Research questions, objectives and theoretical framework
Throughout Europe, governing education is increasingly influenced by different forms of evaluation systems including quality audits, ranking lists, evaluations and school inspection. After trends of decentralization, managerialism and marketization, re-regulation efforts have seen the light to hold education providers accountable, whether public or private (Ozga et al. 2011; Ehren et al. 2013). The politics of comparison and governing by numbers is particularly visible in the media, for example, the media regularly reports on international rankings of pupil results as well as inspection reports and complaints resulting in a complex audit-media relationship (Rönnberg, Lindgren and Segerholm 2013). The re-regulation of a far-reaching decentralized and marketized school system with publicly funded for-profit free schools makes Sweden a unique case with both its egalitarian and social democratic traditions combined with neo-liberal trends. The introduction of the new centralized agency The Swedish Schools Inspectorate (SSI) can be viewed in the light of increased emphasis on state control, evaluation and accountability. For the SSI issues of equivalence and the individual right of the student have been stressed. Issues of quality and equivalence has a tendency to be framed as a legal issue (Lindgren et al. 2012). This seems to reflect a process of juridification (Magnussen and Banasiak 2013). However, the sanctions available to the SSI have been limited. Not until the implementation of the reformed school act in 2011 did it have the means to impose fines or mandate to temporarily shut down schools, apart from withdrawing schools permits from free-schools. Studies have shown that an effective sanction available for the SSI, previously, has been media exposure (Rönnberg, Lindgren and Segerholm 2012).
The interconnectedness of marketization, central stat control, juridification and mediatization can be explored in the case of the school Lundsberg vs the Inspectorate. Lundsberg is one of three free-schools that is allowed to have student fees, unlike other schools. It also receives specific state funding due to it being a boarding school for students with parents living abroad. The school has a long history previous to the introduction of school choice and free-schools in Sweden and is known as a school for a privileged elite. It has a long history of problems with bullying, abuse and initiations. This is what started the Inspectorates inspection in 2011 after a filed complaint. After a long process of inspection, the SSI end the inspection in spring 2013. However, when the school start again the same autumn one of the students were burnt with an iron. The SSI then closed the school and every student was sent home. This was a major media story. Lundsberg, however, appealed and the court ruled in the interest of the school as the actual event took place in the dormitory and not during school activities. The aim is to analyse this case as it is represented in the media with a focus on how student rights are framed and how the Inspectorate and the school is represented. By doing so I hope to facilitate a deeper discussion about juridification and mediatization in the European governance trends of marketization and audit. Theoretically, the analysis draws on literature in the field of the wider audit society (Power 1997; Dahler-Larsen 2012) and school inspection (Clarke 2008; Ozga et al. 2011) as well as literature on mediatization (Levin 2004; Lingard and Rawolle 2004; Strömbäck 2099). Mainly my interest lies in the aspect of governing and how it shapes our views on responsibility and rights, the relationship between individual and state as well as education and politics.
Methodology, Methods, Research Instruments or Sources Used
In studying the media exposure, newspaper articles have been collected through a media storage database using keywords such as the name of the school, the name of the inspection agency, and words such as evaluation, inspection and control. Although media exposure is not confined to the printed press I argue that it will be sufficient for the projects explorative aim as it can give us interesting knowledge about the audit-media relationship in governing as well as juridification processes. Therefore, the empirical material consist mainly of articles in the printed national press. In addition, I have included material from the SSI and the court, in terms of decision reports, press releases and such. The analytic approach is informed by Foucault (1991) and the material have been carefully analysed with regards to a specific set of questions building on a problematizing approach. What is represented as the problem resulting in the shutdown of the school? How is the inspection process represented? How are the different actors involved represented? Who/what gets to speak? Who is made responsible? Whose interest is prioritized?
Conclusions, expected outcomes or findings
Preliminary findings show that while the SSI in the media coverage represent itself as the guardian of individual rights the position of the school, is to represent itself as the one guarding students right to continue their education. The media tends to represent SSI as a watchdog and as a legitimate state control when shutting down what is articulated as a traditionally elitist institution such as Lundsberg. On the other hand the SSI is represented as an illegitimate state control that practices collective punishment. Sanctioning the school should not interfere with other students right to their choice of education and school. Despite the court’s ruling in the interest of the school claiming that the shutdown was illegitimate, the SSI can be viewed as having no other choice in the matter. If the SSI had not acted it would likely have created an ‘expectations gap’ (Power 1997) of what the SSI’s mandate is in the public opinion and what it can actually achieve and control. This would limit the legitimacy for the agency and for governing education by inspections. Furthermore, the case shows some aspects of juridification (Magnussen and Banasiak 2013). This, I argue, can be interpreted by the framing of the issues of bullying, abuse and harassment as legal issues, the tendency to frame it as individual events and not structural or cultural, and the ruling of the court in terms of where the incident took place and the legal grounds for the SSI.
free-schools, juridification, Lundsberg, mediatization, school inspection, Sweden
European Conference of Educational Research (ECER) in Porto, Portugal, 1-5 September, 2014