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Correcting Market Failure?: New inspection policies and Swedish free-schools
Umeå University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Political Science.
2013 (English)Conference paper, Abstract (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

In recent decades governing processes of education in Europe and beyond has been influenced by neo-liberalism and new public management, involving policies such as decentralization, choice and competition. A far reaching marketization trend has been evident in where schools compete over students as consumers and customers (Rose 1999; Ball 2009, 2012). Alongside this trend of marketization, European countries and education systems are also witnessing increased trends of evaluation and state control through, for instance, national school inspections (Power 1999; Hudson 2011). In Sweden these trends have been remarkable with the introduction of school choice and free-schools, free of charge and state funded, in the 1990s. This has resulted in a growing school market with the unusual arrangement where free-schools also can retrieve profit from tax-funded education (Erixon Arreman & Holm 2011). With the decentralization of education, including the introduction of governing by objectives in education, state control seemed to decrease but this picture changed as national school inspections were reinstated in 2003. This reintroduction was meant to uphold educational equivalence, improve quality and pupil performance and these efforts were also reinforced with the new national agency the Swedish Schools Inspectorate, in 2008 (Hudson 2007; Rönnberg 2012). Underlying these justifications for increased control through inspection is also the belief that more control leads to a better market with more informed customers and the Inspectorate has recently introduced changes in the inspection of free-schools, such as joint inspections of educational companies and corporate groups and increased control of establishing a new free-school. The exciting and largely unexplored intersection of marketization and central state control in the Swedish education policy context is at the focus of this paper.

The aim is to analyse and critically discuss how the need for changes in the inspection of free-schools in Sweden is framed and represented. The research questions concern how these inspection policies are represented, what their purposes are, how the efforts are legitimized and motivated, what is unproblematised and what interests are prioritized? In so doing, I hope that we can reach a deeper understanding of the intersecting and complex governing practices of marketization in terms of competition and choice and increased national state control through school inspection. Although the Swedish marketization of education is unique, making it an interesting case in its own right, these governing practices are present in other national contexts as well, and the paper also aims to facilitate a discussion of these issues relevant to a broader European context.

Theoretically, the analysis draws on literature in the field of marketization of education (Ball 2009, 2012) as well as literature on the wider audit society (Power 1999) and school inspection (Clarke 2008; Ozga, et al. 2011; Rönnberg 2012). Mainly my interest lies in the aspect of governing and the argument that we as subjects are governed not by policies themselves but by problematisations. And that how we think about an issue or phenomenon shapes the ‘problem’ and the solutions put forward (Bacchi 2009).

Methods and materials

The empirical material includes interviews with officials at the Inspectorate involved in policy and development of inspection policies for free-schools in Sweden during spring 2013. It also includes press releases and polemical articles from the Inspectorate as well as documents, such as project plans and reports. The analytic approach is informed by Foucault and governmentality studies (Foucault 1991; Dean 2010). The material, both interviews and texts, have been carefully analysed with regards to a specific set of questions building on Bacchi (2009). What is the problem with inspection of free-schools represented to be? What presuppositions and assumptions underlie this representation of the ‘problem’?  What is left unproblematic in this ‘problem’ representation? What interests are prioritized and who is likely to gain?

Preliminary findings and conclusions

Preliminary findings show that inspection is represented as the universal solution to unwanted consequences of competition such as a lack of equivalence between schools, lack of equivalence in the inspection procedure and judgments made by inspectors, lack of quality, profitmaking and school actors with devious backgrounds. In the paper, I argue that by introducing changes in the inspection of free- schools, the governing through marketization is represented as more efficient and legitimate. The market principles seem to require a strong state and legitimacy for marketization as well as national school inspections are co-produced. The issue of for profit tax-funded free-schools and competition between schools is left un-discussed and silenced.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Keyword [en]
school inspection, marketization, free-schools, governmentality, Sweden
National Category
Political Science
Research subject
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-82029OAI: diva2:659484
European Conference of Educational Research (ECER), NW 23: Policy Studies and Politics of Education, in Istanbul, Turkey, September 10-13, 2013.
Inspecting the Market: Education at the intersection of marketization and central state control
Available from: 2013-10-25 Created: 2013-10-25 Last updated: 2013-11-08Bibliographically approved

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