evaluation or review of quality (Power, 1999). Measurement tools were also imposed. Here accountability exemplifies the way in which

Once practices can be appropriated by the discourse of audit they can begin to acquire similarities and shared operational templates (Power, 2000, p. 116).

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All is not yet resolved: Frustration, tensions and suspicions prevail. These kinds of emotional misunderstandings strike

at the foundations of teaching and learning – lowering standards and depressing quality… Successful teaching and learning therefore depend on establishing close bonds (Hargreaves, 2001, p. 1060).

One of my difficult questions becomes how can such close bonds be sustained given a micro climate of scrutiny? The contested terrain I inhabit employs surveillance, performativity, and is reliant on mechanisms of control, bringing to mind Weber’s iron cage (Woods, 2010). Managerialism can also be seen to play

a key role of the wearing-away of professional-ethical regimes that have been dominant in schools and bringing about their replacement by entrepreneurial- competitive regimes. Managerialism works from the inside-out (Ball, 1999).

The form of our policy document may be derived from espoused theories of deprivatisation, performance and transparency, yet Performance and Development practices which are enacted are “inevitably a process of bricolage: a matter of borrowing and copying bits and pieces of ideas from elsewhere, drawing upon and amending locally tried and tested approaches” (Ball, 2007, p. 44). Thus, policy incoherence is my lived experience.

According to the literature,

senior teachers find themselves caught between what they or their colleagues see as the best or proper decision in educational terms and the constraints of the budget or the market, and thus perhaps institutional survival. There is the potential for serious value conflict here (Ball, 1993a, p. 115).

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Interpretation of AITSL standards as well as performance and review processes in our school context may be problematic given recent experiences outlined above. On the other hand, a $25 million rebuild has been completed, turnaround strategies have been implemented, the school’s leadership structure has been re-modeled, and we achieved IPS status in 2012.

Yes, staff are noticeably disaffected by global trends and accountability processes. Performativity and mistrust percolate. Since morale is affected by a policy pandemic which has swept teachers in flurries of continuous change – curriculum, assessment, as well as performance and development – staff have long been concerned by what is perceived as increasing government intervention, confusion, imposition of new models of leadership, and neoliberalism apparent in cost-cutting measures which recently impacted on our ability to implement programs, and we still shudder from after-shocks.

The message in all spheres – local, meso, macro – is that change bodes ill.

This litany gives me momentary pause. The hope I see germinating in localised complexity emerges from collegial trust already existing between Humanities team members, draws on professionalism, and is sustained by our shared moral purpose to improve opportunities for students’ achievement. Reassurance in closing from Ball who asserts

A policy is both contested and changing, always in a state of ‘becoming’, of ‘was’ and ‘never was’ and ‘not quite’ (Ball, 1993b, p. 11).

Selected references

Argyris, C. & Schon, D. (1974). Theory in practice: Increasing professional effectiveness. San Francisco: Jossey –Bass Publishers.

Ball, S.J. (1993a). Education policy, power relations and teachers’ work. British Journal of Educational Studies, 41(2), pp. 106-121. Retrieved September 26, 2014 from Taylor & Francis online via http://www.onesearch.uwa.edu.au

Ball, S.J. (1993b). What is policy? Texts, trajectories and toolboxes. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 13(2), pp. 10-17. Retrieved August 22, 2014 www.onesearch.uwa.edu.au

Ball, S.J. (1999). Global trends in educational reform and the struggle for the soul of the teacher. London: Centre for Public Policy Research, King’s College.

Ball, S.J. (2007). Big policies/Small world: An introduction to international perspectives in education policy. In Lingard, B. & Ozga, J. (Eds.). The RoutledgeFalmer reader in education policy and politics pp. 36-47.

Bottery, M. (2003). The management and mismanagement of trust. Educational Management Administration & Leadership, 31(3), pp. 245-260. Retrieved July 21, 2004 from http://ema.sagepub.com/content/31/3/245

Bottery, M. (2006). Education and globalization: redefining the role of the educational professional. Educational Review, 58(1), pp. 95-113. Retrieved July 21, 2014 http://www.onesearch.uwa.edu.au

Hargreaves, A. (2001). Emotional geographies of teaching. Teachers College Record, 103(6), pp. 1056-1080.

Power, M. (1999). The audit society: Rituals of verification. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Power, M. (2000). The audit society – second thoughts. International Journal of Auditing, 4(1), pp. 111-119. Retrieved September 29, 2014 http://www.onesearch.uwa.edu.au

Sachs, J. (2000). The activist professional. Journal of Educational Change, 1(1), pp. 77-94. Retrieved September 20, 2014 SpringerLINK

Sachs, J. (2001). Teacher professional identity: Competing discourses, competing outcomes, Journal of Educational Policy, 16(2), pp. 149-161. Retrieved August 16, 2014 http://www.onesearch.uwa.edu.au

Woods, P.A. (2010). Rationalisation, disenchantment and re-enchantment: Engaging with Weber’s sociology of modernity. In  Apple, M.W., Ball, S.J. & Gandin, L.A. (Eds). The Routledge International Handbook of the Sociology of Education. Oxon: Routledge, pp. 119-131.

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