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date: 27 February 2021

School Reform in Englandlocked

  • Amanda NuttallAmanda NuttallLeeds Trinity University
  •  and Edward PodestaEdward PodestaLeeds Trinity University

Summary

School reform in England, under the guise of school improvement and school effectiveness, is not new. Existing policy directions and trajectories for school reform in England seemingly continue to follow industrial drivers of the 19th century, promoting a highly regulated and regimented schooling system. This direction is underpinned by neoliberal forces which emphasize the relationship between education, business, and economy. Critiques of this model of school reform point to key issues around lack of response to key societal challenges and a reductionist approach to increasingly complex needs of diverse societies and cultures. Such reductionist school reform policies, in combination with stringent accountability measures, generate and consolidate differences between schools which are particularly detrimental for schools that serve students and families in poverty. In England, “success” in schools and educational outcomes is drawn from narrowly defined measures of quality with a privileging of quantitative data and testing outcomes above all other indicators. Within these measures, schools in poor, disadvantaged communities are more likely to be labeled “failing” and subjected to further intrusive monitoring, inspection, and sets of performance training in mandated methods of teaching. In these externally driven and policy-focused school reform strategies, teachers become victims of change with their voices censored and their students viewed as deficient in some way.

In contrast, more meaningful school reform may be effected by recognizing that schools have the capacity to improve themselves. This improvement should be driven by those closest to the school: teachers, students, and their families. Above all, authentic school reform programs should be context specific, inquiry driven, and rooted in research and theory. Teachers should not be expected to reinforce a single hegemonic version of the “successful” school, notably in England, but should be able to engage in genuine school reform which is emancipatory and empowering.

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