• Policy 'making' discourses in University sponsored Academy Schools: Radical educational reform through autonomy, accountability and partnership

      Hulme, Rob; Garratt, Dean; Cracknell, David; Hart, Melissa (University of Chester, 2016-05-31)
      Sponsored academies schools were set up in England to raise educational aspiration and achievement specifically in areas of high social deprivation through independence from Local Authority control, and freedoms in governance, staffing structures, space and time, as well as pedagogy and curriculum. The study considers the current education White Paper, 'The Importance of Teaching' (Dffi, 2010), and the discourse of academy school actors in relation to policy rhetoric of educational improvement through autonomy and accountability along with new forms of partnership and collaboration. Given the recent 2015 change in U.K. government from Coalition to Conservative it is a pertinent time to consider current policy discourses as we move into the next phase of educational policy development. This study was informed by 'policy sociology' (Ozga, 2000: 144) illuminating local academy school enactment and critique of broader social change. The study also used Foucault's (1991) notion of 'governmentality' and the disciplinary policy technologies of normalization, dividing practices and surveillance as a theoretical lens to critically analyse academy school actor policy discourse. Throughout an 18 month period the researcher adopted semi embedded participation in two academies sponsored by a University Multi Academies Trust (MAT). A post modem form of radical hermeneutics (Caputo, 1987) was utilised whereby written, verbal and non verbal communication construction and analysis was subsumed into a written account. A reflexive research approach highlighted ethical dilemmas and tensions. The research illuminated a complex discourse of academy actor freedoms and constraints. A 'no excuse' for poor educational performance adopted at academy meso level contrasted with teacher discourse of pupil deficit, failure by self and others, and a perpetual state of low confidence, along with some resistance to change. The sponsor and Academies Trust focused on securing a share of the teacher training market and business survival as opposed to providing direct support for educational improvement. Disciplinary policy technologies were reinforced by the Academies Trust and Partnership Academy as meso level government conduits (Glatter, 1999; Lubienski, 2009), further legitimized by technologies of self. The Partnership Academy encouraged an Ofsted based 'gaming behaviour' as opposed to one directly focused on educational improvement. Autonomy was only prevalent in discourse where teachers saw their professional role as being separate from those dominated by performance regimes. Despite successes in raising educational performance academy achievement above Ofsted base levels had not been established. A business based corporate image, and new building at one academy, and positive discourse of student recruitment existed, yet staff recruitment and retention was surrounded by a discourse of mistrust, competition, and coping with change. There was a limited discourse of changed academy reputation, curriculum development, pedagogic innovation and professional collaboration, and tensions existed between traditional and creative practice.