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The Impact on French Upper Secondary Schools of Reforms Aiming to Improve Students’ Transition to Higher Education  

Clement Pin and Agnès van Zanten

For a long time, the French education system has been characterized by strong institutional disconnection between secondary education (enseignement secondaire) and higher education (enseignement supérieur). This situation has nevertheless started to change over the last 20 years as the “need-to-adapt” argument has been widely used to push for three sets of interrelated reforms with the official aim of improving student flows to, and readiness for, higher education (HE). The first reforms relate to the end-of-upper-secondary-school baccalauréat qualification and were carried out in two waves. The second set of reforms concerns educational guidance for transition from upper secondary school to HE, including widening participation policies targeting socially disadvantaged youths. Finally, the third set has established a national digital platform, launched in 2009, to manage and regulate HE applications and admissions. These reforms with strong neoliberal leanings have nevertheless been implemented within a system that remains profoundly conservative. Changes to the baccalauréat, to educational guidance, and to the HE admissions system have made only minor alterations to the conservative system of hierarchical tracks, both at the level of the lycée (upper secondary school) and in HE, thus strongly weakening their potential effects. Moreover, the reforms themselves combine neoliberal discourse and decisions with other perspectives and approaches aiming to preserve and even reinforce this conservative structure. This discrepancy is evident in the conflicting aims ascribed both to guidance and to the new online application and admissions platform, expected, on the one hand, to raise students’ ambitions and give them greater latitude to satisfy their wishes but also, on the other hand, to help them make “rational” choices in light of both their educational abilities and trajectories and their existing HE provision and job prospects. This mixed ideological and structural landscape is also the result of a significant gap in France between policy intentions and implementation at a local level, especially in schools. Several factors are responsible for this discrepancy: the fact that in order to ward off criticism and protest, reforms are often couched in very abstract terms open to multiple interpretations; the length and complexity of the reform circuit in a centralized educational system; the lack of administrative means through which to oversee implementation; teachers’ capacity to resist reform, both individually and collectively. This half-conservative, half-liberal educational regime is likely to increase inequalities across social and ethnoracial lines for two main reasons. The first is that the potential benefits of “universal” neoliberal policies promising greater choice and opportunity for all—and even of policies directly targeting working-class and ethnic minority students, such as widening participation schemes—are frequently only reaped by students in academic tracks, with a good school record, who are mostly upper- or middle-class and White. The second is that, under the traditional conservative regime, in addition to being the victims of these students’ advantages and strategies, working-class students also continue to be channeled and chartered toward educational tracks and then jobs located at the bottom of the educational and social hierarchy.


Educational Change  

Yasar Kondakci

It is generally understood that a stable external environment around educational organizations is a thing of the past. Currently, in the 21st century, educational organizations are living in highly volatile environments, and various political, economic, social, demographic, and ecological forces are putting pressure on these organizations to change their structural and functional characteristics. Educational change as a field of research is a relatively new area and metalevel thinking about educational change has largely been inspired by theories and models that are borrowed from the broader field of organization science. The broader field possesses a multitude of theories and models of change but the same theoretical and practical plurality is not evident for educational change. However, there has always been a convergence of ideas between educational change and organizational change. As a result, educational change scholars and practitioners have borrowed the models and theories from the broader field of organization science. Parallel to the understanding in organization science, educational change interventions reflect a planned change understanding. Planned change is triggered by an external force, introduces change, and terminates the process. Although different models count on different steps to depict the process, these three phases delineate the planned change process. Many change models count on political, economic, social, or ecological forces of change for organizations. However, educational organizations have more specific and unique forces of change. Global student achievement comparison programs (e.g., Program for International Student Assessment), inequities in education, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) 21st-century skills, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) movements, the trends in internationalization in education, and political conflicts around the world are putting pressure on education systems and schools around their structures and functions. Despite a conceptual plurality and richness in practical models, both organizational and educational change experience a high failure rate, which results in human, financial, and managerial issues for educational organizations. Considering the high failure rate in educational change, it is argued that conceptual and practical issues exist in educational change approaches. A broad review of both educational and organizational change suggests policy borrowing, a political rationale dominating educational change, a static organizational perspective, a loss of sight of the whole organization, and the ignoring of the human side of change as the main issues in change interventions. Assuming change as a top-down, planned, stage-based, hierarchical, and linear phenomenon, conceiving it as an extraordinary practice in the life of organizations and perceiving it as involvement of a distinguished group in the organization are some of the common problems in the dominant approach to change. These criticisms suggest a need for a fundamental shift in its conceptualization, which in turn suggests a shift in the ontology of change. According to the alternative understanding of change (i.e., continuous change), change is a small-scale, bottom-up, ongoing, cumulative, and improvisational process. The new understanding provides valuable insights into the conceptualization and practice of change. Continuous change perspective provides effective insights into the missing aspects in change implementation rather than suggesting totally replacing the planned change perspective.


Tsunesaburo Makiguchi and School Leadership in Action  

Tomoko Takahashi

Tsunesaburo Makiguchi (1871–1944) was a geographer, elementary school teacher and principal, and educational reformer, who was active in the early-to-mid 1900s in Japan. As a school leader and scholar-practitioner guided by a passion for supporting teachers and improving education for the happiness of children, Makiguchi scrutinized pedagogy as a science and proposed a number of reforms of the Japanese education system, key elements of which, he believed, were failing teachers and students alike. His proposals included, among many: the establishment of standards of competency expected of school principals as well as a system of examination to uphold these standards; the abolition of a government-led school inspection system that pressured and restricted teachers from freely conducting teaching activities; and the establishment of an “education research institute” and an organization for the training of teachers. The growing number of modern educational scholars and practitioners paying attention to Makiguchi’s work and philosophy find his ideas not only valid and applicable to education in the 21st century but also remarkably innovative and insightful. His proposal for school leadership was still but a voice in the wilderness in the 1930s. It was also a bold and audacious attempt for him, especially at the time of the militarist regime. Makiguchi is often compared with his contemporary John Dewey (1859–1952). Evidently, Makiguchi and Dewey were both visionaries, passionate school leaders, and fearless reformers. Bearing this in mind, Makiguchi deserves much more attention than he has received thus far—at least as much as Dewey, if we are to balance the historical account of progressive education as a transnational phenomenon.