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critical qualitative and ethnographic perspectives on the academies experiment

Inside the English education lab shows how critical qualitative methodologies work to illuminate and interrogate the everyday life of England’s privatised educational landscape. England has garnered a global reputation as a key proponent of education policy reforms defined by high-stakes accountability, claims of greater school autonomy and a centralised governance structure. Qualitative and ethnographic methods with their focus on practices unfolding over time and across particular situated spaces considers academisation in ways that depart from benchmarks and Ofsted ratings. The collection counters academisation’s contradictory assertion that quantitative data is the singular measure of value. The book makes a pivotal contribution to gauging some of the social and cultural effects of academisation through its reflexive focus on the practical ambiguities and incongruities that result as policy translates into practice. It explores how academisation (re)positions policies and publics through new modes of governance, it examines strategies employed by students and teachers in situ, and interrogates how institutions are being produced through space, discourse and practice. This is the first book to bring together innovative new qualitative research on academies and free schools by early career academics. The research traverses numerous geographical and social contexts within England. It provides a valuable viewpoint that reaches beyond policy claims and rhetoric by focusing on the everyday and often ambiguous practices operating within England’s rapidly academising education system.

Doing critical qualitative and ethnographic work across an academised educational landscape
Christy Kulz
,
Ruth McGinity
, and
Kirsty Morrin

This introduction explores the evolution and exponential growth of the academies programme as both a policy and social intervention over past 12 years. The chapter covers the development of the Multi-Academy Trust framework and how Local Authorities are remade. Through this process, historical moral panics around education provision and Thatcherite reforms are revisited and tied to an increasingly authoritarian present. The rationales used to support academisation are fluctuating and highly contingent, as the chapter explores how academisation ties to neoliberalism as it relocates schools from the public sphere to a less accessible patchwork of privatised spaces while also claiming to promote social justice. England displays a hyper-realised version of a wider international policy reform movement, whereby this reform strategy relies on evidencing continual progress through comparable quantifiable data presented as objective and neutral. This chapter emphasises how the book steers away from reductive quantitative measures to train its focus on a careful qualitative attention to the everyday life of academy schools across England. The chapter interrogates how knowledge is produced and attempts to destabilise dominant narratives by highlighting how critical qualitative and ethnographic methodologies can yield crucial insights into the project of academisation.

in Inside the English education lab
Coercion, contestation and localised struggles
Christy Kulz
,
Kirsty Morrin
, and
Ruth McGinity

This concluding chapter charts how the goal of total system academisation remains the Conservative government’s goal in the face of scant party-political opposition; however, grassroots opposition to these social and cultural interventions continues. The chapter explores how the privatisation of education structures and the narrowing of democratic participation ties to authoritarianism by reflecting on ethnographic exchanges at the Academies Show. It continues by examining the relationship between academisation and the increasing institution of detailed, rigid uniforms and punitive behaviour policies including isolation booth and practices of off-rolling and exclusion. The chapter concludes by analysing the connection between nationalism, racialisation and authoritarian educational forms through recent and well-publicised staff and student protests at Pimlico Academy in London that critically interrogate the norms promoted through these structures.

in Inside the English education lab