04 April 2010

Article: Is 'School Effectiveness' Anti-Democratic?

Terry Wrigley, "Is 'School Effectiveness' Anti-Democratic?" ("British Journal of Educational Studies", 51 [2], June 2003: pp. 89-112):


Abstract: "This paper explores the connections between School Effectiveness as a research paradigm and developments in policy and practice. With a particular focus on the English school system, 'effectiveness' is examined as a discourse which underpins the accountability regime, and in terms of its influence on the related field of School Improvement. Anti-democratic tendencies in areas such as school leadership, teacher professionalism, curriculum and pedagogy are related to a failure, at the heart of the 'effectiveness' concept, to give critical consideration to social and educational aims."

Excerpts: "In Britain, perhaps more than elsewhere, educational change has been driven by School Effectiveness. This reductionist mode of research claims scientific status by replacing sociological and pedagogical analysis with increasingly complex statistics [...]. It resolutely avoids questions of educational aims, reducing all sense of purpose to the attainment of higher test scores. We have almost reached the stage where what cannot be measured simply does not count. [...] School effectiveness (as research, policy and ideology) is part of a package, and needs to be explored within a [...] dense forest of high stakes testing, league tables, accountability, teacher competences, performance pay, performance review, an increasing emphasis on education as the production of human capital, curricula imposed from above, and, under New Labour, government-imposed teaching methods, the restoration of selection and accelerating privatisation. [...]

"We are dealing with a nexus of mutually reinforcing structural and cultural effects; the combined result is anti-democratic because: i. it creates illusions of being able to overcome through education the disadvantages brought about by an increasingly polarised society – a new version of the Victorian 'self-made man' myth; ii. it actively penalises those who are teaching and learning in marginalised communities; iii. it trivialises learning, making it increasingly difficult to think through the world we live in and understand the powerful forces which structure our lives; iv. it narrows our discourse for thinking about education and its goals; v. it limits the scope of teachers to provide curricula which make sense to working-class and minority ethnic pupils, or indeed other pupils who may have difficulty in their learning; vi. it increases the asymmetry of communication between teachers and learners; vii. it deprofessionalises teachers, and undermines the collegiality and reflection needed for teachers to take schools in new directions and respond to learners’ needs; viii. it gives headteachers illusory power, within a wider game in which they are increasingly dancing to someone else's tune."

Terry Wrigley is now a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Educational Studies at the University of Edinburgh.

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