This paper explores representations of high expectations for justice and equality in educational outcomes in the neo-liberal educational regime of individualisation, marketization and increased central state control. At the centre of the paper is a study of national school inspection reports and how they construct educational success or failure in relation to teachers’ high/low expectations and socio-political and school-market context and conditions. The paper focuses on constructions of accountability in terms of ‘the politics of blame’ (Thrupp 1998) and the role of social class, gender and race given school achievement in a Swedish educational system that for decades have emphasised universal welfare, justice and equality. However, the marketization of Swedish education since the 1990s, with school choice, competition and independent schools, seems to have pushed back issues of justice and equality. In this light, increased state control through national school inspection can be seen as part of an audit explosion (Power 1997) where inspection is made the solution to several ‘problems’ in education, for instance, to allocate blame for the perceived school ‘crisis’ of decreasing results and equality. By drawing on the literature of marketization and the wider audit society, the paper explores equality and justice in embedded contexts.
A diverse case selection (Gerring 2007) of five municipalities has been made based on inspections in 2011/2012; geography; and municipal size in order to make sure some independent schools were included. From the five selected municipals, regular inspection reports of secondary municipal schools and secondary independent schools that provides year nine, have been analysed. This has resulted in inspection reports from a total of 127 schools, including 33 independent schools plus five municipal reports. In close readings of the texts focus has been placed on how different schools are represented, in what ways, if any, socio-political and school-market context and conditions is attended to and how different subjects are positioned in relation to articulations of justice, equality and achievement.
In the paper, I argue that by marginalising and not discussing issues of socio-political context or the impact that competition has on schools, accountability and blame remains individualised, downgrading ideas of equality and justice. Although, the representations and constructions of gender, social class and race are criticised in articulations of low expectations, the effort not to blame students, tend to ignore the structural aspects and resilience of racist and sexist discourse when individual teachers are meant to just raise their expectations. While educational gaps and equality in terms of gender are often discussed, differences in relation to social class are silenced. Social class seems to be racialized as the only legitimate argument for ‘failure’ is positioning the student group as ‘newly arrived immigrants’. This serves to legitimize and uphold the neo-liberal educational order of individualised blame, difference, hierarchy and competition.
Pre-conference to NERA: Justice through education: Marketisation and equity in embedded contexts, Lillehammer, Norge, 4-5 mars