Andrew Wilkins
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Academisation and the law of ‘attraction’
An ethnographic study of relays, connective strategies and regulated participation
in Inside the English education lab
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England has long been a ‘laboratory’ for experimenting with structured incentives to compel, among other configurations, the organisation of schools as businesses. The focus of this chapter concerns a recent market-based experiment in education in England called the academies programme. The academies programme makes it possible for schools to operate outside their Local Education Authorities (LEAs) as private enterprises or ‘state-funded independent schools’ with significant responsibility for management and accountability delegated to school leaders and governors. From this perspective, the academies programme is a continuation of the idea of ‘co-steering’ or ‘co-governance’ inasmuch as academy status removes the requirement for the administration of ‘needs’ through the bureaucratic centralism of LEAs and instead empowers schools to consensually work with stakeholders to produce flexible, responsive models of service delivery. Yet, as this chapter shows, school autonomy among academies is conditional on the attraction of suitably skilled school leaders and governors who can effectively deploy prescriptions and solutions for ‘effective governance’, which includes conditioning certain people to stay out of governance. In some cases, academy structures resemble the same techno-bureaucratic settlements they were meant to replace and improve, namely LEAs, albeit lacking the mandate or incentives to provide strong democratic accountability based on principles of citizen participation and community voice (Wilkins, 2016, 2019a). The suggestion here is that the academies programme has become a target of political control from the centre and business saturation despite claims that academy status works to depoliticise and deregulate schools.

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Inside the English education lab

critical qualitative and ethnographic perspectives on the academies experiment


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