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Inclusive and Competitive?: Municipalities and Schools in the Intersection between Social Inclusion and Marketisation
Umeå University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of applied educational science.
Umeå University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of applied educational science.
Umeå University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of applied educational science.
2013 (English)Conference paper, Abstract (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

Outline of research questions and theoretical framework

The Swedish and English school systems have undergone fundamental transformations since the end of the 1980s. In in the early 1990s, Sweden with long tradition of centralistic, egalitarian, universalistic education shifted into the direction of a decentralised, marketised, individualised project, with significant elements of New Public Management ideas (Bunar 2012). Political decisions introducing student choice and favourable conditions for private actors have resulted in a fast expansion of “free schools” and a more market-like situation than in most other countries. Recent studies indicate that such policies contribute to increased segregation between schools and between students (Skolverket 2012; Östh, Andersson and Malmberg 2012), contradicting central intentions of Swedish education. There is still political consensus regarding the Swedish school system’s socially compensatory task and striving for equity and inclusion. Furthermore, the far-going decentralisation of responsibilities to the local level means that the ways that municipalities and schools try to balance the demands of being competitive and socially inclusive may show large variations.  The United Kingdom, and England in particular, followed a similar trajectory of market driven reforms introduced in the late 1980s, combined with sophisticated systems of data management and central control of academic targets (Ball 2008, Jones 2003). ‘Inclusion’ in English schools, has been a long standing agenda since the 1990s, but it is a concept open to interpretation and defined by the marketised context schools operate in, and the high pressures for academic standards.  

How municipal and school actors in the two countries understand the concepts of inclusion and competition, how they interpret and practice them, is very much shaped by the institutional histories of their municipality/school, but also what the policy context makes possible.

This presentation draws on a research project, funded by The Swedish Research Council, that focuses on how competition, performance and inclusion demands on upper secondary school are enacted at the local level, that is how these policies are interpreted and translated and what strategies and practices emerge as responses to new/current policy context.  

The paper aims to explore and understand similarities and differences in the ways Swedish and English municipal and school actors at the local level respond to the simultaneous demands of being competitive and inclusive.

The concept policy enactment (Ball, Maguire & Braun 2012) is used as a theoretical framework, a concept which emphasises the importance of multi-faceted contexts and that policies are discursive strategies (e.g. the construction of “an upper secondary school for all” and a school quasi-market). Putting policies into actions is a complex process in which various enactors with various interests and power take part. In a decentralised school system - which applies for the two countries-  local actors, including municipalities and schools are responsible for the realization of the national education policy.

At the same time, how education is actually constructed local levels is sparsely highlighted in the research literature – not least the issue of how inclusion is maintained in a market-oriented context.


Methodology, methods

A qualitative research approach, relying on extensive data collection is used: (a) interviews in four Swedish municipal settings including politicians, school leaders, head-teachers and study and guidance officers, (b) interviews in two case schools in England: head-teachers and other senior managers of schools, middle managers, teachers, special needs coordinators, teaching assistants, and groups of pupils. Relevant documents have been studied in both countries. The data have been analysed through traditional thematic coding combined with elements of discourse analysis (Silverman 2010).

We explore our research questions in two different European countries. Our aim is to understand local interpretations of ‘inclusion’ within schools and municipalities in these countries, and within an increasingly marketised and competitive policy and local context.  But, our research design is not at the outset comparative. We aim to understand each case in its own right, but through a common set of research questions we have possibilities for fruitful comparisons in selected areas of the findings.

Conclusions, expected outcomes and findings

In Sweden, differing local strategies are related to a variety of factors including political composition of the municipal councils, the size of population, the geographical site of schools including specific “profiling” of schools to attract particular groups of students. The ideological contexts frame, constrain and enable the enactment of inclusion and school choice policies. Further, the recent upper secondary reform constitutes a special challenge regarding the division of students, eligibility to higher education, the handling of dropouts and students who are not eligible for upper secondary school.

In England, interviews with school actors reveal the pressures of the inspection process and the operation of local markets not only in the way the schools position themselves in this market, but also in the very core activities of designing the curriculum and assessment. Inclusion is a concept that has been accepted by all as part of normal school terminology. But the adjustments that teachers and school managers have to make in pedagogy and school organisation to meet the external pressures, often works against the ideal of inclusion, or leads to a use of a concept of inclusion that is drawing on neo-liberal understandings of minimal entitlement to equal opportunities.


Ball, S. (2008) The Education Debate: Policy and Politics in the Twenty-First Century, The Policy Press.

Ball, S. Maguire, M. & Braun, A. (2012). How schools do policy. Policy enactments in secondary schools. London & New York: Routledge

Bunar, N. (2012) The Free Schools “Riddle”: Between traditional social democratic, neo-liberal and multicultural tenets. Scandinavian  Journal of Educational Research. 52: 4, 423-438

Jones, K. (2003) Education in Britain, Polity Press.

Silverman, D. (2010) Doing Qualitative Research, Third Edition, Sage.

Skolverket (2012). Likvärdig utbildning i svensk grundskola? En kvantitativ analys av likvärdighet över tid. Rapport 374. Stockholm: Fritzes  

Östh, John, Andersson, Eva and Malmberg, Bo (2012). School Choice and Increasing Performance Difference: A Counterfactual Approach. Urban Studies published online 26 July 2012.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Keyword [en]
Marketisation, social inclusion, upper secondary school, England, Sweden
National Category
Pedagogical Work
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-96217OAI: diva2:762712
European Conference on Educational Research, Istanbul 10-13 September.
Gymnasiet som marknad
Swedish Research Council, 2011-40116-86765-68
Available from: 2014-11-12 Created: 2014-11-12 Last updated: 2016-09-05Bibliographically approved

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Alexiadou, NafsikaErixon Arreman, IngerLundström, Ulf
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