Hierarchy, Markets and Networks, a New Report from Toby Greany and Rob Higham

Toby Greany and Rob Higham, professors at UCL Institute of Education, University College London, recently released a report, Hierarchy, Markets and Networks: Analysing the ‘self-improving school-led system’ agenda in England and the implications for schools, which “analyses how schools in England have interpreted and begun to
respond to the government’s ‘self-improving school-led system’ (SISS) policy
agenda”. The report “focuse[s] on four different English localities, including 47 school case studies and a survey of school leaders.” With this approach, it “focuses on the concept of the self-improving system. In doing so, the research reported addresses all the key agendas at work in the middle tier – different forms and levels of accountability, collaboration and competition, system incentives and constraints, and the parameters of
autonomy. Fundamentally, it asks whether the English education system is self-improving (or indeed improving), and analyses those elements that facilitate and impede this intention.” The authors also recently published a related piece in the Guardian. The report, which was released on July 3rd, is already receiving broader attention in various outlets. For a related post, see IEN’s 2015 interview with Greany.

In the report, Greany and Higham propose that:

While largely undefined in official texts, the SISS agenda has become an overarching narrative for schools policy since 2010, encompassing an ensemble of reforms on academies, the promotion of multi-academy trusts (MATs), the roll back of local authorities (LAs) from school oversight, and the development of new school-to-school support models, such as Teaching School Alliances (TSAs). The government argues that these reforms will ‘dismantle the apparatus of central control and bureaucratic compliance’ (DfE, 2010: 66) by ‘moving control to the frontline’ (DfE, 2016b: 8). While there has been a range of research on specific aspects of these school policy changes, there is as Woods and Simkins (2014) observe a paucity of analysis on how the SISS agenda is influencing change at the local level. This report seeks to address that gap by asking whether or not the models of co-ordination and school support emerging locally since 2010 represent a genuine basis for an equitable and inclusive ‘school-led’ system. We explore the factors that support and hinder such developments and the implications of this for schools and school leadership.

The report also concludes that:

rather than ‘moving control to the frontline’, the SISS agenda has intensified hierarchical governance and the state’s powers of intervention, further constraining the professionalism of school staff and steering the system through a model we term ‘coercive autonomy’. Our
findings are unambiguous in illustrating the importance of Ofsted and the wider accountability framework in influencing the behaviour of schools, suggesting that hierarchical governance is more influential than market or network co-ordination in England.

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