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Education policy analysis: from global to local #5

October 10, 2014

This is the final installment of a longer paper intended as an assignment submission for EDUC5658 at UWA. If chronology is preferred, the sequence of this policy trajectory approach has been published in posts as follows:

  1. Introduction
  2. Influences – global to local contexts
  3. Policy text production
  4. Practices/effects

5. Outcomes – wider & longer term issues of equity & social justice


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Three broad themes identified in the McKinsey Report as characteristics of the world’s top performing school systems resonate now and most probably into the future. They are in alignment with the 3 message systems (content, pedagogy and assessment):

  1. “The quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers”;
  2. “the only way to improve outcomes is to improve instruction”;
  3. “achieving universally high outcomes is only possible by putting in place mechanisms to ensure that schools deliver high-quality instruction to every child” (Barber & Mourshed, 2007, p. 40).

In responding to the perceived challenges of improving achievement – striving for quality – in a globalised society, with all the accompanying trends that ensue, it is not surprising that a resultant emphasis on evidence-based practice has emerged in government policy (Lee & Caldwell, 2011). Change is complex. Some critics warn that the suggestion of simple solutions inherent in the Global Education Reform Movement (Sahlberg, 2011) runs counter to a need for

courage and resilience required to live with ambiguity, to resist the urge to develop and then replicate simple ‘solutions’ across multiple and diverse sites, and indeed to scrutinise such ‘out-of-the-box’ solutions when they are provided by governments and systems… [as] a critical part of closing the gap” (Groundwater-Smith & Mockler, 2009,  p. 138).

Here the realm of contestation is exposed along with a resurgent sense of hope that realignment and achieving improved balance will resolve current concerns.


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As we have seen, accountability measures and the associated rise of new managerialism which enacts coercion as a means of control tend to stifle innovation at the local level; what actors perceive is that much can be sacrificed on the spreadsheet of the audit culture, and demoralisation results (Connell, 2013). It is difficult to conceive that such an approach could deliver the high quality teaching and competitive results that are the stated outcomes of our national focus in a global knowledge society.

Flexibility of delivery is therefore likely to persist as an accompanying strategy to devolution processes already underway; the stated intention of enabling greater autonomy will also persist, albeit in the marketised form of a recent federal government plan to implement more Independent Public Schools (Knott, 2014; Savage, 2014). Similarly, recent criticisms of the overemphasis of quality at the expense of equity cannot be overlooked if we are to regain balance and focus on better ways of achieving success for all students (Barker, 2010). Futures-focused documents illuminate both opportunities and challenges (AITSL, 2014; Bland & Westlake, 2013; Johnson et al., 2014),


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Given the social imaginary of a future where global megatrends mean that

  • expectations are changing and difficult to determine;
  • increasing internationalisation necessitates intercultural understanding and competencies;
  • lifelong learning sustains; and
  • flexible arrangements for enhancing connectivity via virtual, networked worlds renders much of what is currently known about ways of doing and being in education in a state of flux, there is much to contemplate (CSIRO, 2012).

According to the literature, social labour in the form of collaborative teacher activism becomes the means by which we as a profession can effectively counter the negative impact of neoliberalism, compliance and fundamentalism currently seizing the reform discourse (Groundwater-Smith & Mockler, 2009; Mockler, 2014; Sachs, 2003;  Smyth, 1996). Increasingly, “quality” has a quixotic nature which has become associated with misleading notions of performance measured against league tables while its partnered relationship with equity often renders the latter subsumed, or at least likely to be overlooked in the heady stakes of competition.

Indeed, winners and losers are the obvious by-products of a marketised education system (Savage, 2011).  These are unintended policy consequences.


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It is a self-serving system that seems to benefit most from contemporary policies: voluble stakeholders with the greatest influence are currently making their investment in the global knowledge economy, as distinct from society, clear.  Ultimately, profits are being sought (Hogan, 2014).  By driving neoliberal ideologies of

  • competition,
  • marketisation,
  • accountability and
  • coercion

as crucial mechanisms for achieving economic gain cloaked in a reform agenda, while simultaneously proclaiming benefits of choice and transparency to educators, parents and students – all deftly rebranded as consumers – any perceived improvement within such a seductive and power-laden discourse is likely to be achieved at the expense of equity and social justice.

There may be discomfort as school leaders engage with complex uncertainties, and pervasive fear can be unnerving. If the scope of political investment is rendered explicit within the macro-meso-micro nexus, as described in this paper, we as actors and agents in schools will continue to question the purpose of education (Smyth, 1996; Yates, 2012).  A preferable future will, first, draw on moral purpose to enable path-breaking as a means of overcoming unproductive accountabilities; then, it is through collaborative practice that we enact quality teaching.  Continuities exist at the beating heart of professional practice.

Selected references

AITSL. (2014). Global trends in professional learning and performance and development: Some implications and ideas for the Australian education system. Retrieved September 28, 2014

Barber, M. & Mourshed, M. (2007). How the world’s best performing school systems come out on top. London: McKinsey & Company. Retrieved July 25, 2014

Barker, B. (2010). Introduction – the dynamics of school reform. In The pendulum swings: Transforming school reform. Stoke on Trent, UK: Trentham Books, pp. 1-18.

Bland, J. & Westlake, S. (2013). Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow: A modest defense of futurology. London: NESTA. Retrieved October 7, 2014

Connell, R. (2013). The neoliberal cascade and education: An essay on the market agenda and its consequences. Critical Studies in Education, 54(2), pp. 99-112.

CSIRO. (2012). Our future world: Global megatrends that will change the way we live. Retrieved September 30, 2014

Groundwater-Smith, S. & Mockler, N. (2009). Teacher professional learning in an age of compliance: Mind the gap. Dordrecht: Springer.

Hogan, A. (2014). Boundary spanners, network capital and the rise of edu-businesses: the case of News Corporation and its emerging education agenda. Critical Studies in Education. Retrieved October 10, 2014

Johnson, L., Adams Becker, S., Estrada, V., & Freeman, A. (2014). NMC Horizon Report: 2014 K-12 Edition. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium. Retrieved September 11, 2014

Knott, M. (2014). Principals told to ignore push for independent public schools plan. The Sydney Morning Herald National. Retrieved October 8, 2014

Lee, J.C. & Caldwell, B.J. (2011). Changing Schools in an Era of Globalization. New York and London: Routledge. Retrieved October 7, 2014 from EBL.

Sachs, J. (2003). The activist teaching profession. Buckingham: Open University Press.

Sahlberg, P. (2011). Finnish lessons: What can the world learn from educational change in Finland? New York: Teachers College Press.

Savage, G.C. (2011). When worlds collide: excellent and equitable learning communities? Australia’s ‘social capitalist’ paradox? Journal of Education Policy, 26(1), pp. 33-59.

Savage, G.C. (2014). Independent public schools: a dangerous reform path. The Conversation. Retrieved September 4, 2014

Smyth, J. (1996). Evaluation of teacher performance: move over hierarchy, here comes collegiality! Journal of Education Policy, 11(2), pp. 185-196. Retrieved September 14, 2014

Yates, L. (2012). My school, my university, my country, my world, my Google, myself… What is education for now? Australian Education Researcher, 39(3), pp. 259-274. Retrieved August 16, 2014

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